The Big Juggle - Balancing Work & Family

Balancing work with all the other important responsibilities in life is a perennial problem. And arguably the most important responsibility we have to balance alongside the demands of our work is our responsibility to our family.

It’s a juggle that Graham Hooper has wrestled with throughout his working life, spending more than 20 years in senior leadership roles with a global infrastructure company, moving his family around the world with his work. And at our first Life @ Work breakfast for 2015 he shared with us what he’s learnt along the way, and in particular, how the Christian faith has helped him to navigate the demands of work life and family life.

Graham’s address began with an admission; there is no “one size fits all solution”. Rather, all of us have different family relationships and situations that we find ourselves in. Some are married, some are single. Some have children, others do not. Some of us have elderly parents in need of care, others have siblings with special needs that place different demands upon our family. So instead of outlining “The Solution” to balancing the demands of work and family life, Graham instead suggested three questions, guided by the Scriptures, which help us navigate this complex issue.

Firstly “What is my calling” (Hebrews 12:1-2)? This is not the calling that all Christians experience in coming to Christ, rather the unique situations and circumstances that God leads us into in which we are to live for Him. Taking time to reflect on and notice our current situation is essential to navigating work and family life. Further to this, Graham encouraged us not to think of our lives as having separate segments that we are seeking to hold together (family, work, church etc.). Rather we are to think of our lives as a whole, “in Christ”, and seek to live all of it in way that honours and glorifies God.

Secondly Graham encouraged us to ask ourselves “What do I really value?” (Matthew 6:19-24, Mark 8:34-37). Knowing what matters, and what is truly valuable is essential to managing all the important responsibilities in life. Graham suggested that it is very difficult for us to have it all – a successful career, a happy family, a thriving church ministry, a fit and trim body. Something might have to give, so we need to ask, “What do I really value”? And for some of us, Graham suggested, we need to value our families more highly than we do. “You only get one shot at [family life]”.

Finally Graham suggested that we ask ourselves “What relationships has God entrusted to me?” (Ephesians 5:21-6:4, 1 Timothy 5:3-8). In particular he focused on the responsibility all those “in Christ” have to care for their parents. He reflected on Paul’s words to Timothy, warning us that those who don’t provide for their relatives have “denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). He also encouraged us to remember the promises that we have made, be they wedding vows, or words said at a child’s baptism or dedication. While we might sign contracts and workplace agreements with an employer, we don’t make promises to them in the way that we have to our spouses and children. We need to value these promises and keep them.

One final reflection that Graham made is to encourage us to recognise that workplaces keep functioning long after you've left. “The corporation is designed to survive without you. The machine is designed to drop you off and keep going”. This truth alone goes a long way towards reorienting our perspective on work in relation to our families, and so helps us as we seek to navigate the complex issue of balancing work and family responsibilities.