My Family Care asks City Dad: With the increase of flexible working - and the increase in technological advancements - the lines between work and family time can become blurry. Do you successfully keep work inside work hours so you can concentrate on family time, or do you run both in parallel, in successful ways? And if so, how?
Traditional work ethic
I work for a shipping company and the ships, of course, never stop. On top of that, we deal with people on every continent - excluding Antarctica. From Japan to the Middle East, from the USA to Europe, somewhere somebody is always sending me an email.
It truly is a 24/7 environment. In addition, I work for a Japanese company with a very traditional work ethic. None of the senior staff above me have working wives. The expectation is that if you're a man, you will work long hours in the office, and your wife will take care of the home and the kids. When it doesn't work like that - as in my case - there's a disparity and the stage is set for conflict!
Being truly present
However, when I'm with the kids I want to be WITH the kids. There's not much point in me taking a half day off work every week to spend more time with them and plonking them in front of the TV while I sit there and trawl through my emails. When I'm there I want to be there physically and mentally. I want to be truly present.
How do I make it work?
It's hard. As well as the constant feeling that the tsunami of, ship-related emails is just behind me, I'm also a Director of my wife's coaching company, and spend quite a bit of time doing my 'City Dad' work. There's always something to do. Just like when you own a house, the work is never ending, but you just have to make a very clear and conscious decision where to draw the line.
When I'm with the kids, I don't check work emails. I can always be contacted but I don't try to keep up with the day-to-day work. In fact, when I arrived back at work after taking four months of Additional Paternity Leave, I had 10,000 emails in my inbox to deal with (read... delete!). Catching up with my emails last thing at night, or on the train the next morning and finding +- 150 mails is a bit disheartening, but it's - by far - better this way.
Setting a clear boundary
Switching off from work emails makes me feel good. It makes me feel that I am actively involved in my kids' lives and they don't feel (at least in my view) that I'm a detached dad - they can let me know when they're old enough to read my blogs!
I'm very conscious of the fact that my dad used to work 5 minutes away from home, whereas I spend 2.5 hours commuting every day. This makes it virtually impossible for me to spend much time with my children in the evening. I felt that my dad was around a lot, and I want my kids to look back on my time at home in the same way.
So when I'm off, I want to be off. This is made easier by a supportive team at work who know that I will not be working one afternoon a week. Despite the occasional feelings of guilt, I can recognise that there are benefits to me, my family and the office. I am appreciative of my company allowing me to do this and in turn, this makes me a happier employee when I am in the office.
Do as I say, not as I do
Regarding my work as 'City Dad', it's a little ironic that all the work I do telling dads to spend more time with their kids, can actually lead to me spending less time with my own, if I'm not careful (workshops, panels, speaking etc.). This is one reason why I'm writing this on the train heading home and not actually at home.
I also feel passionately about this topic and want to help as many parents as possible to achieve a better balance. Although I've never been very good at tightrope walking, I am learning and improving along the way.
Adrian Dyer, aka City Dad