Work-life balance means different things for different people. When a family’s quest for that balance takes an unexpected turn, the journey — and the decisions made along the way — become much more difficult.
But if family members work together, they can still reach their desired destination.
I found a wonderful example of this recently in an email from a reader named Amber, who was responding to an earlier column about looking close to home for work-life balance lessons. When I read Amber’s story, I thought it would not only inspire others, but also help people who find themselves with hard choices to make.
Amber wrote that her family’s quest for balance began in 2008. She and her husband had been married for three years, and they had an 18-month-old child. They were both working, but as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they were praying that her husband would get a different job that would let Amber stay at home.
“Unfortunately, the recession hit that part of Arizona we were living in at the time hard, and the job offer fell through,” Amber wrote. “In addition to working full-time, I was also a reservist, and so I applied for a timely job opening on temporary active duty for what we thought would be only one year. During that one-year time we worked to pay off all of our debt and save a little bit of money.
“The job turned into an offer to stay for five years, and after a lot of prayer, we took it. I say we prayed about it, because with the five years came a few deployments for me, and as a mother I did not want to do this. But we felt it was the best avenue for our family and would not only keep our now two children out of day care, but would allow us to continue to save money and keep out of debt. This opportunity ended up being divine intervention that saved our daughter’s life.”
Amber’s active duty assignment provided her with great health insurance, and that proved vital when, during her second deployment, her oldest daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of arthritis that attacked her internal organs and joints, threatening her life.
“A 57-day hospital stay and a year later, my husband and I didn’t even need to debate it: Staying on active duty was the only choice for our family,” Amber wrote. “As much as it pains me that I may need to leave again, the medication that is controlling the arthritis costs our insurance about $10,000 a month. ... This particular medication is not easy to have covered by private insurance because the condition is rarely as serious as it is for my daughter, and there are cheaper, less effective types of treatments insurances usually require be used.”
More than six years after making that first difficult choice, Amber continues to work full-time while her husband stays home with their now three children, ages 7, 3 and 9 months.
I asked Amber what kinds of challenges she and her family faced, both when making their decision and afterward. “Choosing to not be there (at home) was emotionally painful for me,” she wrote. “At times, my husband feels he hasn’t done what he should in supporting us, so I think we both struggle with that continually.”
Both of them were surprised at first when other people criticized their decision, she wrote, but now they’re used to the negative reactions.
“My husband has been told by other men that he is not supporting his family like he should, even though I would argue he is more than supporting us doing what is most important,” Amber added. “Earning money is something anyone can do. Not everyone can raise children right.”
She wrote that delegating family responsibilities is still difficult for both her and her husband, but they keep working on it. And she is glad that it has been easier than she thought it would be to stay connected with her children.
“I think that was my biggest fear starting out, especially going on deployment. I was terrified of losing that special bond,” Amber wrote. “It does take effort on my part to keep. On deployment I would color pictures for each child every Sunday, and it was more for me to have time to sit down and think about them. When I got home it was as if I had never left. They still wanted all the attention I could spare, and we talk and play as if I never left.”
After reading Amber’s story, I was filled with admiration for her family. They’ve done an amazing job of finding their way through some extremely challenging situations, and they’ve built a balanced life that appears to be based on dedication, loyalty, sacrifice and love.
“Neither my husband nor I would change any of this for anything now,” Amber wrote. “It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly not how I expected my life would turn out, but we are very blessed.”
We all face unexpected twists and turns in life, those forks in the road that force us to make incredibly difficult decisions. When we do, we have to take the direction we believe will be best for our families — even if that moves us away from what’s considered “normal.”
I’d like to hear and share the tales of other readers’ quests for work-life balance and the challenges they’ve overcome, so please leave a comment or send me an email with your stories.
In the meantime, I wish Amber and her family nothing but success in their ongoing quest for balance, not to mention good health and happiness.
I also hope their story will inspire us to try harder to support each other in our unique journeys through life, offering kind words and helping hands instead of criticism and cold shoulders.
That way, we can all reach our desired destinations together, no matter what stumbling blocks life might throw in our way.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company