Balancing Family With A Social Work Career

This blog was written by Molly Mahoney Matthews, a businesswoman and career expert who is currently in charge of two growing companies: The Starfish Group and Lucky Planet Foods .

Both men and women care about work-life balance, but women are frequently the primary caregiver in a family and take on a relatively larger share of responsibility. Licensed social workers are disproportionately women, so balancing career and family is a challenge for many in the social work profession.

Whether you are a mom or a dad, everyone needs to ensure they have enough energy for both work and for the people they love at home. So how do you deal with the stresses of the job and meet the needs of colleagues and clients? How can you leave the stress of the job at work and not bring it home with you? Here are five tips to help you create a better work-life balance:

1. Banish the myth of the always-available parent.

Remember the depiction of the mom in television sitcoms of the ‘60s? She wears an apron, dispenses wisdom and home cooking, and is always there for her kids? She is a myth. Our grandmothers didn’t focus on their children full time; they were too busy running a household without modern conveniences. Children need love and attention but not 24/7 attention. Children benefit from social interactions and the experience of day care, school and camps. Of course, time away from parents needs to be reasonable, but it’s OK and often desirable for everyone — even children — to have their own life experiences, friendships and adventures.

2. Arrange for good child care.

It does take a village to raise a child. If you have a career in social work, make sure you get the best and most reliable child care. Start by finding child care and schools that offer an optimal match for your child. You may have to invest time seeking out the right caregivers, but it’s worth it for peace of mind and to avoid last-minute child care crises. Additional backup child care is important, too. You can augment your regular providers with a weekend teenage babysitter, camps and classes, visits to grandparents or by joining a babysitting exchange. Use some of the extra time for date night with your partner or for “me” time.

3. Train your boss and your colleagues to respect boundaries.

Some social work positions require you to be available or on-call during non-work hours. Other jobs present social work issues requiring long days or interruption in your routine. But even in these instances, you should make sure preserve your downtime as much as possible. Don’t answer off-hour emails immediately, and ask your supervisors for reasonable schedules. Avoid the tendency to agree to every workplace demand. Many social workers serve populations that have significant needs, but it is not possible for any one person to come to the rescue all the time. If you are constantly sacrificing your family, you are not being fair to yourself or those who depend on you at home.

4. Take care of yourself.

Social work challenges can be physically and psychologically exhausting. You are a better professional if you are in balance yourself. Take a lesson from the safety demonstration provided by the flight attendant before a plane takes off: Put on your own oxygen mask first. You can’t give if you have nothing left, so schedule a night out with friends, enjoy an afternoon with a book or get some exercise.

5. Realize that the decision is yours.

Life is a tension of opposites. There are periods in your career where you will have unique opportunities and want to move full speed ahead. At other times, you may want to focus on a new baby or a unique developmental period in your child’s life. For example, some moms choose flexible hours once their child outgrows day care so they can be home after school. Set your career and family objectives and then make decisions accordingly. Work-life balance means that sometimes you put the kids first, no matter what, and other times, you work late and the kids order pizza.

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