My partner recently told me I was a good dad. My first thought when she said it was – ‘not really.’ At the time I had been feeling like a pretty mediocre dad.
I started a new job a couple of months ago and it is a great job that I really enjoy. It is especially great coming after a year of precarious employment and financial instability that followed me getting fired from a job I wasn’t enjoying. It does however have a downside.
Scheduling work and life
I have been fortunate in that for most of the last ten years I have had jobs that came with very flexible schedules. I was either a remote worker or had an employer that promoted working from home. I was able to work from home on a regular basis. I set and shifted my work schedule to suit our family needs. This also enabled me to take on the primary role of getting the kids up in the morning and off to school.
In my new role I am managing people and that makes it harder to work from home. I leave earlier in the morning so that I can come home at a reasonable time for dinner with my family. That means that other than making breakfast and school lunches, I am not very involved in the morning routine anymore. Some days the girls delay coming down for breakfast for so long that I only see them for a few minutes before I leave for work.
I feel disconnected in the mornings. Mornings used to be my exclusive time with the kids. I enjoyed the morning routines and walking with my kids to school. Now my primary focus is on getting everything done so that I can catch the bus I need to get to work. I am so focused on getting everything ready for everyone that it is hard for me to also engage in a meaningful way with anyone.
I have also been feeling disengaged as a parent. Ever since I became a dad I tried to be a fairly equal partner in parenting. I took parental leave, I worked from home at least a couple of days a week. I looked after school morning routines and I had the flexibility to pick kids up from school on a regular basis. When I was working from home I was present when they got home from school, which meant I was able to parent as needed.
Now I am rarely home before 5:30 and by the time I switch out of work clothes and into parenting mode it is closer to six. Then if dinner is in production I help get that on the table or take over making dinner so my partner can take a break. Then we make our way through dinner which is a mix of trying to convince kids to sit down and eat some food and fragmented conversations. It is not long after dinner that one of us starts bed time with our youngest.
Except for the couple of evenings a week when my partner is out and parts of the weekends I rarely serve as the primary parent these days.
I Want More
I really enjoy my new job. I also want more involvement with my partner and my kids. We are all still adjusting to new routines and schedules and I am still getting a handle on my schedule during the workday – not to mention still learning lots of job content. I haven’t had a lot of brain energy left when I get home so I have only recently started to notice how disconnected I felt from parenting.
Creating opportunities for engagement
I grew up without my dad around and I don’t want to become a dad who only is kind of engaged weekday evenings and on weekends. I shut down my woodworking side-business a couple of months ago so I would have more time with my family. It turns out that I need to make conscious effort to break habits and patterns of interaction.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve started making some changes.
- I am asking more questions of my kids to engage with them.
- Say yes to playing as often as possible. I am also inviting them to play more often. We’ve been doing puzzles, playing chess and building with lego while inside. Outside we have taken advantage of all our new snow and relatively milder temperatures to build a snow slide that leads into a snow tunnel. That of course gave us an opportunity to talk about snow tunnel safety.
- My partner works on Sunday mornings and this has been time largely occupied by me doing cleaning and puttering while my kids read or have screen time. Now I am working on building more play and engagement time into this block of time. Cleaning still needs to happen, but we can do that together. My five year old especially likes to help – even though sometimes it is “help.” Yesterday we squeezed in some vacuuming and snow tunnel construction!
Reducing screen time
Like many people and families, screen time consumes a lot of our time. Over the course of several years of blogging and running a side-business I developed a habit over years of always checking my phone. I was always looking for opportunities to market my blog and my business. I felt a need to keep an eye on my email in case new orders came in and monitor Facebook and Twitter to find new content to share or comment on. Now I am working on breaking those habits.
I’ve now scheduled my phone to turn off around the time that I get home until after the kids are in bed to remove it as a distraction for me. I still look at it too often, but my phone tells me that I used it 15% less last week alone.
When I was running my business I generally spent a couple of hours in the workshop weekend mornings. To facilitate this we let the kids have screen time for a couple of hours on those mornings. We have all gotten too dependent on this screen time. So now we are reducing their screen time to make more time for doing things together.
It has been a couple of weeks of thinking about and starting to implement these changes. Weekends so far feel better. I am doing more with my kids and I feel more engaged. There is still work to do on weekdays to improve the quality of the limited time I have with the kids and reduce the extra workload my partner has had to take on due to my new job and schedule.