Monday, July 2, 2012

Balance of work and family

We, that is us, who are parents; we all want to provide for our family. I don't know how it works in your country and culture, but here in Denmark, where I live with my wife and four children, most couples are both providers. To tell you the truth, I'm not so sure it is a good idea. If both parents go to work, their children are the ones who must bare the consequences.

Now, I know it is a question of upsides and downsides to whatever arrangement every family decides on and there are benefits, when both parents go to work. And... this is not a post about emancipation. As I see it, it might as well be the husband as the wife, who takes care of the kids, while the other parent works.

Furthermore it isn't always possible for the family to have only one provider. In Denmark it usually isn't, because our society is based on both parents working, financially speaking and I'm sure there are many other societies where this is the case.

So, even though I do believe that our children suffer if both parents work, I also know there is really nothing we can do about it, so how do we deal with this issue?

Or said in another way: how do we balance work and family in the most beneficial way for all?

Well, it is a tough one... and I seriously doubt there is a general answer. Still, I've found a three-way perspective to be quite useful. This perspective is not in any way a step-by-step guide and frankly I believe such guides would be useless. Every family has to figure this out for themselves in such a way that it fits the way that family works. As I see it, finding this balance is like travelling through unknown territory. And with unknown territory there are no maps, no roads to follow and no sign post to help you on your way. But even in unknown and unchartered territory there is one thing you can do to help you find your way: using some kind of tool to get your barings! A sort of compass, if you like. The following three-way perspective is such a compass and it has, as you might already have guessed, three elements. These are:

#1: Courage
#2: Acceptance
#3: Wisdom

Courage is the basic tool for being able to change things. If we cannot find the courage to go into unknown and unchartered territory, the rest of this perspective is meaningless

Acceptance is both about accepting each other, accepting each other's strengths and weaknesses and accepting that some things are just out of our control

And finally, wisdom is about knowing the difference between the things we can change and the things we cannot change - and also wisdom is about knowing how to make the changes we want and how to accept the discouragement of not being able to change some of the things we want to change.

The founder of the Franscican order, Frans of Assisi, expresses this in a prayer. Maybe you heard it before. It goes something like this:

Lord, please grant me the courage to change the things I can, teach me to accept the things I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.

When trying to balance work life and family life, I believe in periodically revising the way we live.

Right now, for example, I work night shifts at a factory and sleep in the morning. This way I am ready for the kids, when they come home from school, which is really a privilege. The downside is that I may not be able to keep healthy doing night shifts (since being awake at night really is not for humans...)

With me working at night we have a higher income and thus the question is: is it worth it? Or would it work better for our family with morning shifts and a smaller income?

And what my wife? Is it best if she works as an executive in a day care center accepting the late office hours that comes with the territory? Or should she work less and have a smaller salary?

What about the balance between us? Should she work the most? Should I?

Asking questions like these grants an opportunity to change the way we arrange our lives as individuals and as a family, but for changes to take place, the above-mentioned threefold angle must be applied.

That is: which parts are possible to change, which are not and do we have the courage to change?

All that is left is to try different solutions. Sometimes one solution is best, but then, as our lives change (our kids grow older, we grow older, new opportunities arise, other opportunities are not there anymore...) - then what was before best, is not anymore.

Do you have the courage to change your family life? Is it possible? Do you have the wisdom to know the difference?