What I Want My Son to Learn About Work and Family (part 3): Family First
Our job as fathers is to equip our children to have productive, happy and meaningful lives. The best way to do so is by role-modeling the values, priorities and actions we hope they will aspire to.
I hope I can role-model work-family priorities for Nick as well as my father did for me
Someday, and sooner than we think, my Nick (and your kids) will be making choices about their careers, marriages and families. When the time comes, I hope Nick will:
Choose a career that makes enough money for his life to be comfortable and so he can take care of his future family.
Choose a career he enjoys, finds interesting and meaningful, and through which he can make a larger contribution.
Understand the importance of balancing his career with that of his future life partner
Understand the relative importance of work and family while having a balanced set of priorities.
In the prior articles, I focused on the first three bullet points, Today, I’ll focus on the fourth.
One day, I hope Nick will be a father, and while I want him to value his own (part 1) and his spouse’s career (part 2), I really want him to know that family comes first. As in the case of the other lessons I’ve discussed, this is not a lesson that is taught effectively through words. I hope that, by seeing how I try to juggle work and family, he sees a role model for himself- just like I did when observing my father. This article is much more about my father than it is about me.
4. Work has its place, but is never more important than family
My father worked for many years in important capacities for the Office of Child and Family Services of New York State. His job was demanding, and very important- helping troubled kids and getting them back on the right track (see part 1 about choosing important work that can make a difference- yet another lesson from my dad). For several years, he ran a number of juvenile delinquent group homes around NYC and was on call 24/7 in case of emergencies.
But my father (you can read his perspective here) was a very active, involved dad. He supported my mother as she went to college and grad school part time and became a teacher. He managed my little league teams, and we regularly took family vacations. He made a good enough living, but we would never be considered rich.
But I had all I needed- no matter how demanding or inconvenient his work, I knew my dad was there for me. He never had to tell me about his work-family priorities. His actions made them very clear.
I am lucky to have had a great role model. I hope I can be the same for Nick. I try to signal the importance of family through my actions (it’s the least a “champion of work-family balance” 😉 can do). My flexible job gives me the opportunity to arrange my schedule to spend a lot of time with Nick; in that, I know I am far more fortunate than most dads.
But I have definitely turned down opportunities so that I could be present for Amy and Nick- no more teaching in FDU’s executive MBA programs, I limit my consulting and other work opportunities, fewer conferences and professional networking events, etc.
While I’m not the coach, I help out with Nick’s little league teams, and try to spend as much unstructured time with him as I can. Wii LEGO Star Wars, backyard light-saber battles, bike rides, pretending to have an interest in Minecraft, doing everyday errands with him, just hanging out and talking- these are all parts of my everyday. I fight the impulse (although I sometimes fail) to let work time bleed into family time and get sucked into work through emails and smartphones. Everyday time is so important.
I try to spend quantities of quality time with my boy.
I try to put work aside during family time.
I am trying to build a childhood of memories for Nick in which he will remember the unconditional love of his dad.
I try to be a good role model. Especially for the values I feel are important.
I sometimes fail. Life and work sometimes get in the way. I don’t always succeed.
None of us can. But we can all try. And the trying is the most important part. Most of all, I hope Nick sees that I am trying. If so, I think he may absorb these lessons.
I hope Nick becomes a better Dad than Vader (he’s already a better son than Boba ever was)
I think if we are asking the right questions, pursuing the right goals, and are mindful about how our actions will be perceived by our children, we are doing the most important work of being good fathers. And I can’t think of a better thing to be.
That’s why I write this blog. I hope that in some small way, by raising these issues and starting a conversation with my fellow involved dads, we can all make more mindful choices as we juggle work and family- and that dads and their families will, in some way, benefit from the conversation. Thanks for reading.
I’ll finish off with a quote from the genius Jim Henson:
The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from, more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. –Jim Henson
How do you teach and role-model for your kids about the importance of work-family balance? How have your father’s actions shaped you? Let’s discuss in the comments section.