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Work-life balance? Not exactly

Family researcher talks juggling work and family while staying home

When the novel coronavirus made its way to the United States, the impact it made on day-to-day lives was unexpected and extreme. This was especially true for parents who moved their work to home and simultaneously needed to assist their children with online schooling. And the challenge isn’t going away, with an uncertain new school year that for many is beginning virtually.

One of these parents includes Kelly Chandler, family researcher and assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, who is a mother to two school-age girls.

“It’s already hard to fit all these different roles of being an employee, a parent or volunteer and make them work together,” she says. “Now, we’re adding on the hat of a teacher.”

Kelly, who researches how parents integrate work and family life, emphasizes the importance of well-being and having self-awareness and compassion as an employee and a parent during these tough times.

“There is plenty of research that shows your family’s well-being affects your work,” she says. “Family is the priority, and it also benefits your well-being and job performance.”

“The term ‘work-life balance’ is misleading and unrealistic. When you think of balance, you think of ‘equal,’ and these competing priorities aren’t equal, they’re very different.”

When it comes to helping children understand uncertainty and remote learning, she says open communication goes a long way.

“Within a family, it’s not just parents affecting their kids. They also have emotions, experiences and stressors that impact parents,” Kelly says.

When her 10-year-old daughter began to worry about virtual school meetings and felt isolated, she moved her daughter’s desk into her home office so she could experience more social connection.

“Especially with younger kids, they may be acting out because they don’t know how to express themselves. It is important for parents to figure out what is going on and ask, ‘How can we strategize?’”

Kelly also encourages parents to reconsider how they think about ‘work-life balance.’

“The term ‘work-life balance’ is misleading and unrealistic. When you think of balance, you think of ‘equal,’ and these competing priorities aren’t equal, they’re very different,” she says. “Some days, the scales tilt toward family; other days, work. Balance isn’t achieved in equal parts every day and develops over time. Instead, we should use terms like ‘work-life integration’ or ‘work-life fit,’ which promote fitting responsibilities together depending on different situations.”

This story is adapted from our “10 in 10” video series: 10 questions, in 10 minutes, with a college faculty member on a topic related to human health and well-being. Want more? Read the latest on Synergies and watch full episodes on the college’s YouTube channel.

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