Balancing act: work and home

Picture: AFP

The other day a colleague asked me, “how do you do it?” Do what I asked?

Hold down a job. Raise two kids. Run a household, he said. Simple, I said, I do what I have to do.

On reflection though, doing what I do involves choices and compromises. I choose to work for an organisation that doesn’t mind whether I work at 1am or 1pm, so long as the work gets done. They also don’t mind where I work – which for the time being is from home, in Cape Town.

The flip side of this, is that these are not career-advancing choices.

Most women I know are juggling the work-life-family balance. These days more women than men are emerging from universities with a tertiary qualification, and they are increasingly able and willing to put this education to good use.

But just at the point that their careers take off, so do demands in the home. Our children are also under enormous pressure to perform – where marks of 70% were once acceptable, now 80% is the new normal; where first team was an achievement, provincial trials now reign.

Not all organisations are as flexible as mine so working mothers are juggling. Some schools have after-care and homework classes; the few who can afford it make use of aupairs; there are lift schemes to get kids home; large numbers of latch-key kids and a growing dependence on grandparents.

That said, there is another trend that is increasingly visible in the professional classes – households where men and women exchange roles. I can think of at least five dads in my extended social circle who run the homes, the lift clubs, manage extra lessons and supervise homework.

In all cases, the men are people I admire and like. They are intelligent, interesting people who have a strong sense of their own individuality. So why is it then that there is a lingering sense that there is something wrong with this picture, why does it seem that there is a tiny bit of shame associated with this arrangement?

My personal opinion is it’s because we are a society in transition.

Our generation is benefitting from the rights won for women by pioneers before us. Many would argue that change is happening too slowly, but attitudes are slowly shifting and women are sitting in the boardrooms, heading up law-firms and running hospitals.

Our generation – men and women – have to come to terms with the inevitable consequences of these changes. Just because women are becoming more empowered, more assertive, and possibly more aggressive in seeking what they want, does that mean that men are being emasculated?

My instinct is to say no. But circumstantial evidence – violence against women, high divorce rates – suggests otherwise.

Entrenched ambivalence was how one Time magazine writer described society’s attitude towards changing gender roles.

So what has this to do with finance you might wonder? For some people I guess it has nothing to do with finance. But for others career choices and work-life choices have significant financial consequences and so are worth reflecting on.

The reality is that women are in the work place to stay and society is learning to adapt. Couples are figuring out the best way to achieve financial security for the family, while at the same time maximising time with the family.

How they choose to juggle these joint priorities is up to them. There is no right or wrong way. If both partners think it works, then it works.

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