Dear Dr. Bill: For the past several years, my husband has been going to school full-time and working full-time in a start-up ministry. As a result, he hasn't had much time to spend with our two sons, ages 5 and 8. Now my husband wants to get his Master's degree and I'm concerned that he'll have even less time for our family.
Our sons have started complaining about their Dad's schedule — he's always too busy, and the only interaction he has with them is church or disciplining them. When we've talked about how the kids and I feel, my husband's response is, "I'll have more time when school is out." What can we do or tell him so he'll squeeze an extra 30 minutes out of his busy schedule?
Your husband doesn't need to squeeze an extra 30 minutes out of his schedule -- he needs to re-prioritize his life. Many men find a large part of their feeling of worth through their work. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless it begins to interfere with their relationship with God and their relationship with their family. From the way you describe your husband, he may have workaholic tendencies, and this can wreak havoc on a family.
It sounds like your husband is a committed Christian. Well, the Bible is very clear about how believers are to order their lives. We are commanded to put God first, our spouse second, our children third, and then our work, education, hobbies, etc. Individuals who are involved in ministry sometimes confuse their ministry with their relationship with God. They "spiritualize" things and justify shortchanging their families because they are doing "the Lord's work." But family commitments should always take precedence over ministry involvement.
Your sons are at a critical time in their development and they need regular time with their dad. Twenty years ago, experts used to think what was important was the "quality" time we spend with our kids. We now know they were wrong; kids need both quality and quantity time. In fact, it's impossible to have a quality relationship with our children without committing a large quantity of our time to them.
Your husband's desire to earn his master's degree is commendable. But graduate degrees can be completed part-time, taking one or two classes per semester. I know, several of my friends have earned their masters or doctorates in this way. It may take a while to finish, but no degree or job is worth sacrificing your children for. Remember the song "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin? Your husband may turn around in 10 years and realize his sons are strangers and that they have no interest in a relationship with him. Tina, I'll be honest with you, if your husband is a driven individual who is prone to workaholism, he's not going to change overnight. He's going to need to be held accountable by an older mentor or a group of Christian men who can help him keep his priorities straight. If you discuss this issue with him and he is inflexible or defensive, then family counseling may be the next step.
In the meantime, let me recommend an excellent resources from Focus on the Family that you may find helpful, titled Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson.