Submitted by the 40 daddy
While it’s common to discuss the merits of the Family/Career balance, I actually feel healthier when I focus on the Family/Career/Passion balance.
At a high level I define these as follows:
-- Family time is spent with my children and spouse; all of us together as well as time alone with my spouse.
-- Career provides my source of income…obviously.
-- Passion The collection of activities and hobbies that bring me joy.
Family obviously consumes the greatest share of time, as it should. Kids wake up and need to be coaxed back to sleep, they need food (so needy ;), want to play, and get sick. (And those little germ factories will get you sick!) We all know the drill. It takes a lot of time to raise kids.
But it’s easy to forget what I consider to be a critical component of family time: I call this “spousing”. (Is spousing a word? I’m not sure, but it wasn’t autocorrected so let’s add it to the lexicon.) And while Netflix is technically shared time together, it’s not really enough. We make time to talk for at least 10-15 minutes before Netflix. (We have so much free time!) We take walks together (e.g. we go down to the basement to look at what needs to be repaired or walk over to the garage to discuss the strange pool of liquid under the car). We try to go out for dinner together every few weeks too. (At least when our parents are in town, and there are plenty of diapers and breastmilk on hand. And the emergency numbers are up-to-date on the fridge. And you’ve conveyed which snacks are okay and which stuffed animals should always be near which blankies. And … ok fine we’ve only done this twice in three years.) It might end up only being 10-15 minutes, but we try to have “non-child-based" conversations …
Career takes almost as much time as family. We all know you gotta pay the bills.
Many employers will say they respect the demands of parenting, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Some of my previous co-workers (and managers) didn’t have children and didn’t truly understand the demands they present. To be fair, how could they possibly understand? I know that I didn’t fully understand them until I took the plunge.
I’ve always been open about my family obligations. I try to manage expectations about my work through clear communication. I’m also careful about the spacing of large projects that require a lot of time and attention (e.g. long days, weekend work, fast responses times). One trick I use is to be sure to include often overlooked tasks within my full-time schedule. (i.e. I schedule blocks of time for mundane activities like administrative work and supporting teammates.) This provides me with a bit of a buffer so when I’m not in the middle of a critical project I can often arrive a little later, or go home a little earlier, and shut off my phone for the weekend.
When I strike that clear, well-defined balance, it helps with my morale at home and at work, it enables me to spend plenty of time with my family and on my career, and feels like I’m contributing in both roles.
For me, it’s crucial that I also make some time to pursue my passions. Sometimes it’s guitar, sometimes it’s writing, sometimes it’s carpentry, or rehearsing a theater piece.
I find it hardest to make time for these things. Several nights of broken sleep aren’t great motivators for waking up early to write the next Game of Thrones. If we don’t get all the kids asleep until 9:30 pm, I don’t have enough energy left to break out the guitar or get the table saw running. Standard home maintenance tasks like sweeping, dishes, groceries, and laundry can easily consume all of our time during a weekend … That makes a beer and Hulu feel like the most peaceful way to spend my cherished down time.
I’ve managed to carve out some time for these activities in several ways. I hustle the kids out a little earlier than normal so I’m at my desk 30-45 minutes before I’m needed. Or I pack food, kill the Internet, and put on head phones during my lunch break. My wife and I will swap out time on the weekends so she can take a yoga class on Saturday and I can go for a run on Sunday.
Time for ourselves and our passions does wonders for my wife and me.
I feel lucky in many ways. I started a family later than many; just after I turned 40. That gave me 20 years to play around, screw up, try and reject jobs, learn to live without much money, and then land a career that I enjoy and really establish myself. By the time my kids were born I’d developed a strong reputation, a large industry network, and marketable skillsets. This stability means that my career enables me to spend a reasonable amount of time with my family.
I also have a strong partner with a career and passions of her own that I actively support, and on occasion I make sacrifices to help her accomplish her goals. We have each focused on each other’s careers and needs as much as, if not more, than our own. For us this is hugely valuable; doing everything we can to support each other’s careers. At different times, one career or the other takes precedence. Sometimes only one of us is intensely pursuing a passion or career, and if a balance isn’t struck it can lead to stresses in the relationship.
Just recently I reached a point where I am able to trim back my career, which I love, to make a bit more time for family as well as passions that could lead to a secondary career. It’s taken 20 years to reach this point, and it still feels like a risk. We’ll see what happens.
I feel strongly that my deathbed memories will not be focused on my careers and hours worked, but instead will focus on our family and the passions we pursued. I’m working on making sure I have lots of great deathbed memories. (As morbid as that sounds as I write it.)
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