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Larry Gelman had the kind of job a lot of people would covet.

As an executive in the Detroit office of a major national accounting firm, Gelman held a prized partnership, worked with Fortune 500 clients and earned six figures.

But he had little time for his wife and two young children.

"It was three days a week on the road, running to airports, the whole nine yards. Clearly that was something that wasn't working for me," Gelman says.

So he quit.

Now, two years later, he has his own health care benefits consulting practice, his own schedule and his own life.

He's regularly home for dinner, something that rarely happened in his old job, which usually kept him working until about 7:30 p.m.

"If you left the office at 6 p.m., it was seen as shirking your responsibilities," he says.

Gelman's not alone. Experts say more people are ditching demanding jobs -- or wishing they could -- to better balance their lives.

"I see this (work-family conflict) affecting people at all economic levels. It's pervasive and it's not going away," says Ellen Ernst Kossek, an associate professor of human resources at Michigan State University.

The business world has been abuzz with the topic since Brenda Barnes, one of corporate America's highest-ranking women, said she was quitting because she couldn't do her job and raise her children.

Her resignation -- she headed PepsiCo's North American beverage business -- has renewed the debate over work-family conflicts. Some women fear Ms. Barnes' quitting has confirmed damaging stereotypes that women can't be good executives and good parents.

But hard-charging men are stepping down, too. Popular Detroit TV anchorman Rich Fisher walked away from his job Oct. 3, saying his nightly anchor duties kept him from seeing much of his four children.

"There were days I literally didn't see them," says Fisher, who was making a reported $700,000 a year. "My family is very important to me."

Some experts say work-and-family programs at many corporations aren't effective because many career-climbers are afraid they'll be seen as moving to a slower track if they use those benefits.

"Employers are not unsympathetic," Gelman says. "But when it hits the fan, they want someone who is totally focused on the corporation."

Ms. Kossek agrees, saying that corporations must allow people to move in and out of career tracks as their family circumstances change.

"If our best and brightest don't want to work for our major corporations, then there are long-term ramifications for our economic competitiveness," she says.

Of course, Fisher and Ms. Barnes can afford lengthy respites while they rearrange their priorities. And Gelman says he's earning more and working less than when he was a corporate executive.

"A lot of this is people waking up in the morning and realizing their net worth is such that they no longer need to work," says Roger Sekera, a vice president with A.T. Kearney Executive Search in Alexandria, Va.

People like Ms. Barnes, Fisher and Gelman are flying well below the radar of government labor statistics, which show that there are more two-income families and more working women than ever.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of dual-worker families in the United States jumped by 460,000 last year from 1995.

And 70.8 percent of mothers with children under 18 were in the work force last year, up about 1 percentage point from 1995.

Unquestionably many people work because they find it rewarding personally as well as financially. Some studies have shown that mothers who work outside the home are just as successful as parents as those who don't.

Catherine Roberts says she's proud that she has been a chief executive officer in the credit union industry for 20 years while successfully raising a 20-year-old daughter with her husband.

Ms. Roberts says her philosophy as an employer is to be flexible enough to allow people to "fulfill their self-worth and the needs of their family."

"The source of my freedom has been my career," says Ms. Roberts, president and CEO of Research Federal Credit Union in Warren, Mich.

But experts say many workers feel trapped by escalating work and family demands. Baby boomers, for instance, are trying to cope with ever-growing job demands while caring for children and aging parents.

Welfare recipients with children in the federal Head Start program are being pulled between new requirements to work and the stipulation that they spend time with their children at Head Start, according to Ms. Kossek.

"Clearly, role expectations have heightened at the workplace and the home," she says.

Sometimes it gets to be too much, causing bright, contributing people to drop out of the work force.

Gelman's wife, Sherri, who was an assistant vice president of communications and marketing at a Detroit hospital, quit her job about a year ago to stay home with her 5- and 6-year-old children and do volunteer work.

Sherri Gelman says her employer was planning to merge with another hospital, which made her future there uncertain.

"I had been very successful and achieved my goals," she says. "But it just wasn't fun anymore."

Some parents who return home don't find their families exactly welcoming them with open arms.

Fisher says his wife, who's also at home, would like him to return to work "as soon as possible." One of his sons was proud of his dad's work and was upset that he quit.

"He believed those ads that said I was Detroit's news leader," Fisher says.

Gelman says it's sometimes difficult to give up his fast-track corporate ways and turn down work that might interfere with family life.

"It's hard to say to a client, 'I promised to take the kids to the park today, so please keep your $80,000,' " he says.

But Gelman says he never wants to go back to his old corporate life.

"Doing what I'm doing now is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me," he says.

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