As we said before, work and family are not natural enemies, In fact, one of the great things about work is that it can be a powerful tool in building family relationships and strength.
One of our sons recently shared the following experience:
When I was 10 years old I had the opportunity to fly down to Texas and spend two weeks with my grandparents. My grandfather was one of the top insurance agents in the nation, and he had plaques and awards all over the walls in their home. My grandmother was his office manager. She was an impressive woman—in fact, she’d been personnel manager at a major department store. They had about a dozen employees, and they ran a really tight ship.
They were the ones who gave me my first exposure to a really well-run office. They took me to work with them, where I would sit up on the filing cabinets while all these employees were writing up insurance applications and secretaries were answering phones and Granddad was talking to clients and Grandmom was super- vising it all. I think that, more than anything else in my life, watching that well-oiled machine and the aggressive energy with which they pursued their goals instilled a sense of excellence in me in terms of performance and career.
The interesting thing was that they didn’t just let me watch—they literally made me a part of the business. They took me in and exposed me to what it was like. They explained to me what they were doing and why. They treated me like a person—not like a little kid who was in the way. And I felt like I was 10 feet tall.
That experience was very formative for me. It made a profound difference in the way I’ve studied at school and in the way I’ve developed my work habits. I think there’s a lot of wisdom that comes from however many decades grandparents have lived on the planet, and it’s a shame that we don’t pay much attention to that in this culture.
In today’s world, you generally can’t have your children working alongside you in the fields or making soap by the fire. But there are a number of things you can do to involve your family meaningfully, to build bridges between work and home, to help your children (or grandchildren) become contributing adults, and to increase the sense of wholeness in your own life.
To conclude this chapter, we’d like to share some ideas that can help you make that happen. As you read, keep in mind that we are not suggesting that you don’t focus at work when you’re at work. You need to do that. But if you have some of these bridges in place, it will make focusing at your work easier to do.
One of the most effective ways to nurture the principle of work and create work/home synergy is to share the vision. Whether your work is in the family or out of the home, let your family be involved in it. Let them know what you do and why you do it. Let them see how you do it. Let them know that to you, “my work” is a part of “our work.” Let them know how what you do contributes to others and to them.
One way you can do this is by sharing related elements of your personal mission statement or your work mission statement, if you have one.Another way is to regularly share some of the positive benefits that come from the work you do, including how the products and services you provide are helping others. You could also make an effort to be open about family finances. Help your children under- stand the relationship between your work, your income, and meeting family needs.
It’s wonderful when children can take a sense of pride in their parents’ work. You may not have the most glamorous job on the planet, but whether you’re a seamstress, a secretary, a rocket scientist, a sanitation engineer, or a homemaker, you can teach your children the value of principles such as excellence, interdependence, and contribution. And if for any reason you don’t want your kids to know what you do, maybe you should question whether you should be doing it!
As your family understands more about your work and begins to feel a part of it, work ceases to be a mysterious and necessary evil that keeps you away from family events. It becomes a clearly defined avenue of contribution in which they see you investing time, energy, and creativity to enhance their well-being and the well-being of others. They will better understand the scheduling decisions you sometimes have to make. And it may even spark an interest—if not in the particular job itself, perhaps in some aspect of it, or even in the way that you do it—that might affect their future performance or job choice.
Sharing the vision can give children the context to see how their work—their schoolwork, their part in family work projects, or their daily chores at home—contributes to the welfare of the family as a whole. In addition, it provides many teaching moments in which children can learn that work—well done—is one of the fundamental principles and rich, satisfying experiences of life.
One of our biggest challenges in the work force today—as well as at school and in the home—is due to the fact that many children do not learn to work. Often, parents are not at home to assign, supervise, and follow through. In the limited time they have, they find it easier in the short run to do things themselves than to teach children to do them. For many teenagers, expectations around work are limited or nonexistent.
But they need to learn. Keep in mind that work is a principle. There is dignity in it. There is joy. The reality is that children are hap- pier both now and as adults as they become competent and learn to contribute.
By far, the most high leverage way to deal with this problem/ opportunity is to set the example. Work hard. Work with excellence. Work with joy. Let your children see the manifestation of the principle of work in your own life. Your example can help them see work in ways that will empower them to love their own work and find joy in labor, peace in principle-based priorities, meaning in contribution rather than recognition, and satisfaction in subordinating excessive toys and glitter to financial security and quality family life.
In addition, you can give children work to do at home—even if it’s inconvenient in the short run, even if it takes four times longer to teach them how to do it than to do it yourself. There are a number of excellent books on organizing home tasks to build character. (See Notes under “Family Matters.”)
Another thing you can do is encourage excellence in schoolwork. Go to school with your children. Find out who their teachers are, where they sit, what they do. Let them know that when they do their schoolwork well, they benefit everyone: “I know this isn’t your favorite class, but I can tell you’re really trying. You’re doing your homework. This is going to help you. It’s going to help me. It’s going to help the family. It’s going to make a better world.Thanks for hanging in there.” When appropriate, offer to help. Kids can have positive work experience doing what they do anyway; part of it is simply in the way we frame it.
Whatever work your children do, appreciate it. Celebrate it. Help them understand that their work is a great contribution to all.
One summer when some of our children were quite young, I decided to teach them more about how to work. The principal vehicle for doing that was the family garden.
Early one evening, I took the children out, hoes in hand, and proceeded to teach them how to weed. As their hoes hit the dirt, bean, potato, and carrot shoots began to suffer the onslaught along with the weeds. I became increasingly agitated. “Hey, watch out for that plant!” “Wait! Be more careful!” “No, don’t do it that way!” After half an hour, I was a nervous wreck and the children were totally discouraged.
Then Rebecca came outside. She watched what was happening for a moment, then picked up a hoe and started in. She took quite a while to do one row, but as she worked she constantly made little comments. “Oh, look at this row! Aren’t we doing a nice job?” “Let’s get all those nasty weeds away from the little plants so they can get all the nourishment they need.” “Won’t these potatoes taste delicious this winter when we take them hot out of the oven and put melted butter on them?” She was so enthusiastic and happy about what she was doing that she even made me want to get those nasty weeds away from our delicious winter dinners-to-be.
Rebecca never once commented on what the rest of the children were doing, but by the time she got to the end of her row, they were working like happy beavers and loving it. My faith was restored in the possibility that they might actually want to come out and work in the garden again.
As Albert Schweitzer noted, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” If we want children to love their work—and we do—then we must learn to love ours. As we do, the tone of our comments about work changes, and that rising tide raises all the boats in the family, so to speak. There’s far less “woe is me!” and much more positive excitement about work in the family culture.
If you work outside the home, on occasion take your children with you to work. Help them understand what you do and how it helps. “This is where I work. I fill out this form. It goes over to these people and they do this with it. Then it leaves in big trucks and helps people out there. Sometimes things don’t work. My boss gets upset. I feel terrible. But when things go right, I feel great. I know what I do makes a difference.”
Too often we only talk about work when things are bad. In consequence, we’re raising a generation of children who are afraid to go to work. We can help them understand the good as well as the bad by inviting them into our work world and making them comfortable observers—perhaps even participants—at appropriate times.
One of our daughters-in-law shared this experience:
My dad was great about letting us kids experience his work. As a doctor, he would take us through his exam rooms and show us all the stuff he worked with. He’d let us try out the stethoscope and look through the microscope at a variety of interesting slides. When he taught the residents how to draw blood, he would let us come and watch them practice on each other.
Sometimes, after he had delivered a baby, he would take us up to the hospital nursery to peek at the newborn child. He showed us X rays. He took us to the hospital cafeteria to eat. It was so neat! I felt special and loved. I had a pride in him and in his work.
On career day, my dad would always come and hand out rubber gloves and tongue depressors to my classmates. I would burst with pride, knowing how special my dad was.
I knew my dad was a good doctor. Most of all, I knew that he helped people and really cared about the people he helped. Because of this, it wasn’t as hard for me when he couldn’t be at my band concert or softball game. He came when he could, and I knew he loved me. He included me when he could, and made me feel value in myself, in him, and in his work.
Although our daughter-in-law did not choose to become a doctor herself, her life clearly manifests the enormous benefits of this wonderful legacy in the way she approaches her own unique roles in life and interacts in loving and teaching ways with others.
Many schools give children the opportunity to hear from parents and others in the community regarding their professions. The intent is to expose children to a wide variety of career possibilities.
So be a part of it. Make a big deal out of it. Prepare for it. Give it your best effort.
Share not only what you do, but why and how. And reject the temptation to get caught up in comparative thinking. Teaching the joy and excellence of being a great maintenance supervisor is a far greater contribution to a child’s future than emphasizing the high profile of a mediocre lawyer’s career.
Whatever your job, your what, why, and how “show and tell” can make a big investment in your child’s future, and in your relationship with that child as well.
Years ago, I remember coming home one day discouraged by the actions of a boss in the company I worked for. When Rebecca asked me about my day, I proceeded to “dump.” I told her what this man had done and how unfair I felt he’d been. I told her how hard it was for me to be supportive of him and how other people were also having difficulties. I told her how his particular charac teristics were getting in the way and causing problems.
As I heaped this man’s shortcomings one on top of another, she listened with increasing amazement and finally replied with some energy, “Roger, do you want me to go punch this guy out?”
Her words stopped me in mid-tirade. Suddenly, I laughed. I put my arms around her and basked in the warmth of someone who loved me and was ready to fly to my defense.
Her response lifted me at the time, but as I thought about it later, I realized that her awareness of my work essentially came from me . . . and I had given her a pretty skewed view. I determined I needed to share more—the good as well as the bad—to give her (and me) a more accurate picture of my work situation.
Certainly there are days when things don’t go well at work and you need a loving heart and a listening ear. But if you always share the bad and you never share the good, how will that affect family members’ attitudes toward work? How will they think you see your work? How will they see your work? How will they see their own?
Always look for the good and pass it on. When you contribute at work . . . when something happens that makes a difference . . . when the product or the service of the company improves quality of life for someone . . . share it! Talk about it. Celebrate it. You will feel good about it, and others in your family will feel good about it, too, as they better understand the meaning and value of the work you do.
Think about someone at work whom you admire. Have you told your family about this person? Have you shared with them experiences when this person went the extra mile, did excellent quality work, or showed great character on the job? Have you talked with them about the contribution this person is making?
Stories of work heroes provide great dinner table conversation, as well as an excellent opportunity to reinforce values in your family and in yourself.
The first time I had the opportunity to help Stephen Covey on one of his books, I did most of the work at home. But the time came when I had to go to the office to help complete, copy, and send materials to the publisher. Walking into the office environment as an “outsider,” I quickly discovered there was a lot I didn’t know.
I will never forget one man who immediately welcomed me warmly and offered any help I might require. He was genuine and gracious and made me feel very much at home. Although it was not his job, when I ran into technical problems, he called some one to help. If I needed personnel assistance, he made the calls and got people there. Without even being asked, he smoothed the way at almost every turn, and I was deeply appreciative of his efforts.
This man and his wife have since become wonderful friends, and I always take pleasure in sharing the story of his kindness with our family. It gives me the opportunity to sincerely acknowledge a noble human being and to teach my children the importance of being sensitive to and meeting the needs of others.
Do you know what the other members of your family are doing most of the time? Do you take advantage of opportunities to encourage them in their work, to help them see their work in the bigger context of our work?
What if just before your spouse’s major presentation, an e-mail from you appears on the screen: “Good luck, hon—I’m thinking of you.” Or if your child finds a note on her desk on the morning of a big test: “Good luck on your test today—I’m pulling for you!”
Following the publication of First Things First, I accompanied Roger on a couple of international trips where we co-presented. I enjoyed traveling with him—which was something I hadn’t done much of over the years—but each time, after a few days, I really missed the family at home.
Before we left on one particular trip, the children handed us an envelope with some notes in it.We were instructed to read one note each day we were gone. What a neat experience it was to open the envelope from thousands of miles away and read:
“If you ever feel down or alone on the trip, remember how much we love you!—Dan”
“How is the weather? How is the wildlife in Asia? I hope the programs are rewarding and that you feel good about the contributions you are making. I pray for you and love you both.—Mary”
“Dear Mom and Dad, Have you boughten my souveneers yet? JUST KIDDING! HEE! HEE!—Debbie”
Those notes brought smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts. They warmed our souls and helped us stay connected to the people who meant the most to us in all the world.
Sometimes just keeping track of where family members are and sending little communications can make a huge difference in retaining the context of how each family member’s work contributes to the welfare of the whole. And that context creates a sense of unity that gives hope, encouragement, and connection.
Occasionally, and when it’s appropriate, you may want to involve family members in work projects. If you need a dozen booklets for a presentation, for example, you may want to bring the materials home and have the children help you put them together. It might only take a few minutes, but you could help the children take pleasure in contributing in a meaningful way.When you come back from the presentation, you could tell them, “Thank you so much for your help! It really made a difference. Everyone loved the booklets. They were so neat.”
You may also want to find ways to involve your spouse. You may even choose to select work based on a common interest and opportunity for shared involvement.
One thing the two of us particularly love in our relationship is the opportunity to work together on projects we both feel passionate about. Writing, parenting, and being involved in church service together have given us great opportunities to build our companionship and to experience the tremendous joy of shared accomplishment. It’s exciting! It’s fun!
The two of us think very differently—one is more abstract and holistic; the other more concrete and linear. And those differences at first created some frustration. But as we’ve learned to work with our differences, particularly in the context of our deeper shared values, we’ve found that those differences are the key to the better “whole” we create when we’re together. It’s precisely because we think differently, for example, that we’re able to write together. Despite our differences—perhaps because of our differences—work is better because we’re involved in it together.
There are also other ways to involve family members—even indirectly.
During most of the 18 months we worked on First Things First, I was able to write when the children were in school and focus the rest of the time on being a mom.
But during the last few months, we reached a point where a much greater investment was required. To meet publishing deadlines, I would sometimes need to work until one or two in the morning, sleep, and be at it again by 6:00 a.m. It was definitely a season of imbalance.
One of the most important factors that made it work for us was having everyone in the family “on board.” Knowing that the more intense schedule would significantly affect our family life, we called the family together and reviewed our family mission statement.
As we involved the children, we found they were willing to work together and help in countless ways that made the project possible. The younger children agreed to handle laundry and other responsibilities. A teenage daughter volunteered to take on management of the home instead of getting an outside summer job. Some of our married children became involved in the project itself. One Saturday several of our married children and their spouses showed up to help with outdoor projects that had been preempted by our writing.
Directly or indirectly, that book was the result of the effort of every member of the family.
Even though family members may not be able to directly contribute to a work project, they can do so indirectly and still feel the sense of shared victory that accompanies a “together” project well done.