As a lawyer in a Chicago firm, Cynde Hirschtick Munzer is expected to entertain clients. But while many colleagues have traditionally done that on the golf course and over weekend dinners, Munzer didn’t want to give up time with her kids, ages 3 and 5.
So she started inviting clients and their young children to park outings or lunch at her house. “Time is such a premium,” she says, “that if you can combine work and spending time with your family, why not?”
Only a few years ago, such behavior would have been considered unprofessional. Today, in many fields it’s considered in the vanguard, as working parents and a growing number of employers reject the notion of juggling in favor of “blending,” or integrating work and family. And studies show that when parents have flexibility over how and when they do their work, they’re less stressed and more productive, according to the Families and Work Institute, a research group in New York City.
There are simple ways to blend, says Bonnie St. John Deane, author of Succeeding Sane. You can take your kids along on easy work errands, like dropping off a package. Or let them draw in a coloring book in your office while you check e-mail on a Saturday, or play a computer game while you do some work off the computer, pausing now and then to join in.
But there are pitfalls to blending. “When people blur the boundaries between job and family, often they end up doing more work because they can,” says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., a California State University, Dominguez Hills, research psychologist and coauthor of TechnoStress. Besides, he says, if you’re doing two tasks at once — such as writing a memo while talking to your child — chances are you won’t do either very well. Experts emphasize the importance of giving your kids some undivided attention every day; for many working parents, that’s unblended dinner with the family and putting them to bed at night.
Blending isn’t the perfect answer, says Deane, “but it can do a lot to reduce the tug-of-war between job and family.”