My Family Care asks Jim: What does it mean to be a working dad? How did your work/life balance change when you had children? How have you developed as a person since you became a dad?
When I got married, the mutual decision to bring children into the world and expand our family was a natural part of our development. From the moment that we knew children were on the way, to the present day, the benefits and joys of this decision are evident.
Being a working Dad meant striking a balance between what I had chosen to do, and what I wanted to be able to share with my family. It was just as important to me to be able to do a good job at work as it was to do a good job at home.
Quality time was necessary in both aspects of my life. I had been a high school teacher for 6 years before the birth of the first of our 3 children. I had always wanted to work with young adults in the high school setting, and was excited every day to be able to share in the lives and education of the students that I had contact with. The prospect of having our own children was indeed an extension of our love of children (my wife was also a teacher).
Changes to the routine
I was fortunate to be in a supportive work environment where my colleagues were conscious of the new family responsibilities that came with us having children at home. This was easy to develop by sharing the experiences from home with my working peers.
It was necessary to make some changes to the hours that I spent at school. It forced me to look at activities that allowed me to be more flexible as well as allowing me to get home earlier on occasions that required this to happen. My wife was, and still is, a great mother. She stayed home with our children, so getting home was usually more of a desire than a necessity.
The desire was to be able to spend time as a family at home and to share in the excitement of seeing our children develop, grow and learn. Often, the descriptions of the day's activities while I was at work were as exciting as when I was there. This dialogue made it easier to go to work each day knowing that I would always hear the stories from the day when I returned home at night.
Planning together as a family made other decisions right for us. Changes to the living spaces in our house, financial considerations necessary by going from 2 to 1 working income, planning vacations for 3, 4, or 5 in the family, and dealing with daily occurrences became a learning experience for all of us.
Supporting each other
Having the support of a stay at home wife and mother meant that household chores that were once completed after work, were often finished before I returned from work.
I was always amazed at how much she was able to accomplish with the kids and around the kids. Meal preparation, preserves, gardening, grass cutting, and many other requirements of keeping our home in good repair were often completed or at least started before I came home from work. This allowed more time to interact with the kids through play, reading and other family activities.
As the children got older, my wife went back to work and the years that ensued were a lesson in master planning, precision and patience as we re-organised the household chores, managed rides to and from school and found time to stay involved in our own interests.
Working Dads need to maximise efficiency, adjust personal commitments to best suit family life, and to enjoy every moment that you are able to spend with your family.
Become involved in your children's activities. Watch them play at home and play with them. Read to them and with them. Children are a gift to parents and this gift must be protected, loved and cherished.
How did I try to accomplish this? Communication and cooperation.
Picking something up on the way home, doing multiple stops when in town, working through lunch hour, arranging drop off and pick up from children's activities, playing 5 a side at 8:30 instead of 7:00 at night after the kids have gone to bed, picking kids up from school after a late practice and on the way home from work are some examples.
It was important to make accommodations in scheduling and realising that this was what you wanted to do as opposed to what you had to do.
Sharing is a wonderful thing
Being able to observe the small changes in a child in terms of mobility, development of speech, sharing in play development, learning how to interact with a one day old, a one year old, right up to a thirty-something year old have all been great learning experiences for me as a father of 3 children. I believe that sharing this with a supportive and loving partner has made the experiences the best that they could be.
I was able to marvel at the development of each of my children's skills, abilities and talents. I was able to marvel at their similarities and differences. I learned to talk to them at their level and to listen to them as they explained things in their own words. I watched as they demonstrated and explained their actions. I became more interested in reading as I shared stories and books with them.
Development doesn't stop with the kids
I learned from being their coach as well as being their parent. Through coaching and being involved in their activities, I was able to see how they interacted with others and used their skills as part of a team or group.
What an exciting time of life. Being happy with what you accomplish at work and at the same time being excited about participating with the growth and development of children within a family setting is what I believe to be a fulfilling experience for anyone fortunate enough to be a dad.
I am thankful to my wife and my children for providing me with this gift.
Jim Harding, Retired Teacher, Father of 3