A good portion of raising children involves making decisions today that we believe will pay dividends down the road. Such is the case with piano lessons, athletics or visits to the library. As in the case with piano practice, these activities occasionally take a little parental encouragement when your friends are playing jump-rope while you practice for a recital.
I’ve often wondered if I’m making the right decision by pulling back at work today so that I can experience more of my children’s lives today. This is different than the approach my father took. His job required long hours and frequent nights and weekends away from our family. He did this so my mother could stay home and raise five children. The benefit of this approach is that he was able to retire from teaching after 30+ years well before he turned 60. He’s now able to spend a lot of time with his grandchildren. Not only does he have the time but his health and younger age allow him to engage in many activities with his grandchildren.
But I have very few memories of spending time with my father until I reached high school. Most of my early memories of my father were centered baseball and basketball games he was able to attend. I don’t recall him going on field trips or helping me much with school work or getting to know many of my friends. My mom filled these roles so well that I didn’t notice my father’s absence until years later. But he provided for us financially and was there for the big events. I’m sure he understood this trade-off and felt the sacrifice was worth it.
Maybe it’s the direction my career in technology has taken me. Or maybe it’s it’s the desire build a relationship with my kids before they are teenagers. Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to sacrifice my career now in order to spend time with my family. That means occasionally taking time off in order to spend a day at the Zoo with my daughter or stay home and build a blanket fort with Lincoln and Anna. It means calling in sick when Kim comes down with a bug and needs my help. It means putting my kids first and my work second. Or third or forth.
My boss understands where I place my priorities. He may not agree with my choices, but I believe he respects my decisions when it comes to family. But I’m not foolish to believe this hasn’t hurt my career. When my manager retires, my strongest competition for his job will come from a coworker who is the consummate company guy. He’s single and can dedicate 80 hours to the job if he wants. I won’t do that (at least not week and week out). If you were selecting someone for the job would you pick the family guy with a work/life balance or the person who will throw is heart and soul into the job with few outside distractions and the willingness to put work above all else?
I may be making the wrong choice because it means I won’t be able to retire as early as my father did. I will probably have to work into my 60’s before I retire. And even then, I probably won’t retire with his level of pension and benefits. I’ve quit jobs when they started to interfere with my family life. But I want to see my kids grow up. I don’t want the responsibility of raising our four kids rest solely on Kim.
But I’m realistic. I understand that Kim is the one who is home during the day. She’s the one that sees them off to school and is there to greet them when step off the bus. She changes more diapers, dispenses more medications, bandage more scrapes and wipes away more tears than I ever will.
But I don’t want our kids to grow up thinking dad’s job is to provide a paycheck while mom provides a shoulder cry on. It’s not an easy choice to balance out, but I’m trying my best to make it happen.