Think About It - Choosing to cheat: Balancing work and family

Don Meyer, Ph.D.
Don Meyer, Ph.D.

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” - Goethe

Every now and then I come across a book that speaks to the things that really matter in life. Choosing to Cheat (2002) by Andy Stanley is such a book. Most of us struggle with the balance between work and family. The tug of war can be relentless.

Stanley was warned that this title for his book might scare people off. To cheat usually describes negative connotations. In his words, “Students cheat in school. Adults cheat on their income taxes. Husbands cheat on their wives. Most of us have cheated in a card game or two.”

But he stayed with this title because, as he says, “When we cheat, we choose to give up one thing in hopes of gaining something else of greater value.” And that is the thesis of his book.


Stanley reminds the reader, “Everybody cheats. This principle is already in your life one way or another. When you put it to work for you, it has the power to transform every facet of your life.”

At the center of this dilemma is the holy tension between work and family. Whether we just started a new job and we are trying to make our mark, or we are hiring and mentoring new hires as a veteran employee, work obligations can be all-consuming. Whether we are rocking our first child in the middle of the night or we are holding our first grandchild in our sunset years, family obligations can be all-consuming. How do we keep them in balance?

According to Stanley, “If you stayed at work until everything was finished... If you took advantage of every opportunity that came your way... If you sought out every angle to maximize your abilities, improve your skills, and advance your career... You would never go home.”

On the other hand, he also says, “If you stayed at home until every ounce of affection was poured out in all the appropriate places... If you kept giving until every emotional need was met... If you did every chore, finished the ‘honey do’ list, and did everything necessary to ensure that everyone felt loved... You would never make it to work.”

And, “If you are a parent, you know that kids alone could command every waking hour if you let them. Add to that your fitness goals, hobbies and friendships. The list is endless and so are the time requirements.”

Stanley goes on to say the problem is not discipline, organization, schedule or even the huge demands of work or family. Each of us must establish the priorities and values that matter most to us and then “choose to cheat” in order to honor those priorities. Too many business people sacrifice too much at work and come home to a large, empty house vacated by a family that just couldn’t take it anymore.

Years ago, I was in the middle of my doctoral program at the University of Minnesota. Our sons, Darin and Kevin, were in high school. Across from our house was a small park with a tennis court. I will never forget the times they asked, “Dad, can we go play tennis?” All around me were piles of books. I was in the middle of my research. I wanted to finish in five years.

I will never regret the decisions to play tennis. We still talk about it. Even though it took me eight years to get my degree, does it really matter today? Today my sons no longer ask me to play tennis. They are 46 and 44 years old and they live in Minnesota. That season will never return.

As Stephen R. Covey said, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of the University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, PA. Responses can be e-mailed to Official page: Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer. Archives at: