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Reconciling an exciting job and a family. Impossible? [Part 2]

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

A help guide for well-educated men and women in two parts.

"Whatever you can do or dream of doing - start doing it."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In this second part you will:

  1. learn how difficult life stages during parenthood may mature your personality.

  2. get to know alternative work models.

  3. learn how to deal constructively with resistance.

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the most common family models in Switzerland and presented examples of how couples may share the load of earning a living and providing care.

Which model you choose doesn't matter - there is no right or wrong. What matters is that both partners feel comfortable with it.

Unfortunately, however, often one of the two partners does not feel entirely comfortable with this after all. This can lead to tensions which, if not addressed, can lead to alienation, anger, depression and, in the worst case, separation.

Around 60% of all Swiss couples with children under 12 (source: FSO 2020) live in the modernized bourgeois model, also known as the extra-earner or modified breadwinner model. Well-educated women have rarely consciously chosen this model; it just happened that way. The double burden that this model often entails leads many committed women straight to burnout.

Using a case study, I show how burnout occurs and what those affected learn from it. This knowledge may help you set limits in time or to get help. The case study will visualize various topics, which can be very different from person to person. Perhaps you will recognize yourself in one or the other topic.

A journey of discovery to yourself

Daniela met her current husband Diego in her late 20s. At 30, she took over as team head in an international company. It was perfect. Diego and she had the same values, both wanted a family. She had a classic career, earned quite well and was told she would go far. Then she got pregnant at 34, reduced the workload to 80% to have a mommy day, because it was important to her to spend time with the child, not just evenings and weekends. The workload remained the same, but through clever and efficient organization she managed to fit everything into an 80% workload. However, she was often knocked out in the evenings.

At home, she took over almost all the care work: shopping, doing the laundry, taking care of everything around the child - because Diego did not reduce his workload as agreed before the pregnancy. He was promoted during the pregnancy and now needed time to develop in his new role. It was clear to him that the job now had priority and that childcare could be organized differently. For example, with the help of various babysitters to bridge the crèche pick-up times or with a nanny, so that Daniela would also have had free rein. From his point of view, a child gave little restrictions, unless you make them yourself.

Daniela didn't like that. That's why she organized herself so that she could leave punctually at 5 p.m. each day. She also took care of dinner. When Diego came home, the cooking was done and the biggest stress was over. Daniela did not feel comfortable with this because she wanted an egalitarian distribution of gainful employment and care work, and she had agreed on this with Diego, and now everything was very traditional... However, her values did not allow her to take on even more external care.

She herself had grown up in a traditional family. Her father never helped in the household. At least Diego cooked on weekends and at least did the dishes during the week, which was a big step forward. He wanted cleaning help from the very beginning, even when they didn't have children.

With the second child, Daniela wanted to have more time with the children because the care work also increased significantly. She reduced the workload to 70% and they hired a cleaner to clean once a week. Diego stayed with his full-time job. Unfortunately, the younger child did not always sleep well. Diego did, however, and so Daniela was the one who often took the night shift since he had to be fit and had outpaced her now in terms of wages. She was exhausted and wanted to give up her leadership position. She had organized herself well in the team and handed over responsibility to her employees. She empowered them to decide many things on their own. And yet she felt like a failure: In her mind, the boss was the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave the office. She felt guilty because she didn't come in until 8:30 a.m. and then had to leave again at 5 p.m. to get the kids. In addition, she was plagued by a guilty conscience about having the children at the crèche for so long every day.

Beliefs - Check them!

In the past, when she was childless, she was in the office before 8 a.m. until well after 7 p.m.. Afterwards, at the fitness center or out with friends. There was almost no laundry and little cleaning to do. But now... There was no time. For just anything. She didn't see her friends anymore, except other moms on the playground on her mommy day, didn't exercise. She was constantly exhausted.

She used to not take seriously the mothers who left at 5 p.m. to pick up the kids at crèche or stayed home every now and then when the kids were sick. "They just work a little bit so they don't get bored". And now she was a working mother herself! Now she realized that this was a false image of mothers. She was highly committed. Educated herself. Took on responsibility. And yet she became more and more dissatisfied... And the wage increases were no longer forthcoming.

Lack of role models

There were three other women in management positions in the company. However, all three worked full time and had no children. Not a single man was known to her who left at 5 p.m. to fetch the children or worked part-time (except during further training or to carry out an office)! If they had children and the woman worked at all, the children were cared for by grandparents. Daycare places were rare and expensive. Daniela got a guilty conscience again: Her kids are in daycare so often and for so long, four days, so she still had a little buffer for herself! Is that okay? Or would it be better if they were at home more? Is she a bad mother because she likes to work and also likes to earn good money? Most other “crèche mothers” worked less and had grandparents to fall back on. But she didn't have that option. Nanny or childminder were out of the question for her. Period.

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus

These questions did not arise for Diego. He worked full time and didn't want to cut back.

Did Diego not care about the children? What about her feelings? Obviously, the two came from two different planets.

More and more often Daniela said, "You're so insensitive and brutal!" and Diego said, "You're so complicated and a real mother hen!"

Detours increase local knowledge

It was clear to Daniela that her time with the children was limited. She wanted to teach them traditions and values as she knew them from her own childhood. To be there when they were in pain. To take part in their lives, to have a relationship with them. That's why she took on the double burden and kept silent. There was no way for her to work more unless Diego would reduce. And that was out of the question for him. She had understood that now. He didn't want to.

Daniela became more and more frustrated. When there was a big restructuring at work and everyone was working longer every day, Diego also had a huge project going on. He also came home later every day. Daniela tried unsuccessfully to give up some of her workload. The company stumbled from one reorganization to the next and her colleagues dropped out in rows. She slept less and less and in the end was so exhausted that she was on sick leave for a few months due to burnout. Only now did her employer take her seriously and let her hand over tasks. Before that, she was constantly put off and given even more on-top tasks. Did she communicate her needs clearly enough and set limits?

Diego was unexpectedly able to take a home office day each week, which he had never been able to do before and which relieved her enormously. Again, had she made her needs clear enough beforehand? Was he aware of how badly she was doing? She reflected and came to the conclusion: She herself and her high expectations were her biggest stress factor. She wanted to work on herself from now on and learn how to set healthy boundaries and stand by her own needs. To do this, she sought a coach and got the support she needed. Many knots were loosened. Why hadn't she sought help sooner?

She used her sick leave to take a close look at her life and, for the first time ever, got to the bottom of her values and beliefs. Deeply and honestly. Everything suddenly made so much sense! All the fights, dragons and demons.

And only now did she realize who she actually was, always had been, and what she desired deep inside. She learned to be mindful of herself, to give herself breaks and to be less upset. This also included judging less, others and herself, and looking at things attentively and curiously and then letting them go. Above all, she set the course for her future as she would like to live it. She became a designer of her own life and thus found her joie de vivre again.

The process led to some changes.

She still hoped that Diego would change jobs, travel less or even reduce the workload. However, she accepted that she could not influence that.

Before, she was just functioning, being controlled by others. Her coach helped her to actively shape her life and she learned to question many of her own beliefs. She had to let go of many things in order to find herself again. She developed a vision of her future life, became more self-directed. Only with Diego did she want to see that they could walk a common path. He, too, had changed and was now ready to take on more care work.

Growth hurts

This journey to herself was a process that lasted several years. Daniela questioned how she lived, what she did, why and for what purpose. She really felt like taking off again. One thing was clear to her: she needed flexibility to be there for the children and to have room for her well-being. It was Diego who gave her the push she needed. She quit her job of many years, which had constrained her so much, and just let it happen: She trained as a coach to accompany people in difficult situations and opened her own business. She was much happier and quickly had a client base. She felt valued and in balance.

Always these facts!

This went well until Diego made a biting remark. He really hoped that soon she would make more revenue! He dreamed of having his own house and garden and was tired of living in an apartment. Daniela did not have this dream. She wanted one thing above all: feel balanced! (5 tips for a work-life balance despite family and challenging job). She was happy that the children were older and more independent. Why didn't Diego just leave her alone?

She felt massively under pressure. Who or what was speaking to her? Her inner judge, telling her she wasn't good enough? A failure. Or the pleaser who wanted to please everyone?

When she sees a great 80% position in her original job, she asks Diego if he would be willing to reduce his job to 80% as well, then she could imagine it.

His first reaction is devastating: "No." With his management position, that would be difficult. He says his former boss did it at 80%, with a smaller management span and no children, but he was constantly maxed out. Moreover, he would not be willing to give up 20% of his salary.

She gulps, gets annoyed and is disappointed. She thinks about doing the whole thing in a job or top sharing. She also wants Diego to be well and to be able to have his house... She has learned that a full-time job or 80% and children are not possible for her in terms of resources.

By chance, Daniela comes across We Jobshare, a web platform that helps seekers find a job or top-share partner. She talks to people who have already done this and informs herself on the Internet.

After a few days, she seeks to talk to her partner again. Diego apologizes to her for his uncharitable reaction. He is willing to listen to the whole thing again and think it over. He doesn't see any possibility for part-time work at the moment, but doesn't want to rule it out either. For the first time, they talk openly about their feelings and needs. It turns out that he doesn't expect her to earn more money and also that having a house would be a dream, but Diego also sees the advantages as it is now. A big burden falls from her shoulders.

Not an easy decision

Daniela can't decide. Should she continue to develop her business or apply for an 80% position? Or even both?

She decides to seek advice from a professional.

Maybe it would work if they hired nannies or babysitters? Daniela doesn't think that's as absurd as it used to be. The children are older now and have a good relationship with her. Care is needed mainly in the morning to wake them up and send them off to school, and in the evening to tide them over and possibly prepare dinner.

Crises as an opportunity - setting out for a fulfilled future

Two days later, Diego approaches Daniela and sits down with her on the couch in a quiet minute. "Honey, about that 80% position. I've been thinking about it. I have a suggestion about how it could work. May I tell you about it?"

Daniela had almost written off the idea and was willing to listen. "I would stay with the 100%, but with two fixed home office days. If you can also do 1 - 2 fixed home office days, then we already have the early mornings and late afternoon hours covered on 3 - 4 days. A housekeeper who comes for a few hours on one day a week would therefore be sufficient."

Daniela thinks about it. Yes, that could work. She now had a choice: Does she want to give up her business and apply for a job, even though she still has a lot of ideas to make her business really fly and doesn't really want to go back to her old job?

Her heart and gut clearly tell her, "No, not today." First, the business is her heart's project and she's sure she'll get more out of it. And second, she really enjoys spending time with the kids. Soon they'll be out of the house and then she'll have all the time in the world again. And they can still move into a house then if it's still an issue.

She is grateful to have the luxury to decide like that. Other parents don't have that privilege, they both have to work full time or even hold down several jobs to make ends meet.

Learnings from this burnout and new start

  1. Ask what the other person understands by a term in order to prevent misunderstandings. What exactly does "equal partnership" mean to him/her? What does "career" mean? What does "childcare" mean?

  2. Take time regularly to think about your needs and heart's desires and talk about them with your partner. Maybe you can realize much more than you think?

  3. Question your beliefs. How did it come about? Where did you hear something for the first time? What would happen if it were completely different?

  4. Who are your drivers? Who tells you that you have to do everything perfectly? Is there really reason from the outside or do you create most of the stress yourself? Find a sparring partner who will challenge you regularly and push you further in your thinking. It is worth it!

  5. Your partner is on your side. You are a team. Take him/her on board and get on the learning path together. Your relationship will be better and stronger as a result. Whatever comes up, stay in touch and listen to each other.

What values do you want to live by? Have you ever considered your situation in this light? What if there were no restrictions at all? What would your life look like? Honestly, are you happy with the way things are now or would you like to see a change?

For all those who would like a discussion of their individual situation or are looking for a sparring partner to accompany them on their way, click here.

Remember. You only live once and it is up to you how you handle difficult situations. Seeking help is a strength, not a weakness. Maybe 2022 is the year you address your issues professionally?

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