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The Work Alibi


Professional people that cheat on their families


It’s that time of the year again.  School holidays.  My children have started three weeks of holidays.  It’s a unique opportunity to spend extra time at home with them and my partner.  Not likely though, if I am like many professionals.


“Sorry darling.  Sorry kids.  Daddy has to go to work and earn some money. You have fun though”. 


Or here’s the other variation: “I can only take a couple of days off sweetheart.  It’s crazy at work right now”.


I’m going to let you in on a little secret.


For many professionals it’s not the whole truth.  We don't have to go to work.  We instead choose to go to work.  We do this because it’s easier.


Why?  Because the organisations we work at are designed like machines.  Our work fits the way we have been taught to think and operate.  The work we do is ordered, structured, mostly logical and rational, we know what we are doing, and we have well-defined authority.


It's the complete opposite at home, where it’s messy, chaotic, often emotional, we are told often we lack competence in many aspects of family life, and we have little authority or control. 


Given a choice between a predictable experience in which we are competent and have some power versus a chaotic experience in which we are incompetent and powerless, the choice is generally easy.


That's not to say that we don't want to spend extended periods of time with our partners and children. We do.  We just struggle with aspects of it.


Vacations away are the exception though.  Provided they are not too long. 


Interstate and overseas holidays with families are strangely much more like our normal workplace. They have a well-defined beginning and end, and they involve competencies we have mastered at work - catching planes, checking in to hotels, booking restaurants, delegating tasks to helpful staff, etc.


Importantly the normal authority structures are relaxed for a short while whilst on holiday.  When away from our work or home on foreign and unfamiliar turf, engaged in novel and non-routine experiences, no one has absolute power.  This provides a unique opportunity for real communication, collaboration and acceptance.  


The funny thing is though that it may be hard for some of us to even acknowledge to ourselves that this is true because it may appear to makes us a bad partner or parent.   But it doesn’t.  It’s normal and natural to seek a life that fits our needs, our existing competencies, and provides us with some control over our lives. 


Its just that its also true at the same time it may not be helpful to us if we want to have deeper, more intimate and involved lives with our families.


Sorry. I’ve let the cat out of the bag. Bloody cats, can’t control them either.  Should have got a dog.