Richard Wong is one of the eight remaining finalists in The Washington Post Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest. For Round 2, we asked: What is the biggest problem in today’s workplace, and how can it be solved?
As he blew out the four candles on his birthday cake, my son asked, “Wanna know my wish?” Before I could tell him it’s bad luck to tell, he said, “I wished you didn’t have to work so you can stay home and play with me.”
I had worked hard to build a career, which meant increasingly greater responsibilities, more travel and longer hours. On top of a three-hour commute every day. The job paid well enough that my wife could leave her job to stay home with our three children. I spent less and less time with my children, but kids need a full-time parent, so it’ s a small price, right?
It used to be so easy. Mom stayed home to raise the kids. Dad went to work and only talked to the kids when absolutely necessary, like to teach his son how to throw a tight spiral. In the Pollyanna, rose-colored glasses world, it’s still like that. Here in the real 21st-century world, moms and dads struggle daily. When we’re home we worry about work, and at work we worry about home — and we don’t feel like either our job or family is getting what they deserve from us.
For many, the balance of work and home is a huge problem, but the answer really should be quite simple. To paraphrase a respected advice columnist, “Love your job but don’t love your company; it won’t love you back.” Which takes us to bigger questions: Do you love your job? Do you love your job more than your family? Does your job support your family or the other way around?
When I answered those questions — really, honestly answered them — I quickly realized no job is worth the risk of becoming irrelevant to my children. I tried to make my job more family friendly, and when that didn’t work, I looked for another position. Unfortunately, I held out for the Perfect Job, which of course, never materialized.
Eventually, my work life was so toxic to my home life that I had no choice but to make a move. It should never have gotten to that point. The economy complicates things, but it shouldn’t dictate our decision. Things will get better, they always do (here comes Pollyanna again). We’ll always have work options, but we only have one shot at raising our family right. And if we do it right, our family will always love us back.
Within a year after my son’s fourth birthday, my wife went back to work and I was a stay-at-home dad. It wasn’t hard; it wasn’t always easy but it was much more satisfying. When the time was right, I went back to work, this time with the proper perspective.
When you face the work/family dilemma, remember it’s just a job. It’s not your life. Your family and personal life are your safe harbors and your beacons. Don’t lose sight of them.
Whose advice did you like best? Vote for your favorite contestant
Read each contestant’s Round 2 answers
Read each contestant’s Round 1 answers
Meet the @Work Advice Contest’s 10 finalists