Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims:
The Home Supports the Career
By Richard Eyre
It’s not an individual that shoves this clich at us – it’s society! It is common to think about our work as the mainstream of our lives, the home only as a feeding tributary. The job becomes the place where our minds and hearts are, the home just a place to rest up and refuel. The career becomes our main base, the home just an orbiting support system. If one spouse stays home, it is to support the other spouse’s career.
We hear questions commonly that are turned around, backward, cart-before-the-horse, upside-down questions such as, “How can I possibly have a child without interrupting or upsetting my career?” Or, “How can our marriage work when we both have such intense jobs?” Or, “Is there a way to start a real home or family when work takes all my time and energy?”
It’s well and good (and necessary) to seek ways to balance home and work, but isn’t the order and phrasing of these common questions a little contrary to life’s true priorities? Shouldn’t we be asking, “How can I keep my career without upsetting or compromising my family?” And, “How can we manage both of our careers when our marriage and relationship need some time and effort?” And, “How can I handle my work in a way that gives me the time and energy that I need for my family?”
What are the priorities here? And what are the givens? Is work primary and family secondary? Is career the goal and center of life and family merely the support and supplement? Does family just exist as some kind of support system to make it more convenient to work twelve hours a day? Are we married to our careers and just loosely employed in our home?
The questions bear some thought, because if we leave them unanswered with priorities unresolved, the window of time when we can do much with home and family will quickly pass.
Early in my career as a management and political consultant I was trying to service extra clients to build our business. For an extended period I had to be in Iowa one day a week, Pennsylvania on another day each week, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a third day each week. The time in between was mostly spent traveling and trying to get back into the office enough to pen mail and “catch up.”
We had three small children and Linda was staying home full-time to take care of them and support my career. When we found the right support combination of help and schools, she would get back to her own career as a musician and writer.
We were trying to be creative, shaping ways that we could have children without compromising our professional goals.
We had lots of gals, and virtually all of them were stated (we had written them down) in terms of promotions, positions, gross income, and net worth.
About the only non-work-related reading I did in those days (mostly on red-eye flights when I couldn’t sleep and had already finished the Wall Street Journal) was the work of C.S. Lewis. I’d gotten hooked on Lewis in college when I read his space trilogy and The Screwtape Letters. And I still devoted some time every summer vacation to reading his The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the other Chronicles of Narnia to the children. I thought I had a copy of everything he had ever published.
One night on a late flight I stumbled into a new C.S. Lewis quote, one I’d not seen before and one that was to set me thinking (and questioning myself) in a direction that would precipitate many changes.
Lewis said (straight to me it seemed), “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers . exist for one purpose only – and that is to support this ultimate career.”
Perhaps it was because I’d had a frustrating day and was wondering if anything I did professionally really made any difference or had any real importance, or perhaps it was just because I respected C.S. Lewis too much to ignore anything he said. Whatever it was, I began to realize on that night that I was missing out on the most real and most important parts of life.
My kids were growing up without me helping – or even noticing. My marriage was too often ignored. At worst I was using something very precious to support something very fleeting and temporary. I at best I was working to support something that I wasn’t very involved with.
We sometimes hear people say that they can’t have children or take time for children because “My career is at such a critical point” or “I’m just at a stage right now when my work needs all my time.”
The fact is that career needs are almost always more flexible than family needs. There is only a short “season” of our lives when we can have children, only a brief season when we are young with them, only a small time before we “turn around and they’re gone.”
If we acknowledge that what we do outside the home is to support was is inside our homes, if we acknowledge the seasons of our lives and don’t neglect or put off what can only happen now, and if we try to think of ourselves not as principally a part of our companies or our jobs but as a part of our families, then our work will have deeper purpose and our homes will have more commitments and more security.
All we need do to turn the misleading clich into a useful maxim is turn it around:
CAREERS EXIST TO SUPPORT HOMES.
Think about it! And join me in two weeks when we will try to make some important interpretations and adjustments on the old adage, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.