Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls…are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.
― James Patterson, Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas
I love my family. Ask any man, and I bet his answer will be the same. It’s the manifestation of that love that can be a little unclear or uncertain. Especially when it comes to work. I consider my job and other responsibilities a blessing from God. I get to spend my time and talents helping a company achieve its goals, and in return I get paid. That money goes to feeding and clothing and sheltering my family, among many other things. If I neglected those things or did not work in order to do them although perfectly capable, you would call that unloving. And you’d be right! So working is an expression of love for family.
Time = Love
But it’s not always that straight forward. Spending time with my family is an expression of love as well. And work (plus the commute and any after hours email checking) is one of the largest time-blocks of my day. And even when confined to it’s eight hour per day boundary, it still creeps into family time. It can steal my full attention and joy when major problems arise.
Family is one of our four glass balls.
Fragile, just like health. Work is our rubber bouncy ball. That’s not to say there are not consequences for neglecting work. But there are more serious and long-term consequences for neglecting family. I’ve been at my job for fifteen years, but I know that jobs come and go. Opportunities and projects come and go.
So what is the best solution for this catch-22 situation? Family is important and work is important. Family should come first. But sometimes for family to come first, work needs to come first. How should a couple approach this in relation to their marriage. How should parents approach this in relation to their children?
I confess – despite using the Franklin-Covey planners as early as sixteen years old, it took me another seventeen years before I read the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Dr. Steven R. Covey. In the book, Dr. Covey recommends an approach to all choices within life that I believe is the best way to handle this complex work-family balance.
Everything is a Choice
We often approach certain things in life as if we had no choice in them. I have to go to work. I have to pay my bills. I have to take time off to care for a sick child. Rather than stating that we have to do something, Dr. Covey prescribes changing the world “have” to “choose.” This helps us recognize that everything we do is a choice.
Even work is a choice. So let’s be honest about it. Tell your spouse that you choose to go to work today because you love them and desire to take care of them. Or choose to tell your boss today that you choose to stay home because your family needs you to be there.
I’ve had the opportunities. And I’ve blown it.
There were obvious times that my wife needed me to stay home. Whether sick or over-tired, the need was apparent. But I pulled the “I have to” card thinking that I was under some greater obligation at work. It was all in my head. The truth was I could have addressed the situation with my boss, and in almost all cases he would have said that the choice was obvious – stay home. The work can wait.
By clarifying that everything is a choice with its own reasoning and consequences, we bring honesty to the forefront. It allows us to evaluate and to communicate. It allows us to express our priorities. And even perhaps realize that our priorities were wrong.
So what should you choose? Choose family over work. Sometimes choosing family means making other very hard choices. Today it may mean that you choose work. Tomorrow it may mean that you take a pay-cut to spend more evenings together with your family. Next year it may mean you change jobs to move close to aging parents.
Whatever the new choice is today, remember that work will bounce back. You should care for family how family needs to be cared for today.
Question: Share an example of a difficult but right choice that you made when it came to family and work. You can leave a comment by clicking here.