Working moms and dads often define their goal as "having it all" — successfully giving their attention to both their children and their careers while still maintaining a personal life. Some sources say it's impossible to accomplish that goal. In fact, a survey conducted for a June 2014 book by career strategist Megan Dalla-Camina found that 70 percent of female professionals don't believe it's possible to be successful at work and home. Yet others claim that it is possible because they've done it themselves.
What is the latter group doing differently? According to those who believe work-life balance is possible, it's all about rethinking the way you define "success."
"If your definition of success is being a loving parent and a successful executive, then you'll likely be able to achieve success," said Dale Winston, CEO and president of woman-owned executive search firm Battalia Winston. "However, if your definition of success is meeting all of your professional goals while being a parent who never makes a mistake, never misses a single special moment and always makes it home in time for dinner, you may be in trouble."
"It can be done, but it does not look anything like the movie version," added Brian Berger, co-founder of e-commerce menswear brand Mack Weldon. "If you are fulfilled professionally and make your family time a priority, it works."
Challenges of modern parenthood
Whether they work full-time or part-time, parents in the workforce today face career obstacles that previous generations didn't. In the past, it was much more common for parents, especially fathers, to put their careers before their children, said Casey Newton, CEO of single sign-on solution oneID. Today, parents want to be as involved and effective in their children's lives as they are at work. [Modern Motherhood: The Truth About Being a Working Mom]
Accomplishing this goal "is really tough because our children are overscheduled and enrolled in multiple activities all over town, and playing in the neighborhood has been replaced by drop-off playdates," Newton said.
Moreover, mobile technology has enabled a 24/7 work schedule, blurring the line between personal time and work time. While the ability to work anywhere, anytime has, in some ways, made it easier to be a working parent, it also makes it difficult to "turn off" the office.
Technology and the flexibility it provides have "empowered working parents in many ways, but on the other hand, it has also created a virtual chain to their desk," Winston told Business News Daily. "Many companies expect that their employees are never unplugged and always somewhat on call. It can be more challenging for parents to disconnect from work when they're at home and be fully present with their families."
Integrating the personal and the professional
Many working parents who feel fulfilled at home and in their careers will give the same piece of advice: Get the idea of "balance" out of your head. Rather than trying to divide your life into "work-only" and "home-only" periods, it's better to integrate your career with your personal life as much as possible. The first step to accomplishing this is to take advantage of remote work or flexible scheduling options offered by your employer, if you don't already.
"Employers are becoming increasingly willing to offer flexibility around when and where work is done," said Donna Levin, co-founder and vice president of policy, corporate social responsibility and workplace solutions at Care.com. "One or two work-from-home days can give parents a few extra hours in their week by eliminating the commute. And being able to start the day early and leave in time for a doctor's appointment or after-school pickup affords parents the ability to meet their responsibilities at work and at home."
Another way to integrate home and work is to get your family involved in your career. René Banglesdorf, CEO of aircraft sales and acquisition firm Charlie Bravo Aviation, noted that bringing work home — or bringing them into the office, if allowed — can help your children understand your job and remind them that it's an important aspect of your life.
"Share your professional victories with your kids," Banglesdorf said. "If you have an interesting project, or there's an accolade someone is earning, [it's good] to have your kids participate in or hear about that."
"With my children, I try to engage them in little ways that can be fun and also avoid them feeling like they are separated from that part of my life," added Melissa Holland, president and founder of maternity bra line BeliBea. "Even if it is something as simple as organizing files or looking at color swatches, these little things can really help them feel included."
But don't think integration means helping the kids with homework during a conference call, or coordinating after-school activities while you're in a meeting. Regardless of whether it's personal or professional, give the task at hand your undivided attention. Daehee Park, co-founder of mattress brand Tuft & Needle, advised blocking off times in your schedule for work and home responsibilities — and sticking to it.
"Immediately switching contexts between sales calls and creative work is inefficient and stressful," Park said. "The same multitasking tax applies here. As an example, don't check emails right before or during your time with family because it will likely result in distraction. Put away your cellphone, close your laptop and be fully engaged with your loved ones. This way, when you return to work mode, you can fully focus and commit to the tasks to be done."
Getting ahead in your career
Here are a few tips to help working parents feel more fulfilled — and ultimately be more successful — in their professional lives.
Find a mentor. Your spouse or partner likely serves as your support system in your home life, but do you have someone who can help you in your career? Beth Kinane, vice president of new development for women's underwear line Hush Hush, said that an understanding and flexible family can make your personal life easier when work gets demanding, but it's just as important to have a coach or mentor who can help you grow professionally.
"It doesn't have to be formal by any means, but just having people who you respect and can ask for advice, or just discuss ideas with, can make a huge difference," Kiane said.
Be accountable at work. If your boss allows you to take advantage of flexible work options, make sure you prove you're accountable enough to keep that privilege. Part of that includes finding solutions to any scheduling issues that arise because of parental responsibilities.
"If family dinner is important to you but your job demands long hours, then commit to starting your day earlier and hop online after the kids are settled in for the night," Levin said. "It's up to you to identify your priorities and figure out how to make it work."
Levin also noted that when discussing your work arrangements with your boss, always present the proposed solution ahead of the issue you're trying to solve. For example, you should say, "Can I come in at 7 and cut out at 3:30 tomorrow?" instead of, "My after-school sitter canceled, so I need to leave early."
Prioritize and set realistic goals. Just as you need to define parental success for yourself, you need a clear picture of what success looks like at work. Make sure the professional goals you set are attainable, given your current home responsibilities.
"The 'having it all' mentality can get in the way of truly devoting yourself to both your [career] and your family, and the more you are trying to juggle, the easier it is to feel distracted and discouraged that things are out of reach," Holland said. "It's key to step back and see what's most imperative to achieve in both parts of your life and prioritize from there. Setting realistic goals for [yourself] is a big part of that."
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Beth Kinane's last name.