A 1997 advertisement for AT&T Wireless speaks to one of the greatest challenges faced by working parents: balancing the responsibilities of their jobs with those of their families. This is especially difficult for parents of children under age 18.
The desire to balance work and family life is often stronger for women who tend to take on more of the responsibilities of housework and childcare.
The AT&T Wireless advertisement features a professional woman, three daughters, and an adolescent babysitter. The mother rushes to get herself ready to go to the office while her three daughters are preparing their own breakfasts. Here’s a condensed version of their conversation:
Eldest daughter: “Mom, why do you always have to go to work?”
Mom: “It’s called food, video, skates…”
Second daughter: “Can we go to the beach?”
Mom: “Not today honey, I’ve got a meeting with a very important client.”
Four-year old daughter (sadly): “Mom, when can I be a client?”
Mom (after a moment of contemplation): “You have five minutes to get ready for the beach or I’m going without you.”
At the beach, the mom’s cell phone rings. She answers it while her middle daughter shouts out, “Hey everybody, it’s time for the meeting!”
Idea for Impact: Make Your Loved Ones Your Most Important Clients
Striking that delicate work-life balance has puzzled people for ages. Personally, I’m not fond of the term ‘work-life balance’ because it offers a false dichotomy and implies that one’s personal and professional lives are separable. I prefer the term ‘work-life choices.’
It’s not so much about balance as it is about understanding what you value and setting the right priorities. Learning to balance the demands of conflicting priorities is not simply a thought exercise.
- Decide your life’s values. Decide on what truly matters to you and why.
- Rank those values according to their respective priority levels. The American philosopher Henry David Thoreau once wrote in “Journals” (1838-1859,) “the cost of a thing it will be remembered as the amount of life it requires to be exchanged for it.” Each decision you make involves tradeoffs: choosing to do one thing entails not choosing to do some other thing.
- Allocate your time, money, and other limited resources on what matters most to you. As I wrote in The World’s Shortest Course on Time Management, discern the few things that you must do; then, focus on those and avoid the rest.
Postscript: Remarks on the AT&T Wireless Advertisement as A Great Example of Emotional Advertising
- The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Field Guide for Effective Communication remarks, “Ads like this one show how the cell phone becomes a solution to a problem for working mothers. It captures an element that the cell phone is not only an instrument of freedom, not only an instrument of wealth creation, but also an instrument that makes it a little easier to have fairness in a world with a lot of stress.”
- Robert Goldman, Professor of Sociology at Lewis & Clark College, notes, “A 1997 AT&T ad opens with scenes calculated to evoke the everydayness of home life, bringing forth the feel and texture of real—unreconstructed and un-retouched by the camera— interactions from that messy area we know as family life. The video of the ad exemplifies Hyperreal Encoding designed to make a case about the realness of the story being told, perhaps even making the case that it bears some resemblance to “your” own life. A woman scrambles to get herself ready to go to the office while her three girls are taking care of their own breakfasts. The oldest is preparing eggs for breakfast, while the baby plays with food containers from the open refrigerator door, and the four-year old disinterestedly spoons her cereal around her bowl, onto the table, and perhaps the floor.”