Three years ago I almost drove my car off the road while listening to the radio on the way to work.
Why? I had just heard a comment from one of the DJ’s who was expecting his first girl. He said it would cost him $350k to raise his daughter from the time she was born to the time she would finish high school.
I had also just found out we were expecting our THIRD girl. We had our twenty week ultrasound the day before and we would be the proud parents of three daughters.
The accountant in me did some quick math. $350k times 3 girls…………yikes!
I had already put enough pressure on myself before hearing that $1M bomb.
My name is Jeff, and this is my family.
Being a good father to my daughters is important to me. I think it is more important today than it has ever been, and most Dads get that. As a result however, we put more stress and pressure on ourselves. Pressure that I can only assume mothers have always known.
I too have put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. And this pressure was there long before our first daughter was even born.
WHEN I WAS READY TO BE “DAD”
For most people becoming a parent is a natural progression in the stages of what we call life. For me it was a little different. By the time I would know that I wanted to be a father, I had already been through quite a bit.
By the time I was ready for a family, I wanted it more than anything else in the world. That desire translated into more intensity, and that intensity translated into more stress.
Let me explain.
I was 27 and found myself at the doorstep of a failed marriage. Like so many people I had always said that I would get married once. I was a believer that marriage is forever. A lifetime commitment. Through sickness and in health. Right?
What I failed to take into account I learned the hard way.
- Marriage is a partnership, and it takes two to commit to “forever”.
- The only person you can control in your life, is you. If you enter a relationship with the belief that you can fix your partner, you are on a path to disappointment. You may want to look in the mirror and focus on fixing yourself first.
I spent the next 4 years of my life figuring out how to make myself happy and find inner peace.
Through that journey I learned that:
- I had behaviours I didn’t need anymore. Behaviours I had learned as a child that no longer served a purpose as an adult.
- I learned that the only person I could control was myself. The only chance I would have to make others happy was to find my own happiness.
- I learned how to stop saying yes when I really meant no.
- I stopped making excuses and did things on my terms. I still helped people, but I did it because I wanted to and it felt good, instead of doing it for something in return.
- I learned the art of mindfulness. How to be present for people and in the moment. How to not only hear what they were saying, but feel it along with them.
I realize today that those lessons were only preparing me for the most important lesson of all.
WHAT MATTERS MOST IN YOUR LIFE?
It was May of 2009 and I was still single at this point in my life. My sister also found herself single, but single as a parent with two amazing kids.
She is also different from me in that she has had to prove that she can handle a lot. She is living proof that that God only gives people what he thinks they can handle. And I can say with confidence that God must think a lot of her.
One week after her 40th birthday my sister would face what no parent ever wants to experience. Her youngest son would be coming home from the hospital to spend his last hours in the comfort of his own home. He would leave us that night, but his smiling soul will stay with us forever.
I spent a lot of time with my sister and her oldest son in the weeks that followed, and it was tough. I guess you can’t imagine the pain unless you have had to live through it yourself.
In those hours, days, and weeks, I would learn what the love between a mother and a child looks like. I would actually feel it.
Up until this point in my life I had believed that my identity and happiness came from the job that I held. I believed it came from the money that I made, and the things I had accomplished.
Now I knew for me, that none of that mattered. I finally was in a place that I knew exactly what was going to make my happy.
The love of a family.
Luckily for me, love was waiting and I found the most amazing person I have ever met. We became best friends within weeks and have not been apart other than for a few select nights since.
In May of 2010 we would find out that we were expecting our first girl, and I was the happiest man in the world. In shock, but happy that my moment had come.
Our first daughter was born in February 2011. Our second in May of 2012, and our third just a few days into 2014. We missed having three girls in back to back years by just a couple of days.
It was time to step up and be that Dad that I so wanted to be.
I felt overwhelmed with joy, and overwhelmed with the responsibility.
A FATHERS IMPACT ON HIS DAUGHTERS
Linda Nielsen is a professor of psychology at Wake Forest University. She has written extensively about the father daughter relationship.
Linda’s research shows that daughters need engaged fathers. When they are, daughters have a higher chance of success later in life. They enjoy the benefits of having a father who promotes academic and extra-curricular achievements.
As we teach them self reliance and assertiveness, we teach them to be independent. We need to let them learn from their mistakes and trust that they will choose correctly over time.
She also indicates that these daughters are less likely to suffer from depression and less likely to develop eating disorders. They will be more satisfied with their appearance and their body weight. And they will have the skills and attitudes that foster better relationships with men.
Finally, probably the most interesting thing I learned from Linda’s writing was this:
“……..fathers not only have a significant impact on their daughters’ relationships with men, but they can actually have more of an impact than their mothers do.”
Remember Dads, the way you treat their mother, will play in your daughters heads for years to come!
My hope in time is that my daughters will find it easy to talk to either Mom or their Dad. Regardless of whether it is deeply personal or not.
In the end, as long as they are comfortable talking about it, we have succeeded.
So what we are really saying here is that Dad’s no longer need permission to be involved. In fact it is EXPECTED.
I don’t buy into the notion that girls “are supposed” to talk more about personal issues with their Moms. I think it is because us Dads spent most of our lives trying to fix others problems. We find it hard to just listen.
How many times have we intervened and provided answers to thoughts. We don’t even wait to see if there is a question……..
What if we looked at it differently. What if we need to listen because someone needed to change our mind, not the other way around?
I am living proof that being a Dad can be hard.
SO WHAT IS BALANCE?
The pressures we put on ourselves have increased so much in the last 30 years. Not only as fathers, but I think as parents overall.
Should we be looking to advance our careers or spend more time with our kids? How will we find time to be successful at work and at home?
And people around us don’t always say things that help. They don’t get it…… or do they?
“Enjoy every moment with your girls, they grow up so fast.”
“You are so lucky to have three girls so close in age.”
If you are like me, you struggle just to get by. You are working off 2 hours of sleep and now on your 10th cup of coffee – for the 47th day in a row. Then someone makes one of these “you are so lucky” statements.
You certainly don’t feel “lucky”.
How are you supposed to enjoy every minute of it when you can’t even tell if you are coming or going? Fund $1.05M of financial support, and be home when they need you!
You race home each day to try to get some time with the kids before bed. You leave meetings to make the trip home only to get on the phone during the drive. By the time you are home it is just in time for baths and you see them for ten minutes to tuck them in. After bed you get back on the computer or your phone and make up for the ninety minutes you just took away from work.
Lather, rinse, REPEAT!
You find that when you are at home you are thinking about work. When you are at work, you are thinking about home.
You always have some feeling of guilt and struggle to live up to the expectations you put on yourself.
Then, worst of all – your guilt drives you to do one dumb thing after another.
I can’t believe people just don’t get the struggle we have today in trying to balance all these balls as once. At least that is what I thought for the longest time.
It turns out it was me, I was the one that didn’t get it.
EVERY PARENT REACHES THEIR BOILING POINT
When we succumb to our guilt, bad things do happen. I was no different.
I was going to do everything I could to show my girls that I was always there for them despite working so much. I was going to be a hero Dad.
As a result, I believed that I needed to get up and tend to my kids every need during the night. I told myself that it was the least I could do for my wife, as she had the tough job of being with all three kids all day long. She deserved the break and I wanted the bonding time with the girls.
I would get up at the first sound they made. Sure enough, the girls had learned they didn’t need to manage their own anxiety because they could just manage Dad.
I slept very little, and one night I would say something that I am not proud to admit (I like to tell myself that I did it so my wife would hear my through the monitor and come rescue me).
I was frustrated and I couldn’t get our second oldest daughter to stop crying. Finally at 2am, I yelled at her to “SHUT UP!”
That was my boiling point.
Thankfully we are able to laugh about it now. My daughter was only 6 months old at the time and wouldn’t have known what I said anyway. Perhaps it is also has something do to with the fact my wife did get out of bed and “rescue” me.
We do and say these dumb things not because we are bad parents, but because we are trying to be the best parents!
As the kids started to get older I did other things out of guilt too.
Weeknights (when I was home in time) and on weekends, I found myself doing everything for my girls. I felt like I had to show them that I was there for them.
In reality I was just doing the things for them that they could have done for themselves. I was holding them back from reaching their next level of competency.
The list goes on and on.
- I would get angry much quicker than I would like because I was stretched thin.
- I was constantly worried that I wasn’t doing enough.
- I wasn’t listening to what the kids where saying because it was faster to give orders
- I put other people’s priorities ahead of my own (and I am not talking about my kids)
We all do these things, yet we inevitably still don’t have enough money. The more money we make, the more we spend.
How do we find some level of balance in our lives?
And this is when work is going well…………….
HOW QUICKLY LIFE CAN CHANGE
We struggle finding balance in a job that provides us with the financial means we believe we need. We do what we need to because we are happy enough in each of the elements to keep moving forward. It is a struggle like we outlined earlier, but it is worth it.
So what happens if things take a turn at work? What if you find yourself in a position where you aren’t fulfilled in your job?
It happened to me – things changed at work.
Things I thought I controlled I no longer could. Things that would directly impact my pay and when questioned the response was to “suck it up”. I would ask myself I could change some of my fundamental beliefs and just carry on.
I would ask myself if I should change my values and forget everything I have learned. Do I stop treating others the way I want to be treated? Do I belittle people like my leaders were doing to me?
What example would this set for my kids?
10 years earlier in my career I likely would have stayed and I would have changed. But not at this point in my life – too much was at stake.
I had accomplished what I committed to in my job. I had done that, despite of it all.
I knew that it was time to turn the page and start again. And I knew that I needed to take some time with my family to be a better father to my daughters.
QUITTING IS NEVER EASY
While I knew I wouldn’t find another job in the area that made the same money, I had done the math and knew I would be ok. With a couple of small adjustments we could live off less and be just fine.
I sat down with my boss and started a sequence of several tough conversations. We agreed quickly that I would leave my current position. I was then asked to fill a different role for another group.
The next 4 months were extremely difficult on me and my family. I never knew if the next day would be my last day, but I knew one of them could be. I was on edge and I couldn’t show it at work. I tried hard not to show it at home as well. In retrospect I am sure I could have done better. Much better.
The ends justified the means in this case, and on my last day I left at 6pm just like most other days.
The entire process I had just gone through made me realize that my definition of success was screwed up!
SUCCESS IS AN OBTAINABLE GOAL
Within days of leaving I found myself more present with my family. I was laughing and joking with them again. I wasn’t sweating the small stuff.
I had come to learn hat you need to define success for yourself if you want any chance of reaching it.
I will say that again in a different way, because it is THAT important.
If you, want to find SUCCESS for yourself, you need to know what matters most to YOU.
It will be different for everyone. And for most it likely doesn’t involve quitting your job.
I have defined several steps to find work life balance, but the first step is where I think we all should start. It is the foundation to all of the other steps.
BE IN THE MOMENT.
I have written about it before – it looks like this:
If you want to find true happiness, look within. Focus on what is important in life and be in the moment enough to appreciate it. Being in the moment feels good. Being in the moment allows you to find joy and passion in the times when you are doing things you don’t like. It is that small moment or subtle connection that makes those things seem worthwhile. It is those moments that you will feel in your heart, and it is those moments that you will learn to love.
For me it is important to live a good life, and to learn and to grow. It is important to connect to people, and it is important to help. When I do these things I feel happy.
I can’t always spend the time I want to at work, but when I am there I can make it quality time.
I can’t always spend the time I want to at home with my family, but when I am there I can make it better time.
I can be in the moment.
I can listen. I can listen to learn. And if I have to I can listen to communicate.
I am more grateful today than I have ever been. And I am in the moment more and more every day!
Interested in 9 other steps to help you define a path to work life balance? Sign up at Dads Reflections with your email and I will send them your way…..