I am a provider.
Growing up, and even now, I don’t fit many of the male stereotypes. I don’t watch sports – except during the Olympics and the occasional soccer match. I don’t care about hockey and that statement may require me to hand in my Canadian citizenship. I didn’t chase girls in school and I wasn’t an underage drinker – no, really.
As a dad I do a reasonable job being engaged with my kids. I could do better. I play with them and help them with school work. I am making a concerted effort to say yes when they ask me to do something with them. I am often on the computer connecting with the world outside of my house and sometimes I need to be reminded to engage with the people inside my house. My kids are good at asking me to participate in life with them and I am getting better at doing that.
In one significant way I do fit the male stereotype, or perhaps the male archetype. I am the primary financial provider in our family. This is a result of a decision that my partner and I made around the time that our first daughter was born more than nine years ago. She decided she would like to be a stay-at-home parent and given the cost of day care where we were living at the time, it made a lot of sense. Since then we have moved cities, I have changed jobs and we had a couple more kids. All along it has been the right choice for our family.
It is, however, a challenging choice. While I make a good income, we live on a tight budget and are among the many who live life from paycheque-to-paycheque. We can’t put our kids in all of the activities and lessons we would like to do. Vacations are often staycations or visits to family. Date nights are infrequent and meals out are almost unheard of.
Work Life Juggle
I am fortunate to have a flexible job. I work from multiple locations depending on what I am doing and where I need to be. I have a few offices that I work out of, I meet with people in coffee shops all over the place, I work on trains, planes and in airports and I drive around to different communities on a weekly and daily basis. I also regularly work from home. This flexibility means that I can shift my work around and flex my time so that I can go to an assembly at my kids’ school. It means that I can work from home if my partner needs to be somewhere else, so that we don’t have to get childcare. My kids are pretty good at leaving me to work if I am set up to work. If work isn’t possible from home, I can flex my time to accommodate family. This flexibility helps to make up for the travel that I do and the regular instances when I have to be away from home overnight for work. It has also kept me in this job for double my usual amount of time in any given role.
As a dad I want to be around for my kids and my partner when they need me. As the primary financial provider I also want to be able to give my family the things they need and want. In my current role I work for a government agency and we have just come off of a five-year pay freeze. In real terms this means I am getting paid 10% less now than when I started the job. That makes it tough to meet my family’s financial needs. So as we look for other sources of income, one option is to find a new job. I know, however, that if I take another job I am not likely to have the same degree of flexibility as I do now. It is a challenging competition between my dual roles of providing the money to pay the bills and the time to be a dad.
Many employers are not as supportive of family life. Many don’t provide parental leave top-ups for new parents, to financially enable them to spend time at home with their new kid and adapt to life as a new parent before returning to work. Most don’t allow flexibility to manage life outside of the office, but do expect you to answer emails and calls after hours. I am a better employee when I can juggle and shift and flex my work and home life. I work hard and deliver results. I am also an adult who can be trusted to get my work done. While some employers are beginning to treat staff like adults, most have not yet realized that a little flexibility goes a long way towards employee satisfaction.
Being a dad and being a parent means days full of conflicting priorities and lots of competition for that ever-precious resource of time. Most days it feels like running through an obstacle course, managing each challenge as they pop up. You can plan for scaling the big wall that is easy to see, but you aren’t always ready for the unseen tripwire – or kid jumping on your back. Having the flexibility to jump and dodge as needed en route to scaling the big wall makes it much more likely that I’ll make it over the wall. Likewise, employers who trust me to get the job done as I shift from priority to priority and task to task will get a better result from me than the one who expects me to sit at a desk all day while trying to ignore the rest of my life outside the cubicle walls.
How do you manage your time?
How often have you had to make a decision about whether a work priority or a family / life priority was the most important priority?