The Work-Life Balance

Several people have asked me to blog about how I balance work and family, but I’m NOT an expert in this. In fact, I feel like a failure at it almost everyday. Today, for instance. We’re on a family vacation but I’ve put in work time every night (not easy after a long day of skiing, relaxing in the hot tub and drinking a glass of wine).

But I think “the balance” is an important topic, especially for writers, because most of you are writing at home with all the distractions of spouses, children, and wayward washing machines; and many of you are also dealing with a full-time job in the equation. It’s not an easy life!

Everyone handles the juggling differently. My husband and I have been fortunate to use the tag-team approach. When he was working 60-hour weeks, I was home with the kids (they were babies) and doing very little freelancing. When I went to work outside the home full time, my husband became an at-home dad while he took night classes to pursue his career change. When he finally got his dream job, I was home again, but this time starting a full fledged home business. Not everyone has this flexibility; this is simply the way it’s worked out for us.

There is not a single day that I find the “balance” easy. I usually need to work at least 40-50 hours a week to keep up, and the kids are in school only about 32 hours a week, leaving me with a constant shortfall of hours in which to do my work. That means early mornings, evenings and weekends are often work time.

I’m constantly jealous of my husband who gets to have a complete separation between his work and home life. Yet because I’m willing and able to put up with the home-business challenges, my kids have the advantage of me being here all the time, a blessing I am SO thankful for.

Here’s the thing. I strive to live according to my values, which are: God first, family second, everything else third. I’m not always successful. But I do understand the truth of that age-old cliché, “Nobody ever looks back on their life and regrets not spending more time at the office.” I realize I have only 7 to 9 more years of my kids being here at home with me, and I want to make the most of this time.

Balance? Many people say there isn’t any. But I believe we can look at it in terms of spending appropriate amounts of time and energy on each of the areas of our lives: our spiritual path, our spouse, our family, our work, our church or community involvement, our friendships. The most important thing is to recognize when things get out of balance, and take steps to correct it as much as possible.

I wish I could offer something in the way of concrete answers. I can’t. Each person has to figure out what balance means to them, and then strive for it every day.

How do YOU manage the work-life balance?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Gina Conroy on April 8, 2008 at 10:54 AM

    >I’m still trying to balance life, career and family. That’s the reason I started my website Writer…Interrupted. To find other writers who are doing it better than I am and learn from them! Now with my networking community of interrupted writers over 150, it seems there’s a lot of people trying to find the answers to this question. I love what you said, “we can look at it in terms of spending appropriate amounts of time and energy on each of the areas of our lives…The most important thing is to recognize when things get out of balance, and take steps to correct it as much as possible.”

  2. Nancy I. Sanders on April 3, 2008 at 2:07 AM

    >Okay, so I’m a day late on my comment because I ran out of time! Smile. But seriously, I agree with everyone here–priorities. An article by Stormie Omartian changed my life about 15 years ago when she said she sets the kitchen timer to spend one hour with God each day. That’s impossible–I can’t even find 10 minutes to have a quiet time! I cried, but then tried it. Here I am all these years later and that sweet hour of prayer and worship every day (and the struggle it is to find it between deadlines and kids and hubby and ministries) is what gets my crazy life back in balance each and every single day.

  3. cballan on April 3, 2008 at 12:13 AM

    >I’m sufficiently balanced to know how unbalanced I am. Most of the day, I’m just crawling from one side of the see-saw to the other.

  4. Randy Mortenson on April 2, 2008 at 10:21 PM

    >What I did to find balance in my life was quit my former career and move to a tiny town in North Dakota. My commute used to be a half hour drive early in the morning, now it’s a 2-minute walk, I kid you not, around 9 a.m. My kids are 4, 2 and 1, and I spend tons of time with them and my wife. Yet still–to carve out writing time for me comes down to two words: Night owl.

  5. Anonymous on April 2, 2008 at 5:15 PM

    >I enjoyed reading all the comments. I just want to add that I can only take one day at a time. I try to do my very best each day, but when I fail to keep the balance and order in the right perspective I do not get upset with myself. I just wait for God’s knew mercies as he renews them every morning. Then I start over, most days I am on target but for those I am not…I forgive myself and go on and think, “I’ll be on target tomorrow.”


  6. Kara on April 2, 2008 at 3:24 PM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    To be honest I find the term “work-life balance” a bit of an oxymoron because it seems to infer that can’t be the same thing that you need to leave ‘work’ in order to have a ‘life’.

    Personally I am very fortunate to have a job that I love and so I consider it a fundamental part of my life. Many of my colleagues are also great friends, I get a real sense of personal satisfaction out of what I do and the fact that I get paid to do it is even better 🙂

    Having said that I do live in a constant tension of trying to balance what my job demands with me alongside writing, being heavily involved in my church and having enough time for my family and friends.

    I haven’t managed to get it perfect yet but one thing that I have managed to work out so far is to know what your top priorites are and when time is stretched don’t be afraid to say no to things that aren’t one of them.

    Enjoy the skiing!

  7. Tiffany Stuart on April 2, 2008 at 2:40 PM

    >Thanks for opening your heart and making me feel normal.

  8. Marla Taviano on April 2, 2008 at 2:18 PM

    >Yesterday I tried to write a new post on my website. I wrote six words about balance, said “forget it” and logged out. Ugh.

    The ONLY way I survive ANY day with any semblance of balance is to ask God first thing (and throughout the day) to fill me with His Holy Spirit and to show me how to put first things first.

    I’m clueless and useless (and frazzled to the core) when I try to do it on my own.

  9. Tracey Bateman on April 2, 2008 at 11:24 AM

    >Hi Rachele,
    Great topic and one I definitely needed to read!
    I find that whatever is most pressing gets all of me. I’m not good with balance. If I’m on deadline, I can’t focus on anything until it’s off my plate and if I feel pulled then nothing gets done because I freeze up. I think I need pills. 🙂 I wish I could find that place where I don’t feel so overwhelmed with every detail. My husband is very laid back and it drives me crazy!
    Tracey Bateman

  10. Julie Johnson on April 2, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    >Kudos to you all. Don’t give up. In fact, cherish the time you have with your families: the kids will be gone before you know it. Enjoy them. (They can be a treasure of inspirations for your writing.)

    My widowed friends tell me their spouses were gone all too soon. Then, they had another choice to make: to be lonely or to continue in the work God had given them to do.

    As Richard said, Thank God for the opportunities you have along the way. And have fun!!!!! (And if you’re doubly blessed, you’ll have grandchildren to dangle upon your knee.)

  11. Mark H. on April 2, 2008 at 10:39 AM

    >I think as you mentioned, God gives us clear rankings for our priorities: Himself, spouse, kids, everything else…in that order. We don’t always hold ourselves to that, though.

    If I knew the answer on how to find balance between all of these things, I’d have written a book and already have been published!

  12. Cyndi Lewis on April 2, 2008 at 8:17 AM

    >Enlightening! This is one subject I don’t get tired of hearing about. Thanks Rachelle.

  13. Timothy Fish on April 2, 2008 at 8:01 AM

    >It all comes down to priorities. We do the things that we think are the most important, so when we say we don’t have time to do something, we are saying that the thing we don’t have time to do is less important than some of the other things. I don’t have kids or a spouse, and I only work forty hours a week, so it seems like I should have more time than I do. Church takes up a large portion of that time, with everything from preparing to teach on Sunday, to maintaining the website, to committee meetings. If I had a wife, I would probably pass some of the things I am doing now to someone else and find some way for my wife to help me do some of those things, but as is evidenced by the typical activities of married people, any time I gained would probably be taken up with other activities. In all situations, we must decide what is the most important to us and do those things first. We should be careful and make sure that we give ourselves an appropriate amount of time to rest, even God rested on the seventh day.

  14. One More Writer on April 2, 2008 at 7:53 AM

    >I always appreciate your honesty on this subject because it is such a vital one. If we find success at our profession but lose our family in the process we have not been successful at all!

    I, too, struggle with this every day. My kids are 13, 15 and 17, so the days with them in the house are very short indeed. In spite of the urges I feel to focus so much of my time and energy on my own pursuits, I know I’ll regret it if I do that to the detriment of my relationship with them in these last few years of adolescence!

    Thanks, again, for the reminder that I do not struggle in this alone!

  15. Catherine West on April 2, 2008 at 7:45 AM

    >I have the utmost respect for anyone who manages to hold down a full-time job and write a book at the same time!! I am blessed to have been a stay-at-home-mom, and I have the time to devote to my writing. I don’t think I could manage it any other way. Now with one child in college it’s a little easier, but there is still the house to keep up with, church and life in general. I haven’t found the balance yet. I do try to monitor the night hours though- if my hubby is working on things then I will do some more computer time, but if he’s just watching tv then I will do that too, or we’ll do something together. It’s tough, but I know there is a balance somewhere that works for everyone.
    Enjoy your vacation, Rachelle!

  16. Ariel Allison Lawhon on April 2, 2008 at 7:21 AM

    >I stay home with my three sons, ages four and under, so my spare time is measured in minutes not hours. And somewhere in the mix I managed to get published, with one book out and three hitting the shelves next year. So I could easily write for ten hours a day and never be done. But being a wife and mother is so much more important. Here’s what I do:

    I take advantage of the stolen moments. I get up at five, have my quiet time, and then I write my word count for the day (approx 2000 words). During their nap time I edit or read or blog. I usually print off a few pages of my WIP and leave it on the kitchen counter so that I can think about it while making lunch or cleaning. After my children go to bed at night I spend time with my husband.

    And yes, my house is messy. But my family feels loved. My goal is to not work on writing unless my children are asleep or spending time with daddy. And so far it works for this season of life. In the last three months I was able to write 70,000 words on that schedule. As in all things, I think being consistent is the key. Books don’t write themselves and no one cares to hear my excuses – least of all me. Slow and steady wins the race.

    Thanks for this discussion Rachelle. I love hearing what everyone has to say!

  17. Richard Mabry on April 2, 2008 at 7:20 AM

    Thanks for letting us know that we’re not the only ones who have trouble with this “balance” thing. It took me four years of retirement to finally phase out writing medical texts and papers, plus the occasional visiting professorship. I’ve found that as some things drop off my plate, others fill that space. Life is busy, and if we choose to write–or edit or agent–we have to fit that in as best we can.
    So, for those of you who think you will have more time when you’re retired, think again. But thank God for the opportunities you have along the way.

  18. Gwen Stewart on April 2, 2008 at 4:04 AM

    >Boy, that balance stuff is tough…and sometimes I feel I get it wrong too. In really busy times, it seems all of our conversations are just rapid-fire orders: “get your backpack!” or “don’t forget to give your teacher the permission slip!”

    It has helped immensely that my children go to school with me. We all attend the same elementary school: they, of course, as students; me as the music teacher. So yes, I am also their teacher for one half-hour a week (in Kind. my daughter called me “Mrs. Mom”–all her own doing; I always allow them to call me ‘Mom’ at school.) When we’re at school we’re all separate. I stay way out of their business. But it gives us ‘common ground’ and a shared experience every single day, and I count it as a blessing.

    It’s interesting to hear how others strike a God-family-work balance in their lives. Great ideas and creative solutions!

  19. Robbie Iobst on April 2, 2008 at 12:45 AM

    >I sit reading blogs at almost midnight because my son is on spring break. I am tired and I didn’t finish the laundry and I still need to finish the query letter I told myself I would email two days ago. I feel out of balance. But as I look at my day I know I did the right thing by having fun with my nine-year-old. With a little more contemplating, I discover why I am out of whack, off kilter, askew. I didn’t spend any time with the Lord this a.m. For me to have balance in my heart and mind, even if my list of to-dos change, I must put time with God first. If I do that, well balance usually follows. If not balance, at least joy on the highwire.

  20. Anne L.B. on April 2, 2008 at 12:05 AM

    >Kids don’t appreciate half my attention when they get it. (My husband doesn’t either.) It seems like if they’ve had ALL of me for the time they do have me, they don’t need to have me all the time. The fragile balance I’ve found is making sure that I’m fully engaged with the people I love when I give myself to them — and I need to give myself to the people in my house daily.

    Not so with the Lord. He’s supposed to get 100% of me 100% of the time, whether it’s while I’m with spouse, children, or ministry (in that order).

    I don’t hit 100% with the Lord. Giving of myself to others without distraction seems impossible some days. But I know what I’m aiming toward.

    P.S. to Rachelle: If work isn’t ministry on some level I question if it should be done at all. Thank you for your ministry.

  21. Catherine Downen on April 1, 2008 at 10:39 PM

    >My oldest child is 18, and I still haven’t figured out the work-life balance. I agree with your priorities: God first, family second, work/ministry third. I feel happier when I’m working at least part-time, but it’s hard for me to do more than one thing at a time and feel like I’m doing anything well. With three teenagers, I often feel I don’t have enough “mental real estate” to pursue creativity, but I’m doing my best to be faithful to God and give Him my best effort despite the distractions. I’m trying to remember that without love, my service to my family is nothing. It also helps to remember that this intense time of parenting is just a season that is quickly passing. I hope to serve faithfully and with as few regrets as possible. I guess we’re all just doing the best we can, so we need to give ourselves a break and trust that God will bless our efforts. (Loaves and fishes, anyone?)

  22. Kim Kasch on April 1, 2008 at 10:35 PM

    >”…after … skiing, relaxing in the hot tub and drinking a glass of wine)”, that MIGHT not be easy but it definitely sounds like fun.

    I used to work part-time until my oldest son went to college, now I write late at night, work full-time during the day and email the kids so often, they say, when they see my name they automatically hit the delete key.

    There is no true balance, life is a grown-ups teeter-totter, we just tip one way then the other.

  23. Matthew C Jones on April 1, 2008 at 10:21 PM

    >I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. For me, being married with kids means every day give and take and constant communication with my wife. It also means being willing to drop onto the floor with my kids and play when I could be working because they need me. It means purposing to spend X number of nights per week writing and Y number of nights spending time with my wife. And then, being willing to change all of that at the drop of a hat. The key word for me: flexibility. Now, am I good at doing all of these things? NO. But I do try, and with God’s help, I’m able.

    Thanks for everything you do, Rachelle. You’re a true blessing.

    Grace to you,
    Matt Jones