Carrie left a comment on the “False choices” post last week noting that she had just such a false choice going on in her family. Her husband had given up mountain biking because he didn’t think you could go on long bike rides and be a good husband and father. We could substitute a multitude of words for “biking” (train for a marathon, start a business, join an orchestra that travels, etc.) and for “husband and father” (“mother and wife” comes to mind). But the question is the same: if you’re in the workforce, can you make a major commitment in your personal life without neglecting your family?
I think you can, but you have to do it carefully. I say that as someone who trained for the Big Sur Marathon in early 2010 when I had a 2-year-old and a baby, and my usual work commitments. My training regimen required about 8 hours a week of running. I did at least 6 of those during my regularly scheduled childcare hours. To do my long runs, I took a morning (or at least 2-3 hours) off work one day a week. I thought that taking 2 hours on weekends to run was a reasonable request, and certainly wasn’t outside the norm of what I was doing before.
In other words, I made the time come out of work, not out of family. This would be my first suggestion for someone looking to take on a commitment. Sometimes, work is more flexible than we think. Can you come in an hour later one day a week, and so get a run in before the day starts? Can you do some quick tempo runs on your lunch hour? Especially if you’re a fast runner and have a gym at or near your office, taking 90 minutes off in the middle of the day just one day a week could buy you time to run close to 10 miles (and hopefully find a shower somewhere to rinse off as fast as possible). Some workplaces encourage people to volunteer under certain circumstances, and even a lunch hour string quartet rehearsal might theoretically be possible.
If you can’t take the time off work, take it out of time your family doesn’t care about. This usually means getting up early. Unless you’ve got a nursing baby, no one wants to see you at 5 a.m. If you’re a night owl, you could possibly devote some time to your hobby after 8:30 or 9 when the kids go to bed a few days a week. This may mean giving up your TV time, but you’ll have to decide what matters more.
Another option? Trade off with your spouse. If you’ve got young kids, each party gets one night “off” per week to devote to the softball league, the bridge game, etc. One parent takes Saturday mornings and one takes Sunday mornings, or some other equivalent commitment.
All these ideas would keep resentment to a minimum. The trouble, though is when people expect to be able to devote large blocks of time to a hobby and expect a spouse to cover for them quite a bit in general. If you’re traveling a lot for work or putting in a lot of late nights, and making a lot of demands from your family to accommodate that, then I actually don’t think it’s fair to ask for more — particularly if you’re not willing to cover for your spouse’s hobbies, work, etc. Take your running shoes or your swimsuit with you to your hotels. Volunteer at some other point in your life, unless it’s a volunteer commitment you’re doing with your whole family.
Of course, just because I don’t think it’s fair to demand such accommodations from other family members doesn’t mean they won’t be willing to give them. Particularly with exercise, people often like having a spouse who’s fit and who has less stress! If your family is willing to let you do your hobbies, be sure to express your appreciation and try to reciprocate as much as possible and to spend time focused on your kids whenever you can. You’ll have a much better shot of getting a run in if you go at 4 p.m. on Saturday after taking the kids to the zoo, vs. insisting that you need to spend Saturday morning working or golfing with a client…and then you need to go for your run. And by the way, you’ll be leaving for Europe on Sunday night.
Have you ever made time for a major personal commitment?
(photo courtesy flickr user Trailsource.com)