A friend of mine has a habit. About twice a year he loses track of time at work and arrives home very late, hours after his family expected him. As you can imagine, this habit is not one that his spouse is particularly fond of.
I’m not immune to this as I’ve on occasion, returned home later than I had hoped. As I get older though, my wife has helped me to see that getting home late is a major no-no.
If you don’t think that it’s a marriage killer, try it a few times and when you get the evil eye (which is taught in the wife handbook, page 104), shrug it off. That will go over real well…
Andy Stanley of Northpoint Church wrote about this dynamic in his book, Choosing to Cheat. He essentially says this: be clear about whom you are going to cut short in terms of time. Every day, you must choose one priority over another. Once you know your priorities, you can choose the most important actions to take.
What he means is that if you believe your spouse really comes first in your life, you really don’t have the luxury of making a social withdrawal by coming home much later than you had planned. As Covey famously said years ago, “put first things first”. This applies your family as much as anything.
So here is my quick list on simple ways that you can put your family first in the whole work-family dynamic:
1. Leave work at a particular time every day. Whether it’s four, five or six p.m., try to stick to a particular time. This will help your spouse with dinner planning or the occasional errand on a week night.
2. Surprise your spouse once a month by coming home early. This works every time and shows your spouse that work doesn’t always come before family. My wife isn’t crazy about flowers but sees time home early as an even better gift from me to her. I love showing up at the back door and surprise her.
3. Believe in the concept of a meeting “with yourself”. That way, you can leave on time, knowing that your meeting is actually a time to get home and be with your family.
4. Practice transitioning. You can take a deep breath before you enter the house, reminding yourself that you are no longer at work. You can also use the time in which you change your clothes to refocus on the second part of the day (I.e. 5-9pm). Very productive people know that a short amount of time is needed in order to shift from work to home mode. Without the transition, you'll end up being short with your spouse as if you are still in work mode. Not a good idea.
5. In the event that you are running late, call ahead. Better to communicate when your lateness shows up rather than when it blows up a few hours later.
6. Go into work late once in a while. This can’t apply to everyone but if your job allows for any degree of flexibility, go in later and make up the time on the backend. Sometimes a breakfast with your spouse can go a long way to tell her that you consider family more important than work.
7. Turn off your gear. When you’re home, don’t be checking email or your phone. This is super difficult, I know, but nothing says “you’re not important” more than checking email when you should be helping your kids with their homework.
By practicing these habits of “family first”, you can communicate to your family that they matter. Big time. Now that’s a habit that will pay dividends now and into the future.