Okay, this is probably the toughest question that I get asked on a regular basis. I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer here. I certainly don’t believe that you can apply a “cookie-cutter” answer to this question.
I hope that you realize that the military isn’t the only profession that takes time away from your family. Virtually every profession imaginable takes a commitment of time away from a family. So the principles that I will describe here are transferable to any walk of life.
The first and most important thing to keep in mind when trying to strike a balance between work and family is that your priority will always get the majority of your energy and your attention. Notice that I said energy and attention and not just time. You can devote a lot of time to something and still not put a lot of energy and attention into it. Conversely you can also devote a lot of attention and energy into something without giving it a tremendous amount of your time.
Now apply that principle to family and work. Work demands your time, energy and attention in order to be excellent at whatever you do. At the same time your family demands time, energy and attention in order to be a great spouse, parent or friend. If you cut corners on time, energy or attention at work someone in your office will figure it out and pretty soon you will no longer be the valuable employee that company needs.
The same is true with family. If you give them your time but don’t offer them your attention and energy they will quickly start to see that they are taking second place to something else in your life (namely your job).
There will be some periods where your family will demand a lot more time than others. There will also be periods where your profession will demand more time than others.
If you want to strike a good balance give the time and energy necessary to your profession while still saving enough of yourself for your family that you can give them your undivided time, energy and attention.
Many families can live with a spouse who puts in fourteen hour days if they know that they are the absolute center of that spouse’s world when they get home from work. However, there are also men and women who put in less than an eight hour day at work and yet come home and immediately go out the door to hang out with friends or tinker around with their latest hobby. Chances are that the first family will stay together much longer than the second family because they know exactly how important they are to the person who gives them the time, energy and attention they deserve.
So my recommendation is that no matter how much your profession demands of you give at least that much of your time, energy and attention to your family. With a lot of hard work and a ton of prayer a family can withstand any professional demands given this kind of commitment.