Previous Months' Topics

Meeting the Work-Family Life Battle Head On

Advice from a successful professional who has kept his perspective

Robert Conrad has risen to the high ranks of a federal judge in Charlotte, North Carolina, but throughout his professional career people have seen him as a family man first. He and his wife, Ann, have been married 30 years and gave birth to six children, ages 28 to 20.

He has written and spoken to men’s groups about the home life-work life balance. Fathers for Good asked Judge Conrad to share his insights.

Fathers for Good: What do you see as a key in dealing with work-family conflicts?

Conrad:
The key is to recognize the tension between pursuit of work excellence, and being involved with your children. We must be intentional about forming habits of life that seek to accomplish both. Dads will draw those balance lines differently but both objectives must be pursued with passion. Our kids crave us more than things.

 
  Robert Conrad and his wife get together with their children.

Tip: When they stop talking about you, or draw family pictures without you in it, you have not struck the right balance.

FFG:
Men seem to be reluctant to talk about the issue because to complain may show weakness, and to complain at work may hurt career. What to do?

Conrad:
It is important to integrate family/work life. When we compartmentalize work and family, we become less effective witnesses to truth in both spheres. People at work should know how seriously we take our family life. Our family should know that work is good and best done to the glory of God.

Today’s technological advances offer opportunities to invest more time at home, and even work some hours or days at home, and more interaction with family while at work through cell phones or texting. Where possible and appropriate, we should utilize these advances to accomplish the work/family balance.

FFG:
Talk about your practice “intentional acts” to connect with kids at any age and stage of life.

Conrad: Larry McDonald, in his book The Effective Father, describes a father/son story in which a boy remembers fondly a fishing trip he took with his Dad, and the life lessons he learned from it. Yet the clueless father’s diary entry recorded: “Went fishing with my son, another day wasted.” There are no wasted days. Every minute with our children is an opportunity, an invitation to keep lines of communication open, to make a lifelong memory. We need to take intentional steps to create opportunities to influence our children.

Intentionality in our family life has included:

  • Saturday Breakfasts, when mom gets a break and dad takes the kids out for breakfast. Each Saturday a different child will get to order what he/she wants and the others split plates of pancakes. This tradition started when I was in law school (25+ years ago) and continues. This Saturday, three of my grown up children will join me for breakfast.
  • Whose turn is it? incorporates a child into an out-of-town overnight business trip (where possible drive, don’t fly), which creates time for dialogue and breaks down work/family compartmentalization. When out-of-town travel does not lend itself to a child accompanying you, consider getting a gift for a different child each trip to let them know you were thinking of them while gone and to get them excited about your return.
  • Birthday Dinner. Birthdays in our house were big deals. At dinner, we went around the table, and each family member – and any visitors too – would tell the birthday child something they admire about him or her.
  • Lenten Daily Mass with Children. It might look more angelic than it is (if only the observer could have seen the vexatious scene getting the kids into the car!). But this single custom can impact kids for a lifetime.
  • Work Saturdays. Bring kids into your place of work on Saturday morning with a treat for good behavior at the end.
  • Be a Coach or Youth Leader. Discern shared areas of passion to do with a child such as coaching a sport, leading a Scout troop or developing an interest in theater, music, etc.

Be careful not to overemphasize the importance of sports, or the modern parental tendency to make their child the center of the universe. Many Dads think they devote obsessive amounts of time to their careers early on and enjoy the kids later when they have “arrived.” But that assumption is flawed in at least three respects. First, life habits formed early tend to last. Second, you never really “arrive” or are satisfied with your professional position. And third, the kids are little (and impressionable) only once.