As I write this, I'm reflecting on a wonderful weekend just spent in beautiful Zion National Park with my wife.
She and I were given accommodations in Springdale, near Zion, by her sister and brother-in-law as an anniversary gift, and it was the perfect present to help us celebrate our 22 years of marriage.
Even better, they took care of our children while we were away, meaning we were able to have a weekend to ourselves.
As we talked during the trip, we realized this was our first weekend getaway with just the two of us since our oldest daughter was born more than 15 years ago. It was also our first trip without the children since we went to Hawaii with her parents back in 2010.
Before I say any more, I want to make one thing clear: We love our children, and we love doing things with them. They're excellent travelers, and family vacations with them are always lots of fun.
But sometimes, it's still nice to get away for a while.
As I've learned since I started writing about work-life balance, it's not just one equation — I'm trying to achieve many different kinds of balance. Most obviously, there's the balance between being a good, dedicated, productive employee and being a husband and father who is there for his family.
But even within the family, there are additional needs for balance. I've seen families in which one spouse became so involved in the lives of his or her children that the other spouse felt left out or ignored. On the other end of the spectrum, I've seen couples who do a great job of spending time with each other, but who seem to actively avoid doing things with their children.
Either situation indicates a lack of balance, in my opinion. And that lack of balance often leads to trouble of one kind or another.
In our case, only in the last few years have we had children old enough to watch the younger kids and let us get away easily for dates.
In addition to formal date nights, this has allowed us to enjoy "mini-dates" — running to the grocery store for a few minutes or taking care of a quick errand — just to make sure we have time to focus on each other.
We went on dates when the children were younger, too, but it was challenging to find a babysitter we could trust (or afford!). And every time we had one we really liked, he or she would "age out" of the babysitting pool, and we'd be left to fend for ourselves again.
We were always jealous of friends who had parents or siblings nearby with whom they could leave their children for a few hours to go on dates.
Now we feel like we have the best of both worlds. We've got children who are old enough to babysit, AND my wife's parents, brother and one of her sisters and her family all moved to the Salt Lake Valley in June. We truly have no excuse not to have balance within our family now.
Which brings me back to our trip to Zion.
One of the things we most enjoyed about our weekend was that we could do everything at our own pace. As parents know, when you have children with you, you're always on a schedule, whether it's formal or not. They need to eat, drink and nap (when they're younger) at certain times, and if they don't, they get ornery and/or whiny.
As a family, you also have to wrap up any excursions fairly early to make sure the little ones get in bed and get enough sleep. If they don't, you know you'll pay for it the next day.
We discovered during our trip that we could be much more flexible. We didn't have a set meal schedule, and in fact skipped a couple of formal meals in favor of snacking so we could do the things we wanted to do. No problem.
We could stay up a little later than usual without having to worry about keeping little ones in the same hotel room up past their bedtime, and we weren't awakened by children jumping on our bed at 7 a.m.
While we were looking around the park, we didn't hear any kid complaints about it being too hot, or about feet being tired. And when we were in some of the Springdale shops, we didn't have to keep an eye on any children to make sure they weren't going to break something fragile.
As I said, we set our own pace and thoroughly enjoyed it.
We also enjoyed the opportunity to really focus on talking to each other. During the drive down and back, we listened to music we used to play while taking road trips as a newly married couple. We recalled inside jokes from those younger days (often related to wordplay, since we're both writing nerds), and enjoyed some new silliness that will stick with us for years to come.
Of course, we also talked about more serious things regarding our lives and our family. And we talked about our children quite a bit. Even though we were enjoying a weekend without them, we still missed them and started mentally planning a return trip to Zion with our entire family, noting what the various kids would and would not enjoy.
You see, it really is all about balance. Between work life and home life. Between attention to spouse and attention to children. Between time with family and time for yourself.
Figuring this out isn't easy, but I don't think it's supposed to be. We've got a relatively short amount of time in this life, and we have a lot to learn about being the best we can at the roles we choose to fill, whether we're a manager, an employee, a parent, a spouse or just a person who wants to contribute in a positive way to the world.
I'm glad I had a weekend with my wife to help bring that part of my life into a little better balance. As for the rest, I'll keep working on it. I hope you'll do the same.
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