Making a Tough Decision: The Economics of Putting Family First


It was time to make another dreaded phone call telling  my wife that problems had come up and I wouldn’t be coming home the next day as scheduled. I was thousands of miles away, yet I could hear the disappointment in her voice as she tried to be understanding. She was used to this happening, but it didn’t make it any easier for me.

For four years I felt the strain that my frequent and sometimes unpredictable absences would render upon my family. I decided something had to change. I chose to take a position that meant a significant reduction in pay but would require far less travel and allow much more control over my schedule. Doing what was right for my family — and what I believe was God’s will — brought serenity and relief.

My father-in-law served as an admirable role model in this regard. A busy doctor with his own practice for years, he made the sacrifice of taking a much less desirable position as a prison physician. In doing so, he was able to work a more regular schedule and be present to his eight children. Naturally, the work environment presented its share of sufferings, but he was home every day when his kids were coming in the door from school. Steve Woods, in his book, Christian Fatherhood, remarked, “For our children, love is a four letter word spelled ‘T-I-M-E.’” This resonated deeply with my wife, who still talks about her father’s heroism with heartfelt gratitude.

While changing jobs is not a necessity or even an option for most, all of us should take time to evaluate the importance we place on our work and family. As we consider the task of “balancing work and family,” the word “balance” seems to infer a kind of equality. However, as husbands and fathers, our wives and children need to be a higher priority. No matter how much you pour into your job, in the final analysis, the day will come when you are no longer fulfilling that position; someone else will fill your shoes, perhaps even doing it better. On the other hand, no one can step into your role as father. Pope John Paul II observed that “the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance”  (Familiaris Consortio, 25).

At the same time, work and family should not be looked upon as opposing forces. Both duties are part of our vocation as fathers and a means of our sanctification. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work” (2427).

In the daily struggle to do well in our careers and attend to the needs of our families, we can follow some helpful tips:

1. Put God first. He will give you the grace to properly order your life. Research daily Mass times in your area and attend when you can. If you have a long commute, try using that time to pray or listen to spiritual books on CD or tape. Cultivate a devotion to St. Joseph, who is both the patron of workers and our exemplar of fatherhood. Finally, as the spiritual head of your family, learn to lead your family in prayer at home.

2. Be organized and use time efficiently at work. When at work, work! Stay focused on your task and don’t waste time with other distractions. Avoid the “water cooler syndrome,” where more time than water gets swallowed up. This will aid in your ability to accomplish your duty and leave work on time.

3. Live within your means. I have been asked by my co-workers, “How can you afford to not work all the pay periods available to you?” The answer is simple: We are content to live with less. This removes the inevitability of working overtime to pay for items that aren’t necessities.

Meeting the needs of both work and family is a continual challenge, but with God’s grace and a willingness to follow his will, it doesn’t have to be a tightrope act.


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  • MaggieG

    I agree wholeheartedly with this article! Though it’s posted under “Men”, I’d like to note that following the economics of family first may lead some of our families to unconventional roles. In our family, we struggled because my husband worked 12-hour days with many evenings and weekends for a lower-side-of-modest salary and 2 weeks of vacation time per year. An opportunity arose for me to take a position with regular 8-5, M-F hours, 7 weeks of vacation per year, and triple the salary. We made the decision for me to go to work full-time while my husband is the full-time at home parent. It works for us, and we didn’t make the decision primarily for money- we made it primarily because now we have a LOT more time together as a family. While my husband would like to be more of a financial contributor to our family, and I would like to be home more during the day with the little ones, this is the sacrifice we have made in order to provide our children with more of our time and attention.

  • Kathleen Woodman

    Good advice, with some practical ideas on how to be a father who is present to his family, and a valuable employee on the job. You strike a fine balance here. Thank you.