One of the most difficult things for many of us is determining the right balance between work and family life. Whether your family is comprised of two people or ten, it can be tough deciding when to leave the office or how to keep your domains separate. In this series, we’ll be approaching the why and how of balance in work and family life.
As a college student, web developer, husband, and recent new father, I have a lot on my plate. It’s so easy to get caught up in how much there is to accomplish that I sometimes find myself overwhelmed, all-too-often leading to getting almost none of it done at all.
Of course, I’m not the only one trying to find balance between work, school, and family life. I mean, how many movies out there use the “Is Dad ever gonna make it to my ballgame?” question as a major plot point? How many kids do you know who have been (in)effectively raised by Cartoon Network or YouTube because their parents are burned out after a long day at the office, neglecting to spend quality time with them afterward?
Now, I’ll admit that I’m new to parenthood. And the learning curve is steep. But finding a balance between work and family is at least as important in my marriage as it will be with my kids going forward. My wife and I have definitely had days and even weeks where we’d say we missed each other simply because school and work had taken precedence over our relationship a little bit. Life will ebb like that sometimes, but we have to make sure things flow back a better way as well.
As it happens, according to research, about half of us experience work-family conflict. And that can negatively impact our couple relationship in serious ways, which in turn can affect our children. Work-family conflict is a difficult and all-too-common issue. So what can be done?
As a student of family life, I have the privilege of learning from the perspectives of individuals who are experts in relationship dynamics, healthy communication, human development, sexuality, child-rearing practices, and a slew of other fields. But for me, what makes them experts is not so much that every one of them has “PhD” behind their names. No, their expertise comes from decades of personal, invested practice of the principles they preach.
So long as the good is 80 percent of what we do—and we leave the falling short of our best effort in the other 20 percent—it’ll work out.
One of my favorite things one of my professors taught me was this: the 80/20 rule. In a nutshell, in parenting and other family relationships, we should strive for our best as much as possible. But at some point, we’ll fail. And that’s okay! After all, to err is human. Here’s where the rule comes in: so long as the good is 80 percent of what we do—and we leave the falling short of our best effort in the other 20 percent—it’ll work out.
How does this apply to work-family life balance? Well, there will be days when you just have to stay a little late at the office. And there will be still others where you’re late to work because your son or daughter needed last-minute help on some procrastinated project. And that is 100 percent okay. So long as those situations, in both cases, are the exception rather than the rule, you’re well on your way to work-family life symbiosis.
I’ll go into this in greater depth in later posts, but following are a few important, actionable possibilities:
This one’s an oft-repeated, seldom-explained, frequently-violated bit of advice, but here’s the short version: be where you are. For all intents and purposes, to get the very most out of your time at home and at work, the very meaning of your life at that moment should be whatever task you’re engaged in. That’s why the time management aspect of it (i.e. adhering to the 80/20 rule) is so important; if you’re engaged where you are, choosing when to be where becomes the most critical decision in the entire process.
This tip comes from E. Jeffrey Hill, who has researched and published more about work-life balance than anyone else in the field. He also has several children, an awesome marriage, and was a pioneer in IBM’s massive Work From Home initiative. One of the most important findings in his research was that dual-earner parents were happiest and able to find the greatest work-life balance when both Mom and Dad worked an average of about 30 hours per week each, totaling no more than 60 hours. So if you and your spouse are both employed and can manage to rework your schedules, shoot for that.
This thought is based on simple math. I’ll probably spend a maximum of 25-30 years in a particular career, and the likelihood is high that things like a boss or office dynamics and policies will change there along the way. However, if I’m like most people, I intend to spend the rest of my life with my wife, children, and (eventually) grandchildren. I don’t wake up next to my supervisor every morning, nor do I need the receptionist to like me enough to make sure I’m taken care of when I’m old. Our spouse and our children need the extra love way more than our coworkers do. (Of course, this doesn’t mean we should neglect our work relationships or be the office jerk, either. Be a good coworker and friend, a better parent, and an awesome spouse, and it’ll all fall into place.)
Well folks, that’s all I’ve got for today. This kind of balance is something that so many of us shoot for, but so few achieve. We can make it! With concerted effort and a focused determination to keep our connections strong, I know we will be happier at home and more productive and satisfied at work. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for further tips, tricks, and musings on how you can bring greater balance to your work and family life.
Daniel Moster is an office/IT intern at Noetic Psychiatry, who also occasionally moonlights as a writer, mandolin player, and student of Family Life at Brigham Young University. In his free time, he enjoys collecting hobbies, eating sugary foods, and spending time with his beautiful wife and son.