I’ve got two young daughters of my own. Even before they were born, I struggled a lot with balancing time for my career and time with my wife. Working in New York City, it’s not very common for people to have kids in their 20s or early 30s—let alone be married. I’m sure you’ve dealt with the struggle of balancing devotion to your family with dedication to your job. Sometimes, the work-life balancing act can cause resentment at home, and oftentimes it escalates to a dislike for your job.
I thought it worthwhile to dedicate a whole post to talking about ways to love your family and still enjoy work. If you’re married or in a steady relationship, you must have dealt with times where work caused problems at home (and vice versa). While I can’t promise that you’ll never have conflicts, these tips should help with the balancing act.
1. Almost Always, Family Comes First
Family events and special situations should always come before work, with very few exceptions. Jobs come and go, deadlines are made and then magically change, but family events happen once and then they’re gone. Whether it’s your kid’s school play, or your spouse’s important doctor appointment, you can’t get these things back. Regret is a terrible disease that’ll eat you up inside, so be careful not to let it in.
I try to make decisions that leave me with little to regret, but I learned this lesson the hard way. Like you, I’ve had critical deadlines at work that I used as excuses to miss important family events. If you were to ask me today what I was doing at the time for work, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. All I remember is missing out on something important at home, and wishing I would have made a different call.
There’s a balance between being responsible at work and putting your family first. When you signed up for your job, there was an unspoken agreement that you’d be putting in your best effort. My point is to find ways to prioritize your family while not letting down your coworkers or boss. If you face a dilemma, communicate it with them, and push yourself to find more creative ways to handle both responsibilities. Defaulting to cancelling on your family is never the right move.
2. Create a Support System at Home
How much time have to spent worrying about things at home while you’re at work? If you’re nodding to this question, then you should start thinking about the support system you’ve set up and how comfortable you are with it.
What’s a support system? It could be your spouse, nanny, daycare, family members, or even school. It could be all of these things too, depending on your circumstances. You’ve got to be able to trust that your family is well taken care of while you’re away and that you have a plan for when things don’t go accordingly.
I once worked with a person that was constantly checking up on his kids. He didn’t trust his support system and oftentimes had to leave during the day to handle small issues himself. When this becomes a habit, you know you’ve got to make some adjustments. The bottom line is, you can’t be an effective employee if your mind is always somewhere else. Have the conversations you need in order to make sure responsibilities are properly shared and that you trust the people you’re putting in charge while you’re away.
3. Be Transparent about Taking Time for Family
It may seem bizarre why a person wouldn’t be transparent here, but it’s a real problem for many people. You’re in this boat if you’ve ever taken time off to handle family matters but made sure people at work didn’t know. The question you need to be asked is: why?
It’s really sad that today, in some work cultures, families are viewed as a liability. The simple truth is that this is completely false. If you have a family, you need to shatter this ugly narrative by being transparent. There are tons of studies that correlate higher productivity, reliability, and commitment at work with having a family. People around you need to understand that it’s because you have a family that you’re a better worker, not in spite of it.
I’ve said this in a past blog post, but transparency will never hurt you here (so long as you’re not being irresponsible). Being coy about the fact that your family is a priority is actually what is hurting you. The sooner the people you work with come to understand that you have family responsibilities, the easier it’ll be for you to balance your two worlds.
4. Set Up Work and Home Boundaries
I was following a Twitter storm this weekend related to a New York Times interview with the Barstool Sports’ CEO. She sends messages to job candidates at 9pm on Sundays “just to see how fast you’ll respond.” As you can imagine, thousands of people tweeted how ridiculous this was, but it unfortunately shows the loss of boundaries between work and home today.
You’re going to have a hard time focusing on the task at hand if you don’t set proper boundaries. It’s just as bad to be bombarded by family issues at work as it is to have work interfere with your home responsibilities. You have more control over this than you may think.
At work, it’s important that you’re not constantly being sidetracked by family issues. A small tip here is to make your schedule known to your family. Let them know the times when you’re unavailable unless an absolute emergency is happening. If that’s most of the time for you, then give them times during your commute or lunch break to get ahold of you. How rigid you need to be depends on your circumstances, but setting some type of expectation helps everyone adjust properly.
At home, one tip is to avoid responding to emails or messages late at night. This potentially opens the door to the expectation that you’re always available. Let work know the times when you’re absolutely not available unless the sky is falling. You shouldn’t have to compromise dinner time with the family, or bedtime with the kids to respond to non-critical questions or issues from work. Remember, you set the tone here, so even if you have some free time and want to do some work, be careful.
5. Invest in Your Family Not Just Your Career
I’ll admit that I’m not perfect when it comes to giving the same level of investment to my family as I do at times with my career. I think the reason is that there are clear objectives with career growth, but goals with family can be ambiguous. Excuses aside, your family relationships aren’t stagnant. To think that they’ll always be strong without you giving them attention is a fallacy.
If you’re an engineer, or work in a fast-paced industry, you know that if you’re not learning something new, then you’re falling behind. The same idea should be applied to your family. The people around you are always changing, and it’s critical that you stay up to date with them. Too often, parents find themselves so far disconnected from their kids that they don’t know how to even have conversations anymore. Couples end up realizing they’re no longer friends, and they can’t figure out when that happened.
Don’t take your relationships for granted. Just because your family is stuck with you, doesn’t mean the strong bonds you have will last if not maintained. Investing in your family requires the same type rigor that you use when thinking about your career. I wrote about the need for vision and strategy at work in a previous blog post, and I recommend you try to apply those concepts at home too.
Being Well Rounded: Love Your Life
You don’t have to compromise your career to have a meaningful life with your family. Likewise, you don’t have to neglect your family to be a rock-star at work. It’s all about balance and finding a rhythm that works for you.
Your family isn’t a liability. No. They’re your greatest asset. They prove that you’re reliable, determined, and that you can commit for the long run. Your family is a sign of your maturity and the fact that you can be trusted with important tasks. Utilize your devotion to your family to build your self-image and sense of self-worth.
If you’ve fallen into the trap of having to choose between family and work, then get out of it now. Being a good spouse or parent doesn’t require you to hate your career. There’s enough room out there for you to love your family and still love the job you do. Don’t live a life full of regretful compromise; instead, start working towards joyful balance. Getting this right will move you towards loving your life—and the people around you—a little bit more.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik