I slipped into his room late one evening as I arrived home from work so that I could give him a goodnight snuggle and a kiss, only to find him wide awake. “Hey Dad, it’s Wednesday!” my 12-year-old said. “Tonight was our date night, Dad! You forgot!”
Somewhere between the deadlines and the meetings and the to-do list, I’d forgotten the most important responsibility in my life — my family. It had also been weeks since my wife and I had a date together. I knew things needed to change — and fast. I needed to focus on my family and let them know they were just as important as my work.
We set out to meet our work goals and somehow in the midst of it all, we forget that waiting at home is that young boy wanting to play catch, that teenage girl who needs to talk about boys, or that spouse that needs to be treated with all the attention we used to give when we were dating. Why does it happen? How does it happen? How can you prevent it from happening to you?
Let me ask you this: if you and I were sitting at a coffee shop near your house discussing the state of our lives, could I ask you a pretty personal question? What is the real goal that you are striving for? Is it possible that the prize you’re pursuing has edged out your precious family, or that spouse you were madly in love with during your courtship days? They need some of your best time, not just your leftover time.
Well, before the coffee gets cold and we both need to run, here are ten ideas to help you as you strive to balance your work and your family. Got a pen? Jot ’em down on your napkin.
- Get your family together and craft a family mission statement. It’s just as important to be intentional as a family as it is in the workplace. If you want your family to all be on the same page in terms of your life purposes and the principles that would govern our time together you need to decide what that is.
- Carve out time for your family each week in advance. Put it on your calendar. Stop saying you have to get one more thing done before you leave for home. Plan your week with specific ending times and stick to them.
- Jettison things from your schedule that aren’t important. March to the mission that you are called to, not the mission that others want you to do for them. Be ruthless here!
- If your work situation requires constant excessive hours to get the job done, it’s time to evaluate other ways to accomplish the task. You can’t accomplish the mission of the entire company or organization single-handedly, so stop trying!
- If you’re a leader of others, have them actually write into their job descriptions the need to be committed to their family. Note specific ways in which they will make this a priority.
- Develop an activity together with your family as a whole, and/or with individual family members. Maybe it’s hiking, a date at Denny’s for breakfast on Saturday, or coffee and a chat with your spouse each day. As you do this, remember that teachable moments are almost like ‘intentional accidents’ — they happen, but not always because you planned them. So be sure to plan large quantities of time with your family throughout the year so they’ll have a chance to occur.
- Create a ‘spiritual life development plan’ for each of your kids, outlining their strengths, their areas for improvement and your plans to shape their character as they grow up under your care. Our children are arrows that are being released into a world that we will never fully see. It’s our job to shape them into arrows that will fly straight and travel the distance.
- Schedule a date night of at least an hour once a week with each child and your spouse, where you focus solely on them. It doesn’t have to be expensive; time is the critical ingredient here. When our budget has been tight, I’ve had this time in my backyard with my son.
- When you’re traveling, send an email or a postcard back to your family. Call or facetime them on the phone.
- At the end of a day, ask your kids and spouse these questions: ‘What happened today that you’re proud of?’ ‘What happened today that you wish you could do over?’
If your spouse or children were to describe your performance as a spouse and parent, what would they say?
If you’re not happy with the words that are echoing around in your head, it’s time to make some changes. I love how Eugene Petersen puts it in his paraphrase of the Bible: “Exploit or abuse your family, and end up with a fistful of air” (Proverbs 11:29, The Message). When my work years have come to an end, I want to be holding more than air, don’t you?
“Hey Dad! I passed!” exclaimed my 15-year-old girl. You see, I’m writing this morning from the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting room, where I came with my daughter to get her driving permit. Some days you just can’t achieve balance, so lately I’ve been working on integration — aren’t laptops wonderful? As my daughter and I celebrated her passing the test with a big hug in the lobby, I was glad I’d decided the to-do list at work could wait. The memory of this morning with her will last forever.