As I sat outside a local ice cream shop last week, enjoying a treat with my youngest girl at the end of a daddy/daughter date, it occurred to me once again how important and special such moments can be.
And how hard it can be to make time for them with all of the other responsibilities I have as a working dad.
I know I'm not alone in stressing out over this, and a recent report confirms that.
The report, titled "Beyond the Breadwinner: Professional Dads Speak Out on Work and Family," found that almost 85 percent of fathers feel pressure to be both a financial provider and an engaged parent.
Three out of four dads also worry that their jobs don't let them be the kind of dads they want to be, and more than half say work/family balance is a source of stress.
The report was released this month by A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center. It was based on a survey of approximately 250 mostly white-collar working fathers in 31 states and Washington, D.C.
"I want to be the dad who attends all the little league games and dance recitals, the dad who is there in the evening to help with homework, the dad who sits down to dinner with his family every night," one father said in the report. "My current job does not allow for that to happen."
Wow, can I relate to that. I wrote a couple of months ago about trying to leave work early to attend my son's T-ball games, and I made it to most of them. But I wasn't able to attend all of my daughters' end-of-the-school-year performances, many of which occurred in the middle of the day. As my schedule has grown busier the last couple of years, I've also been factored out of the homework equation.
(Don't let the use of math terminology there fool you, though. It's possible that they've stopped coming to me for homework help because they figure I won't be able to provide much assistance. They're learning things in elementary school now that I'm pretty sure we didn't attempt until high school.)
Back to the study, many fathers said their biggest challenge revolved around time — for their families and their work.
"In particular, many mentioned the challenges of job-related travel and the demands of handling daily routines that involve getting children to school or child care and picking them up at the end of the day," the report said. "Many fathers also mentioned the psychological challenges of being able to shift gears and focus on their families once they are home."
That shift has always been difficult for me, as my wife and children would confirm. I've made a conscious effort recently to put a smile on my face as I walk through the door, even if the frustration of a particularly difficult day at work is lingering in my mind. I'm not saying I always succeed, but I am trying.
Other key findings of the report include:
"Professional fathers overwhelmingly reported that flexible work arrangements — including flexible hours and the ability to telecommute — would personally help them to balance their work and family responsibilities."
"Respondents made clear that supportive managers and workplace cultures play a critical role in encouraging them to take advantage of policies that would help them balance work and family responsibilities."
"Although most professional fathers have not experienced penalties on the job for being a parent, more than 12 percent reported negative treatment at work due to their attempt to meet family responsibilities, especially for taking parental leave."
I'm fortunate to have supervisors who have allowed me reasonable flexibility to meet family obligations. I know I'm lucky in that regard. I can't imagine how stressful it would be to decide to attend a family event when you knew you could face repercussions at work as a result.
As one of the report's authors, Dina Bakst, said in a press release, "The report's findings drive home that family-friendly workplace laws and policies are critical for all workers, as men and women alike struggle to meet the dual demands of work and home."
Is meeting those demands challenging? Yes. Is it stressful? Often. But is it worth the effort? Absolutely. All it takes to confirm the latter is a few moments with a child, sitting at a picnic table, enjoying ice cream on a perfect summer evening.
What do you think of this report? I'd be interested in your reactions.