Some guy was in a big hurry and didn’t like the fact that Kathi had slowed down to merge onto the highway behind a school bus full of children. So he accelerated from behind her car, and drove up beside her, forcing her onto the berm. After almost causing multiple accidents, he weaved his way around further impediments in his road (OK, people in his road) and exited precisely five cars in front of her further down the highway. Unbelievable.
He was so focused on achieving his objective (whatever it was) that he risked untold carnage and mayhem. If things went badly, innocent people, including women and children, could have been hurt.
In thinking about this incident, I was struck by the thought that the same could be true if men develop a disordered dedication to work.
That sounds crazy, right? But how many of us struggle with work-family balance? And how many families have been torn apart because of ridiculous work schedules?
Kathi and I have struggled mightily in this area over the years. When we were young parents, I worked like crazy. My schedule at the CPA firm was insane, and our first three kids came along in two years and eight months flat. On top of it all, Kathi had premature labor with our third child, and was on strict bedrest for the last four months of the pregnancy.
After our daughter was born, it became apparent that the work-family balance thing wasn’t working, especially as I headed into tax season. That was the first time we hit a wall. I don’t recall her exact words, but Kathi said something like, “It’s either the job or me.”
I chose her, and changed jobs.
Fast forward a few years. Once again, I was working like a maniac. We were up to six kids, with Kathi expecting our seventh. But there were medical problems. This time, we weren’t sure the child would make it past birth, and beyond that, the diagnosis was grim. It seemed like life was spinning out of control. Another decision point.
I chose her again, and changed jobs.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Changing jobs isn’t always the answer. The changes we made took time, the process was messy, and we struggled with uncertainty, conflict, and self-doubt. We prayed fervently, discussed possible solutions, and consulted with trusted priests, family members and friends. But in over twenty years of marriage, with children (now eight of them), a house, a mortgage, and a career that has caused plenty of bumps and bruises, I have never regretted choosing my wife and children over my career.
For those seeking greater balance, here are a few hard-won ideas from a male perspective:
- Put your priorities in order. Here’s my list, for what it’s worth: God, my wife, our children, my career, and everything else. Yes, my wife is more important to me than my kids. Not that they’re unimportant, rather she is super-important. Marriage is a vocation, and a sacrament. The best way to be a true leader in the family is to model virtue, to serve, and to pray like crazy. We need to imitate Christ in our lives. Some days I do better than others, and you probably do too, but we can never give up. Now here’s the challenge: our daily routine needs to reflect our priorities.
- Only do God’s will. We always have time to do God’s will. If there isn’t enough time in the day, consistently, there are things on our to-do list that shouldn’t be there. Are we spending more time on social media than talking with our spouse? If you’re trying to find things to put aside, ask yourself what you would give up if your wife or child were extremely ill. Don’t wait until it actually happens. By the way, our seventh child David’s story ended pretty well, thanks be to God.
- Work things out with your wife. If you’re called to run for President, you’re going to be putting in lots of hours. Make sure your wife is completely on board. That shared sense of calling is awfully important – it doesn’t make things easier, but if you’re on the same page about what God wants from you as a couple, that shared purpose will help you through the rough spots.
- Live beneath your means. This is incredibly important. Kathi and I got out of balance early due to our implicit expectations of a certain lifestyle. This led us to take on debt and place a disordered emphasis on outward appearances. It’s a trap, avoid it like the plague.
- Work like crazy when you’re at work. Don’t indulge in frivolous discussions about sports or workplace intrigue. Get your work done, do your absolute best and go home. Schedule a date with your wife each week, put kids’ events on your calendar, and treat your family as even more important than your most important client or even your boss.
- Protect your marriage. Guys are visual creatures, so never buy into the “I can look at the menu as long as I eat at home” mentality. Guard your eyes. Maintain emotional distance from women who are not your spouse. Treat them with honor, like you would want other men to treat your wife in the workplace. Speak positively about your own wife. NEVER complain about her, especially to other women.
- Stop and ask for directions. When you have trouble balancing, ask your wife for her advice – and her prayers. She probably knows you better than anyone else, and might have insight that would help you make things work. Just like we don’t usually stop to ask for directions when we’re lost, we also don’t ask for advice from our wives nearly enough.
- Love your wife. This sounds trite, but if we treasure our wives properly when we’re at home, there would be a whole lot less consternation when we do need to work extra hours (for short periods of time, not as a lifestyle). Remember why we fell in love. Think about her many good qualities. Pray for her. Offer up small sacrifices for her. Think of what an honor it is to be received, with all our weaknesses, as a husband.
- Facilitate one on one time. Make sure you set aside time just for your wife, without distractions. Kathi and I used to make time for getaways – perhaps a weekend every three months, and a week at least once a year. I’m talking about just the two of you, without kids. Family vacation is another week, and of course kids need “me and my dad time” too.
- Don’t bring work home. Speaking of distractions, don’t bring work home with you if at all possible. I’ve not always succeeded here, but it’s important – particularly in this wired age – to turn off the cell phone, back away from the computer, and engage with our families.
This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are lots of ways to improve, and we need to fight this battle every day. With God’s grace, and plenty of determination, it’s also one we can win.
Our family is more important than our career. Let’s do our best to act like it. If you have other ideas that have worked well for you, please leave a comment.
Oh – and let’s drive safely too!