It’s amazing to me how often one part of my life is in opposition to other parts.
Last Thursday, for example, my wife stayed home with our daughter to take her to her eighteen month checkup at the doctor. I had a lot of work to do, so I went into my office, closed the door, and got to work.
After a few hours, though, I heard my daughter in the hallway. She was standing just outside the door and, quite loudly, she said “Daddy?”
My instinct, right then, was to run out in the hallway, sweep my daughter into my arms, and go play with her in the family room for an hour, reading her books and wrestling with her and playing “ring around the rosy” with her.
But right in front of me sat several work tasks, things I needed to get done. I had posts for this site that needed written. I had a contract revision that had to get printed, signed, and faxed. I had a freelance article that needed mailed. And I had fully intended to do some reading and research.
If I chose the work, I’d get the things done that I needed to do to pay the bills. I’d keep my readers happy and my publishers happy. I’d also have less on my plate to worry about for future work.
At the same time, my daughter would sadly wander away from the door, wondering why her daddy didn’t play with her. Likely she would forget it shortly, but if I make the work choice too often, it begins to establish a pattern in her mind.
On the other hand, I could let the work sit and go play with my daughter. That would be the most fun choice and it would reinforce the great bond I have not only with my daughter but with my wife. Later, though, I’d be faced with a mountain of work that would have to be dealt with – or I’d let someone seriously down.
I wound up choosing my daughter, but it wasn’t an easy choice and it left me staying up very late working on things – and left me exhausted the next day.
Why did I make that choice? I realized the reason I was working at home was so that I could spend that quality time with my family. I could have very easily made the wrong choice here, choosing work over family, but in the end, making that choice would have undone the synergy in my life.
I chose lower income and a more flexible schedule so that I could spend more time with my family. Thus, when I have a choice between work and family, the choice should be easy. Family wins. My life has synergy – everything points towards quality time with my family. Work serves to support that time, not to replace it.
Our purchases serve that purpose, too. Our biggest consideration for purchasing a car is reliability. Why? We minimize our concern about major automobile breakdowns, leading to less family disruption. Our long debate about a GPS purchase (why not just use a map?) came down to family issues as well – where’s the nearest bathroom? Where’s the nearest hospital? Where’s the nearest park? These are questions a typical map can’t answer – but they’re invaluable when you’re traveling with kids. (Since people will ask, we own a Garmin nuvi 760)
On the flip side of that coin, we also cut out a lot of unnecessary purchases to save for other things: college, retirement, a big emergency fund, and so on. We don’t buy many items for entertainment – instead, we use the library and PaperBackSwap and SwapADVD and SwapACD and SwapTree – plus our family time is entertaining. We eat at home almost exclusively because it gives us more control over healthy food choices – and it’s cheaper.
When we hit financial bottom, we didn’t have any sort of synergy to our lives. I’d go to work and work like mad, then immediately spend that earned money on frivolous things. I’d spend time with my wife and son some evenings, then choose activities that completely excluded them at other times. I’d think of long term goals, but I’d change them completely by the next day and never really work towards them.
Now, my life has synergy. Almost everything is centered around being a good parent and a good husband. Writing is my creative release, allowing me to throw out the ideas floating around in my head and giving me the mental freedom to focus on my family. The things I do that I consider “work” mostly serve to find ways to earn income from that writing to keep a roof over their heads.
Using that as a lens, it’s easy to figure out that spending less than I earn is a good move. It’s also easy to figure out the priorities when I do spend.
What’s harder is figuring out how to be the best parent I can be.