The tension that comes with balancing work and family life has been one which has afflicted many a working parent. There are no easy answers. It is a complex issue which involves parents and families in vastly different circumstances with uniquely different goals. Yet, I believe that for most, the tension stems not from a desire to neglect one or the other but to thrive in both. Unfortunately, it often becomes like walking a tightrope. We look down on the parent who falls short of supplying his family with the All-American Dream while simultaneously calling out the parent whose career ambitions call for family sacrifices.
My purpose here is not to assess each of the elements that make up for the complexity but to provide you with an example of how one well-known writer handles this tension.
Stephen King (you may have heard of him) in his memoir On Writing shares that he converted his office, which included a “monstrosity” of a desk in the middle of it, to a living room suite in which he and his children enjoyed much time together. His reasoning? “It starts with this,” he writes, “put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
How easy it is to do precisely that. Place our work and/or creative endeavors in the “middle of the room”. Support-systems are essential. They provide us with the spiritual, emotional, or practical support we need to flourish as humans. But however necessary and even beautiful they may be in our lives, they exist to help us live out an even fuller existence. For Stephen King, this fuller existence involves prioritizing his family at its center. And yet he does so without diminishing the place of writing in his life. In fact, he sees it as integral to it.
With New Year’s still fresh in our minds, I imagine that there are many of us who have set out to achieve some concrete goals involving work, growth, creativity, or all of the above. And yet if you’re like me, the tension of walking the family-“work” tightrope exists even in spite of the measures we may have already taken. (Even as I write this, my son is patiently awaiting some board game time with me.) Whatever our circumstances, perhaps King’s metaphor for his work/art as a support system for life can help provide us with a bit of clarity as we seek to live creative and productive, family-centered lives.