There are plenty of articles written about parents who struggle financially. It is interesting to see that even for better-off families, the work-life balance is a constant struggle.
ON a typical day, Brady Stewart, vice president of global e-commerce operations for Levi Strauss & Company, faces the type of competing demands for her time familiar to many high-achieving, high-income families.
Her husband, she said, “has a breakfast meeting, I have a call with Europe, my daughter wants to play baby mermaids, my son is starving, our dogs are barking, I need to get out the door for a work meeting and there’s a dinner at night.”
“It’s the time squeeze to be a great partner, professional, be in shape and have a great marriage,” she said. “You have to be a pretty ruthless prioritizer.”
She is. But that is no guarantee of success. “On the days when it all works out, you’ve been a baby mermaid, read four books, crushed it at work and had a nice dinner with your husband,” she said. “It’s so rewarding. On other days, it’s tough.”
If there is a riddle that affluent, working parents can’t seem to solve, it is how to balance the many interests competing for their time: work, children, spouses, their own needs and wants. Yes, they have more money than most people struggling to get by in similar situations, but any help or financial freedom they have is dependent on their continuing to work and set priorities.
This group’s struggles are back in the cultural conversation. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and a senior State Department official during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure, touched a nerve three years ago when she wrote about the continued difficulty of women balancing office and home life. Now she has written a book, “Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family,” that calls for changes in the workplace to accommodate careers and child care.
In a bit of calendar syncing, Ms. Slaughter’s husband, Andrew Moravcsik, a professor at Princeton, has added his side, with an essay in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine about his role as the “lead parent” to their two children while his wife was in Washington and then on the speaking circuit after her essay made her even busier. He put his wife’s career before his and has no regrets.
But the message is clear: Being high achievers isn’t easy.
Their writings, along with that of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and the author of “Lean In,” serve as the Let’s Go travel guides to the high-octane life. But those travel guides offer clear tips on what to see and skip. There is no simple guide for couples making decisions on the fly. Money and relationships are at stake.
What are the tricks affluent couples have learned to make it all work?
(A pause here: Parents with inflexible jobs or who are paid by the hour with no sick time would surely relish the challenge of choosing among high-quality day care, a nanny or one parent working from home to meet child care needs. They have it tougher than people I’m writing about here.)
Ms. Stewart sounded resigned when she spoke of her prioritizing. It wasn’t a badge of honor so much as a necessity to keep everything going. “We have shared priorities,” she said. “No. 1, the kids. No. 2, our relationship. No. 3, careers. No. 4, staying in shape. Social life takes a back seat.”
Her husband, Brad, a private equity investor and the chief executive of a private-jet company, attributes their dedication to career-family juggling to their similar backgrounds. They are both oldest children from working-class families where the parents divorced, and they both went on to earn Ivy League degrees. While they have no family near their home in San Francisco, they have a long-term nanny who comes every day.
“When she’s sick, one of us doesn’t make it to work that day,” Mr. Stewart said. “Those are really stressful moments.”
Randy Florke, founder of the Rural Connection, an interior design and construction firm in New York, said he long ago adopted a policy of adhering to a strict delegation of duties to avoid confusion.
“Every week if you’re trying to figure out, ‘Is it your turn or my turn?’ that’s hard,” he said.
He and his husband, Sean Patrick Maloney, a United States congressman who spends most of the week in Washington, have three children, ages 12, 14 and 25, living at home.
“I learned long ago that control is an illusion,” said Representative Maloney, who previously worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, in state government and for private equity and law firms. “If parenting doesn’t teach you that lesson, politics does.”
He dismisses colleagues who say they don’t have enough time for their families and their careers. “We all complain about not having enough time, but very often we don’t have enough focus,” he said. “Even when I worked at the White House and our son Jesus was playing little league soccer and little league baseball at the time, I just decided I was going to make all his games. You just organize your time accordingly.”
Mr. Maloney added that rituals were what kept them focused. “We always walk the kids to the school bus in the morning,” he said. “That creates islands of stability in this stormy world.”
One theme common among these multicareer families is maniacal efficiency, though it is applied differently. The Fromm family, for instance, has worked in various aspects of New York real estate, including owning a firm until three years ago. They now have two children, ages 10 and 8, and said they had learned to leave work at the office.
“In the beginning, it was talking about the business all the time,” said Claudia Saez-Fromm, who like her husband, Mark David Fromm, is a broker at Town Residential. “It hurts the marriage. It’s just the business, the business, the business.”
“He’ll say, ‘Let’s finish the conversation now so we don’t have to take it home,’” she added. “With children, they don’t want to see you on the phone or texting all the time.”
They were also able to be objective enough to decide that working for someone else made more financial and family sense than owning a business. “At one point, it was $150,000 a month to just run our three offices,” Mr. Fromm said. “When it was good, it was really good. When it was bad, it was disastrous.”
Now, he said, they make more money working as brokers focused just on properties above $5 million and they also have more control over their schedules.
For the Butlers, it is exactly the opposite. Stephan’s venture — developing the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx — is at the center of their life, even though it is Margaret’s career as a partner at the law firm Greenberg Traurig that supports the family.
She said she was beholden to clients so her family accepts her inflexible schedule. With clients and partners ranging from the City of New York to Mark Messier, the hockey great and former New York Rangers star, Mr. Butler has his own set of obligations, but he is able to work them around dropping their 6-year-old son off at school and picking him up.
“I’ll move work until very late at night so I can do things for him,” Mr. Butler said. “It comes with a level of sacrifice. It’s not simple. You have to be agile and flexible to get things done.”
Three days a week, his mother comes from New Jersey to help with the logistics of after-school activities. But until their son was in school, the boy often tagged along with his father to meetings. (One upside of this: Mr. Messier taught their son how to stick check and celebrate as he did after scoring a goal.)
The Stewarts in San Francisco are aware of their financial and professional good fortune. Still, asked if she would change anything, Ms. Stewart said the only thing she wanted was something money couldn’t buy.
“I’d probably wish to somehow get ahead of the tiredness,” she said, and joked that a pharmaceutical company should create “the rested drug.”
PAUL SULLIVAN OCT. 9, 2015