Balancing Work and Family

by Brett on December 15, 2008 · 24 comments

in Fatherhood, Marriage, Relationships & Family

Back in your grandpa’s time, a man was just expected to bring home the bacon and was excused from being too hands on in the child rearing department. Today’s man is expected not only to be a provider, but also a highly involved parent. These two demands can burn out even the strongest of men. Here are a few suggestions on how to be a corporate warrior and a super dad at the same time.

Have family dinner. Studies have shown children from families that have meals together do better in school and are less likely to get involved with drugs. Make it home each evening to have dinner with your family. If this means getting to work extra early in the morning, so be it. If you can get home early enough, cook dinner with your kids. At mealtime, ask about what’s going on in your kid’s life. Pose questions designed to stimulate genuine discussion. Dana Perino’s father would expect her to come to the table prepared to discuss and debate one current event each night. First she had to argue from her personal bias, and then she had to argue from the other side’s perspective. This tactic apparently paid off; Perino and her dad still enjoy a close relationship, and she currently serves as the White House press secretary.

Leave work at work. Obviously, this is not always going to be possible; sometimes you’ll need to continue your work at home. But during dinnertime, bath time, storytime, and any other time in which you are focusing on your kids, turn off the cell phone and Blackberry.

Take each kid out once a month for dad time. Each month, set aside a “date night” for each kid. Take them out individually and do something they enjoy. It’s a great way to get one-on-one time with each kid and ensure that jealously between siblings remains in check.
Limit work on weekends and holidays. Devote your time off from work to your family. Sure, you’ll have to spend time doing chores and running errands to get ready for the next week, but try to get your children involved with those tasks. Six hands pulling weeds are better than two.

Use your vacation. Many American workers are taking less and less of their vacation time. Don’t be one of these men. Use your two weeks and take your family on the Great American Road Trip or on a camping adventure in a National Park. Don’t bring along your laptop or Blackberry. Family vacations will be some of your kids’ best childhood memories. Don’t deny them these experiences by being a work-a-holic.

Take your kid to work with you for the day. You’ll get to spend some quality bonding time together. Your kid will see what Dad does all day, and will better understand why he can’t be home all the time.

Make it to all your kids’ activities. Even if this means bringing some work with you to do during the timeouts and halftime of their football game, at least you are there. I knew an attorney who worked for a high-powered law firm and yet he made it to each and every one of his four kids’ activities. He was there with legal pad in hand, but he was there. It will mean a lot to your kid to see their dad in the stands rooting them on.

Schedule a weekly Family Night. Make this a non-negotiable date, and schedule all other activities around it. Play board games, watch a video, or go out and get some ice cream.

Tuck your kids in bed and read them a book. Bedtime routines aren’t just for tykes. Even when your kid gets older, make it a tradition to read to them. You can move on from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to “Treasure Island” as they grow up.

Don’t forget the Mrs. While the focus of this article is about balancing work with your kids, make sure to focus time on your wife, too. One piece of advice that I hear over and and over again from people is if you want to be a good father, then be an awesome husband. Call a babysitter, and take your wife out on a date. Make time every day to talk to each other. Right before bed when the kids are asleep is a good time. And don’t let work or being a dad get in the way of your sex life with your wife.

Okay, those are just a few suggestions. What are some other ways men can balance work and family? I know you all have some ideas. Drop a line in the comment box.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mandi December 15, 2008 at 9:48 am

Do what my husband does and get up early if you have extra work. I think it is incredibly manly the way he sacrifices his sleep rather than arriving home later than normal. His sons love to see him every evening at 5pm and they don’t know that he got up at 5am to go in to work early.

2 John December 15, 2008 at 10:07 am

Every week each kid gets a “Late Night” with the parents. After all the other kids are in bed they get 15-20 minutes to do whatever they want with us. They pick things like playing Guitar Hero, reading with us or just wrestling. This has become their favorite night of the week.

3 Brett December 15, 2008 at 10:28 am

@John-

I really really like that idea. Thanks for sharing.

4 cory huff December 15, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Great ideas, all. I don’t have kids yet, but these are going in the folder. As far as balancing work/family life, I’m blessed to have a job that rarely requires me to put in extra hours – never more than 40!

5 NZR (the Plainsman) December 15, 2008 at 2:31 pm

While I haven’t children of my own, I remember Dad working until dark most nights during the summer. However, he was off work during most of the winters. It was good to have him home when I would get home from school and it was good to have mornings with him as well.

I have often thought about the “Dad Date” thing with my own kids. While I am an only child, I think that if I have more than one kid I would do this with each kid. Whatever they want to do. Or even a sports game, have one day or night where I take Child A to a baseball or hockey game and then another similar night with Child B. If they like sports, I suppose.

6 David C. December 15, 2008 at 2:41 pm

I disagree somewhat with the idea that dads in decades past were less hands-on with the kids than they are expected to be now.

In the old days, fathers (especially fathers and their sons) would find ways to incorporate their family life and their work life; there was much less of a line of demarcation separating the workday and the evening.

My grandfather spent his days plowing fields and raising crops; in the winter, he trapped and hunted animals up and down the little rivers and streams here in southern Arkansas; in between, he used his ax to hew railroad cross-ties that he would carry (yes, carry) into town to sell at the local lumbar yard. Every one of my granfathers and great grandfathers did this. Oh, and one of them was a single dad, too.

What did they do with their children? They brought them along. Sons, especially, were considered “Dad’s helpers” when it came to bailing hay and harvesting crops. Wherever Dad went, they went; that’s why America’s school calendar, to this day, revolves around agrarian seasons.

You can imagine the lessons in manliness children received along the way!

One of the best things men today can do is find ways to turn their home life and their work life into ONE life. It keeps life from becoming just a series of places and activities; gives your kids a picture of what Dad does all day; and provides the opportunity to teach them about work, its importance, and its role in our lives.

7 Santa December 15, 2008 at 2:48 pm

I wish more American employers would offer more vacation time throughout the year so that we could spend time with our families. I know it would improve overall moral and happier people, make happier employees. Well, at least I still have a few hours of vacation time left from my 2 weeks I get every year. sigh…

8 Matt December 15, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Brett,

Don’t know where you’re going to work next year, but if it’s in big law, remember this post when you’re trying to reach that billable hour minimum. It will take you at least a year, and probably more, to achieve any semblance of that balance. You can, but it’s impossible to understand how until you’ve started practicing.

9 TheMightyQuinn December 15, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Once a week, cook for your family with your kids. Your wife will appreciate it and your kids will love spending the time with you. If you can cook all the daily meals (Saturday or Sunday), even better. Plus, it helps keep your kitchen skills sharp.

10 Brett December 15, 2008 at 3:56 pm

@David C.-What I meant by hands on, is that a lot of baby boomer guys often remark to guys in my generation how much more they are expected to do around the house and with the kids. It’s not that past dads didn’t spend time with their kiddos, but dads in the past weren’t typically expected to change diapers, make dinner, pick-up the kids, clean house, and so on.

@Matt-
I interned last summer with two big firms and that pretty well cured me of any dream of working for one. I’m currently shooting for a job with a legal research company that would allow me to have summers and all academic breaks off. Such is the dream.

11 randi reese December 15, 2008 at 4:47 pm

I know i have read tips and advice like these before, but everytime i do, this one especially, reminds me to take it easy on work and give more time to my children..

thanks for a great reminder. i appreciate it!

12 Joshua December 15, 2008 at 5:31 pm

As the last of three children, I got the cream of the crop when it came to being read to. My older sibs had enough of a head start that reading just the youngster books wouldn’t do for them, so I would get read to with the little books, and then usually get to stay up while my parents read Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings to my older sisters. I have very few memories of ever feeling more content than when sitting at my father or mother’s knee while those books were read…

13 Thomas December 15, 2008 at 6:24 pm

How about work/life balance if you are single with no kids?

14 Kyle December 15, 2008 at 6:58 pm

The NUMBER ONE thing you can do for your kids is be a good husband. Everything else are great things to remember, but your relationship with your wife is ESSENTIAL for the strength and dynamics of a healthy family. You loved her before the kids, you’ll love her while the kids are at home, and you’ll love her long after the kiddos have gone off to start their own lives (at least, this should be your mentality… the whole “unto death” part of your vows).
Man up, love your wife just as much (if not more) than you love yourself. Pretty sure that’s a pretty big command (Ephesians).

15 Demian December 15, 2008 at 7:01 pm

As a son, some of my fondest memories of my father were just simply watching TV with him. We would watch a lot of History Channel, back when they showed actual history, and he would engage me to make sure I was understanding everything ok. Because of that to this day I’ve had a deep love of history, so don’t underestimate the value of small moments becoming family moments.

16 chads December 16, 2008 at 9:32 am

So Im curious if you guys have any ideas on husband and wife personal time. What I mean is this:

My wife is at home with the kids all day, and Im at work. We do do dates together which is good, but she has some girlfriends she likes to do dinner with from time to time and I the same with a ‘guys nite’ , etc. How to balance our times away? Sometimes we both get to go out when we can get a sitter. Thats great when it happens . However, sitters can get expensive. So do we balance like “wife gets 2 nites out this month, and I get two nites” ?? For some reason this can become a point of conflict here and there…

and just to give clarity.. we do have tons of great uninterrupted times with the kids every day. I dont have to do work at home, and we keep TV off a lot, etc etc.

Thanks!

17 Erick Rilling December 16, 2008 at 9:44 am

I think another thing that must be considered is a realistic goal. Nearly all men these days are pressured to not only be providers, but to be able to provide a lifestyle that requires a budgest the size of some countries GNP. Just because that promotion will get you more pay, how much family time are you going to have to sacrifice?

18 Erick Rilling December 16, 2008 at 9:49 am

@chads – well, the sitters will only be a factor until they are old enough to watch themselves, but, I have found that even just taking a walk around the block, or wandering down to the corner store can be a great way to spend a little quality time. Remember, it doesnt have to be a whole evening, we are going for quality, not quantity.

19 Gary December 16, 2008 at 11:25 am

@Thomas-

Here’s my advice to you: Enjoy it while it lasts!

20 The Common Man December 16, 2008 at 9:54 pm

Good advice all around. In particular, I love reading with my son. We’re still on The Very Hungry Caterpillar for now, and Dr. Seuss, but watching him memorize the books as we read them (he’s just two, his reading isn’t so sharp yet :) ) has been mezmerizing.

Bed time and breakfast time have been the biggest part of my time with my son. Getting to be there for the start and the finish of every day is incredibly important to me, to set the right tone for him and to reflect on what has been. We sneak downstairs in the morning, put on the coffee for his mother, and sit at the kitchen table and eat fruit and oatmeal together. They are good times I’ll treasure forever.

21 Harland December 18, 2008 at 6:40 am

These are great items to discuss as tips to help improve your current position. But the real key to a good work-life balance is the selection of your career and your firm. If this balance is important to you selecting a career that fits it is important (almost all careers offer this opportunity – the key is making it work). Important is a career that doesn’t over tax you personally with stress and at least somewhat makes you happy. Not always possible – but important.
Second is the company culture. There are firms dedicated to providing the right balance for their employees. Parking lots empty at 5:01pm. Find this company and work to get in there.
You may need to sacrifice more than mornings. I’d gladly give up the huge $$ sucess in career to keep a happy family. Of course it is important to provide, but no reason to kill yourself for that extra $$ you may not need to be unhappy. The law comment is right up there with that. You can select a more relaxed firm that gives you this option. You may not earn lots of $, but you’ll be super rich.
Harland

22 Dustin January 4, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Brett

I am a very motivated young man eager to achieve in the office while being a strong relationship with my family. I am assuming as I move into more demanding positions I will need to spend more time in the office.

I have been reading your posts for the last few months and have greatly appreciated them. I would find it very helpful to have more information on this topic in the future.

Thanks for everything.

23 Phillip August 9, 2009 at 11:31 pm

This info would come in handy if I was planning on getting married and having kids

24 Texburrito October 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I love how you say “don’t let work get in the way of your sex life.” Like the guy has any control over that…

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