By Doug Gertner
Like a walk on a high wire or an advanced yoga pose, the challenge of balancing our work and family life keeps most fathers on our toes. During my regular workshops with soon-to-be first-time fathers, their top concern is time management after their child arrives. As men we tend to identify closely with our paid work, and our important role as breadwinner comes most naturally to many of us. The idea of adding the time and responsibilities of an active, involved father is enough to throw off our already delicate balance and create new stress in an already hectic schedule.
So how can dads create the necessary time for our family life and still rise to meet the many demands of our other job?
The Daddy Balance begins with a moment or two of reflection. Ask yourself some obvious yet often neglected questions such as:
What have been some of my greatest moments of happiness and fulfillment? What activities do I enjoy most and find most fulfilling in my professional/work life? What are the activities of most worth in my personal life? If I were to do one thing in my professional/work life that would have the most positive impact, what would that be? If I were to do one thing in my personal/family life that would have the most positive impact, what would that be? What matters most to me and how can I ensure that this remains central in my life?
If you are like most dads I know, the bottom line becomes spending time with family while still meeting career expectations and aspirations. To do this, it may be necessary to clarify and prioritize each aspect of work and family more fully. Some suggestions:
Can work hours be altered to permit more time at home and school, with partner and children, and to still accomplish work tasks at other times?
Might you climb the career ladder at a slightly slower pace during the years when your children are younger, knowing that you can get back on track in the future?
If higher education is part of the equation for your career advancement, can you spread out the coursework over a longer time period knowing that your degree will still be granted when all of the courses are complete?
If you travel for work, have you considered combining business and family trips by taking them along when you go? Most hotels have a swimming pool and there may be other attractions at your destination to amuse the family while you are with clients, and you can join the fun in the evening and before and after your meetings.
Where are you most needed at home and work and how can you be there?
Can you imagine a life that is balanced with all of the time you’d like to spend with your family and enough time spent working to meet your financial needs? As the saying goes “Anything is possible, that wishing makes it so,” and the first step is knowing how you want things to be and then to take the first steps to create it.
Who do you know that seems to have a more balanced life than you? Notice how they manage to ‘do it all’ and ask them for any suggestions and ideas to get the most out of work and family time.
Some excellent tips for creating ‘daddy balance’ may be found in the book Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family by James A. Levine and Todd L. Pittinsky (Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1997).
Whoever said “you can’t have it all” was not looking at life from a positive, clear, and planful perspective. By clarifying what’s most important in our lives, and reflecting on how we have learned to get our deepest values and needs met, it is possible to move toward leading a life that is at once well-balanced, satisfying, and also highly productive in all aspects of our lives, including work, family, and community.
Fathers shoulder the responsibility of providing for and protecting their families. Everyone looks to dad for support – both financial and emotional – and dads deliver. Fathers seldom take the time to look at what’s most important in our lives in order to maximize the joy that comes from being an involved dad and a success on our own terms. In the words of Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”