Balancing act: Work/life balance equation changes when family is away

Published: Monday, Aug. 20 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Being home alone is not always a good thing.

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It’s the week before school starts, and the Kratz house is quiet.

Too quiet.

You would expect my four children to be loudly playing out their last days of summer vacation, and I’m sure they are. But they’re not here.

My wife and kids are most likely on a beach or at a swimming pool in California as you read this, enjoying an end-of-summer trip. I didn’t have enough available time off to leave work and travel with them, so I stayed home to toil away and pay for their fun.

Yes, I’m a little bitter.

Even worse, I don’t seem to get sympathy from anyone when I whine about my plight. I’m guessing that’s because everyone who hears my sob story knows that I married far above myself, and that I’ve been blessed with amazing children. As such, they say, I really can’t complain about anything. And they’re right.

Then they tell me to enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.

I do, to a point. But I’ve also found that being “home alone” is not always a good thing.

I’ve written before about my fiscal experiences as a “geographical bachelor” when my wife and children were traveling, but I haven’t previously contemplated the work/life balance issues that come along with their absence.

The most obvious manifestation of the latter is the time I spend working when they’re gone — both at the office and at home.

For example, I tend to stay later at the office each day, catching up on assignments or getting a jump on things that don’t need to be done quite yet. I figure it makes sense to do this when I can. After all, it’s not like anyone is waiting for me to get home.

While I am home in the evenings, I try to tackle little projects around the house to prove that I didn’t just sit around watching TV while they were gone. However, since I’m also handling all of the regular chores by myself, I rarely get done with all (or even most) of what I plan to do.

One of my goals for this week is to destroy a basketball-sized wasps’ nest in the pear tree in our backyard. My father- and mother-in-law have some experience with such things and have designed a plan that should allow me to take care of this problem that has been literally hanging over our heads for weeks. But I’m not thrilled about the prospect of angering hundreds (thousands?) of wasps, so maybe that job won’t get done. We’ll see.

The point is, despite the quietness of a house that is free of familial distractions, I still don’t experience much extra “me time” when they’re gone, and such time is an important part of work/life balance. I may get a little more reading done than usual, and I don’t have to fight for the TV remote when I want to watch a preseason football game, but those are just about the only differences I see in such time for myself during their absence.

As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy the peace and quiet of an empty house for the first day or two after they go. I often spend hours with no TV on or music playing as I work or read or write. I’m content to be alone with my thoughts. (Yes, that can be scary at times, but overall it’s a good thing.)

I also enjoy the fact that when I get home from work in the evening, everything is exactly where it was when I left in the morning. No toys to pick up, or step on. No new dishes to wash, especially because I don’t cook much when I’m alone. Nothing unexpected at all, in fact. There’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place.

But after a couple of days, that sameness gets boring.

Despite the frustrations that can come along with the disorganization, messiness and chaos found in any house occupied by six people, I find I truly miss the five who aren’t here.

I miss my youngest daughter running out to my car barefoot to greet me when I get home. I miss the shy smile of my second-oldest daughter as she gives me a hug and asks me about my day at work. I miss my teenage daughter’s silliness and hearing her loudly sing show tunes while she’s in the shower. I miss the unique games my son makes up with his toy cars. Perhaps most of all, I miss the support, encouragement, patience, understanding, laughter and love my wife provides on a daily basis.

Even as I try to figure out my personal work/life equation, I’ve found that my desire for occasional peace and quiet needs to be offset with the loving chaos my family provides.

That’s what real balance means to me, and I’m eagerly anticipating its return.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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