Work and Fatherhood: A Two Year Reflection – Part 2 of 2
Fathersaurus Note: This is the second post of my ‘Balancing Work and Fatherhood’ mini-series. To see the first post of this series, click here.
In my last post I mentioned, what I refer to as, a patience cup. An imaginary cup of patience that the people in your life regularly sip from. A cup in which you regularly replenish by drinking, working out, or hiding in the restroom for long periods of time [unless you have a nanny, then you live the good life and I can’t imagine the types of problems you have – and yes, I’m jealous]. Understanding how full/large your patience cup is helps you manage your day-to-day interactions with people [mine has been particularly low lately], but what about when you have to choose between work and your child? Well…that’s another struggle altogether, and, while it may be career limiting, I always choose my child [reluctantly].
Ever since TRex started attending daycare, I’ve had to adjust my work schedule to enable two things: morning drop off AND making sure I get home in time to eat dinner with him. Basically what this means is I get in to work a bit later than I’d like to, and I leave work a bit earlier than I’d like to as well. I’ll then work more once TRex goes to bed. That’s the price of flexibility.
Some other details so you have the full picture: I’m a Product Manager and most of my team is international. Other than being in the office to attend face-to-face meetings, I can do most of my job can be done virtually. I’m also blessed, and grateful, that my employer recognizes we, the company’s employees, tend to work around the clock anyway. In return for working our hectic schedules, they provide us the autonomy and freedom to manage our own time in whatever manner we see fit.
For the past month or so [basically ever since TRex could form a sentence], on the rare occasion I’m working before he goes to sleep, or if I’m working on the weekend [generally Sunday], whenever I’m working in the same room as TRex [which is always because I don’t have an office], I have roughly 5-10 minutes before he comes over and hits me with the Salem Witch style interrogation.
What Happens Next
Simultaneously, while asking his day-changing question, TRex will grab my finger with his germ-crusted hand and attempt to lead me away from my computer. My biggest fear during this tug-of-war is that he’ll let go of my finger, and go tumbling into whatever minefield he’s strategically placed in ‘his’ play area.
Now, one of two things happens:
- I’ll ask him to wait a few minutes so I can wrap up whatever it is I happen to be doing and as much of a terror as I make him out to be, he’s sometimes pretty patient and this ask buys me some time. After a few minutes he’ll come back, crawl into my lap, and then try to close my computer himself. I’m proud of his assertiveness. However, I feel guilty.
- I look at him, and feel immediate guilt for not being able to play with him when he wants, and as a Dad, I should be able to afford him that.
In both scenarios I end up playing with him. Yes, he’s good at self-play, and I direct him in that direction as much as I can, but in the above cases I feel too guilty. At the same time though, I also feel guilty for not being able to fully-focus on whatever I’m doing for work: removing blockers, guiding products, and general team enablement.
So what’s a parent to do?
Three Things Every Work Parent Should Internalize
Pay the Admission Cost
No matter what you choose, there’s a cost to your decision. If you choose to work, the cost is maybe, just maybe, you hurt your child’s feelings and they hold it against you and do tons of drugs when they get older. Or maybe you miss out on the opportunity to teach them how to throw a ball properly, so instead they learn how to throw from some kid at daycare who can’t really throw, and you can throw any professional sport dreams out the window.
Conversely, maybe you end up teaching your child how to put together a few Legos/Duplos, they grow up to be a famous architect, but your project ends up failing because you didn’t get an email out in time. Or maybe you teach your child how to add some numbers together and they go on to win the Nobel Prize, but because you lost your work-train-of-thought you fail to notice a detail that ends up delaying your promotion.
Obviously, hopefully, these are extreme examples, but the takeaway here is that you really need to understand what’s at stake when deciding one over the other.
Understand that You’re Probably Not that Important
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that our work is more important than it actually is. The trap of – wanting to be on all the projects because we know all the answers; or the trap of – wanting to be involved with all the meetings so everyone knows our names [I don’t know how you meeting harlots do it]. When in all reality, you’re probably just spreading yourself too thin and you, your actual work output, and your work-life balance would be better served dialing back a bit.
Once you get past your own ego, which is easier said than done, some work-balance decisions are a lot easier to make. Do I really need to be in this meeting when I could be working on X instead – because if I finish X I won’t have to take work home. Is it really necessary to be part of project AlphaBravo when I already have so many on my plate?
Discover what you’re important for [one of those is being a parent] and prioritize those things above the superfluous. Don’t throw away your ambition, just channel it better and maybe you’ll be able to free up more time.
When Working From Home, Practice Extreme Efficiency
Lastly, and this is something I still struggle with, practice extreme efficiency. At it’s core, the idea is very simple: when you’re working, whether it be at home or the office, know exactly what you want to do and understand that your time is very limited.
You will be most productive when your child is sleeping. That’s obvious. So, if your child takes a one hour nap, you have exactly one hour to do whatever it is you need to do. So in order to take advantage of this one hour:
- Know exactly what you need to do and have everything ready: nothing is a bigger timesuck than having to go find your computer, or boil a pot of water for coffee. Prep before you put your child down to nap, and have a mental plan in your head. Don’t deviate. You want to save any decision making/brain power for the tasks ahead.
- Don’t context switch: there is nothing in your phone more important than what you need to do right now. Those memes on your Facebook will still be there in an hour, and Reddit won’t have changed all that much. Trust me.
- Make sure your spouse knows you’re working: set expectation that you won’t be doing anything helpful around the house during this quite time. Duh.
- Select the right tasks for the timeframe: your child may wake up early, or may not even sleep, so protect yourself and save some frustration by picking tasks that can be done during that timeframe OR tasks that you can stop midway without losing a lot of momentum. Your goal isn’t to build a proverbial house while your child is sleeping; your goal is to lay a few bricks.
Won’t Someone Please Think of The Children!
In case it’s not clear, balancing parenting and career/work is one of the more difficult things to do – especially when your children are young. There’s no right answer, and if you skew one way more than the other, then you keep doing you. Do what’s best for your family – whatever that is.
BUT – if you ever find yourself conflicted, and thinking to yourself ‘Oh, maybe I should send one more email, my child won’t know the difference‘, I’d like to leave you with two anecdotes:
- TRex knows that if I’m on my phone I’m probably checking email or responding to a message. When he really wants to play he’ll take my phone from me and run.
- He also knows that when I’m on my computer I am working. Just yesterday he pointed at my computer and said ‘Baba work’, then went to go get his toy lap top and said ‘TRex [he used his own name] work’, and sat next to me.
Kids know yo.