Working On It

No One Talks About How Hard It Is To Be Present With Your Family When Work Is Stressful

It’s taken time, but I’ve found a routine that helps me stay fully engaged.

by As Told To Matt Christensen
Originally Published: 
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

“I have a problem with ‘drifting away’. For me, this means being physically there but mentally elsewhere. I’m occupied with work, worries, or distractions, making it tough to be present and engage fully with my surroundings. Sometimes, I'm there, but I'm just going through the motions, not actively participating. I might be physically present during family activities, but my mind isn't in sync with the conversations or activities. Drifting away can also translate to emotional detachment, where I'm less responsive to my family's emotional needs, lacking the empathy and support they deserve.

My family senses my absence, even when I'm physically present. They can tell I'm not fully engaged or my thoughts are elsewhere. They notice I'm not initiating conversations, that I’m responding with one-word answers, or that I fail to show genuine interest in their stories or concerns. My family knows I'm not tuned in to their feelings, not offering a listening ear, and not providing the emotional support they need.

Realizing the urgency for change struck me when I saw how my divided attention affected my family.

Over the past few years, I've observed several significant changes in my work-life balance that have contributed to this detachment. My job demands have surged due to promotions and industry shifts, resulting in longer work hours and heightened stress levels.

The high-pressure work environment has started to consume more of my mental and emotional energy, leaving me with less capacity for my personal life. And the constant accessibility to work-related emails and apps has blurred my professional and personal life boundaries. I've also noticed that poor time management has led to an imbalance, with more time devoted to work-related activities and less to my family and personal interests.

Working On It” is a regular series about self-improvement. In each installment, a dad talks to us about a bad habit he has, how it affects him and his family, and what he’s doing to work on it. Here, Rick, a CEO and father of two, explains how work stress made it difficult to be fully there with his family, and how mindfulness and meditation have saved him from disappearing altogether.

I began to notice the encroachment of work into my personal life as I witnessed strained relationships, increased stress, and a persistent feeling of being ‘on’ all the time. I realized I was missing important moments with my loved ones.

For example, during dinner discussions, my lack of presence led to missing out on emotional family talks, significant milestones, and the opportunity to connect. I was unable to share my children’s excitement about their school day, or focus while they talked about learning to snowboard. Missing these moments ultimately left me feeling disappointed. And my lack of presence made my family members feel emotionally distant and uninterested. It created feelings of isolation, hindering the sense of togetherness and support that a family is meant to provide.

Realizing the urgency for change struck me when I saw how my divided attention affected my family. It was clear that I was missing out on significant moments and the chance to truly connect. To address this, I've been actively practicing self-awareness and reflection, aiming to establish clear boundaries between work and my personal life.

Being more emotionally present has allowed me to connect better with my family and respond more effectively to their needs.

My daily meditation practice has been a game-changer in helping me cultivate mindfulness and regain my focus. I carve out a specific time each day for meditation, starting with as little as 5-10 minutes and gradually extending it as I become more comfortable. I sit or lie down and, with closed eyes, shift my attention to my breath, observing each inhalation and exhalation without trying to alter it. When my mind inevitably starts to wander — which is entirely normal — I gently acknowledge the thoughts and bring my focus back to my breath.

Overall, meditation has trained my mind to stay in the present moment, making it easier to be mentally present with my family. It’s been a powerful stress-reducer, providing me with greater emotional resilience to manage work demands and family life. Being more emotionally present has allowed me to connect better with my family and respond more effectively to their needs.

I’ve invited my family into these practices as well. We choose moments that naturally fit into our daily routine, such as before meals or during our weekend outings. We gather in a quiet and comfortable space where we won't be disturbed, and I encourage each family member to take a few moments to focus on their breath, practice deep breathing, or be still and present.

Thanks to my mindfulness practice, I can now realize when my mind starts to wander and gently guide it back to the present

We’ve explored other mindfulness techniques, too, such as yoga and nature walks. We even use apps and other resources to help stay on track. By introducing mindfulness to my children, I’m hoping to teach them the life skills they’ll need to manage their emotions, develop self-awareness, and build resilience.

In short, engaging in family-based mindfulness allows for shared growth and learning. We support each other’s progress and celebrate even the smallest victories together. It’s set a positive tone for our household. It encourages open communication and mutual support, and promotes togetherness and connection. I’m motivated to continue on this path of mindfulness and meaningful connection, knowing that it benefits me and my loved ones.

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