How to Find the Balance between Work and Family? An Important Discussion We Need to Acknowledge

Added to Medium, February 1, 2018

Museum professionals who either decide to start or have families of their own or have other dependents need to figure out how they can balance work and life outside of the museum. This balance is what I need to continue to consider as I plan to be married next year, and continue to spend time with family. Finding the right balance is not going to be easy since life is unpredictable.

I knew going in that balancing work and life is a challenge, and I should try to be as flexible as possible. My experience in the museum field has presented a number of instances when I need to figure out how to balance work and family. For instance, it is a challenge to visit my family when they live in other states.

I have an older sister who lives with her husband and two boys in Connecticut, and a younger sister who lives with her husband in Rhode Island. The rest of my family live around the New England area. As a museum professional who works in a small museum, I wear many hats when I assist in running programs and finances. It is hard sometimes when I cannot always go up to visit family as long as I want to. During the holidays, we planned a brunch so all of us are able to spend time together and we are able to spend time with extended family within the same day; this worked well with me especially because my fiancé and I went to brunch at my sister’s then we went back to spend time with his family.

I am grateful for the time I am able to spend with family, and being able to balance museum work and family is important to me. I always look for resources on how to balance museum work and family life since it is never too early to figure out how to plan for the future.

In the past, I came across information about balancing work and family life in the museum field. I kept the information in mind while I was attending graduate school, and beginning my career in the museum education field.

Recently I have been reintroduced to a blog post written on American Association of State and Local History’s website written back in 2016 by Melissa Prycer, the President/Executive Director of the Dallas Heritage Village. The AASLH blog post, “Baby Boom: Motherhood & Museums”, shared two stories about Prycer’s friends and colleagues experiences dealing with balancing work and family, as well as workplace leave policies.

It caught my attention again because now that I am planning more on my future. By reading this blog and other resources, we will be prepared for what we need to know what is going on in the topic of workplace leave policies and motherhood.

I began thinking more about the balance of work and life when I participated in the MuseumEdChat discussion last week on this topic. The hosts of this chat posed questions about this topic and participants answered their questions.

One of the questions that was posed and discussed about was: When you hear the phrase “family friendly workplace,” what does mean to you? When I hear “family friendly workplace”, I think that this is an organization that understands that family takes priority especially when unpredictable circumstances happen such as when one’s child is sick and needs to be brought to the doctor.

Museums and museum professionals also need to acknowledge that there are different types of families that need to be cared for, and when we acknowledge this in our programming our family friendly workplace policies should reflect this fact as well.

A website called Incluseum had written a blog post that discussed acknowledging different types of families called “Including the 21st Century Family”. The 21st century family is a term created by the writer to acknowledge the fact that families are unique, and by using the term family it suggests that we see families as “a nuclear family with two heterosexual legally married parents of the same race and their biological children, residing in the same household.”

The blog post included a list of family-inclusive language words that helps museums be more inclusive to all visitors. For instance, instead of calling adults accompanying children “parents” or “mom and dad”, since it suggests that all children have moms and dads which is not the case, museum professionals should use “grownup”, “adult”, or “caregiver”.

If we pay this close attention to how we treat our family visitors, we should extend the same amount of attention to our own museum professionals’ families.

Since I do not have children of my own yet, it is important that I should learn what other museum professional parents deal with and desire from family friendly workplace policies to prepare for what I may consider in the future. I read other participants tweets responding to questions the hosts posted.

Another question that was posed was: If you could design your dream set of benefits that would give you true “work life fit” what would it look like?

One of the participants pointed out that it is important to make sure museum professionals who dedicate a big chunk of their lives to fulfill the museum’s mission get benefits that include paid family leave, health insurance, and opportunities for professional growth.

During the discussion, Sage, one of the hosts of last week’s MuseumEdChat, shared information from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on Family and Medical Leave. According to their website, this organization produces reports, fact sheets, and memoranda about the impacts of proposed paid leave laws to inform policymakers, business leaders, and advocates across the country. The information the Institute provides identifies costs and benefits of workplace leave policies to help people understand that these policies do not harm businesses and the economy.

When we take a good look at what our museums have to offer and what museums should do to help us balance work and family, we will be able to successfully accomplish our museums’ goals while being able to make memories with our families and have families of our own if we choose to.

Does your museum or organization provide leave policies and/or services for your families? How do you balance time between work and family?


“Leaving the Museum Field”: A Reaction to the Alliance Labs Blog

Added to Medium, September 27, 2017

This week I am posting earlier than usual because I have a family event this weekend I am preparing for and I also want to address a blog post from Alliance Labs, the American Alliance of Museums blog, discussing the topic of why many museum professionals are leaving the field.

It is an important topic because there are so many people considering leaving the field for various reasons, and we need to do something to work towards making our field more inclusive and rewarding for museum professionals to make it more appealing to stay. After reading this blog and similar articles, the experience made me think about my own reasoning for staying in the field as well as my resolve to be a part of making this museum field a more encouraging field to continue working in.

Sarah Erdman, Claudia Ocello, Dawn Estabrooks Salerno, and Marieke Van Damme last week talked about this topic in their blog “Leaving the Museum Field”. These four museum professionals got together after the 2016 AAM conference in DC to try to find out the reasons museum workers leave the field. In this blog, they presented their findings based on the over one thousand individuals who participated in a survey with open-ended questions. One of the questions that were placed in the survey include,
Why we stay. Hands down, we stay because of the work we do. Unsurprisingly, for those of us who have made lifelong friends at our museums, we also stay because of our coworkers. The close 3rd and 4th reasons for staying are “Pay/Benefits” and “No Other Option.” The least popular response was “Feel Lucky to Have a Job” (1%) and the write-in “I love dinosaurs.”’

I have mentioned in previous blog posts my reasons for joining the museum field, and for me my reasons are definitely for the love of the work I do as well as my passion for museums. In my very first blog post, “Writing about Museum Education”, I mentioned my family trips to museums inspired my passion for and my career in museum education. I also pointed out that

“Education for me has always been my favorite part of life, and while at times it was challenging for me field trips especially to museums have given me a way to understand the lessons I learned in the classroom.”

I still believe museums can illuminate an individual’s educational experience, and by continuing in the museum field I hope to make an impact on the public. It is a challenge to accomplish this when there are things that prevent me from fulfilling this goal.

As I was graduating with my Master’s degree in Public History, there were limited opportunities to get a position in the field that would meet the typical needs. Similar limitations were addressed in the blog post as reasons museum professionals are leaving. According to the blog,

Reasons why museum workers leave the field. We had about 300 answers to this open-ended question. We grouped them by theme and found the following reasons (in order of frequency of response):
1. Pay was too low
2. Other
3. Poor work/life balance
4. Insufficient benefits
5. [tie] Workload/Better positions
6. Schedule didn’t work.”

There was a point that I thought I should consider leaving. However, I thought about my experiences I have had at this point, and knew there is so much I still have to offer to the field. I began working at the Maritime Explorium, a children’s science museum, which is a little different from my previous experiences but is just as passionate about education for children and the public as I am. Also, I began work on this blog sharing my experiences in the museum field as well as my impressions on current trends in the field. I also became involved in museum organizations, including the Gender Equity in Museums Movement, to help other museums and museum professionals make a difference in the community and within their institutions.

In a way, I adapted my career in the museum education field and I found a way to stay in the field. I continue to work hard to stay in the field. This blog pointed out a number of ways to help museum professionals stay; it stated,

How can we prevent museum workers from leaving? Again, increasing pay was at the top of the list, but respondents also suggested many free or cost-effective ways to create better working environments, like:
Create mentoring opportunities
Respect each other – break departmental silos
Make room for new ideas.”

By following the previously mentioned suggestions, we as museum professionals will be able to work towards making museums a better workforce to stay in so we would be able to work within our communities better.

While I continue to face challenges in attaining these needs, I am thankful for every opportunity that I have experienced in the field. Each experience has led me to getting to know various people in the field and to learning lessons in the field that help me grow as a museum professional.

The key to making this field a more appealing field to stay in is to keep working towards making a change in our museums and the museum community. It would not be realistic to expect the museum field to be better overnight. We need to keep talking about this situation, and be able to learn from this experience to move forward. I included the original link to the blog in my resources section for all museum professionals to refer to, and it also includes a variety of resources related to this topic to refer to.

Please leave your responses about this topic on my blog and/or the Alliance Labs blog, and continue this discussion among your colleagues.