Mike Berry asks—and answers—the really tough questions about work-life balance.
We were late to school and I was growing frustrated by the minute. I had so much to get done before I jumped on a plane out of town for a few days. My two middle school-aged daughters didn’t seem to care whether I was frustrated or not. They took their good ole time getting out to the car. Once they got in, I zoomed out of the driveway, glancing every second at the ticking clock on the dash. As I pulled up to the school to drop my girls off, I hastily said, while trying not to release pressure on the brake pedal, “I love you both, I’ll see you in a few days.”
That’s when my 13-year old ducked back into the car and asked, “Daddy, I thought you said we were going to mall today. Are we still going to do that sometime?” “Not today honey, I’m heading straight to the airport. But definitely when I get home,” I replied. “You said that last time you had to fly somewhere.” She shook her head and closed the door, darting for the entrance to her school.
And that’s when it hit me. I did say that the last time. And the time before that. I had even said a few other things I had failed to deliver. As drove I recounted a lot of promises I had made to them. In my mind the “yeah-buts” started making a case. Yeah, but I’m busy. Yeah, but this is the cost of running my own business. Yeah, but they understand that daddy has to work! My mind justified it all, but my heart? Well, my heart just wasn’t at peace.
The fact is, I am a busy person. And I’m willing to bet you are too or you wouldn’t have stopped by to read this. Before you allow that knot in your throat to completely restrict your breathing because you’ve felt the stress of being busy and giving time to your kids, let me give you some reassurance. You are busy. And you’re busy for good reason. It’s your job, your career, your livelihood. I know I’m stating the obvious but I’ve found that a little acknowledgement of our current reality goes a long way. Do you want to know what I’ve discovered that has brought me a measure of peace? It’s this …
Finding balance between our careers and our family is a tension to manage, it’s not a problem we can solve.
Feel the release of pressure already? I thought so. If you have to repeat this sentence over and over to yourself to continue to relieve that pressure, go ahead.
Truth is, this is truth. If you ever arrive to the place where you feel as though you’ve solved the issue of giving quality time to work and quality time to your children, enjoy it … a new problem or issue will be waiting for you a few minutes later. That’s precisely why I say this is a tension to manage, not a problem you can solve. But while this is a true statement and it’s meant to help you feel a little better about the struggle to find balance, it’s not an excuse. If you find yourself using the “tension verses problem-solving” thing to justify your busyness, you’ve missed the point. You need balance.
In your busyness, as a parent, as a person who works outside of the home, or as a stay-at-home parent, here are 5 critical questions you must ask (and answer) to help you achieve that balance …
- Have I guarded personal time with my family? It may sound a bit elementary but this is number 1 on this list for a reason. It’s so easy to overlook. It’s even easy to guard time but gradually give way to other things, people, demands, and requests. Before you know it, that “guarded” time suddenly belongs to other people. Fact is, in achieving balance and personal health, you need to guard time for you and your family.
- Do my kids know where they rank? Is there any doubt in your kid’s minds what priority they are to you? Do they know of their importance to you? You and I often think they aren’t paying attention to our busyness, but they are. It gets quietly filed away in their little minds. They know when we are giving them leftovers.
- Have I decided who I’m cheating on? I know what you’re thinking. What’s this talk about cheating?” Okay, let me explain. In his book, Choosing To Cheat: Who Wins When Work and Home Collide?, Andy Stanley says this: “Everybody cheats. Either you cheat home by spending more time at work, or you cheat work by spending more time at home. You have to decide who wins. Who gets cheated from your time and who doesn’t.” Have you decided whether work gets cheated on or your family gets cheated on?
- Have I created a life-plan that I’m sticking to? There’s an old saying that goes like this- “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit the mark every time.” Same is true for your life, and your parenting. If you are aiming at nothing you’ll hit that target. If you fail to chart your course, you’ll end up drifting and drifting. With your children, your family, your spouse, you need a plan. You need a route that you follow, every single day. And, most importantly, you need to stick to it. If you want to leave no doubt in your children’s minds that they are top priority, you need to create a life plan that reflects that value.
- Have I learned the art of saying “No”? It’s actually easier than you think. Follow these steps: simultaneously purse your lips outward as if you’re going to kiss someone the old-fashioned way. At the same time press your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Allow your brain to force the word out of your mouth while release your tongue and widening your lips at the same time. Speak this over and over to the people, places or things that need to be turned down. Fact is, saying no to more things that you say yes to, makes you a more productive person. It’s better to say yes to 5 things and hit a grand slam at each, than say yes to 25 things and hit a single or ground out to second base on each.
Okay, take a deep breath. Remember, tension to manage, not a problem you can solve. If it’s been a while since you’ve honestly asked yourself questions like these when it comes to your children, or your spouse, it’s going to hurt a little. It’s like going to the gym for the first time in a long time and waking up the next morning in so much pain that you can’t walk, or walk right. Know how you overcome that? You keep exercising. You keep working those muscles. Eventually, the pain subsides and your body adjusts.
The more intentional you are with asking these questions, the more focused you are on managing that tension, the easier it becomes. And the more balance is achieved in your life and your parenting.
Originally published on Babble