'In wisdom and order': Balancing Church, family and work

Balancing private and professional life is an issue relating to everyone in today's society - regardless of religious background, said Thomas J. and Camille Collette DeLong.

However, they added, Latter-day Saints also include Church service with other responsibilities. This balancing act can provide abundant blessings - and stress if not managed wisely."A balanced life is simply more rich," said Brother DeLong, the adviser to an operating committee for a Wall Street investment banking firm. Members of the Westchester 1st Ward, New York New York Stake, he and Sister DeLong, a marriage and family therapist, team-taught a BYU business school course for 12 years on balancing private and professional life. And they come with practical experience. They have three daughters, ages 16 to 10. Brother DeLong is a gospel doctrine teacher, and Sister DeLong is a Merrie Miss A teacher.

"If you focus on one area," Brother DeLong said during a telephone interview, "in the end it will catch up with you. Aristotle taught that we ought not to live excessive lives in any one area. This holds true today. Our lives will simply be more rich if they are balanced.

"That doesn't mean it will be easy. Adam and Eve had to make choices; Joseph Smith had to have balance and stay focused. It's the same with our lives today. How do we keep our priorities straight in a very complex and demanding world?"

Speaking of setting priorities, Sister DeLong said: "One of the main things I find is that people say they value family the most, but they're not spending much of their time with their families. Such things as careers and Church callings have more explicit requirements and rewards. Success in the family is more of a process that has few big visual rewards until your children are 12 or 13, when they become more mature in their thinking and express appreciation. The demarcation points are much less clear for family life than for Church service and for career."

She emphasized that Church service and family responsibilities can - and should - complement each other. Success in the family, she added, comes when family members realize they are a part of something bigger than their own immediate needs.

"Supporting each other in Church callings can lead to unity in the family," she continued.

"When Tom was a bishop of a student ward in Provo, Utah, we had one couple that had a premature baby. For the month after they brought the baby home from the hospital, I and my children would go watch the baby while the couple went grocery shopping or to the temple. This gave the parents a break. It was important for my kids to be involved in this. They realized life wasn't easy, and the experience gave them compassion for people."

She added that these kinds of experiences unify families and "help us focus informal family discussions. That's why service is so important. Then it's not being taught as a lecture from an adult; the children are actually getting involved."

The struggle to balance professional and private lives is not new. However, Brother and Sister DeLong said, there are specific challenges that people didn't face even 20 years ago.

"People are working longer hours than they did 20 years ago," he noted. "It's part of our culture. It's changed because of financial demands and the draw of success."

He and his wife also spoke of outside forces influencing families today. "This is where the fathers are needed," Sister DeLong noted. "Kids have other choices - peers, television; other influences are hitting them. A lot of fathers are feeling more prayerful and are realizing that time with their children is very important. When Dad is around, he can increase the positive and decrease the negative."

In speaking of ways to face these challenges, Brother and Sister DeLong offer the following:

Be congruent. Don't say that your children are what's most important in your life and then neglect them.

Define who the key people are in your life.

Take time early in relationships. The return on the investment is incalculable.

Be aware of what you're trying to achieve. "The classic example," said Sister DeLong, "is the father taking his daughters to the mall. If a father wants to spend time with his daughters, he better be prepared to do malls because that's what their agenda is."

Know the meaning that events have for other people. Just because something is not important to you as parents does not mean it's not important to your children.

Know when you are emotionally unavailable. Know when you're distracted and not focused, and be able to talk about that with your family.

Take time for yourself. Brother and Sister DeLong acknowledged that single parents have a difficult time being able to take time out. He added, "There's no more stressed group in the United States than single parents."

Sister DeLong suggested, "If at all possible, swap baby-sitting." She also encouraged ward and stake members to be aware of the needs of single parents.

But regardless of being a single parent or in a two-parent family, "Parents need to establish clear boundaries. `I can do this. I can't do that,' " Sister DeLong said. "You are the architect of your own life."

Realize it's never too late. "You should never give up on relationships with your children," Brother DeLong said. He suggested D&C 121:36-46 as a guide to relating with family members and others.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed