Keeping work from overshadowing family life can be tricky, but this thoughtful approach can help.
A lack of order in a person’s life is never without consequences. Its first symptoms are easy to notice. You might be getting home late at the end of the work day, finishing up work on Sunday, experiencing the inner struggle between having enough time for relaxation and finishing work. Our work, our need to perform, our boss’s expectations, or the earnings we hope for and expect will never replace being with those who need us and whom we need. Paradoxically, while we love our spouse and children more than our work, we sacrifice the former more easily to the latter than vice versa.
A question facing us even more urgently than before
These scheduling difficulties apply both to those who work outside the home and—often more insidiously—to those who work from home (especially now during the pandemic). It also applies significantly to those who are homemakers, taking care of their children during the day and supporting their spouse when he or she gets home, often working from morning to night without having a minute to sit down. Their relationship to work can be as complicated as that of a person who gets to leave a workplace and return home at a fixed time.
Whatever the kind of work they do, people who are torn in many different directions by the multiplication of tasks, who are tired—even exhausted—from working at an ever more intense rhythm, with no time to reflect and give meaning to what they do, burn themselves out and slowly lose contact with what’s really important. In this situation, the internal unity of someone who fulfills him- or herself by acting in freedom gives way to inner division instead.
For many people, confinement due to the pandemic has been a revealing moment in terms of priorities and the relationship between family and work. Although it has often been difficult to simultaneously manage children at home and remote work, this unprecedented involuntary period of staying at home has forced couples and families to examine and reflect on their life choices. Spending all our life at work, as many of us usually do, too often leaves us at a loss for time to reflect.
Asking the right questions
When we find ourselves in this situation of wild overactivity that enslaves us, there’s only one good solution: taking time to make sense of our lives. If it’s important in our relationships with others to ask the right questions before it’s too late, as a form of charity in action, it’s just as necessary for us to do the same with regard to ourselves.
If we want to put an end to our stress and anxiety, we have to give ourselves a break, even if it means cutting back on the “needs” that our out-of-control consumer societies have multiplied disproportionately. It takes courage to dare to tell ourselves the truth about our lives, and it also takes time. The time at home imposed by quarantine and confinement perhaps could be used to take stock of our situation.
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Other warning signs of difficulties in the family can help us to perceive more clearly the reality of our sometimes unbalanced lives. These signs might include an increase in arguments at home, not being up-to-date on news about the daily lives of our children or our spouses, feeling more and more tired, being irritable and in a bad mood, a dwindling of sexual intimacy with our spouses, searching for compensations. We must take care not to reach the point of no return, which could come in the form of break-ups or separations, or professional burn-out.
“Yes, but …”
“Yes, but …” This little voice, this mental reservation, keeps coming back to us. “Yes, but … if I don’t perform as well at work, another person will take my place, and everyone knows that unemployment is increasing. There’s an economic crisis right now, and jobs are becoming scarce.” “Yes, but … what will people think of me if the quality or quantity of my work diminishes, and I don’t meet the high bar which I’ve become accustomed to reach in my work?”
This “Yes, but …” is an obstacle that we have to reject once and for all. Living fully in the present implies living without projecting fears, concerns, and risks that may never happen. We must live in the present, and organize our lives in a way that allows us to have a fulfilling relationship with our loved ones and harmony in our families, and which keeps work in its proper place.
How can we stop?
We know what it means to let ourselves be overwhelmed by a thousand activities. Each time it happens, we try to stop and revisit our choices and our priorities. Testimonies from families and couples of various ages and from various countries show that we need to learn to take stock, to stop and rediscover the daily routine of our lives, to ask ourselves if the life we’re leading is the one we really want to live. It might be useful to sit down as a family to explicitly formulate and decide on circumstances that have been shaped by the imperceptible drift of daily life, without our having taken the trouble to question within ourselves if this is how we want to live.
There is no miracle cure, no one-size-fits-all model to change the relationship we have with our work. We can begin by stopping and reflecting on our time-consumption at work, on our job security, on our needs and expectations and on the question of costs, of money, and of what our professional lives are costing our personal lives. Perhaps this is the best way to discover the path to what’s most important in our lives, which once resonated deep in our hearts and which the weeds of a superficial approach to life might be smothering.
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