LDS women strike balance between family and work


Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer recently announced the decision to ban the telecommuting option for employees, which instantly grabbed the attention of the media and angered mothers across the country. Mayer was blasted for her decision, but now other corporations, like Best Buy, have decided to follow in her footsteps.

Responses generated by working mothers filled social media sites. Questions about how women juggle raising a family and work full-time began to surface. But even before the controversy began, women on the BYU campus have successfully managed both working outside the home and managing family responsibilities.

Despite time commitments and busy schedules, Latter-day Saint women with children have found the balance between work and family life. Erin Holmes, a mother and assistant professor in the School of Family Life, is someone who understands the struggles a working mom faces.

“Though it can be challenging to transition into your new roles as a mother and to figure out how that will impact your role as an employee, you can do hard things,” Holmes said.

According to Sarah Coyne, also a mother and assistant professor at BYU, finding that balance can be difficult, but making sure priorities are in place is necessary.

“Remember that family does always come first, then work second,” Coyne said. “If my work ever becomes the priority in my life, then I know I need to change course.”

Leslie Benfell is a mother and also works outside the home running her own business and teaching at BYU. (Photo courtesy of Leslie Benfell)

Finding balance comes from experience. Leslie Benfell teaches interior design at BYU and runs her own business. She said she had to find what worked best for her and her family.

“I found that when I was working 20 hours a week I felt pretty good about my work both at home and at the office,” Benfell said. “Every hour more than that made my success at home increasingly difficult. I never wanted to look back with regret that I didn’t spend enough time with my children. So instead of more important positions in the workplace or raises in pay, I requested reduced hours.”

Finding a balance that works is just one of many struggles working mothers face. Meeting expectations can also be a challenge when trying to raise a family and work.

“I think we place very high expectations on ourselves as women in the Church, so sometimes you think you need to be super woman, super mom, super daughter, super wife, super cook, super cleaner, super Pinterest-lady and super employee,” Coyne said. “It’s impossible to be perfect in every area, and it’s important to be able to recognize that fact and be OK with it.”

Being a working mother and a member of the Church sometimes adds additional pressures. Benfell said she quit her job after she heard a talk in General Conference, but she realized quickly it was not the right thing for her to do.

I was angry about it because I had made the right decision,” Benfell said. “I was doing the right thing … and I felt no peace.”

After talking with her boss, Benfell decided to go back to work part-time, which ultimately helped take care of an unexpected family trial. The leadership of the Church has said that the decision for a mother to work is a personal one based on the needs of the family.

“Decisions about working outside the home are difficult ones and need to be made prayerfully, keeping ever in mind the counsel of the living prophets on this complex issue,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve.

The complexity of the issue sometimes turns into judgment, even though the issue is a personal decision. Those who do not understand a situation can be negative, while others are supportive.

“For the most part, the people who know me and my situation and why I am working are extremely supportive, interested and loving,” Coyne said. “However, I do think that a small minority of people can be judgmental, especially if they don’t know my background. It’s hard sometimes, but I’ve had some extremely spiritual experiences in my life telling me that I’m supposed to be at BYU right now and that my working here will be a blessing to me, my students and my family.”

Holmes has been studying how people successfully integrate work life, family life and personal life. In her study, she has found benefits from working.

“People benefit from workplace policies like flexibility in when and where they work,” Holmes said. “They also benefit from having family members who offer them emotional support.”

The opinions surrounding the Yahoo! telecommuting decision suggested that it would be impossible for mothers to go into work every day; however, there are mothers making it work and doing so successfully.

“You can find the type of balance that suits your needs and your family’s needs,” Holmes said. “Find people you trust who will listen to your concerns and struggles and offer you genuine support.”

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