Last night, up to my elbows in soapy dinner dishes, I was listening to a radio program about couples using economics as a basis for therapy. The show’s guests had written a book about how modern couples often come home, make dinner, clean up, check the Blackberry and do some more work, then get in bed and watch TV before falling asleep, and these couples complain they don’t have time for romance or each other.
[bzzzt] Fail! I see two problems right away. The first one is easy to fix—get that TV out of your bedroom. The second is much more insidious in American culture, the idea that you bring work home. Something in our culture lets us think it’s okay to let these two worlds collide, so let me tell you a story about why I believe it’s not.
My first job was at a movie theater. I saw it as a place to hang out with my friends, watch free movies, get free drinks from the Icee machine, and maybe sell some tickets. Turned out I was lugging canisters of soda syrup from a cockroach-infested basement and mopping up Lord-knows-what in the bathrooms, but hey, a kid’s gotta grow up sometime. One July evening we were celebrating my Mom’s birthday. We’d set up the usual spread: homemade sheet cake, barbecue on the deck, presents in the living room. Just after an early dinner I told my Dad I needed a ride to the theater because I hadn’t been able to get off work that night. As I stood in the doorway to the deck, looking out at the forest beyond and listening the chirr of woodpeckers in the summer dusk, he told me something I’ve never forgotten.
“Family comes first. Never let this happen again.”
Since then I’ve always made time for family. I managed to switch careers, go to grad school full time while working, and raise a child all without bringing work home. Do your job well, work efficiently and give your family the respect they deserve by actually being at home when you’re at home. Shut off the Blackberry, and don’t you dare check your email or open up that laptop. Frankly you’d do your family better by staying at the office to finish then coming home to give your undivided attention.
I have a job, a career, something I’m passionate about. I love my workplace, my coworkers, and am happy doing my work. But I will never forget who I’m working for. It’s for her.