click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Obama’s Family Time
Mom with a View

Obama’s Family Time

Even the President of the United States can’t have it all.


I came across two interesting lines in a recent article about President Obama (keep your hats on; this is not going to be a political piece!)

In delineating possible reasons for his limited effort regarding a particular matter, his associates cite, among others, family commitments, adding that 6:30 family dinner is said to be “sacrosanct” most nights.

The end of the article sounds a more optimistic note and suggests that Obama is now freer to spend more hours at work. “Now that my girls are getting older, they don’t want to spend that much time with me anyway,” Mr. Obama said.

It seems that even the President of the United States can’t have it all. This highlights (as I mentioned in a previous article) that this is an issued for men too, that hard-working, high-achieving men also have choices to make – and a price to pay.

I respect the idea that 6:30 dinner is sacrosanct; we have a similar attitude towards dinner in our home and if my husband walks in a few minutes late, everyone is a little put out. I think that regular family dinner time is an important stabilizing and bonding experience for parents and children (especially if you can get your kids to stay at the table to talk a little after they have finished rapidly shoveling the food into their mouths!).

But my husband is not the President and I’m not sure that the position doesn’t call for a greater sacrifice of family time. This is every man’s conflict. I know a very successful businessman who spent about 25 years building his wealth, power and reputation. When these were secured, he turned to his wife, “Now I can relax a little and we can spend time together.”

“Easy for you to say,” she retorted, “but I had to make a life for myself while you were working those long hours. And there’s no room for you in it.” Ouch. Yes, everyone pays a price.

This issue gets so much PR as a uniquely female struggle, something that truly committed feminists with the right will and determination should be able resolve – or at least that’s the party line. But work/family balance is a human issue and the solution is complicated – or not.

Perhaps it’s a matter of deciding your priorities – and accepting the consequences of that choice. Time is not elastic (and neither are we!). It is just not possible to have a high-powered career and spend significant time with your family. Not unless there are more hours in your day than there are in mine.

You may decide that you need the career – and the resulting sense of satisfaction, power, prestige and income that it supplies – and that you are willing to sacrifice something in terms of your relationship with your children in order to achieve this. I’m not telling you what’s right or wrong. I’m just suggesting that something (intangible perhaps, subtle perhaps) will be lost.

And the same is true from the other side of the coin. If you make your family your priority, your career achievement will be more limited. It has to be. You can’t be available to a sick child and a demanding employer at the same time. You can’t help your teenager with her English essay and be on the telephone to your counterpart in Singapore simultaneously. You can’t (as I once saw) go on an amusement park ride with your child and have your cell phone glued to your ear. Well you can but don’t delude yourself that this counts as bonding time with said child.

It’s not all or nothing. There is balance available. A happy medium is certainly possible. But it requires scaling back either your career expectations or your family time. With all these cautions in mind, I think it is possible to meld a satisfying career with a fulfilling family life. But chances are you shouldn’t run for President...

April 6, 2013

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 9

(6) Anonymous, April 12, 2013 3:59 PM

Family Time

That's why we have Shabbat. My father was a work-aholic, and if it were not for Shabbat, we never would have seen him. When I was very young, he would even go and open his store on Saturday night. I never knew what it was to spend Sundays with the family, as so many of my friends did, because for my Dad Sunday was a regular day. So, I am grateful that we had Shabbat, which is such a gift.

(5) harvey, April 12, 2013 11:40 AM

So which should have the greater priority? Attending fund raisers for party members or building memories with the family? When nothing hangs in the balance but political advantage its a no brainer for the person of G-d.

(4) harvey, April 11, 2013 8:08 PM

Family is more important than the job. But then Obama, according to what can be known about his past, didn't have a close family relationship either. "Train up a child in the way he should go"? One can't go wrong if he/she follows God's word.

(3) ST, April 11, 2013 2:46 PM

Most people I know don't sacrifice family time for their careers because of the desire for prestige or power. It's to provide for their families. If you want a Jewish life for your family- which usually includes synagogue dues, dayschool or Sunday school tuition, summer camp, etc- not to mention clothing, feeding, and housing your family- these things cost money. There aren't many jobs out there that don't require at least the occasional sacrifice of family time. And while I would never say that regularly choosing work over family is the way to go, it's not a bad lesson for children to see their parents working hard to provide for them and understanding that money doesn't just magically grow on trees. To say it's "a powerful career or your family" is a hugh oversimplification.

(2) Alison, April 11, 2013 2:27 PM

I agree with Anonymous

It seems to me that Pres. Obama should be commended for trying to keep his family life intact as much as possible. Especially as there is much press right now about the home/work balance. I share the same view as above that if this were a Republican president, he would be cheered for upholding his family values.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment