3 Practical Steps for Balancing Work and Family
You work hard. Does that inspire your kids to work hard too? Or does it make them resent your work? This is something I wonder sometimes when I am clicking away on the keyboard of my laptop from home and my children are not getting my full attention.
I don't want to be the dad who is physically present but always working inside his head, always quick to pull out the phone and answer one more email, send one more tweet, post one more link.
The irony is not lost on me. I am Senior Editor of a site that is about faith and work, balance and focus, honoring God in our jobs by having a holistically balanced life.
And I want to work all the time.
Of course, working too much isn't good for us. And it's not even productive. Time Magazine recently reminded me about the old Ford Motor Company tests in the early 1900s. Ford found that people work best (in factories at least) when they don't push past 40 hours per week. This is why Time Magazine confidently advises, "Stop Working More than 40 Hours a Week."
I'm trying. Really.
Perhaps there is hope for me in this recent article from Cristina Alger at The New York Times titled For One More Day at the Office. Rather than worry about working too much, rather than worry about burn out, she focuses on rediscovering the joy of work.
As a kid, she played work, which she called "Office," because she knew the office was so important to her father. But even more than that, she knew her dad loved his work. Here's an excerpt from her wonderful essay about children discovering their own joy of work:
There was one phase I went through — I was 6 at the time, maybe 7 — when I would get home from school, race upstairs and close my door. I didn’t have homework yet. I was working on something far more sophisticated than coloring books or puzzles. I was playing Office. In order to play Office, I had to get into character. I would don one of my dad’s suit jackets — I preferred a nice gray pinstripe — and would attempt to balance a spare pair of his glasses on my small snub nose. Sometimes I would shuffle around in his wingtips. Then I would organize piles of papers on my desk, filing them away in folders once they had been properly reviewed. If the mood struck me, I pretended to read The Wall Street Journal.
My mother would sometimes come up to check on me; she would knock gently, ask if I wanted a snack. “Not now, Mom!” I’d call back through the unopened door, my voice strained with urgency. “I’m working!”
...My dad was then, and remains to this day, one of the few grown-ups I have come across who truly loved his job. He would come home filled with stories about Wall Street. His enthusiasm for work was infectious. Dad loved playing office; why wouldn’t I? The grown-up manners that I was observing weren’t necessarily stress or busyness (though both of these existed in abundance in our house) but rather excitement and passion. Dad’s office was the source, so I recreated that in my own bedroom.
My friend and colleague Mark D. Roberts linked to The New York Times piece from his Patheos blog last week, during some spare moment when he wasn't writing more Daily Reflections for The High Calling.
Between us, I'm not convinced that Mark is only working 40 hours a week either.
Mark concludes his short post with some thought provoking questions:
I am one of millions of people in our society who ponder the impact of my work life on my family, especially on my children. Is my tendency to work lots of hours a downer for them, or a positive example of diligence? Will my children look back upon their experiences of my workplace with happy memories? Will they find anything in my work life they want to imitate? Apart from providing for my family, how has my work experience, including how I talk about it at home, made a difference in the way my children think about work?
After a little reflection, let me try to deliver on the promise I made in the title of this article. I want to balance my worklife and my family life. I want to be productive at work but engage fully with my kids. And I also want to engage with them in a way that will inspire them to love their work and have healthy boundaries themselves.
So I'm resolved to do three things.
First, Don't Work at Home
I have to set better boundaries with my cell phone and my laptop. When I get home, I will take the phone out of my pocket, plug it in to the charger in the cabinet, and close the cabinet door. If there is a big emergency, people will call. I will leave the laptop in my bag in case of High Calling web emergencies.
Second, Share the Joy of Work
Instead of complaining and moaning and being despondent about frustrated ambitions, I will share my enthusiasm about work. And I will do this without shame. So what if I am really excited about the spreadsheets showing our incredible click through rate on our Facebook ads this past weekend? It may be a boring detail to my kids, but they will remember my enthusiasm long after they have forgotten their own boredom with the details.
Third, Do Fun Stuff
I am going camping with my son's cub scout pack this weekend, and I am going to devote my attention fully to him and the experience. Thankfully, my phone won't even work where we are going. Then Sunday after church, we are going to see The Avengers. Oh yeah.
How about you? What practical steps can you take to keep good boundaries and be more positive?