No Deathbed Regrets: Leaving Work at Work to be Fully Present to Our Families

By Brian Hennessey

I once read an article about a hospice nurse who would ask her dying patients if they had any regrets. She documented their responses, and one of the most common answers was, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Many mentioned how giving so much of their time to their jobs caused them to miss out on their children’s youth and on better companionship with their spouse. 

That article hit home. I’m married with little kids. I am an accountant by trade, and previously worked in public accounting. Every January to April was “busy season,” and for six years of that job I spent a third of my year having a very difficult time thinking about anything besides work. There was always so much to do, deadline after deadline, and the further I went along in my career, the more responsibilities I would have. If I wasn’t at work, I was often thinking about work. Even when I was physically present at home, my head was often somewhere else. I was definitely missing out. 

I knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. I couldn’t keep missing out on family time, because I was too busy working. I now have more of a 40-hour a week job, and while it has gotten much better with a lighter workload, the challenge of “leaving work at work” to be fully present to my family is still something I regularly contend with. I have spoken to others who have the same struggles. 

So for those of us who recognize that work does not hold priority over our relationships with our spouse and children, but we can still have trouble making that transition from the work day to home life, how can we better leave work at work?


Here are three things to help us leave work behind so that we can be fully present to our families: 

1.     Start the day with prayer.

It actually all starts before work. Prayer is essential throughout the day (pray without ceasing, St. Paul said), but time set aside before work for “undivided attention prayer” can be key to staying in the present moment for the rest of the day. The first things we do when we wake up in the morning set the tone for the whole day. If, instead of making time for prayer, we hit snooze three times, jump out of bed, quickly get ready, and rush out the door to work, we are setting ourselves up for a stressful day. We will be relying on our own efforts to get through the work day. Without that grace from morning prayer, by the end of the work day we are more likely to overthink and hold onto the rougher parts of the day—to be anxious about something we didn’t get done, to dwell on something we didn’t do well, or replay and overanalyze something someone said. In short, we’ll care too much about work and bring that home with us. If we commit to prayer to start the day, we give ourselves the best shot of being able to swiftly hand everything over to God as it comes, which helps keep our focus in the present moment. 


2.     Don’t drive off right away.

When you get in the car after work, don’t drive off right away. This might sound strange, but it’s easy to mindlessly hop in the car, start it and just take off without thinking about where our heads need to be. Avoid just turning on the radio and coasting home without much thought of what comes next. When we do that, it is very easy to have our thoughts drift back to what happened at work that day or what awaits us there tomorrow. Sit still in silence for a few moments (not too long, though, since we also don’t want to keep our family waiting), enter into prayer, and if you’re having trouble, ask God for help moving on from those work thoughts. 

Maybe you are working from home without a commute, which is my current stay-at-home situation. In that case, we can still take time right after we “clock out” to pause where we are, and ask for God’s help in shifting our focus to where it needs to be. 


3.     Be intentional and specific with your plans of being fully present to your family. 

While we are on our way home, we should continue that dialogue with God. We need to pray about specific ways we can forget about work and be selfless and fully present to our families. We should call out the things we know lead us away from serving our families, and commit to avoiding those things. Get this all laid out before walking in the front door (or if you’re working from home, do this during the “pause” time mentioned above). Maybe it’s the cell phone that has work email on it. We can set the phone down right when we get home or otherwise promise ourselves not to check work emails during the times we should be with our family. This really goes for work email or anything else on our phone; to be truly present to our loved ones, we need to set the phone down when they’re around. 

We should also be very mindful about our plans for the night. Is it about what we want to do tonight, or about what others in our home want to do? Even if we walk in the door tired, hungry, and not feeling overly joyful, are we prepared to throw out the self-pity and care more about how our spouse is feeling right now? Are we ready to start talking about how our day was (more work thoughts!), or are we more interested in how hers was? Are we ready to sit down and veg out on TV or another screen, or are we committing to play with our kids, help with some chores around the house, or otherwise just be “there” for the people we are supposed to put above everything else besides God? 

Let’s pray to develop daily habits that will allow us to put God and family before our careers. Work will be left at work, we will be fully present at home, and so long as everything else is in its right order, our deathbed will have no regrets.

May 13, 2020 - 2:46pm

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