Work and Home Balance
As an adolescence I remember asking my dad about his Father who had passed away ten days before my Dad turned nine years old. He didn’t have very many memories. My Grandpa was a Marine in World War II and the Korean War returning to become a Drill Instructor and later working in construction after he left the Marine Corps. He had four kids but didn’t spend much time at home. He would work from six in the morning until six at night, and then drink and gamble until the middle of the night only then to do it all over again the next day.
I struggled for years to conceptualize how a life like that was possible. I didn’t recognize that a lifestyle like that was more common half a century ago and that parenting expectations had changed. Men weren’t expected to always be there or active participants.
A few years later while working as a laborer I began to understand this concept outside of my reality. My boss was entering his 40th year of work for the city parks and recreation. It was long hours with low pay, but it was stable. Early in his career, he worked two full time jobs and would also do odd job work on the weekends. He recounted that there was a period where he was a walking zombie that went on for years surviving his continual exhaustion with cat naps in work trucks. Then when he was at a family BBQ he asked about a kid running around pestering his daughter. His wife was shocked that he literally did not recognize his own son.
Outside of extreme work commitments, the old model of work consisted of going to the office, working, and then going home free of work burdens. On the rare occasion you’d bring work home. But typically, once you left the office the day was done.
In this model we were able to look at ourselves as two different people. We had a work identity and a home identity. You got to live two separate lives that would provide some forms of entertainment when you’d get to interact with coworkers outside of the office and see how different they were around their family.
That world is no more, however. Technology has enabled portability of work. Many are working at home either full time or part time where home and work have blended into one. Work has become the identity of many which has only been enhanced by it not being separated from their home life as well.
Parenting expectations have changed over the past 50-years where it is common for mothers to work, and dads are expected to be more engaged than their ancestors. This adjustment has created a new conundrum for the parental psyche. The parent can enjoy being at work and they can also feel a since guilt about being away from their child. It is good to have that separation of work and home, but you’ll always feel torn between the two. On the off case that you are forced to choose between the two, who or what do you value more?
Now that work is portable that has opened flexibility in being able to participate in kids’ activities and work at the same time. This has also opened the door though for many bosses to feel that quick responses on off hours or during the weekend are warranted because work is portable and always on. Even if your boss doesn’t have those immediate response expectations, you still may feel that same pressure to respond. It is the guilt of not being prompt.
On the other hand, you look at your spouse and children only to see their disappointment of you not being able to let go of your work. To not be living in present. You are then left feeling more guilt that you’re not being the partner or parent you promised you’d be.
A constant state of dissatisfaction is not a formula for happiness. That’s not how Olympians live. They have made the decision of what they want out of life, and they are laser focused on it. However, it is different for people working in the real world.
You don’t have to make an all or nothing decision for your focus, but what you can do is decide what your priorities are. You can then live to those expectations. Then let the guilt go.
Now while you live to your expectations some will be disappointed. They may even get angry on the tradeoffs you’re making. But you control the narrative on how you believe you should be living your life.
The COVID-19 and quarantine forced the blending of both work and home for nearly everyone. A relatively small population worked from home prior to the pandemic. Covid hit and then most worked from home. What was intended to be only two weeks turned into two years.
We saw the juggling kids’ school and work coinciding at the same time. We also experienced significant autonomy and freedom. Our schedules blended to the current situation.
After a few weeks we adjusted to when and where to get work done while new routines were built. We found that productivity increased without interruptions. We also found that work was now a continual process and no longer reserved for between 9 to 5.
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