When Careers and Family Collide
The great Canadian philosopher, John Candy, sums up the greatest challenge men will ever face in the classic movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Candy’s character, Del Griffith, puts it simply:
“You know, the finest line a man will walk is between success at work and success at home. I have a motto: Like your work, love your wife.”
Work satisfies two basic needs in a man—the need to provide for his family and the need to protect his family. A woman might think a man’s work is just a J-O-B, but it is much more than that. Work allows a man to direct his creative energies into productive outlets. It also fulfills physical, mental, psychological, and emotional needs.
Work often also defines a man’s sense of identity and purpose. When a man says “I am a physician” or “I am a businessman” or “I am an ironworker,” that expresses part of who he is, not just what he does.
Men Were Created to Work
Looking back to Genesis, men were meant to work—it is part of their DNA. It is how God made them. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Clearly, God knew man needed something to do, something to shape, build, create, and He knew that would satisfy man’s heart.
But when God’s curse fell on Adam work became both a blessing and a bane; men would derive both satisfaction and frustration from their work in the fallen world.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:17–19).
In fact, men have a burden to provide that always weighs on their shoulders. Men who work but who are unable to provide adequately are often very frustrated and angered by those circumstances. Men who are unable to work at all often suffer from many different kinds of debilitating psychological problems. And men who choose not to work can have an unhealthy self-image or self-esteem.
Because of this overwhelming compulsion for men to identify and validate themselves through their work, it’s easy for us to become obsessed with our work and distracted at home or not fully engaged in our relationships.
When unbalanced a man’s work life can easily become unhealthy, and internal wounds or feelings of inadequacy often drive it.
We can quickly fall into the trap that if we can be successful and make enough money in our career, then it will somehow prove to everyone that we are worthy of respect. In our minds, that will make our wives love us more and lead to a good relationship.
When that motivation is brought into the light, it’s easy to see how inaccurate and untrue it really is. But it’s how many men unconsciously process the interaction between work and their self-image.
Another allure for workaholics is work is easier than relationships. It’s why so many consciously or even unconsciously spend more time at work than is healthy for their family.
Work has boundaries and rules that are clearly defined and tell people when they succeed or fail. It is much easier than the ambiguous and more challenging duties of interacting with a family, which tend to be messier.
Men get kudos all the time for their performance at work, but they seldom get a pat on the back for being a good husband, father, or friend. Additionally, if things are rough at home, the workplace can be a haven of peace for many men. They know how to be competent at their job, something they don’t always know how to be at home.
The Dangers of Inbalance
Now, men, before you go justifying your long work hours to your wife by telling her that God made you this way and you can’t help it, let’s look at how the enemy is at work in this area.
The evil one, like all great liars, likes to use portions of the truth to deceive us. His goal is to destroy what he hates more than anything else—the image of God as portrayed by a man and woman in marriage.
And again, because it is easier for guys to get gratification through achievements and accomplishments than it is through relationships, we tend to overdo it, especially if we are feeling inadequate in those interpersonal areas.
Spending too much time at work, or being preoccupied with it when not there, is a trap we fall into that is destructive both to our relationships and ourselves. We mistakenly believe that the better we provide for our wives and children, the more we are showing we love them.
In reality, most wives and children feel a steady income and time with dad is a more important indicator of a man’s love than material goods (although diamonds seem to be an exception).
Last summer, our beloved son unexpectedly passed away. It was every parent’s nightmare. I give you my word that when something like this happens, the very last thing you care about is work or your job. (Perhaps the only reason we men might look to work in a situation like this is the solace it brings to a man by throwing himself into his work in order to avoid dealing with his grief.)
The death of a loved one brings into perspective the value of life and of one’s family. It’s been nearly a year now and I still have not gotten back the old “fire” towards my work that I used to relish. Frankly, it just doesn’t seem all that important any more.
Don’t take your family for granted. If something happens you’ll have plenty of regrets for the rest of your life about things you did or didn’t do without having to also worry about the times you put your work before your wife and kids.
My point is, don’t take your family for granted guys. If something happens you’ll have plenty of regrets for the rest of your life about things you did or didn’t do without having to also worry about the times you put your work before your wife and kids.
I’m not lecturing here, I’m just hoping you’ll gain from the benefit of my experiences. As Psalms 127:3-5 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!”
Don’t take God’s blessings for granted by placing work ahead of them. No man ever went to his grave wishing he had spent more time at the job. While work is an important role in providing for our families, it’s just that—one role among many that we have as fathers, husbands, and men.
Portions of this article contain excerpts from Rick’s bestselling book, Becoming Your Spouse’s Better Half, by Revell Publishing.