by Melanie Williams • photo Julie Koivisto
The family life – work life balancing act has always been difficult to juggle. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelowna local, Marissa Dutoff, someone who stands out as having mastered the family life – work life balancing act. She owns and operates a business with her husband Kelly and as any entrepreneur will tell you, having your own business often means more personal time and energy is required. In fact, Marissa and her husband travel an average of 158 days a year for their business.
But Marissa had a clear vision of what she wanted her life to look like and didn’t venture into parenthood with traditional notions. This charismatic woman is mother to three-year-old Sam and nine-month-old Audrey and knew that being with her children as much as possible was her top priority. She also had no intention of giving up her career and instead has successfully created a lifestyle that synergistically combines her roles. I visited with Marissa to uncover her secrets to perfecting the working parent’s most precarious balancing act.
Tip #1: Prioritize your Values • Prioritize your children and life experiences you want to share as a family.
Q. What do you do for work and how long have you been doing it?
A. My husband Kelly started our business dealing in academic resources fifteen years ago and I have been working with him for six years. We travel approximately half the year across three provinces, to visit our suppliers and purchase inventory.
Q. What do you do with your children when you travel for work?
A. We bring them with us! It was always the plan to bring our kids along-side us when we work and travel. Sam was one month old when he took his first business trip to Alberta and Audrey was just ten days old when she took her first work trip with us.
Q. Ten days old! How did you manage travelling with a toddler a week after giving birth and why would you choose to do that?
A. It was interesting! I was pretty emotional, but it was wonderful to be with my husband and for him to not miss out on any of those special first moments. It was a great bonding experience for us as a new family of four.
Tip #2: Subscribe to Good Strategies • When you can envision what you want your life to look like, your decisions lead you towards that vision.
Q. What did you imagine your life would look like?
A. I didn’t dream of a white picket fence, but I always wanted a life that was family centered. Building a lifestyle where my family and work life could commingle and provide opportunities for shared life experiences, was what I wanted.
Q. What unique opportunities have your children had, being on the road with you?
A. We have been able to do a lot of cool things that other kids may never get to experience. We spend a lot of time on university campuses. We toured the Museum of Natural Science at the University of Saskatchewan where we saw dinosaur bones. At the University of British Columbia, the kids saw the blue whale skeleton in the Biodiversity Museum. Every day is a field trip and that’s the kind of life experiences and education we want for our kids.
Tip #3: Build a Lifestyle • Determine what needs attention each day; make a plan, share responsibilities and keep it real.
Q. Do you ever feel overwhelmed being together all the time?
A. Of course, but we have a team mentality. My husband and I both see what needs to be done, whether it’s family or work related and we purposefully share responsibilities. We work as equal partners in all of our roles and we regroup often.
Q. How do you maintain that equality without competition?
A. We try to neutrally divide tasks so no one feels they are working harder or longer than the other and we don’t keep score. We both value being present and co-parenting is much easier when you’re in sync. In turn, our kids are just as likely to go to daddy, as to mommy.
Q. When you are working do you take your children with you to visit suppliers?
A. Yes. Building authentic relationships has been key to our business. They know we are a husband and wife team and were delighted to meet our kids. I think a lot of people enjoy the break in their workday when a three-year-old comes in and shakes their hand.
Q. Do your children ever become problematic when you are working?
A. Sometimes, sure. Having a partner makes it easier. If there is a meeting and Sam is dismantling someone’s office, I can leave with the kids and Kelly will finish the business at hand, or vice versa. But having the kids around reminds us why we work so hard and encourages us to take breaks.
Tip #4: Be Flexible and Adaptable • Learn to roll with life’s punches and be flexible with traditional ideas; this develops resiliency.
Q. Will your children attend public school?
A. No. I have always planned on home schooling my kids. As with all other aspects of our life, I want school to be flexible and fit our lifestyle, instead of the kids having to adapt to fit the traditional school model. Sam is a kinesthetic learner and is always moving; having hands-on real-world experiences is excellent for him.
Q. What do you hope to teach your children by living this composite family – work lifestyle?
A. I hope they learn to make value-based decisions, instead of just doing what is expected. Learning how to deal with life as it happens is vital. I hope our kids learn through experience to be resilient.
Q. What would you say to parents that cannot possibly take their children to work with them?
A. I realize not everyone can take their kids to work, but I think because of the pandemic and the changes everyone has experienced, maybe they can see how they could potentially blend their family and work life more. I would encourage people to keep thinking creatively and ask themselves, how could I get this done without separating myself from my family?
As I reflect on my conversation with Marissa, I conclude that we all need to evolve our ideas about traditional conventions. Whether or not you have your own business, a partner at work or at home, or would choose completely different things for your own life, Marissa’s fundamental principles apply. Prioritize your values, have a clear vision of what you want your life to look like, choose good strategies to get you there and be willing to adapt so opportunities are never lost. Building a lifestyle that encompasses family and work life together, instead of keeping them at odds, can put an end to the family life – work life balancing act.
Melanie Williams is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Maclean’s, Todays Parent and Chatelaine magazines. Her passion for writing allows her to work out the ups and downs of life and to be an effective inclusion advocate. Melanie was born and raised in Lake Country, BC and still refers to this place as home. Currently she resides in Calgary, Alberta with her husband, two children and a small, were-wolf-like dog.