I asked a question this week on MyExpertSolution.com. I, like many, struggle with balancing work and personal life. I was amazed by the answer I got from one of the experts. I copied the text response below but if you would prefer to listen to it in the experts own voice rather than reading it you can at
My Question was: “My boss wants me to work 12-hour days, but my family relationships are suffering. How do I keep both happy?”
The short answer is that you cannot. You have already identified the problem, but you have not named it. You are human. That is the problem. Since you cannot be in two places at the same time, you will have to decide what is most important to you and then live with the consequences. For example, if you leave in the morning every day before your kids wake up, you not only miss out on being part of their morning ritual which may chaotic and you may not really mind missing it at the moment, but you also miss out on those sticky kisses. You miss out on those amazing moments like your daughter standing before you, proud as a peacock with her dress on backwards, saying, “Look, daddy. I dressed myself.” She will miss out on sharing those important moments of mastery with you. Her memories of those moments will be with her other parent and her relationship with the other parent will deepen in ways that yours may not.
Before I go any further, I should tell you my biases so you understand where my advice comes from. I am a marriage and family therapist and have been for 25 years. I am also a parent with a 21-year-old daughter whom I raised with her daddy, a wonderful spouse who, like me, has always valued our time together as a couple and as a family much more than we have ever valued making lots of money. In my mind, it has paid off. After 25 years of marriage, he and I are still together, we are still in love and we continue to have a vibrant, close and loving relationship with our daughter who, by the way, loves her daddy. I do believe that he and I have been lucky, but I do not believe that any of our success as a family is an accident. Both of us have always based our careers on how they would impact our family life.
I hear you struggling with one of life’s difficult questions. How can you take care of your family financially without being away from them too much? Obviously, I cannot answer this question for you. It is really one you have to answer for yourselves, meaning you and your spouse. In my practice, I see a lot of young couples trying to get ahead financially so that their children will not struggle to pay for college. In this way, they do not have to do without anything. Usually, this is accomplished by one or both parents working long hours to pay for the right house in the right neighborhood so that their kids can go to the right school and take the right vacations and have the right toys. A friend of mine calls this “sweeping the sidewalk in front of our children.” Not only is this unnecessary, but it is often very disempowering to kids. They need to feel a sense of mastery in the world, not entitlement, in order to develop into responsible, resourceful, confident and capable adults.
In my couples practice, I see women who take care of all of the relationship issues in the family, take care of the kids, plan the birthday parties, buy the gifts, keep the in-laws happy, plan the holidays, etc. Most of them also work outside the home. By the time evening comes, these women are spent. Their husbands are also working generally longer hours outside the home. This leaves them almost no time or energy for relating once they get home. These parents are shattered by the end of most days. They both feel unappreciated by their former lover and overly responsible for keeping the household going. I am guessing you have no problem imagining what this lifestyle does to a couple’s sex life. The bottom line is this. If you want a healthy, vibrant, close relationship with your family, you have to make time for it every day. You have to make sacrifices so that you do not give up time with your family to put money away for the future. If you are spending too much money on a mortgage for a house you never have time to relax in, or you are blowing money on expensive toys or vacations because you feel like you need to reward yourself, I recommend you stop. Think all of this through. Ask yourself if it is really worth it. Unless you truly budget every penny every month just to pay for food and shelter, which a lot of people are doing, you can probably get by on less stuff. I would never trade precious time with my husband and daughter for stuff.
If you decide you still want to work 12-hour shifts away from your family, you and your spouse will likely drift apart over time. This is what I see most often. This is what marriage researchers have found, as well. Most people get divorced not because they cannot stand each other, but because they have drifted apart and no longer really know each other. If you decide to do that, not only will you and your spouse drift apart, but your children will stop looking for you when they need something. Their excitement to see you will no longer be just about love, but rather fear of loss. They will wonder, “Where are you? When are you coming back? How long are you staying?” A lot of times, people will say, “My kids are wild about me when I come home. They just cling to me.” Clinging suggests to me, as a marriage counselor, that your kids are afraid to let go because they do not know when they will see you again. Your excitement, if you maintain it at all, will likely come from work since that is where you spend the majority of your creative time and energy. Your spouse’s excitement will likely come from elsewhere, as well. It will come from kids, family, work or someone else.
You and your wife are at a crossroads. My advice is to talk through all of these issues with your partner. Focus on your deepest values and how to preserve them by making conscious choices now for the future of your relationship with each other and with your children.
Best of luck to you.