My friend Brandon runs a screenshot blog with short synopses of games and review impressions. His writing resonated with me, and he was gracious enough to share it here. If you have any thoughts or insights on balancing family, career, hobbies, and all the elements of adult life, you can send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org
My career started the day my wife and I found out we were expecting. Life as a server, living on tips and getting home at two in the morning, wasn't a long term solution.
My first stop was water heater sales, then water heater tech support. Trust me, you've never lived until you've argued with a plumber who insists that fire doesn't need air. That's about the time I realized water heaters were also not the way to go.
I had a brief run of entrepreneurial endeavors that included copywriting, book sales, and web design. There were other dreams in there but I guess they were so brief as to be forgotten. All the while I'm working 6-3, arguing with plumbers about air. My takeaway from this brief time was that it's really hard to start a career in what little free time you have in between work and family. I was regularly up until 1 or 2am trying to figure out why my CSS box wasn't working in IE6 (spoiler: because it was IE6) or searching A.B.E. for books I thought I could flip.
I lucked up. The web design led to delving into geekery and a friend asked me if I was Interested in a desktop support position he had open. Um, YES!
Finally, I had a career. I'd be at that company over five years and move in a whirlwind from desktops to system administration to project management. Along the way I had my second and third children. When that company relocated, I jumped into the consulting world where I remain currently. I added a fourth child and a daughter I didn't get to meet due to miscarriage.
So here I am, 34 and a father of 4. Dang, it's hard. And wonderful.
Balancing these two worlds, Family and Career, has been a ginormous challenge. What do you when you have a meeting at 2 and your wife texts you that she is sick at 1? What about at your son's party when you get an emergency call from work?
After 13 years and 4 kids, with a marriage that is stronger today than ever, here are my thoughts:
1 - Family is ALWAYS number one
Start with that truth. When the chips are down, family will always trump career. If my wife is sick and tells me she needs me, being a full time Mom to a homeschooled family, I'm heading home. For me, this was always my ideal, but the practical implementation left me wracked with anxiety for years. However, I found one thing that makes every employer I've had okay with this paradigm: Work your butt off the rest of the time.
2 - Providing financial security is a crucial part of my family contribution
This truth is the checks and balances to #1. Family comes first, but neglecting my career is neglecting my duty to provide for my wife and children. Even more so as we have a one income household, though I think it applies just the same in a multi-income family (it's probably just more complicated). My children would love to have Daddy home every day (or so they tell me. I think they'd be begging me to leave after a week :) ), but I can't. On a hard day at work where nothing has gone right, I have to continue doing my best because that's my responsibility to my family. I've made an agreement that to the best of my ability they will have food, shelter, clothing, and Nintendo and by gerd that's what they're gonna get.
3 - Accept that the first and second items are going to cause a consistent tension
You will be pulled in two directions everyday. It's not a bad thing, it's just reality. Accept that. Don't fight it, work with it.
4 - Communicate with your partner and children about this tension
Communication. The balm that heals all ails. It's critically important that all participants in your family experiment understand that balancing the needs of the family with the needs of a career is a hard, necessary, sometimes ugly process. I included children in this because it's important IMO to help them understand that the reason Daddy and/or Mommy are leaving every day is largely because you love them, and more materialistically because the things around them have a cost. This is my example of how to be an adult. (CAVEAT: See item #1 and remember, Family trumps Career.)
That's it for the big picture. The minutiae is a world unto itself. Handling getting 6 people to regularly visit a dentist, for example (Hint: find someone that deals with kids a lot, get appointments as close to the end of your day to minimize time off, and get them back to back to minimize visits). Or when there's a long term illness to your partner and this tension gets really imbalanced (My strategy was to turn up communications with bosses and to work half of each day from home. Side note, presenting in conference calls while trying to keep children quiet is not easy.).
Balancing career and family isn't easy. I know I've done it poorly at times, but I believe that I've learned a lot about how to make it work for us. I hope this helps you. Good luck!
P.S. When in doubt, wait until your child is sleeping and just stare at their face. This always helps me.