When everyone in the family seems to be heading in a different direction, it can be difficult to spend the time together that is important to my work-life balance equation.
The calendar might not agree, but if you ask my children, they'll tell you today is the last day of summer.
That's because Wednesday is the first day of a new school year for the Kratz kids. I'm not going to say that they are uniformly excited to be starting their junior year of high school, eighth grade, seventh grade and third grade, respectively. I wouldn't say my wife and I are thrilled, either. It seems that the summer has slipped away much too quickly.
However, once we get back into our routines, I'm confident that we'll be happy to have school up and running once again.
Chances are, at least a couple of my children will be asked to write some kind of "what I did this summer" essay as one of their first assignments. Since it's been an interesting season for all of us, I think I'll try my hand at the same, but with a twist.
So, to celebrate the hint of fall in the air, here's my essay: "What I learned about work-life balance this summer."
Even though summer brings to mind thoughts of vacations, relaxation, family activities and fun in the sun, this summer taught me once again that work-life balance can be hard to build, regardless of the season.
For example, we've discovered that having four children means we're always busy, even when school isn't in session. For us, getting the children to school activities was replaced during the summer by shuttling them to several camps, marching band practices, their cousins' baseball and softball games, dental appointments and jobs (of both the paid and voluntary variety).
At times during the school year, the logistical challenges we face to get everyone where they need to be make my brain hurt. This summer wasn't much better.
When everyone in the family seems to be heading in a different direction, it can be difficult to spend the time together that is important to my work-life balance equation. But with a little effort, we were able to find a way, whether it was by a family walk through the neighborhood or a quick trip to get an ice cream cone or shaved ice.
I'm thankful for those moments I spend with my family, and I'm glad that the company for which I work — and especially my boss — provide flexibility when I need it. That's a gift I value all year long.
I also learned this summer that it's important to teach our children about work-life balance because they face conflicts in this area at a younger age than I did.
I had a part-time job during the summer after my sophomore year of high school. But other than working a few hours a week, my time was spent with friends, playing tennis and basketball, hanging out at their houses, watching TV, listening to music, driving around and generally doing little that could be considered "productive."
My 16-year-old daughter had a much different summer. First, she had to complete a significant amount of summer homework to be prepared for her junior year. Yes, you read that right: summer homework. If you're like me, you believe those two words should never be uttered in the same phrase, yet there they are.
She also took an online high school course, so she would have more open spots in her schedule to take the classes she wants during the regular school year. And she secured and worked at her first "real" job, attended two different church camps, went with us on an extended family vacation and had her wisdom teeth removed.
All of those activities didn't leave her much time for hanging out with friends, but she still says she had a great summer. Of course, she is relentlessly positive — a trait she inherited from her mother.
I'm of two minds about her hectic schedule. On the one hand, she chooses to do all of this, and she has set some lofty goals. I think that's exciting, and I appreciate her work ethic and desire to achieve.
On the other hand, I sometimes worry that she doesn't have the time to really be a kid the way I did when I was 16. She seems to be thoroughly enjoying high school, but I still wonder if I've done a good job of teaching her the importance of building a balanced life.
Maybe that is a topic to explore more fully in a future column, so I'd appreciate any advice you may have.
The last thing this summer taught me about work-life balance was more of a reminder of something I've considered before: the importance of staying focused on what you're doing, whether you're at work or at home.
I occasionally found my mind wandering while I was at work this summer, especially in the days right before our vacation or when I knew my family was doing something fun while I was at the office. By the same token, I often caught myself thinking about a problem at work — or, even worse, checking my email on my phone — when I was at home and should have focused on time with my family.
Many people face similar struggles as they try to be truly "present," both in their offices and in their family rooms. I'll keep working on this, trying to get better. If you have any tips, I hope you'll share them.
So that's what I learned about work-life balance this summer. I'd be interested to know whether the season taught you any lessons, too. Please leave a comment online or send me an email if you'd like to share them.
At any rate, I hope this is good enough to get me an "A." I want to start the school year on a positive note!