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JENKINS: How to be a family man: Setting priorities

Rob Jenkins

Rob Jenkins

It’s easy to say that, for the family man, work should always come before pleasure and family before work. That, however, is an oversimplification of what is actually a very complex problem.

Obviously, few of us would hesitate to put our families first when the situation warrants, such as in a medical emergency. (Example: your son is rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy. If you leave work immediately, you can get in nine holes before he wakes up in the recovery room.)

At other times, though, work has to come first, if you wish to remain employed. Sure, we’d all like to leave early to attend a soccer game or band concert. Shoot, most of us would leave work early to watch an autopsy. But many times that just isn’t possible. For obvious reasons, most autopsies are scheduled before lunch.

There are also times when pleasure or relaxation is a priority — when you just need to play golf or whatever to sharpen the old saw. Some of these times include right after work, Sunday afternoons, and all day Saturdays.

That’s why you need to have clearly established priorities, a mental checklist of what’s more important in a given situation. By identifying your priorities beforehand, you can save a great deal of time and hand-wringing later and also give yourself some degree of deniability when it comes to making tough decisions.

For example, once you and your wife agree in principle that your job is more important than your social life — and you can probably make a case that sounds deceptively self-sacrificing—you can then use that “priority” to get out of any number of unwelcome receptions, recitals, bar mitzvahs, dinner parties, and family get-togethers.

To determine where something falls on the priority scale, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is it a matter of life and death?

  2. Who will benefit or suffer, and to what degree?

  3. What will be the immediate outcome of your actions? The long-term outcome? (Okay, four questions.)

Thus, any sort of physical emergency will take precedence over something that is not a physical emergency.

Any action that will benefit someone who is important to you, such as yourself, is a higher priority than an action that will benefit someone who is not important, such as a co-worker.

And any option that promises a positive long-term outcome (immense wealth, a happy marriage, well-adjusted children) will be preferable to those that offer only quick fixes (an extra fifty bucks, immediate gratification, children who aren’t whining at that precise moment).

In other words, all you have to do is decide what’s important to you, then discard that in favor of what’s important to your wife, your kids, and your boss, in that order. Your own wants, desires, and needs come near the bottom of the list, just after those of the cat but before the house plants.

Rob Jenkins is local freelance writer and the author of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. Email Rob at jenkinsgdp@yahoo.com or visit familymanthebook.com.