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Balancing Family and Work
With only 24 hours in a day, life can seem like a complicated juggling act.
Most of us have more balls in the air than we can handle. We drop a ball from
time to time – or even many balls, depending on how balanced or unbalanced our
life is. But some of the balls are more important than others. Dropping the
important ones can be disastrous while dropping the less important ones might
not matter at all. The trick is to know which is which.
It helps to think of our responsibilities as glass balls and rubber balls.
Family and work responsibilities are like glass balls while many of our other
responsibilities are more like rubber balls. A juggler would never want to drop
a glass ball because it would surely break. But he would know that it’s not a
disaster to drop a rubber ball. Rubber balls won’t break, and he can put one
back into rotation after he’s had time to get everything moving again. For
example, making after-school snacks for your children’s friends or doing the
dishes are rubber balls. They can be dropped for a day or two as you juggle
your glass balls. As deadlines for an important work project approaches – glass
balls -- you might pass some of the balls on to the next juggler instead of
holding onto all of them yourself. Perhaps some emails – rubber balls -- could
wait a little longer than usual before you respond to them.
It might appear easy to discern which responsibilities are glass balls and
which are rubber, but sometimes it is not. Guidance from the
Proclamation on the Family
can help: “Successful marriages and families are established and
maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect,
love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities” (¶ 7). These
principles tell us that our marriages and families come first. When we make
them our top priority, it will be easier to balance the other responsibilities
in our lives.
The Proclamation continues, explaining the roles of each parent: “By divine
design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness
and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their
families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.
In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one
another as equal partners” (¶ 7). By sharing responsibilities, spouses can help
one another balance their lives. Life is much easier when two people juggle all
the balls. When one person has too many balls, he or she can pass some of them
to the spouse. Dr. E. Jeffrey Hill, family studies scholar at Brigham Young
University, compares balancing life to the harmony in an orchestra. When all the
instruments are played well, they work together to create a beautiful sound.
Since both family and work are glass balls, neither ball can be dropped without
serious consequences. Thus balancing these two areas of responsibility can be
particularly challenging. The following suggestions for achieving a good
balance are adapted from Dr. Hill’s article, Harmonizing Work and Family Life.
Create energy. Don’t let work take all your energy, leaving none for
your family. At the end of the day, do something at work that energizes you.
For example, try doing at least some of the work activities that energize you
the most just before you leave work. Then you will carry more energy into your
family. In addition, try using your commute time to renew yourself by listening
to energizing music or books on tape.
Seize quality time. Watch carefully for times when your family seems to
naturally interact. One father found that his children seemed most eager to
talk when they came home from school, and he arranged his work schedule to be
home at that time some days. Others find that after children have completed
homework or their household chores, they’re receptive to taking a break with
one or both parents. Bedtime is also a great time to talk to children. Since
most children resist going to bed, they’ll keep talking with you so they can
stay up longer.
Do two things at once. Take your children to work with you on occasion.
While you work, have them sort letters or stack papers. You’ll find precious
minutes of interaction in this setting. Many fathers enjoy taking children on
errands with them or taking a son or daughter to lunch. Use your frequent flier
miles to take an older child with you on a business trip.
Know when to focus on one thing. When you come home, leave work at work.
Allow your family to be your focus. When you go on vacation, don’t take work
with you. Leave your laptop, palm pilot, and pager at home. Avoid working on
Sunday if possible.
Be flexible in when and where you work. The more flexibility and control
you have in your work, the better you’ll be able to balance work and family
life. Telecommuting, for example, can save an hour or even two hours a day and
give you a break from the stress of traffic. A flexible work schedule allows
you to attend your child’s school performance. In many cases, flexibility also
helps employees be more focused, energized, and productive.
Get more and better sleep. If you’re well rested, you’ll be able to
accomplish more at work and you’ll be more relaxed with your family. One father
found himself working too late into the night on work projects, then wrestling
with the project during his sleep and awaking unrefreshed. He started taking a
break from work projects to tuck his children into bed and found the routine so
peaceful that he often went to bed shortly after his children and woke up more
rested. He, his family, and his work life were all better off.
Simplify your life. If you accumulate fewer possessions and participate
in fewer activities, you’ll find your life easier to balance. Material things
cost time and money, so choose now to buy less. Stay out of debt. Dr. Hill’s
father used to tell him, “Pay 10 percent to the Lord, 10 percent to your own
savings plan, and live on the rest.” If you live within your means and spend
less than you earn, you’ll be more at peace and more able to enjoy family life.
Place pictures of your family in your workspace, whether it’s on your desk, on
the dashboard of your truck, or on a cubicle wall.
During breaks, call home to talk to your spouse and children.
When chatting with co-workers, talk about your family instead of about
co-workers, office politics, or sports.
Help your spouse take care of the children. Take a turn waking up with the
baby, even though you might be less rested for your work day. Spend time
individually with each child.
Find a family that you think balances work and family well and talk to them
about how they do it.
If you’re out of town on a business trip, stay in close touch with your family.
Call and talk to everyone at once on the speaker phone. Talk to a different
child individually each night you’re gone. Have your children fax homework and
pictures to your hotel. Send postcards.
When your work is through, stop. Don’t work more than you need to.
Don’t be a perfectionist. It’s okay if the house goes longer than you think it
should without cleaning or the stove doesn’t get cleaned once a week. Save your
energy for family activities.
Share household jobs with your spouse and children. Men who help out with
household tasks stay in touch with the down-to-earth realities of what it takes
to make a family work, and they also help their wives balance work and family.
Take care of your physical health so you can better deal with emotional and
Work to live, don’t live to work.
Written by Rebekah Olsen, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan,
Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
Hill, E. J. (2001, April). Harmonizing work and family: One man's perspective. Marriage and Families, 5,