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Advice for the Modern Man: How to Achieve Work-Life Balance

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I’m having trouble finding balance in my life. I believe you have to work hard to get ahead — my dad taught me that. Eat your vegetables first, not dessert. But I fall asleep watching TV and in movies, and I go to bed early, all of which is frustrating to my wife and kids. How do I provide for my family while still making time for them?
–Working Hard But Not Appreciated; Orlando, FL

What a great question, one I’m sure a lot of people struggle to answer.

While I don’t have kids, I hope to someday, and when I think about this situation, I can’t help sensing a Catch-22 vibe: A family requires financial and emotional support, yet it’s difficult to provide one without docking the other.

The good news is that you’re a good father and husband. We don’t know each other beyond the three paragraphs we’ve exchanged, but to steal from the great Adam Carolla, the fact that you’re worried about being a good father and husband proves that you are one. (Or are at least capable of being one.) It’s the guys who don’t care who need saving.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t tweak a few things to ensure your family shares my opinion of you.

What you need is what you mentioned in your first sentence — balance — and here are steps to take to achieve it…

1) Talk to your family

Neither of you feels appreciated at the moment. Your family doesn’t feel appreciated when you’re gone — or falling asleep when you’re around. And based on your screen name, you don’t feel appreciated for the hard work you put in.

Both sides have a point, though neither is acknowledging the others. And the only way to change that is to talk about it.

Your family will likely say that they love and miss you, that they’re frustrated with you because they want more time with you. Which is about the most flattering complaint there is.

Conversely, you have to explain why, at times, your work takes precedence over your presence. They think it’s because they’re not your No. 1 priority, when in reality, it’s because they are.

Getting up early, logging long hours, building financial security — these actions will never be romanticized on a Hallmark card. But that doesn’t make them any less a demonstration of your love.

Help your family understand that. Help them understand that everything you do, you do for them.

2) Shift your schedule

I’m a huge fan of the Texas Longhorns, my alma mater. I’m the type of fan who refuses to miss a game, no matter what else is going on in the world.

This wasn’t a problem when I was single, as I had autonomy over my time. But I have a wife now, and that autonomy has splintered.

Sometimes we go to dinner with her side of the family, and sometimes we hang out on the couch, watching The Americans or recorded episodes of House Hunters. And sometimes these activities interfere with UT’s football and basketball schedules.

While I’d like to see the games live, I’d like to stay married more, so I’ve adjusted my viewing habits, opting for late-night screenings instead. Though it costs me sleep, it doesn’t cost me time with my wife or the ‘Horns.

I realize there’s no DVR for real life, and certain work-family conflicts are unavoidable. But would it be possible to limit their occurrence? Could you bring work home to do once the kids are in bed (this would allow you to sleep later), or sneak to the office on a weekend morning before they’re awake?

My guess is you’ve had experience with this concept before. When your children were little (maybe they still are), didn’t you and your wife set their nap and bedtimes around what best fit both your needs?

Now, can you adjust your schedule to better fit theirs?

3) Book family time

These modifications, no matter how slight, will make you more present on a daily basis, which will make everyone happier.

But if, for whatever reason, you have trouble adhering to these changes (busy season, tight deadlines, etc.), you can make up for lost time by scheduling family activities in advance. Doing so will hold you accountable and give everybody something to look forward to.

These activities don’t have to be elaborate; have a game night or take the kids for donuts. Do anything you want — as long as you don’t do anything work-related while you’re doing it.

4) Broaden the definition of “provider”

This is a term most closely associated with finances. A provider provides food and shelter, clothes and college tuition.

But it doesn’t stop there. As a husband and father, you also provide love and support, humor and humanity, a sense of security and a shoulder to cry on. You provide guidance and wisdom, just as your dad did for you.

And time. Time playing catch; time swapping kid stories with your wife; time making memories. Time could be the most important thing you provide.

Being a good provider isn’t solely about making the most money, it’s about making the biggest impact on your family.

And though it may feel like it, reducing your work schedule doesn’t have to mean a reduction in your ambition, accomplishment or bank account. It just means you have to operate more efficiently to achieve that optimal state of balance.

This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project

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