Achieving Work-Family Balance, prt. 1

 

balancing act

Image courtesy of Colin Harris, licensed under Creative Commons

It is hard to achieve work/family balance

Around 1996 I was flying out the door, in a hurry to get to work, as usual. Work was my great passion, perhaps my greatest passion. I had been a record store clerk for years before I became a pastor, and a groundskeeper before that. It felt so good to be in the ministry, to have a “real job,” at least what felt like a real job to me. So I was hurrying out the door. I remember thinking I was very late for something, although of course now I don’t remember what it was. Suddenly it hit me — the awareness that I had to pee. I was already out the door with my briefcase — but I really had to pee. Wherever I had to be was going to have to wait because peeing could not.

In I rushed, through the door, down the hall, into the bathroom. I did my business and ran back out the door to my car, started it up, and flew off down the road. As always, I loved the quiet of the car — a break from my beautiful but very busy three year-old, one-year old, and infant daughters. This moment, however, did not bring the peace I had come to expect. Instead a crushing, horrifying, awful truth dawned on me. My wife was right.  

My work-family balance was out of whack

For years she had been complaining that I placed my work before my family. I had given her scores, perhaps hundreds, of examples of how hard I worked, how much I was doing for the family, but they all seemed to fall on deaf ears. She knew I loved her and those little girls with my life. Yet somehow she was certain that my priorities were out of line. Now, sitting here in my car, bladder comfortably empty, I understood why. I realized that if instead of having to pee, my wife had called me back to do something critical for her or my girls at that moment, I’d have yelled, “Can’t help baby, I’m really sorry. Late for work!” I would have deeply believed all three, that I truly couldn’t help, that I truly was sorry, and that I was definitely late for work. I saw for the first time what my wife had seen in me all along. Somehow I always had time for my projects, desires, goals, plans, and commitments. I would be late for work so I could do whatever I needed to do, but I certainly would not be late for work so I could do something my wife critically needed.

This is what I believe women often know about men that we do not know about ourselves. We’re sincere. We’re out there working our butts off. We love our families. We really want what’s best for them. All except for one thing, which is ourselves, in there for them when they need us to be there. What we want, really, is to be masters of our own destiny. We will love and serve our families when it is convenient for us. This doesn’t mean we never put ourselves out. We do. All the time. In those moments when we decide it is a priority. This doesn’t mean we are always selfish. We go out of our way. But our wives see all those times we have to pee (or whatever) and know we would never prioritize them in that way. Men, read this carefully. It doesn’t matter how much you do for your wife, until she knows you prioritize her and your family in that way. As long as she notices you are always ultimately first, she will feel slighted. Sorry. Not my fault and not her fault. It’s the way she’s made. Take it up with the operations department.

Sorry, women, but you aren’t much better at this work-family balance thing

Women, for all your sincere talk about prioritizing family, you are often surprisingly oblivious when your husband is rolling around on the floor playing with the children and you are running around the house cleaning like crazy. He invites you to come into the living room with the family (you know, that place where you stop working and actually live). You just get irritated. In fact you kind of resent him for it. You work so hard, and there he is doing nothing. Nothing except, of course, being the man of your dreams in that moment, playing with and loving on your little boy or little girl just like you always hoped your husband would do. You don’t see it. You’re as blind in that moment to what’s really happening as your husband when he says, “Sorry, can’t help you, I’m late!” You feel just as compelled, just as driven as your husband sometimes does. Your work/family balance is often out of whack too.

It is hard to achieve work-family balance. If it weren’t, spouses wouldn’t argue about it and divorce over it. They do. What is critical, and all I care about for purposes of this post, is that both sexes realize it’s a problem. Once both men and women accept responsibility for this, once they realize they are both part of the problem, then both sexes can start asking,

“How? In what ways am I part of the problem?”

The minute you start asking that question, truth is right around the corner. I’ll touch on that in my next post.

Question: Has your spouse/family complained often about your work-family balance being out of whack? What is your spouse/family seeing that you aren’t seeing?