Sunday, April 20, 2014

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: Balancing career, family while ‘living life full-time’

By AMY NEWMARK, Chicken Soup for the Soul | 12/13/2013

All parents have to find the right balance between career and family. I was lucky that I had a job on Wall Street and that I could do part time from home during my first few years as a mother. I continued my career full-time from home while my kids were young, only commuting to an office for a couple of years when they were preteens. Then it was back to part-time work from home during their teen years. Only when I became an empty nester did I resume full-time work, this time as publisher of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

This strategy worked for me. But I had friends who stopped working entirely, and others who continued full-time jobs and made that work too. Victoria LaFave found balance her own way, as she wrote in her story “Living Life Full-Time,” in our book on finding your own path to happiness.

All parents have to find the right balance between career and family. I was lucky that I had a job on Wall Street and that I could do part time from home during my first few years as a mother. I continued my career full-time from home while my kids were young, only commuting to an office for a couple of years when they were preteens. Then it was back to part-time work from home during their teen years. Only when I became an empty nester did I resume full-time work, this time as publisher of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

This strategy worked for me. But I had friends who stopped working entirely, and others who continued full-time jobs and made that work too. Victoria LaFave found balance her own way, as she wrote in her story “Living Life Full-Time,” in our book on finding your own path to happiness.

When Victoria’s maternity leave ended, she called her boss to discuss going back to her job as marketing director at a mall. Victoria told her boss about job sharing: the practice of two part-time employees sharing the responsibilities of one full-timer. Her boss responded: “Vicki, you’ve wanted to be a mom for a long time, and I think you should grasp this opportunity. You and I both know that the marketing director position is a full-time career, not a part-time job.”

“I felt overwhelming relief at that moment,” Victoria wrote. She hadn’t wanted to go back to work. What she really wanted was “to simplify my life.” And that’s just what she did. She stayed home with her son, and later a daughter, and replaced lunch meetings and budget talks with picnics and bike rides.

You have to pick the approach that works best for you and your family. The parents who have been happiest are the ones who found the situation that was just right for them, as I did, and as Victoria did. Ten years later, Victoria wrote, “I wouldn’t trade my new — and simpler — life for the world.”

•••

Suzanne De Vita often opens her front door to find two of her siblings chasing each other down the hall. In another room, her brothers are taking the couch apart and knocking things over as they build a fort. Meanwhile, her sisters are jumping up and down, dancing to a boom box that skips when they hit the ground too hard. There are pasta sauce stains on the wall — her dad calls it artwork — and the kitchen always smells like coffee because so much has spilled on the stovetop and burned through the years. Sometimes she tries to take refuge in her room, but that’s hard because she shares it with two sisters.

She writes about her chaotic house and how she eventually came to appreciate it in her story “Learning to Love My Messy Life,” for our book on positive thinking for kids. One summer Suzanne made friends with her next-door neighbor. The first time she visited her friend, a nanny greeted her: “Hello, Miss Suzanne. Michelle is upstairs.” Michelle’s room was “like a hotel suite,” Suzanne says, “complete with a king-size bed” and “a sparkling chandelier.” She had “every toy imaginable.” They played all afternoon, and “the only interruption was Aura, the housekeeper, putting away freshly folded laundry.” Suzanne spent many afternoons at Michelle’s house, enjoying her friend’s lavish lifestyle. But eventually she began to wonder where Michelle’s parents were and what Michelle did after Suzanne left.

One night she invited Michelle to her house for dinner. It was a typical meal in the De Vita household: chairs squeezed around the table, brothers flinging lettuce at each other, Michelle’s sister tripping over the oven door with the broken latch and, finally, dishes washed “assembly line style” by everyone. Suzanne was embarrassed, but Michelle loved every minute. “You’re so lucky you have such a big family,” she said. “Can I have dinner with you all tomorrow night?”

Suzanne looked at her family bustling around the house and playing noisily. After a summer of envying Michelle, she had a new perspective. “Suddenly, my house — my crowded, messy, loud house — seemed like paradise.”

Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com

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