Guest Blog Post – Caroline

Kids and Careers and Setting Boundaries:

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to achieve balance.  There has been a great dialogue on my company’s Business Women’s Network blog over the past month about this topic and I recently shared my thoughts on work/life boundaries through this forum.  Just writing this out made me realize just how far I’ve come from the day I stepped back into the office after three blissful months of maternity leave – ok, actually 2 and a half blissful months, and 2 weeks of “I cannot possibly go back to work!!!”.
My children are 2 and 4 years old and first and foremost I’m their mother.  Here are a few ideas that have worked for me (or are currently working for me?) and are derived from the past four years of figuring out the juggling act of kids and career:
  • Mark your calendars as OOO (out of office) in the evenings for the time that you care about as quality family time.  Don’t be afraid to tell people – without apology – that you can’t attend a meeting regularly during this time slot.
  • Know that once you start to accept meetings in that window on a regular basis, people won’t take your OOO seriously.  If you don’t respect your boundaries, others won’t either.
  • When you establish those boundaries, don’t ask your manager – state it (if your relationship allows it).  “I leave at 5pm so I can spend time with my family in the evenings.  I’m available after bedtime, or by exception during that window but I appreciate your understanding.”
  • Boundaries needs to work with the requirements of your job, so if you signed up for something that requires being on call 24×7 maybe now isn’t the right time to be in that role.  Doesn’t mean that it’ll be that way forever, just for now.
  • Set criteria for accepting/declining calls & meetings during your sacred time.  Establish them not just for yourself but with you partner.  Reliability and trust are the building blocks of great partnerships, so if they know that you are applying selective criteria it helps a ton.
  • IF you know you have to leave promptly at 5pm to pick up your kids or get dinner on the table (or however you and your partner split up responsibilities) that you can’t answer your desk phone at 4:50
  • Knowing your own personal availability and what you need to accomplish keeps you much more focused on executing.  This may show up as limiting office socializing, a few more lunches at your desk or marking time on your calendar to just WORK.

Finally, you have to be a  role model.  Be the change you want to see.  Understand that your boundaries are just that – yours – and that someone else’s are different.  Understand that they will change because your family’s needs will change, and your jobs will change.    Working late doesn’t make you valued, but working smart and doing good work does.

These are my boundaries and ideas – it doesn’t mean that I’m not back on line just about every night, but I know that my role requires more hours than are in my “work day”.  Its ok – I signed up for it & I love what I do.

Is my balance optimal?  Absolutely not – I’d love more time to exercise, for my hobbies and just quality time with my husband, not to mention even more quality time with my kids.  Oh, and I’d like my house to be slightly cleaner and the laundry to magically fold itself.   But there is this little thing that we all need called sleep, and I seem to need at least 7 hours of it.    Overall though, it’s a lot better than it used to be and I don’t feel the guilt that I once did around all of this.   Perhaps there is a nugget or two in here that you find helpful.  I’m interested in learning what other boundaries or techniques others use to achieve balance, plus any tips you may have for getting your laundry folded…


Caroline S. Lewis is a Talent Management Expert at SAP.  She and her husband Scott live outside Philadelphia with their children Ari and Margot.

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