It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that one of the greatest competitors of the family is the workplace. Let’s face it, if you don’t put in your time, you get fired. Actually, more and more it seems like you have to put in your time, and then some. Some of this is unavoidable. You do have to put food on the table, and you do have to have a roof over your head. However, because your job comes with built-in and immediate consequences for not performing well, it is easy to prioritize work over family. After all, when was the last time you got a yearly review as a parent? When have you ever feared being replaced as a parent, or felt that if you didn’t put in your time someone would ask you to start looking for a new family?
If surveyed, I think the vast majority of us would prioritize family-time over work, but since work is evaluated it is easy to go against our stated priorities. We can always catch up on family time on the weekend, or maybe next weekend, or perhaps on the next holiday, in maybe in six months when things are really supposed to slow down at work… But product needs to go out the door now and projects need to be completed yesterday, if not sooner.
One way to look at it is that you are critically important at work, but at home you’re somewhat expendable. Your spouse or even someone else can pick up the slack at home, but no one can pick up the slack at work. Or can they? The very fact that you can be fired implies that someone else can do your job, or that your job can even go undone. The fact that you can’t be fired at home highlights your need to be there. No one else will do your job.
Just before becoming a pastor I was an Oracle developer (computer programmer) for Woodward Governor Company. When I left the company I left several folders full of notes telling my boss, “If you ever need me to come back and troubleshoot some of these programs, I’ll need these notes to refresh my memory.” I knew I wasn’t indispensable, but, well, you just hope that no one else can quite fill your shoes. Interestingly enough, I never got a call for any emergency consulting. The computer programs didn’t all crash. Productivity didn’t come to a screeching halt in my absence. In fact, as far as I know, eight years later, the company is doing just fine without me.
My kids, however, need ME. If I don’t spend fatherly time with them, no one else will. Babysitters can watch them, and teachers can educate them, but no one else will be their dad. They don’t just need someone to do the tasks of parenting, they need someone to be their parent. In counseling sessions, no one has ever said to me, “My dad was never home, but on the bright side I really liked my babysitter.” When it comes to evaluating their disappointments in life, kids don’t measure the quality of their care. They measure the quality and quantity of time that their parents spend with them.
Obviously we’re all going to have different people watch our kids at times for different reasons, and someone needs to bring home the bacon. Both parents can’t be home with their kids 24-7. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that we need to be careful of falling into the trap of thinking that at work we are indispensable, but that at home everyone can get along without us just fine.
Here are some questions that you may want to evaluate in your own situation:
• Am I willing to cut back on extra work time even if it means my reviews may take a hit?
• Will I turn down a promotion if it negatively impacts my family?
• We all need to go the extra mile at times, but how many weeks or months will I allow my job to come before my family time?
• Am I willing to severely adjust my mortgage payment, car payment, and lifestyle to accommodate a change to a lower paying and more family-friendly job?
None of these questions are easy, and there are no pat answers, but in setting or resetting our priorities, it would be good to at least consider: at what cost do we succeed at work?