Family obligations Featured

9:32am EDT July 22, 2002

Running a business is difficult. The pressures on time and money can be extreme, and there is always the looming possibility of failure.

Add to this the needs of your children and elderly parents and you have a situation that is putting a strain on your sanity.

"People have to determine where their values are," says Shirley Duncan Garrett, a professional speaker and author on the issue of finding balance in your life. "Look at your checkbook and your calendar to see where you are putting your values. If you value family, then you need to create family time."

Garrett recommends picking one night a week, preferably Sunday to minimize conflicts, that will become a time for a ritual get-together. You can invite other adult friends and the children can invite a few friends as well, so you get to know their friends and they get to know yours.

"It can be something as simple as preparing and enjoying a meal together," says Garrett. "Don't make it too complicated, but don't just sit down and watch television, either. Play cards or board games. Don't make a big production out of the meal. People try to run their house like it's a business.

"It's not that big a deal. Just sit at a table and face each other and open up a time for some dialogue."

The family night chosen should become sacred. That means turning off cell phones and pagers and planning other activities around it.

Another issue that is becoming increasingly common is dealing with elderly parents.

"Most people have this belief that their parents aren't going to get old," says Garrett. "They think their responsibilities will be limited to talking to them on the phone on occasion and seeing them on holidays, then one day they will have a heart attack and you'll miss them. But as they age, they will have more and more needs."

It is important for you to become an advocate for your parents to make sure they are getting the best care. Ideally, you should talk to them while they are still well to find out what their wishes are

"Talk honestly about what you are capable of doing to help," says Garrett. "It's easy to make promises not to put them in a nursing home, but the level of care they need may require that. It's also important to understand their finances and insurance coverage."

A clear set of plans laid out in advance of any health concerns will help take care of problems, especially because this is a time when sibling rivalry or pecking order can come into play.

"To broach the topic, say, 'I am concerned about making sure that things are handled in a way that you want them to be handled,'" says Garrett. "Ask your parents if they have made arrangements in case they become ill, including living wills.

"The hardest thing about this is it is one area of our lives that we can't put off. You can't put off being with children, because you'll turn around and they'll be grown and gone. You can't say, 'Once I get my company to this level, I'm taking my parents on a vacation.' By the time you get there, they may be gone," she says.

"And if you can't find the time, maybe you need to look at why the business is controlling your life and carve our more time for yourself." How to reach: Shirley Garrett, www.shirleygarrett.com

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN's special reports editor.