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Career vs Family: Must it Be a Binary Choice?


A lot of people have the dream of being successful in their career and also raising a family. While it’s a lot to balance two important aspects of life that demand so much of your time, it is doable. When deciding whether career vs family should be your priority, there are a lot of aspects to consider. Let’s break down what to consider and if the dilemma of choosing career over family is in fact even a reality.

Family vs. Career

In many cases, women tend to bear the brunt of this dilemma as women have historically been the primary caretaker of children. However, as women have defined their position in the workforce, and even continue to outnumber men in education, this question faces every sex and gender.

In the same vein, men have historically been the breadwinner and are expected to succeed in their careers to be providers. Their place in the family was understated in terms of time spent with the children.

Yet, times are massively changing. There are new definitions of family structures and typically gender roles are going out the window. Therefore, the truth is, you don’t have to look at the situation as binary. You can still have a successful career and raise a happy family, on your own terms.

To do this, it takes a shift in mentality, proper time management, and attention to creating the right balance that works for you.

Dad reading to babyPhoto by Picsea on Unsplash

Must You Choose?

Making a choice between family or career no longer makes sense. Back in the day, society had more clearly defined roles. But, with changes in our realities comes changing patterns of thought. Rather than feeling guilty for dedicating time to work, spend that energy on being fully present when you are with your family.

The best way to find the balance to do both is to always remain present in the moment. This takes practice and mindfulness, but once you attain this skill, it can be life-changing.

A 5-Year “Sacrifice”

If you’re not simply trying to balance work and family well enough, but rather your goal is to be great in one or the other, then something has got to give. That’s because there are only 24 hours in a day, and nothing you can do will change this fact.

However, if you decide that moving up in your career is the bigger priority, then you have to be willing to sacrifice at least 5 years of your life to parenting.

Why 5 years?

The 2-5 Timeline of Parenting

The idea is that kids generally start school around age 5, which means some time will be freed up where they don’t have to be in your care. If you decide that moving up in your career means a lot to you for financial stability and also expertise or passion, then you may want to consider having children earlier in your career. It will be easier to come back into the workforce at a younger age and catch up.

Striking the Right Balance

Finding the right balance of when to push for a career and when to push for a family is highly subjective. However, two important considerations that come into play are wealth planning and education.

There’s a chance that you will have worked for a few years after graduating from college. In this case, you may want to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree, but you also want to start a family. How can you balance both?

You need to be solution-oriented because there is always a way. One example to solve this conundrum would be to attend online college like the University of the People. That way, you can potentially start your family, earn your higher education on a flexible schedule, and then re-enter the workforce with a higher degree. This can kill two birds with one stone as your higher degree will earn you more money. That way, you can potentially work less hours than you would have otherwise had to and still be able to support your family.

There are different ways to maximize your time and energy in any situation. Rather than choosing to do nothing, you can choose to design your life how you envision it. This comes with:

1. Addressing the Issue

More often than not, men may have particular difficulty expressing their family obligations within a work setting. By ignoring that family matters to you, you are allowing everyone within your workplace to do the same. Speak up and if there’s an important family milestone that means you have to leave work early, then let your superiors know in advance. Everyone generally accepts and understands what family means to people.

2. Prioritizing your Time

If something comes up at work or in your personal life that isn’t serving your goals, learn how to say “no.” Learning to say no goes hand-in-hand with properly managing your time.

3. Changing Your Work Mentality

Family and work are both important parts of your life. That means that they don’t have to exist in their own separate bubbles. Not only can you take lessons from work back home to your family and vice versa, but you can also be sure to talk about family at work. You already probably talk about work with family. These types of discussions may even strengthen relationships with those you can connect with in the workplace.

Women in the workplacePhoto by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Workplace Policies are Changing

Cultures and societies shift over time. That’s why as norms change, so do structures that are in place to accommodate them. Although most places still have a ways to go in terms of work/family balance, companies are beginning to take notice of how important it is. For example, most countries have laws about maternity and paternity leave.

A lot of workplaces are even adapting for those who return from maternity leave and either have to bring their babies to work or continue to take care of their familial duties while at work. To exemplify, some companies started to build maternity rooms for new mothers so that they have a private place to pump breast milk. That’s just one example of how the workplace culture is shifting to accept family duties.

Things to Consider

While the above argument discusses theoretical approaches to work/life balance like time management, there are major practical implications that need to be considered. These include:

1. Family Status

Are you a single-parent household? This may be the most challenging scenario to being able to balance work and family because you are raising a child alone. That will require your attention and time, undoubtedly. You’ll have to ask yourself what’s really more important for your long-term goals.

2. Monthly Income

Naturally, money is a major concern when choosing family or jobs. To have a family, you have to be able to provide the necessities like food and shelter. But, even if you don’t want a family and you instead prioritize work, will all that money make you happy?

3. Social Bias

No matter what you choose to dedicate more of your time to, there will be people who judge you and call you out. The most important thing in this case is to remain true to yourself. It’s your life to live and what others say truly does not matter.

4. Raising Children

A lot of people will testify that being a parent is the hardest job in the world, but it is also the most rewarding.

5. Long-Term Results

As is every choice in your life, your own opinion and subjective viewpoint is primary. You need to decide where you see yourself down the line and what decisions will make you look back without regrets.

Tips to Balance Career and Family

When balancing career and family, which so many people do, take into consideration these tips to help:

Be Present

Wherever you are, be present. When you’re at work, don’t obsess about the fact you could be with family. When you’re with family, try not to think about what work you have to do. When you do this, you are detracting energy from what is in front of you and how successful you can be in that time.

Create Alone Time

No matter what you’re balancing in your life, it’s important to take care of yourself. Through self-care and alone time, you can recharge your batteries to be fully immersed in your daily life.

Release Guilt

Guilt is an emotion that doesn’t facilitate action. Rather, it’s draining. Try to release any feelings of guilt and be easy on yourself. You’re doing the best you can!

Tips for Working and Going to School

Perhaps you’re not ready yet for a family, but to prepare for when that day comes, you want to pursue an education while you work and save money. Here are some useful ways to know how to work full time and go to school:

  • Online courses: Consider attending an online university like the University of the People – a non-profit, university aimed at breaking barriers in the way of higher education. Because the courses are 100% online, this allows you to set up your own schedule and learn at your own pace. Better yet, you could save a lot of money because studying with UoPeople is completely tuition-free.
  • Communicate with managers: Make sure your managers at work know you are going to school. They will likely work with you so that you can arrange your work schedule to accommodate big events at school, like finals or tests.
  • Time management: Time management is key throughout your whole life. Being able to manage your time will relieve stress and maximize productivity.
  • Use learning on the job: Be sure to apply what you learn in school on the job and vice versa.
  • Possible tuition assistance or work study: There are always options for financial aid. Choose from tuition assistance, work study, scholarships, grants, or loans.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, deciding where you spend your time and how you prioritize your career and your family comes down to a choice you make. However, there are not many things in life that are purely black and white. Instead, it takes balance and precision to manage your time in a way that you can succeed in your job and also care adequately for your family.

Everyone’s situation is different, so once you decide what is right for you, dedicate yourself entirely to that decision and make it happen (guilt-free, of course)!