Balancing act: To 'have it all,' start with being a good dad
Writing about work-life balance isn't my full-time job, but I try to stay on top of the trends regarding the topic.
Lately, the issue of balance has been in the news so much that keeping up with everything has been difficult.
Many recent books and articles have focused on work-life balance from a female perspective, outlining working women's challenges as they struggle to "have it all."
Those books and articles have led to a response from men who are facing similar challenges, especially considering the dramatic changes in the role of fathers in our society during the last 20 — or even the last 10 — years.
As I pondered an article in the latter category, it got me thinking about my own role as a father to my four children.
I've written before about things I do to try to be a good dad, from helping with chores around the house (I like to think I'm the family laundry expert) to making time for one-on-one outings with the children (which has been increasingly difficult as they get older).
However, I don't often ask my children how they think I'm doing as a dad. So, with some trepidation, I decided to give it a try.
I didn't want to ask them that question directly, because I've got nice kids, and I figured they'd say positive things no matter what, just to make me feel good. (As I've mentioned before, my wife is an outstanding mother, and they're kind and generous like her.)
Instead, I decided to ask them, "What's the most important thing that dads do?" And I followed that up by asking, "What's the most important thing I do, as your dad?"
Their responses were educational.
My 7-year-old son showed his practical side when answering the more general question about the most important thing dads do: "They take care of their kids, like take them to school and get food from the store," he said.
And what about my actions, in particular? Again, he was all business. "Go to work and get money for our family," he said. "Get us to bed on time, because then we'll get some sleep and be ready for a new day."
Yes, on the latter response, he parroted my usual words back to me almost exactly.
Based on his response, I think I need to spend a little more "silly time" with my son. The things he mentioned are important, but it's also important for him to feel like we can spend time together having fun or learning new things.
My youngest daughter, who is 11 years old, said dads in general "help you and love you and care for you." And then she got a little more specific.
"They like to give you big bear hugs, and they like to watch TV with you," she said. "They pretty much just like to be with you, and when they're not at home, the kids feel bad because the dad isn't there. Another thing that is awesome about dads is that they can drive you to school, because they like to wake up early. ... Just kidding. They don't."
Hmmm, I think she might have been talking about me in that last comment.
My youngest girl also turned practical when talking about the most important things I do, at least at first.
"I think the most important thing you do is let us be able to stay in our house and buy us food," she told me. "And also when Mommy isn't home, you read stories ... and you make yummy mac and cheese. And you play with us, too, and you make up funny games."