Marriage: Q & A with Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie—Work or Family First?
I know my family needs to be my top priority, but when push comes to shove it is always easier to say no to them than to my boss. How can I maintain a good balance between my family and my career?
Dave: Well, to be very honest, this is an interesting question for us to be answering. We have more experience than I’d like to admit in trying to recover from an unbalanced work and family schedule. I have to confess that sometimes the problem isn’t the expectations of the boss as much as it is the drive of the working spouse to push for excellence. We went through great stresses in our marriage due to my over-commitment to work. What may initially have been perceived as work expectations was really more about my own need to excel and to pay the price to see things grow in my work.
Donalyn: While it was great to see Dave excited and things go well for him, the family and our marriage simply paid a price.
Dave: Yes, my over-commitment to work starved our marriage of the time we needed to develop a healthy relationship. Over a three-year period, our marital ties unraveled as we spent less and less time together. Through this experience, we learned that every time I say yes to job commitments I am saying no to other life priorities…usually Donalyn.
Donalyn: It was a real struggle. But we are living proof that there is hope for families stuck in destructive, imbalanced work patterns. It is possible to reverse course and begin to give your family the time they deserve.
Dave: The beginning of our turnaround came when I finally understood that I needed to choose to make my family the first priority in my life. Think about this: you will likely change jobs six to ten times over the course of your life. Jobs come and go, but we all want to have our family last our lifetime. After all, family is forever right? It only makes sense that they should be our primary focus.
Donalyn: That’s right Dave. But it’s easy to say the family is priority. It is sometimes harder to know what that actually looks like when the demands of work and life begin to press in and squeeze out your family time.
Dave: And I think it’s important to understand that to be top priority doesn’t necessarily mean equal time. The fact is that work takes a lot of time. There aren’t many men who can support a family today by working 20-hour weeks.
Donalyn: That’s for sure. And yet time with your spouse and with your kids has to be non-negotiable. That means they really are priority! It’s easy to slip into the quality time trap – thinking that we can substitute quality for quantity. Really, though, both are needed – especially for the kids. Remember that the time you have with your kids is limited as far as the years go. We know that now, as all our kids are gone! You will not easily be able to make up lost time. They will always be your kids, true, but they won’t always be this close to you. You need to understand that building friendship and trust with your kids takes consistent time, energy, and effort. It isn’t an automatic.
Dave: Well, statistics say that the average father only interacts with his kids for about five minutes a day. And you’re bang on, Donalyn – it doesn’t matter how “quality” those five minutes are, there is no way you can build a strong relationship with anybody in that little time. A balanced life includes making daily investments of time in your relationships with your kids and spouse. Without that, families become more like roommates sharing a house than a connected, close unit. Don’t just pass by them in the hallway and continue on your way. Take the time to really talk to them, to touch them, and to slow down and just hang out with them.
Donalyn: It’s great to be able to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities like that. It’s also important to have a plan. A balanced life doesn’t happen by accident. It requires serious forethought. It also can’t be done in isolation – both spouses need to be involved in the process and sharing their expectations openly with one another.
Dave: Right, and the expectations need to be carefully evaluated as to whether or not they are fair. This includes determining how much money your family really needs, and the work commitment that will be required to achieve that. In some cases this may involve a shift in priorities – deciding that it really is more important to have family time than to be able to afford more of the new things in life, materially.
Donalyn: Having this kind of discussion can really set the tone for how your family is going to approach these issues. At the same time, you have to be flexible enough to allow for busy times. There will be seasons in every marriage where work demands are increased and life gets crazy. That’s to be expected. The key is to limit it to manageable stints, and not allow it to become the story of your marriage.
Dave: Once you’ve laid the groundwork and determined your priorities, you need to get down to the nuts and bolts of making it happen. That’s when scheduling on your Blackberry or phone can become your best friend.
Donalyn: Yes! Again, family time requires intentional effort. That means actually putting your family into your schedule. As a couple, establish weekly or biweekly dates with one another. And not only as a couple, but take one-on-one dates with each child regularly, too. They need individual attention from each of their parents to truly thrive. Dave did a lot of dad dates with the girls and locked in time coaching the boys in their sports.
Dave: Likewise, as hard as I find it, decide on days off and holidays and stick to them. I find it easier to stick to a schedule if it’s written right on the calendar. Once you’ve scheduled in a family time, consider it sacred – don’t allow it to be cancelled. Work around your office hours, and then tell your boss that those days and times are booked.
Donalyn: Plan things to do during your family time. Have a set place to go to or a set thing to do together. If you just sit around and watch TV, or everyone is doing their own thing when you are home, then it gets easy to justify that your time would be better spent back at the office or doing work from home.
Dave: One fabulous way to spend time with your kids is to get involved in their activities. If they’re into sports, coach their teams. Whenever they have a game, or a music performance, or some other event, be there to cheer them on. Be their biggest fan – it will instill confidence in them like nothing else.
Donalyn: That definitely made a big difference in our kids’ lives. Another idea, if your kids are younger, is to decide in advance which days are your days to put them to bed. Then look forward to that time together. Plan to read to them, or to lay on their bed and just talk. Play little games that are fun for them. Tell them stories of things that you did when you were their age. Get to know your children as people. What are their dreams and fears, and what excites them?
However you do it, remember that it takes an effort to slow down enough to make your family a priority, and an even bigger effort to make them feel that they are priority in your life.
Dave: No doubt about it. It’s hard enough for one-career families to pull this off, and many families today have both parents working outside the home. If that’s you, I would encourage you, if at all possible, to alternate being away from the home. It is so important for kids to have access to their parents. They need both of you.
Donalyn: It’s crucial for couples in this situation to make time for one another and keep those date nights going. If you devote all of your time to your careers and your kids, and neglect your relationship as a couple, there will come a day when your kids are gone like us now, or you’ve retired from work, and you find you have nothing in common anymore. So keep the marriage relationship a priority and guard your time together.
Dave: We’ve talked a lot about how to create family time, but realize that your family can remain your priority, even when you’re at work. I have a standing rule at my office that my wife and kids’ phone calls always get through. If they need me, I make myself available to them. Even when you’re at work, you can be very aware of what’s going on at home.
Donalyn: For years we met for lunch every Thursday, just to stay connected during the busy work week. That was a big help too.
Dave: The balance between work and family really is a heart issue. Determine in your heart where your priorities really lie. Stay away from the extreme imbalance that will kill any marriage. And from the wisdom of Solomon, remember, “A person who respects God’s ways will avoid all extremes” (Eccl. 7:18). Avoid canceling the family for work commitments.
Donalyn: If you are like us, we had to ask God to help us keep the balance. You may need to take an honest, hard look at your lifestyle and your schedule and see if they reflect what you really value. Be committed to make the changes needed to show your family that they are number one.
Dave: Remember, no one ever gets to the end of their life and wishes that they spent more time at the office. Your family is the legacy that will live on after you’re gone. You’ll never regret putting your marriage and family first! Make yours a good one!
© Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie, July 2010
Dr. Dave and Donalyn Currie have been working
with couples for over 25 years. They speak at
conferences and seminars all over North America.
Ask them your questions on marriage and family issues.