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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

Work and Family

For many of us, there appears to be a massive Tug-of-War between our work lives and our family lives.

Have you ever wondered why it can be such a BIG issue?



(paid or not) provides us with:

  1. A sense of SAFETY (financial and physical), especially when it is paid work because without money we can’t have food or shelter. It allows us to maintain the standard of living we and our families are accustomed to. For many financial safety also means physical safety. Here in Canada we are fortunate to have good public access to health care. However, our health care system pays for the basics. It doesn’t pay for all the newest medications, therapy, wheelchairs or glasses that we or our loved ones might need.

  2. A sense of TRIBE because we usually get to know the people we work with to some degree, and sometimes work connections feel more straightforward. There is a clear relationship structure (like a pre-set pecking order) that everyone understands. For instance a lot of people in dominant roles are more comfortable at work in part because they instantly get to be the boss.

  3. A sense of PURPOSE – it is the main reason most of us get up in the day and for many of us, it is also our source of competence or MASTERY(when we believe we are good at our jobs)

  4. For some of us, work also provides us with a sense of MEANING or LEGACY- the feeling that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves.

  5. For many people it also provides us with opportunities for CREATIVITY and CHALLENGE.

Portrait of a extended happy family standing in the park.


provides us with:

  1. A sense of SAFETY (emotional and physical) when we have healthy tribe, because it is where we feel we can ask to have our emotional needs met and do the same for others, it is also where we feel we can physically go and be safe (in healthy tribes).

  2. A sense of TRIBE because in order to connect we need to be around people we identify with in a meaningful way, and families often do that. If we are raised in a religious environment, our family will share that. If we were raised give back to the community, they will often share that etc. We like being around people who validate our world view.

  3. A sense of PURPOSE – taking care of and interacting with kid sort loved ones is often a source of purpose for many people and may even be our source of MASTERY(when we believe we are good at being a daughter, mother, brother, auntie etc).

  4. For many, family strongly provides a sense of MEANING or LEGACY.

  5. For most of us, interacting with family also provides us with opportunities for CREATIVITY and CHALLENGE as we try to best navigate these relationships.

So far- under healthy circumstances, work and family are about tied. Either of them can provide us with most of the things we need to be well, so it is understandable that they would go head to head and there would be some tug of war when they are both so valuable…

Let’s shake things up and make it more realistic


What if we don’t feel emotionally safe with our families? Or if we actually have DIFFERENT values or priorities than our family so we don’t get that same sense of tribe. What if the dynamics in the family are such that we are always blamed or at fault or never doing things good enough so we don’t feel competent or valued at home. Consider that perhaps the interactions with family involve a lot of obligations, and meeting their expectations as opposed to providing us with a sense of purpose. What if we have such unpleasant experiences with family that we have to be estranged from them or minimize contact with them, and we don’t get any meaning or legacy from them.


Let’s make this a bit more realistic too.

Let’s say we work a lot and are underpaid for our efforts from

our perspective- we won’t feel financially safe and it may even compromise our physical health or that of our loved ones. What if we have co-workers or managers / superiors who are bullies, invalidating, or un-appreciative- we won’t get a sense of tribe, in fact quite the opposite. What if the tribe issues impact our ability to do a good job, and now our mastery is compromised or if we just feel in over our heads and that this job is not for us so we hate getting up in the morning, now purpose is gone. If we are unhappy or feeling like we are not doing a good job, there is no meaning or legacy left and creativity and challenge are good when we feel we are getting them, not when we are overwhelmed.

Why stop there!

Let’s add in whatever beliefs we learned about the value and importance of each of these things (our SURVIVAL MAPS related to work and family), here are some common ones, each which will change the impact of the above…



  1. ” Blood is thicker than water”– and other implications that we are obliged to stand by our families no matter what, often even if they are / were abusive or emotionally unsafe for us

  2. It’s ok to walk away from family (ie. immigrants, people who saw their parents be estranged from family members etc).

  3. It’s ok to take out your frustration on family– using them as your emotional trash cans (whether this is yelling at partner or kids or picking a fight when mom or dad had a bad day, or being physically abusive).

  4. Take your frustrations out on something else– like the gym, chopping wood, doing something physical or productive around the house etc.


  1. The most important thing is to have a stable job, even if you hate it, even if you are being abused there in some way or feel unappreciated, at least you have a job so you should hold onto it at all costs. Even if it is necessary to bring work home and have it dictate the quality of family life, that happens because it is the most important thing.

  2. Your worth comes from being able to provide for yourself or your family, and is connected to how much money or status you have.

  3. Work is to make ends meet so we can do other things, do the minimum to have the life you want.

  4. Work is supposed to be your passion, you may need to take menial jobs to make ends meet while you are looking for your passion, but that is the end goal to strive for and even if it doesn’t pay as well, it is worth living your passion.


So let’s look at an example to see how this all interacts... Sterling is a doctor, he has worked for years to get into and through his medical training and is paying off over half a million dollars in student debt because you can’t work through that time and are very poorly paid (below minimum wage), so his financial and physical safety is tied up in his work.  At work, Sterling is a king pin! He saves lives (purposemeaning), he is the boss (mastery) in most meetings because he is the physician lead when dealing with Nurses or allied health staff, and he gets along with the staff (tribe) there well because he is good at his job and is wiling to put in extra hours when needed .


At home, he is criticized for not being there enough and not “pulling his weight” with his wife and kids. As a result he feels chronically “not good enough” (feels unsafe, lack of mastery or purpose). His wife REALLY likes her lifestyle (even though it is above their means) and does not want it to change. Now he doesn’t feel he can pull back on his hours and feels pressured to accept extra shifts when they come up but resents her for it and has a tumultuous relationship with his kids because he isn’t consistently home. Even when he is home, the relationship is strained with his wife, so he is not really emotionally available (unsafe tribe). He is invested in his kids growing up healthy and happy, but the day-to-day stuff with them is done by his wife and there is almost no comparison with the rush he feels when he saves a life (less meaning)! He generally feels overwhelmed at home by everyone wanting a piece of him and then being moody with him, so he actually feels better at work.

Sterling watched his dad who was a doc give his life to medicine, he didn’t know him very well, but they were well respected by the community and he still has people who talk to him about how great he was to others and derives some pride from that. Medicine dictated their family life as everything was scheduled around dad and his availability and he missed many school events and sporting events because he was called away at the last minute. Mom managed the home and they fought a lot but stayed together. – he learned that it is acceptable to prioritize work over family and that what the community thought of him was more important that what his family did.

So putting it all together, Sterling is getting most of the things he needs to be well from work, and learned it was normal to prioritize work over family … so not surprisingly, he is a workaholic with strained family relationships.

Let’s look at one other example…


Joanna is Stering’s wife, she learned that the most important and challenging work is being a parent (purpose, meaning, challenge) from her mom. Her dad was a businessman who scheduled his life around the kids and family activities- which reinforced this belief. She also learned it was important to contribute to the community through volunteering at school or food-drives and going to Church and does so on a regular basis (purpose, meaning). She takes great pride managing her home and keeping things looking good (safety, tribe). Her parents were strict British parents who were very much focused on what was prim and proper and meeting people’s expectations (safety, tribe). They were thrilled when she married a doctor.

Looking at this, Joanna understandably is focused on parenting and would have conflicting expectations about Sterling not prioritizing it, which would cause conflict in the relationship. It also becomes clear that her sense of safety and tribe comes from status, so she would simultaneously be wanting to maintain the level they are at, which would cause more conflict as it would send mixed messages to Sterling- I want you home more and pull your weight more, but don’t work less. The need for things to look good, given the level of conflict between then, would make her tolerate Sterling over-investing at work, especially if people are commenting on how he saves lives and also because it allows her to avoid angry outbursts, which don’t “look good” and are not “lady-like”.

So why is work and family such a big deal?

Because they both tie in the 5 Things we need to be well AND our survival maps.

What do we do about it?


Take a moment to reflect on what needs you have met from work and family, and be curious about what you learned from your survival maps about them.

Does that fit with who you want to be moving forward? If not, what are you going to do about it?

See you next week! Also remember that Monday is STAT holiday, so no Drop-In this week!

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