My Family Care asks Oliver: With September comes a refocus on our work life balance. With the holidays over, children going back to school and buckling down before Christmas why is a good balance important and what advice would you give to parents for making this fall a more balanced one?
I don't believe in work life balance...
Let me put a few things straight, I don't actually believe in work/ life balance. I know that sounds strange given the title, but let's be honest, it's never really in balance. It feels more like two big natural forces continually competing against one another. Probably more akin to trench warfare. Neither side wanting to give an inch and continually fighting to protect what you have, despite numerous bombardments, blitzkriegs and sorties' from either side. OK a bit melodramatic, but you get the point.
It's true the Summer holidays are nearly at an end and I can see everyone looking forward to "normal life resuming". Our eldest is heading to big school and the twins are heading back to nursery. Everyone is a little tired and slightly fractious. Routines have sort of disappeared.
Sorry, I need to get back to answering or trying to answer the question.
Why is work/life balance important?
Hopefully it's obvious. For me, I look at it like this. I have to do well at work, it's my own business. To do well I need to work hard, make good decisions, build up and support our team of people and hopefully make the business grow. If I don't do this, then things like our mortgage, school fees, and holidays all go out of the window. But I also want to do it for my own self-worth. On the flip side, I do think that there is more to life than work. We only pass this way once, my children only go through these early years once and I actually don't want to miss out. I want to be part of it.
If I don't at least try and keep things in check or balance, then something will fail. Either my work & business or my family life. Both of which have short term and long term consequences for me and my family, both of which I don't want to happen.
If I am honest, I wasn't that fussed about the first steps, first words etc. We had 3 children inside 18 months. I couldn't wait for the twins to be 2yrs+. But now, this is the good stuff. We hang out as a family, they are fun to be with, and they want to hang out with us. Equally, they are a great tonic to the stress at work. They couldn't give a monkey what sort of day I had and are probably the quickest way to take your mind of things (albeit I would like to try the Gin & Tonic/ dark room bit too). I don't know how long this part lasts, but it's the family unit stage and it feels like a very short window.
Natural pressures all at once
The hard part is that all the natural pressures seem to come at the same time. A young family, building a career, bills, and stress all seem to happen within a 10 year window. I turned 40 last year and the realisation that "this is life" kind of hit me. Life is as full on as it is ever likely to be.
So what strategies do we have in place? I am not a consultant and given that I am married to a Gemini, I would say these strategies are un-codified and liable to change, without prior notice to management.
Quality over quantity
I believe in quality over quantity and being the best that I can be (clichéd I know). I can't be as good as our neighbour, Jo. He takes his children to school every day and seems to be a model (good looking as well, so I am told) father at the weekend. But I make damn sure that the time I am with my children is quality time, at the exclusion of other things.
I start work at 6.30am, so that I can be back home to see the children and read them a story before bed, see my wife and catch up on her news and share an evening meal. I make time for sport (which is important to me), so I run home or go to the gym at lunchtime, so that it doesn't impinge on the time I want to spend with my family at the weekend or evening.
I make sure that I finish my work calls and emails before I go through the front door (yes, I do log back on at 8pm and work in the evenings). We go out for dinner/ cinema/ drinks as a couple at least one night a week, just the two of us. I cook a meal one night a week. We have a weekend away once a year without the children. OK it doesn't sound like much. But it's not about trying to be the best father, husband, or businessman.
It's about being the best I can be, not apologising for it and sort of trying to be happy with that. It's not perfect, it's never actually in balance... but then again what is?
Oliver Black, businessman and father of three