Managing a Work and Family Balance as a Dad

One of the questions that we wrestle with as dads all the time is … Man, it’s tough when you’re working, and you have to spend many, many, many hours of work, when your work oftentimes demands extra hours, extra effort, inconvenient times. How do we handle that? Is that being a bad father? 

Man, this is a real serious tension, and in the Facebook group with Five Minute Fatherhood, Daniel asks us this question. He’s a firefighter. He says, “I guess my question is, do any other dads out there feel a sense of guilt when we choose to spend more time away from our teams at home, to bring home more money, that I feel providing for us, to keep us afloat? And, this could small things in other job fields as well. Even the corporate world, maybe working extra hours, projects, not coming home for lunch, to work instead, to get paid for that … Is it normal, or should I even feel this sense of guilt, of choosing to work more than I already do?” 

Ugh, this is such a real, raw, common tension. Jeff, what are your thoughts? 

Yeah. Well, first of all, Daniel, I love your mustache. We know you on Facebook. I know who I’m talking to right now. You’re the best, and thanks for serving as a firefighter. I’m jealous of your mustache, but you also … I feel like firefighters have to have a stache with that. 

If you don’t know, guys, get in on our Facebook group. Link is in there YouTube description. Link is in the iTunes description. It’s all down there. We’d love to have you in there. You can also search Five Minute Fatherhood. 

But, Daniel, what I would say, and I think I mentioned in the comments when you asked this, but we can elaborate more, is we have to … First of all, if you’re asking that question, you’re probably already in a good spot. That means your heart’s sensitive. That means your heart is open. That means you are aware, and you’re trying. That’s 99% of the work of a dad that’s just … His heart is on. It’s not off. It’s on. It’s sensitive. It’s thinking. It’s there. That’s really 99% of the work. 

The second thing I would then say is you have to be able to distinguish between mission and just American Dream. You have to be able to distinguish between those two. What I mean by that is you can feel good about work because work is a blessing, and work is the vocation and the garden. 

Family and work go hand in hand. God says, “Work.” That’s the first command in Scripture. It’s the first command. He doesn’t say, “Pray, and sit in the closet, and listen to Chris Tomlin.” He doesn’t say that. He says, “Work.” That’s the first command. Then he says, actually, “Do that through family.” 

So, it’s like work and family are married forever, and that’s how it’s going to be. Work’s the blessing, and work we need to do, and it’s actually holy and sacred. But, in that, you have to understand, are you actually doing the work God has for you?

Again, most people are. They’re living in their vocation. They’re living in what they’re supposed to be doing. Some aren’t, and it might mean a job change, but in general, they are. And so, you’re on mission. You’re on mission.

Then you have to realize that and then say, “Okay, I’m on mission on behalf of my family. My work is not tearing me away from my family. I’m working for my family, on behalf of my family, sent out by my family.” Again, that lets everything click. It’s like okay, the family’s sending me out to be a firefighter on mission. That’s the vocation that we have distilled for me to do and live in obedience. 

So, if you can live well, or if it sits well in you, for your job, to feel like you’re on mission … Now, again, that doesn’t mean people need to get saved every single day, and you need to go translate the Bible. Some people, that is your mission. But, if you can live well, say, “This is where God’s called me, and I’m going to be faithful in it,” then that’s good. 

But, if that doesn’t sit well with you, meaning if you feel like a certain amount of hours feels like this is not the mission that God has for my family or for me on behalf of my family, then if that doesn’t sit well, then that’s probably the red flag of overworking, of too much hours, of maybe too much, of work idolatry, of workaholic-ness.

I think that, to me, mission seems to be the good framework that helps you really distinguish between of course I got to go work, and of course I got to go do this, and that’s the mission. But, if you feel like there’s parts of your work where that doesn’t sit right, of me saying this part is … 90 hours a week is me on mission … No, probably not. And, that shouldn’t sit well. 

So, I don’t know. To me, it’s not clear cut, black and white, but the mission and framework on behalf of the family, seems, for me, to be able to understand it well, and for me to be able to sense in my own heart when that’s a good and a bad thing, or when that’s working and not working. But, Jeremy, what would you say to that? 

Yeah, one last thought, just real practically … I would say, particularly for you as a firefighter, you need to be constantly telling your kids stories about this connection.

Yeah. What do you do? 

Talk about the work and how the work is accomplishing a mission. Talk about the good things that are happening at work. Talk about the things that you’re doing as a firefighter. Also, talk about the money you’re bringing home and what that means to the family mission. 

Again, the world has set up … All of this is a big individual pursuit game, where Dad is going after his individual pursuits. But, don’t worry about it, kids, you can go after your individual pursuits, whether those are sports or something at school, or this instrument. 

Framing everything as individual pursuits really makes it very difficult to get your family and your kids and everyone to understand why you would leave on Christmas Eve to man the fire station. And, man, they need to feel and understand … Guys, I’m doing this because I love you, and I love our family. I’m doing this because I’m on a mission. I’m being sent out. 

And so, it’s a lot about telling stories and also talking about the money. Again, that’s something that you can do in different age-appropriate ways, but in ways that don’t create a lot of fear, but create a lot of security. Like, whoa, it’s so cool. Dad goes off, and he’s really bringing home what we … 

Because so much of what happens in our culture, it’s just not transparent, especially to children. It’s all very mystifying. We’re not bringing home actual … more camels or sheep. It’s like somebody wired money into our bank account, and you’re like, “Cool. We can live again.” You know? Got to think about that.

Yeah. It’s very hard to compute. 

Yeah, it’s just invisible. That’s terrible for children because they don’t see any of that invisible stuff. 

And so, we have to find ways to make what Jeff is describing, that we’re actually on mission for the family, visible and clear through telling stories, through drawing connections, and then, that’ll help really create that sense of shared mission. 

And then, of course, any way you can integrate your kids and help them see what you’re doing and demystify your work for them, whether that’s bring-a-kid-to-work day or anything like that, is really going to help them get why you’re working so hard and why it matters and why it’s connected to the family.

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