As if anyone didn’t already know this, America’s esteemed Pew Research Center relates that half of working parents find balancing work and life responsibilities either “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult.” Even sadder, 46 percent of fathers in the study report they spend “too little” time with their children.
Fathers need time with their children in order to feel whole and full in their family relationships. Time spent with children is one of the most entertaining and enriching activities available to us. As Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told his hometown paper, The Jaynesville Gazette, this past summer, his time at home with family is “his oxygen,” the thing that both drives and centers him.
We wholeheartedly encourage fathers to devote as much time to their children as possible. It’s good for everyone, including the ex-spouse. Use these ideas seasoned single dads rely on to balance work and life.
1. Create a schedule and share it with your boss and coworkers.
While creating your parenting plan with your co-parent, share your options with your boss and coworkers and ask them to approve ideal hours for you. Once the parenting plan is in place and running, make sure to stick to it from the beginning. If the boss says you need to be at a meeting outside of these hours, mention that you’re fully available from 8:30 to 5:30 only.
Soften the blow by offering to get the meeting notes from another person on your team or have other options on the ready. Plan the scenario and your response in your mind so it flows naturally when the situation comes up. Setting these limits early on helps everyone adjust.
2. Make your identity as an involved father clear at work.
In an interview with NPR, working dad Corey Dade laments the fact that people don’t really ask about his children at work. He’s seen women get phone calls during meetings and leave with no repercussions. He wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing that.
To make your role as a father plain, find opportunities to discuss what your children are doing; share what they showed you on YouTube or even the struggles of parenting. When coworkers and supervisors get used to your parental responsibilities, the occasional work-from-home sick day or early departure due to a recital goes over more smoothly.
This said, however, don’t fall into the trap of portraying yourself as dad-the-martyr. Don’t jockey for praise about being an involved dad. Most dads these days handle their share of the parenting duties because their ex-partners work part- or full-time, and because they want to have an involved hand in raising their children. Single parenting men and women sometimes present themselves as long-suffering, and it only turns colleagues and bosses off. Be positive about your parenting duties, but don’t paint yourself as a hero for carrying them out.
3. If your job isn’t going to work with a reasonable parenting schedule, find a new job.
In their book The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn and Flourish, pediatricians and long-time child advocates Drs. Berry Brazelton and Stanly Greenspan lay out seven needs that parenting gurus and parents cannot explain away. Number one is the need for on-going, nurturing relationships. Number five is the need for limit-setting, structure and expectations. Number seven is the need for stable, supportive communities and cultural identity.
While all seven require substantial time investment, just listing these three should convey the energy and time children require. Discipline is exhausting, as any parent will tell you. Setting limits requires creation of those limits and the application of consequences when they are crossed. And yet, children need it and even crave it. Setting up a reasonable discipline program is one of the best things you can do for a child.
Creating friendships in the community and cultural identity involves significant time spent socializing and planning. Friendships wither and die when not tended to. A 60 to 70 hour workweek does not mesh with a parenting style and schedule that provides a child’s basic needs.
This means that fathers determined to be an active presence in their children’s lives may consider down-sizing their job. Some fathers move from work as a partner in a busy law firm to being the in-house counsel at a smaller business. Teachers go to job sharing. Sales people with 100,000 yearly airline travel miles switch to in-office positions or even marketing or customer service. There is no shame in letting others “get ahead” for a few years while you raise decent and happy human beings. Besides going to the zoo and on hikes is fun and expands you as a person.
4. Find sources of help.
When the divorce first occurs, friends and family draw close asking if there’s anything they can do. Too many single fathers put on a brave face and say, “we’re going to do just fine on our own.” While this is a great message to send the children, keep in mind that many friends, relatives and even acquaintances, may want to play a larger role in your and your children’s lives. A little outside help does not indicate weakness. It shows you’re working to take care of your children’s needs in a responsible way.
If you don’t have friends and relatives close by and/or willing to pitch in, you will need to build your support community. The good news is that America is moving into “the sharing economy,” where community is valued over the size of the house or job title. There’s even a non-profit working to move Americans to more of a focus on family and community rather than material possessions.
The Center for a New American Dream’s Collaborative Communities program helps people engage in their neighborhoods to share resources and tackle projects together. Swapping your availability to take a neighbor child to her soccer game every other weekend could win you a ride home from school and babysitting for the afternoon from a part-time working parent. Kids need to get together and play outside, using their large motor skills anyway. Connecting via video games is one way to be social, but the cul-de-sac basketball pick up game is just as fun.
The good news is that the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends reports also found that Fathers have nearly tripled their time with children since 1965. If you make your children a priority and are willing to shift your life around, you can find the right balance for you, and your kids.
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