09/24/2015 04:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Be a Career-Loving Parent: Know Your Work-Life Style (Part 2 of 4)

Photo courtesy of franky242/
In the first installment in this series, I proposed that we abandon the guilt-ridden, compromise-focused term "working parent," in favor of the choice-filled, opportunity-focused term "career-loving parent." If you missed that article, I'd suggest you go back and read it before proceeding so that we're speaking the same language.

How to be a career-loving parent
Just in case you didn't take my advice and you're not totally sure what I'm talking about, here's a quick review of the high-level steps to transforming yourself from the energy-sapped working parent to the energized career-loving parent. A word of warning though: Don't be fooled by any simple list of steps to personal effectiveness. Behind each of these pithy bullets is a WHOLE LOT of hard work. This journey ain't for the faint-hearted or lazy. But that's not you, is it? Didn't think so. Read on, intrepid fellow traveler!

  1. Know your work-life style. The first step toward career-loving parenthood is knowing which solution to the problem that lies at the intersection of the personal and the professional is right for you. We'll dig into this first step in detail below.
  2. Know your work options. The next step is breaking out of the dominant paradigms of available work options and realizing that today, more than ever before, you have choices about when you work, where you work, and how you work. The hard part is figuring out which one is right for you. We'll tackle this one in the next installment.
  3. Get smart. No model works without some guiding principles and some personalization. In the final installment in this series, we'll examine what it takes to set you up for success as a career-loving parent.

Thus endeth the review. Ready to dig into step 1? Let's do it.

Know your work-life style
In the 2008 book CEO of Me: Creating a Life That Works in the Flexible Job Age, authors Ellen Ernst Kossek and Brenda Lautsch introduced flexstyles as a way of thinking about how each of us conceptualizes are relationship to work, family, community, and self. We all know some people for whom the spheres of their lives blend and swirl in a dizzying blur, and we also know those who keep firm boundaries that mean work is work and home is home. Kossek and Lautsch broke these folks down into three primary types:

  • The Integrator
  • The Separator
  • The Volleyer

The Integrator
If you're an integrator, the idea of being a career-loving parent might come a little more easily to you. However, as with all three of the flexstyles, there are folks who enjoy being an integrator and folks who feel trapped into being an integrator.

For those who feel good about being integrators (Kossek and Lautsch call them "fusion lovers"), the task switching (you should know by now that there's no such thing as multitasking), context switching, and blending of work, friends, family, community, and self are a source of joy and pride. Fusion lovers are the consummate integrators.

On the other hand, those who feel like integration is forced upon them (called "reactors") might feel overwhelmed by all the competing demands that refuse to be reined in. They want more control over the transitions between work time and non-work time, but can't seem to figure it out on their own.

Being an integrator can be a positive path to be a fulfilled career-loving parent, but the tradeoffs can be seemingly interminable demands on your time, confusion among your family and coworkers about what you're doing when, and a lack of one of the most precious commodities we have in life: focus.

The Separator
For separators, the boundaries between the various spheres of life are firm and impermeable. Work doesn't interfere with family and family doesn't interfere with work.

Kossek and Lautsch call those who enjoy being separators "firsters," because they pick one sphere of life (usually work or family) as their first priority, and subjugate the other spheres to that. They're comfortable with the tradeoffs that their priorities require. For example, if work comes first, they know that family might get a little less attention, and vice versa.

Those who feel forced into separation get the sobriquet "captives." These poor folks feel constant stress about having to choose between work and non-work priorities. They're often relieved by work that's a little more flexible or that doesn't require special equipment that tethers them to an office or lab.

Separators can be great career-loving parents too, especially if they have emotionally demanding work (emergency medical, social work, etc.) that they just can't afford to bring home. However, separators might miss out on opportunities to transfer relevant lessons from the workplace to the home, and vice versa.

The Volleyer
Volleyers spend some of their life as integrators and some as separators, depending on what life demands. They switch focus from work to family when they have to, and can blend the work and non-work spheres when needed.

"Quality timers" is the name given to those who are happy about this arrangement. They are satisfied with the fact that they sometimes need to blend and sometimes need to separate. One of their most valuable survival skills is blocking time for top priorities so that they know they'll have focused time for the important things, whether they're work- or family-related.

Those who are unhappy as volleyers are called "job warriors." They feel uncomfortable about the switches from integration to separation, and often feel a lack of control over when they do which. They tend to do better when they have more control over their work and travel schedules.

There's no reason that volleyers can't learn to become great career-loving parents. However, they need to beware of fatigue caused by constant switching of styles. Like integrators, they can confuse their coworkers and family, who don't know what they're focusing on when, and they can have a hard time prioritizing tasks.

Know your work-life style -- but don't be trapped by it
Knowing which style comes to you most naturally is an important first step to becoming someone who comfortably excels as both a parent and a worker -- but it shouldn't be the last. You are a complex, multi-dimensional weirdo who cannot be easily defined by a single label. Your unique combination of experiences, expertise, and eccentricities makes you a puzzle that's never been solved before.

What's more, your educability means you are capable of learning and adapting in ways that enable you to exhibit new skills and behaviors when you need them. If you know your work options and get smart about how you work within them, your work-life style will just be one part of your recipe for being a happy, healthy, career-loving parent.

Next week, we'll dig into knowing your work options. Be sure to stop by. If you haven't subscribed to my mailing list to be reminded when new articles are available, this might be a really good time to do so.