A man with one leg wearing business attire and another leg in jeans and tennis shoes.

I am a single father with a 13-year old son. I am also the CEO and Founder of David Couper Consulting, Inc., a leadership development and coaching company in California with an average of 20 people working on projects at any one time. My son has some emotional issues and is at a boarding school in New Hampshire. So when Concord Hospital called about my son, despite all my years of self-development and coaching of senior leaders, I had no idea what to do. I’ll start this story letting you know he’s fine now, but that’s not how it felt when I received that call.

A little background: my son got angry with another kid who was inside a building teasing him through a window. So instead of thinking and pausing, he punched him. Young fists and glass don’t match; he ended up in surgery to repair a torn artery. Thank you, Concord Hospital, for your fantastic care and compassion.  

Which Obligation Wins?

A million thoughts ran through my head at that moment. Should I jump on a plane and go and see him? Or should I work on the proposal for Kaiser Permanente, discuss business development with my VP, and check-in with my stellar operations, sales, marketing guru, and all things DCC Inc. coordinator? I’m a bad father if I don’t, and I’m a lousy businessman if I do. Of course, I am incredibly lucky that I could afford to get on a flight. I’m also fortunate I have the schedule to stop work for three days. 

What about all the parents (especially single parents) who don’t have the resources to make these kinds of choices? What about my friend who is divorced and works freelance? She has an unpredictable schedule. What about my dear housekeeper, a single mom of three who works three jobs? She had to take off work without pay to attend a meeting at her child’s school to strategize improving her GPA. What about them?

This story about my son happened before COVID-19. But what it brought up for me has an even more significant meaning now. Many people are juggling so much right now. You’re possibly concerned about your physical health and the health of those you love, the future of your financial well-being, or just feeling the general anxiety of the “new normal” surrounding work.

Finding Life / Work Balance

How do we balance work and family life when society focuses on showing up, both literally and emotionally? How can we find a balance between all the things coming at us these days? Here is how:

For work, we show up literally when we can.

But we also balance that with what we need to do for our families. You can miss your kid’s game once in a while, but if you always miss it, that could have an impact. I have known people who don’t go to a close relative’s important life event because of work. Maybe that was the right decision for them. But there is no redo on missing one of life’s significant events. Spoiler alert: there are often plenty of chances for a redo at work. Do it again, make up the hours, or take on additional tasks.

We also have to do our best to show up emotionally.

It can help to let people know that something is going on at home, depending on the relationship with your boss and colleagues. You get to decide how much or how little you share. It can also be useful to be patient, compassionate, and kind to ourselves when we feel we are not on our game or working at peak performance (or insert sports metaphor that you resonate with here.) As one of my coaches, Steve Chandler, said, “it’s OK to have an average day.” We think it’s not, but sometimes that’s what we can do. That has to be OK.

In balancing work and home, let’s talk about guilt.

You’re going to feel guilty when finding balance. The antidote for guilt is twofold: release assumptions and replace them with compassion. I found myself feeling guilty that I wasn’t with my son. I was also sure I would feel guilty if I was not working on my business. In a corporate environment, bosses and other colleagues can be great at adding to our guilt (and stress) sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. Some of the greatest hits include:

“Those kids of yours sure get a lot of colds this time of year.”  

“My wife had to deal with her mother’s dementia too. Luckily, she had quit work to look after the kids so she could be around for her.”  

“It’s going to be important for the team that we all go to the volunteer day at the weekend. My boss expects us to be doing the right thing.”  

Give up assumptions on how we should be or act.  Doing so will relieve that pressure. Sometimes that assumption is based on what our parents told us, or what other workers seem to say, or what we see in the media. We have to follow our path, not someone else’s. Having compassion for ourselves also helps with these feelings. We are all doing our best. Know that you are too.

Organizations Can Help

Organizations also need to realize that balancing work and home takes enormous skill and sacrifice, and anything they can do will only help their employees be more engaged and productive. Childcare and petcare can help. More generous maternity and paternity leave can also help. Being compassionate and thoughtful in how employers fill their employees’ time can also help a great deal.  

We Are All Doing Our Best

My son is doing fine now. He was lucky there was no damage and permanent harm. He ended up in the pediatric ward with great doctors and nurses watching the Pirates of the Caribbean. Sore, a little scared, and very sorry for what had happened. 

Life goes on until the next incident.  All the while, we balance being a good parent and a good worker.

David Couper is founder and CEO of David Couper Consulting, Inc., a talent management firm focusing on business’s real bottom-line: PEOPLE

A seasoned global corporate consultant and coach for 20+ years, David is also an accomplished writer and has published seven books. David is regularly quoted talking about business success on television, radio, print, and online outlets such as NPR, Forbes, CBS News, and Newsweek Japan.

David holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Wales and graduate degrees in Education and Psychology.

For more on DCC’s products and services or to subscribe to their blog with helpful tips on resilience in your business, visit davidcouperconsulting.com.

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