The topic of balancing career and children is mostly talked about in mom circles. The term ”working mom” has become commonplace because of the shifting societal conventions that now encourage women to earn money and find self-fulfillment. The other side of that, however, is the constant need to explain how you can be both a good mom and have a career. Somehow, working dads escaped that trap. We got it easy. We can take the kids for an outing on the weekend and be showered with praise – as if it’s enough to remember that we even have kids.
As a dad you’re free to have a career, work late, travel, and do it all under the pretense of feeding your family. The pressure to do more dad stuff is fairly light. Parenting is not a hobby, though, and you do not babysit your own kids This leaves us, dads, with a great opportunity: To be better.
The Most Important Job a Working-Dad Can Have
If you’re still under the impression that your job is important, it’s time for you to rethink your priorities.
Your job may pay the bills, but unless you’re curing cancer or ending world hunger, the odds are that it in no way compares to your responsibilities as a father.
The difference you can make in the world as a dad is incredible, as are the rewards. You will be amazed by what you’ll learn as a father, and by what your children can accomplish on their own. Still, your children can accomplish so much more with your support and guidance – your role should not be optional.
If your child senses disinterest from you, they will instinctively reflect that back on themselves, believing that your unavailability was their fault.
This is just how it is and you don’t need a psychiatrist to tell you that. But, this is the last guilt trip, I promise. The purpose of being an active father is not to avoid guilt, but to have rich and interesting experiences which will leave you feeling happier and more fulfilled.
The idea is that any minute you spend paying positive attention to your kids is money in the universal bank of amazing things.
No need to be perfect, or even close
If you have babies or toddlers, good: they don’t know your faults yet and you can have a fresh start. But if you have older kids, they are already onto you. They may pretend to understand that you have to travel or work overtime, but they are not buying it. If you are aware of your own mistakes and bad habits, should you give up? Is it too late? Of course not.
My father and I only discussed our relationship for the first time when I was thirty. It was not too late. We are now great friends, and while some holes are there, we do not have that on our heads.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking of all the things you could do differently. All you have to be is a bit better than last week. Get in the mindset that being a dad is awesome, for your kids and for you.
What you want, What you need, and What your kids need
When thinking about your kids, you need to distinguish between needs and wants. The only things that you and your children really need are food, water, shelter, and love. Chances are, anything else is just a “want,” meant to give you an ego boost. Sure, you need a car to get around and go to work, but do you need two? Do you need a car that costs you that much a month? Do you need a house that costs you that much? This is not mentioned to induce guilt, only to put things in perspective.
Imagine if you were to tell your kids: “Dad has to work so that we can keep our current lifestyle.” They would almost certainly counter with: “Well, why don’t you get rid of your luxury car so we can spend more time together?”It’s all about priorities, and priorities are about perspective. Perspective and priorities then turn what seemed to be a huge sacrifice just a short time ago into a perfect decision, changing more stuff to more important stuff.
I was lucky. At age 25 I had a $60K/year job. It was comfortable. We owned a house, my daughter was a year old, and my committed wife was at home with her.
It was then that Johanne, my wife, asked me to quit my job and come work at home. I went from “ARE YOU NUTS?” to: “Sure, I’ll give my notice tomorrow” in a matter of an afternoon. I just trusted that it would be great. We look back at that as the turning point of our life. The day our income dropped in half and our promise to our little girl and to the universe started to be fulfilled. I can’t take responsibility for it, but I did do my part. Small sacrifices must be made, but don’t have to be hard – I didn’t buy my first car until I was 42 and am not any worse off for it.
The quality time fallacy
So you think you can condense time you have with your kids into one happy, specific time? Sort of like eating all of your veggies in a huge smoothie once a week? Sorry – it doesn’t work that way. There is no such thing as quality time. Sure, a good time is better than a crappy time, but you can only have quality time after you have put in a lot of quantity time. A lot of get-to-know-each-other time. We’re grownups, let’s just say it like it is.
A new day!
Awareness dawns on us in the most unexpected ways. Let it. Allow it to guide you. Allow it to show you how to make changes whose impact will reinvigorate your sense of purpose.
Parenting is a subconscious part of your life. Many things you do or don’t do are for reasons that are buried deep within you. Observe them. Admit you’re flawed and be determined to correct but one little thing. One thing that will make you 1% better at being a dad. The appreciation you will get will pave the way for more.
The day you had your first child, the purpose of your life has been rerouted. Follow it.
It just may be the best thing you have ever done.
Hanaan Rosenthal is author of How to Lose Your Mind in No Time and Founder of Custom Flow Solutions, a tech company with clients including Reuters and New York Times. He is an inspirational speaker, runner, happily married with two children, and lives an active, anxiety-free life.