The Obamas On The "High-Wire Act" of Work vs. Family Balance

From Sunlen Miller:

Likening the balancing act between work and family life to a ”high-wire act” President Obama said that his administration stands committed to helping with workplace flexibility – as many more families struggle to make ends meet in households with two working parents.

The president said that while his family has had it relatively easier than most he can still remember the days that there’s no room for error.

“If the car breaks down or somebody gets sick or there's a problem at school, that begins a cascading domino effect that leaves everybody scrambling,” Obama said at the closing session of the forum at Eisenhower Executive Office Building, “I was away for days on end for my job, and Michelle was working hard at hers. So a lot of times we felt like we were just barely keeping everything together. When we were at work, we were worrying about what was happening at home. When we were home at home, we were worrying about work. We both felt our overloaded schedules were taking a toll on our marriage.”

The president said that there is still a disconnect between the needs of a family and the demands of the workplace – and that the stigmas still exists: those who believe that workplace flexibility policies serve as a special bonus for women or for an employee who isn’t full committed to their job.

“Workplace flexibility isn't just a women's issue. It's an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses. It affects the strength of our economy, whether we'll create the workplaces and jobs of the future.”

The administration – Mr. Obama announced -- has launched a pilot project to provide opportunities for federal workers in Washington –and across America – to telework on a regulate basis. The president promised more changes were to come.

“Where regulations are in the way, we'll see what we can do to change them. Where new technology can help, we'll find a secure, cost-effective way to install it. Where training is needed to help managers and workers embrace this approach, we'll adopt the best practices from the private sector”

In a dig to his OPM Director, John Berry, who famously shut down the federal government for four days due to snow this February – the president joked that he doesn’t want to see the government close because of snow again.

Opening up the afternoon-long forum earlier in the day First Lady Michelle Obama said that this is an issue many have struggled with for year, and one that “society just hasn’t really quite figured out yet.”

She too said she is not too far removed from the balancing act –never feeling like she was keeping up with home or work enough. She recalling getting called up for a job interview while on maternity leave with her youngest daughter, Sasha.

“I had to scramble to look for a babysitting and couldn’t find one so what did I do?” Mrs. Obama said, “I packed up that little infant and I put her in a stroller and I brought her with me! And I prayed that her presences wouldn't be an automatic disqualifier. And it was fortunate for me that number one she slept though the entire interview and I was still breastfeeding, if that’s not too much information, and I got the job.”

Mrs. Obama called this the “delicate balance of perfection” and said that it doesn’t have to be this way.

“It just doesn’t have to be that hard,” she said referencing simple things the federal government can do – like expanding telework access, providing emergency childcare and more affordable daycare.

Mrs. Obama turned the stage over to the forum’s moderator, ABC’s own Claire Shipman and joked that they were going to solve the issue during the course of the afternoon.

“45 minutes?” Shipman asked about the length of the opening forum.

“Shorter than health care,” Mrs. Obama quipped back.

-Sunlen Miller

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