Balancing Photography and Family

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Lots of people ask me how I balance photography and family. I’ll tell you this. It isn’t easy. Some days I have so much to do that I forget to eat lunch. Some days, I’m so tired that I can’t focus on what I’m writing. But most days, I do ok… and it’s hard to complain when you have such awesome kids – and a great job, too. The trick to getting everything done is pretty simple, actually. For me, it’s all about focus and flexibility.

Wednesday evening – 4:15 pm – I’ll drive the kids to the dojo for a short practice before class begins at 5. Then, I’ll leave three kids at the dojo for classes and head back home to prepare dinner. While dinner is cooking, I’ll drive back to the dojo to pick up the 10-year-old after Advanced Class, and take him to basketball practice. And then back to the Dojo once again to pick up the 12-year-old after Black Belt Club. I’ll take her back home and let her eat dinner with her big sister. Spaghetti for dinner – Yum! And then, I’ll head back to the dojo one more time – to pick up my 17-year-old after his Instructor Class. He’ll eat his dinner at home, and then I’m off to pick up the 10-year-old now that basketball practice is finished. He still needs his dinner – and then I’ve got to get everyone off to bed. And that’s just the evening…

The morning is busy with getting the kids out the door – we’re up at 5:45 am. And once they’re all at school, I’m busy with photography stuff – an online meeting, preparing a couple of blog posts, recording audio for an instructional video, putting the finishing touches on a presentation, doing some research for an upcoming trip, maybe even processing an image or two.

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When the kids are home, they’re my first priority. I walk away from the computer and put my attention on them. I help with homework, and play board games, and help them practice martial arts or basketball or whatever they need. I find that if I’m trying to focus on work and the kids want my attention too, I get frustrated. And with lots of kids around, it’s not realistic to expect that I won’t be interrupted every few minutes. So, instead of putting myself in a position where I would feel frustrated, I shift my attention completely. When the kids walk in the door, I belong to them. I try not to schedule meetings for times when my kids are at home and awake. I don’t do presentations in the afternoons or on weekends. Nope. Those times belong to the kids. Period.

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And when they walk out the door in the morning to get on the school bus, I shift my attention to work. Maybe I’m not as productive as I could be. I suppose I could get more done if I spent more time working, rather than talking and laughing with my kids. But why would I want to do that? :)

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Honestly, the hardest part of all this is just keeping track of everyone’s schedules. I always have one eye on the clock – and I sometimes worry that I’ll forget someone somewhere. (Does every parent worry about that?) Every day is different, so I have to be ready to turn on a dime. Somebody forgot their homework. Someone wants to go visit a friend. Someone has outgrown their shoes. Everyone needs a trip to the dentist… It never ends. But don’t worry. I’m not complaining. I have my calendar synced to my computer and my phone, and I set an alarm when I’m likely to forget something. I thrive on keeping busy during the week, and I try to use my weekends to re-charge. We might spend a few hours working on a fun project (we built a cool little robot named Picasso a few weeks ago), or we’ll go to the Science museum, or go for a walk in the woods. We like to have cookouts and go hiking and exploring in the woods – or swimming in the rivers if its warm enough. By Monday, I’m ready to get back to work, and we start all over again!

It’s tough to balance everything. No doubt about it. But it’s a challenge I thoroughly enjoy.

5 replies
  1. Ron
    Ron says:

    Varina,
    This is a fantastic post! Bravo!! I applaud your ethic of family first. It would be so easy to be a workaholic and neglect your family, but as you said so well, “Why would I want to do that?” Thanks for sharing this!
    Ron

    Reply
  2. Stephen DesRoches
    Stephen DesRoches says:

    Exhausted just reading this but you’re kind of describing a week day desk job with no mention of actually creating new work. ;-) My first daughter is now 8 weeks old and I have been trying to nail down how to successfully manage everything. For me, photography happens outside of the week day desk job and highly conflicts with family time. I hope to figure this out before I’m doing all of those activity drop offs and pick ups that you describe.

    Reply
    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      :) Good point, Stephen. When we’re on location, everything changes. We are focused 100% on photography when we travel. Then, when we return the focus shifts to the kids once again. Traveling gives us a chance to do what we love to do (photography), and create new work – and it has the added benefit of giving us a break from the whirlwind of everyday life. We come back feeling great, and we’re happy to be back home with the kids.

      Reply
      • Stephen
        Stephen says:

        Revisiting this post and still learning 10 months later. Do you always travel with the kids or make child care arrangements at home when you’re off for a week or two?

        Reply

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