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History teacher Alyssa Novick at Ashbury College in Ottawa. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
History teacher Alyssa Novick at Ashbury College in Ottawa. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

Work-life Balance

Part 3: Hoping to get sick in order to rest Add to ...

Work-life balance issues affect people in myriad ways. Here, 11 Canadians tell their stories. Part 3 of a six-part series.

EMMA OWEN, VANCOUVER

Executive Assistant. Married. One child.

How do I manage? I'll let you know when I figure it out.

My husband does help out a lot, but I'd like him to cook me dinner once in a while (and, no, take-out doesn't count). I arrive at the train station 15 minutes early every day. This is my "me" time. I sit in my car, drink my coffee and listen to a local radio station's morning show. I look forward to this every weekday morning. How sad is that?

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Going back to work after having my son, Rhys, was the hardest.

Don't get me wrong, I loved getting out of the house, talking with grown-ups about grown-up things and earning a real paycheque. But it was really tough because I have to leave before Rhys gets up. From the time I went back to just a month or so ago, it was all about Daddy. Really, all about Daddy. Whenever he fell and cried, he wanted Daddy. If he was sick and needed cuddles, he wanted Daddy. If we were out and he wanted to be carried, he wanted Daddy.

It was tough and it hurt.

SUSAN WITTEVEEN, TORONTO

Managing director of a bank. Married. Three kids.

In my life right now, I have a "village" of support. I have my mother-in-law. I have a dedicated assistant; I expect her to read my mind and she is really getting quite good at it. And I have my nanny Pia.

Pia and I have been raising my kids together for five years. She works about 12 hours day - 6:50 a.m. to around 7 p.m. - plus often overtime during the week. We try not to have her on weekends to give her a break from us. We try.

I always say to people when they decide to hire a nanny: Be honest with respect to your needs. Are you hiring a nanny for the "kids" or do you need a nanny for the "household" (code for the mommy and daddy need nannying too)?

Pia helps close the wide gaps in my domestic interest and abilities. She seldom complains and when she does gives us a blast - we really, really deserve it.

I consciously chose to spend money on what matters most, so we have a nanny instead of sending the kids to private schools.

The hard truth is that the juggle doesn't always work. I am a multitasker. That's out of vogue right now. But that is what I do. I have been known to mix "business with pleasure" and as a result have had my kids too close during important conference calls and have inadvertently yelled into the phone, "Don't wrestle her like that ... she's a baby and you are choking her to death!"

But I'm glad I work outside the home, even if during the outrageously busy times at the office, or when all three kids get sick at the same time, I question that choice.

EDWARD LYONS, WINNIPEG

Radiologist. Married. Two children, two grandchildren.

I'm from a generation of baby boomers where your work was a commitment. Today, for better or for worse, the younger people coming into careers want to be involved. The difference is a breakfast of bacon and eggs: The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.

Younger people don't want to be committed - they want a balance. When you're interviewing them, they clearly define their work life is 9 to 5. But the time other than that is their time. Whether it's family time or their personal time, that's their time.

It's trite to say you get out of it what you put into it. But those people who aren't interested in doing anything but going to work for eight hours and going home and doing their own thing, at the end of the day, I'm not sure how much they will have enjoyed their profession. Or how much they will have contributed.

I look at my father, who was an obstetrician. One of my most vivid memories is seeing him come home from three nights in a row delivering babies, and then get showered and go back to work. His commitment was a magnitude larger.

I think that my kids sometimes get frustrated. Perhaps I wasn't always there for them. Yes, that hurts. And they're right.

STELLA YIU, OTTAWA AND TORONTO

ER doctor/teacher. Married. No kids.

It's all shift work. So we don't have standard holidays like everybody else. We also don't have weekends like everybody else. It's hectic, but it's not crazy.

I had to move for family reasons. I came from Hong Kong when I was a teenager and I'm very lucky that my parents are healthy. I have a very understanding spouse. There are no guilt trips. Whether I'm in this city doing a shift or that city doing a shift, I'm just working. It's lovely - they've always been on board.

We haven't decided whether to have kids yet. It's a big mystery to me how my colleagues do it. I don't know how they make it work.

Most people plan for a redundancy. If the nanny calls in sick, there's a kid next door who can babysit. But it breaks down when there are things you can't control: Traffic. Illness. Something you can't do anything about. That's when the acute stress comes about.

JULIE MATLIN, MONTREAL

Web communities manager and blogger. Married. Two kids.

I'm not sure the balance is actually working.

Two weeks ago I was wishing I'd get a cold, just a 24 hour virus, so I could get some forced rest. I knew if I just took a sick day I'd end up organizing the storage room. I got my wish on Tuesday. Full fever. Be careful what you ask for.

We have to make a lot of hard decisions. For instance, we thought about sending my son to a Jewish private pre-school, but can't because they close at 5 p.m., whereas his daycare is open till 6 p.m. I skipped one of the most religious holidays this year because I took advantage of the fact the entire family would be in synagogue and I could sleep in peace. That makes me sad.

JOHN CHOW, VANCOUVER

Internet entrepreneur. Married. One child.

I used to own a print shop, and that was crazy. I worked 12-14 hour days, just all the time. Now I work about two hours a day. I posted a video on my website called "The Dot Com Lifestyle." It's of me and my daughter in a park in Vancouver on a Wednesday afternoon. We're the only people there. I've gotten so many e-mails from people about that, about how inspired people were by it. People are caught in the money-time conflict. They have money but they don't have time. You have to figure out how to have both.

JULIEN PAPON, TORONTO

Entrepreneur. Married. One child.

There are all those moments when I am with my family - playing with my daughter, talking with my wife - and my mind is elsewhere. And this is all the time. The ability to disconnect from the professional environment and entirely focus on other things is a key asset. I know that I need to better myself in that regard. I miss out on the little moments that life offers, not necessarily because I am physically absent, but because my mind is churning out some new thoughts, opportunities, risks.

MADELEINE REDFERN, IQALUIT

Runs the Qikiqtani Truth Commission. One child.

My daughter has always been very independent. When she was born I owned a baby store in Ottawa and I actually cared for her in the store from the age of six months on. I had made the decision that I wanted to work, but I wasn't prepared to hand her over to a caregiver or daycare. I wanted to be part of her daily life. People would say, "Oh my god, I can't believe she's at the store with you all day." Thinking that was somehow inappropriate parenting. But she had a blast. It was way more engaging than if she had just stayed home with me as a mother and housewife. It worked for us.

Really the time that was most overwhelming was when I clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada. I was already used to working hard and being diligent and disciplined. But it was exhausting. I worked 15 hours-plus a day, seven days a week, week in, week out, for a period of almost 10 months when my daughter was 17. I'm not a procrastinator by nature. If I was, I would be completely overwhelmed and unable to handle how much I do.

JOHN GRAHAM, GOOSE BAY, LABRADOR

Social work and health consultant. Married. Four children.

About 15 years ago I was recently divorced, so I was single-parenting two active boys. I was commuting to and from work. I was running an office for the department of social services, picking up kids after school, getting them to soccer. Life was not in balance at all.

I remember the day I decided I had to stop. I was going to a meeting to discuss new child welfare legislation for the province. My son was under the desk at home saying "I'm not going to the babysitter!" I picked him up with my left hand and with my right hand I put on his boots while he was still dangling. I got into the car and thought, "There's something wrong here."

Now I work at home, and it's paid off big time for us as a family.

HUSSAIN GUISTI, WINNIPEG

Runs a charity. Married. Three kids.

My wife is a full-time surgeon, so all the family chores are on me. When she comes out of a very busy day, I want her to relax.

She does the cooking and we have help with the cleaning, but the rest of the stuff - the groceries, taking the kids to school, buying stuff for them,- that's all up to me. When it comes to buying clothes we'll go together because she will complain. I'm not good at buying girls clothes. But every day in the morning, I wake up with the girls and do their hair and take them to school. Well, actually, she does their hair at night and I just smooth it out the next morning.

I have my kids registered in basketball and cooking and kickboxing and art. You have to multitask. They come home from school and their dinner's ready, they do their homework and it's right to the community centre for their activities. Then they come home, pray, brush your teeth, go to bed. We haven't had a TV in four and a half years. We used to have one but I spent too much time watching sports and it cut down on family time. I'm surprised how people have time to watch soap operas or to ask me "Have you seen Two and a Half Men or NCSI?" No!

When you have two professionals working full time, I think the strain of that is the main reason for the high divorce rate. So I think one person should step back and devote more time to the family. I'm more with okay with being the one to do it. Why not? I do things I love. I love running my charity. A man has to have a sense of achievement.

ALYSSA NOVICK, OTTAWA

Private school teacher. Separated. Two teens.

By the time I get to my office at 8:05 a.m. I feel like I have been up and "on" for hours. But there is no respite. I teach, I mark, I prep, I cover study halls, I am on duty.

After school I have students waiting to see me and I am supposed to be on the tennis courts helping to coach. My older son has musical rehearsal. My younger son has football practice. Football is five days a week with a game on the weekend. Musical rehearsal is also five days with a full day rehearsal on Saturdays. I do all the driving back and forth.

Monday nights, ironically, I have to leave the house at 6 p.m. for a stress reduction workshop. I weigh my choices: Will it be more or less stressful to run out of the house at supper time, with homework not done? I decide to go.

I am not good at delineating work from the rest of my life. First, my kids go to the same school so it gets muddled up in that respect. Then I am close with a few of the teachers and we socialize outside of school and yammer on about it. And, I am bad for answering e-mails whenever I get them, which since I acquired a BlackBerry, is all the time.

But I am lucky because I teach and that gives me more flexibility than a lot of parents. I don't take that for granted.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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