Monday, October 8, 2012

Setting the Right Priorities: Saying “No” So We Can Say “Yes” To Our Kids!

Rodrick and his son

In the recent past, something has come to my attention regarding my relationship with my kids and I thought that I’d share it here on this blog because I believe it’s a good lesson for working parents, especially dads. It’s not something that’s very easy to write because it’s somewhat a confession of my own shortcomings as a parent. At the same time, I think that it will be an encouragement to others; therefore I’ll be transparent in sharing what I hope will be a wake up call for many.
Our 14 year old daughter recently started high school. I take her to and from school daily. We leave pretty early in the mornings – by 7:15. We also have a 2 year old son. Generally, when I leave each day, he’s still sleeping. My days can be pretty demanding – with my daily responsibilities at the office and then meetings and other commitments after work. So I often don’t get home until after 8:30 pm. My son’s bedtime is 9:00. Very often I make it home after 9:00 and miss saying good night to him. It’s not out of the ordinary for my only interaction with him during a workday to be during phone calls from the office.

I’ve been noticing that he is growing so fast and doing so many new things each day. His vocabulary is expanding rapidly, his personality is coming into its own and part of me wonders just how much of his young life I’m missing. I’m busy working to provide for the family and giving my all to see that our plans come to fruition. I’m focused and determined to see the Upbeat Dad Organization continue to touch lives around the world. It’s an awesome responsibility to have the vision for a multifaceted organization and then take slow, methodical steps to see the vision realized. But as I work, I see that my frequent absence from home is taking its toll on the relationship with my son.

Most recently, I recall coming home after picking up my daughter from school one day and dropping her home. I, then, had to leave shortly for an evening meeting after being home only 10 minutes. When I told my son that I’m leaving he got so upset that he folded his arms and walked away. I tried talking to him but he was having none of it. He was visibly hurt – even at age 2. He waited all day to see me and when he finally got that chance, he was short-changed after only 10 minutes.

That whole scenario spoke so loudly to me that on my way to that meeting, it bothered me all the way. After the meeting, on the way home I began thinking about my daily life and my obligations and realized that he was absolutely right. I’ve been cheating him of the precious time that he deserves. It’s not in any way that I don’t care to spend time with him. As young and impressionable as he is, I want as much time with him as possible and I want to make every moment count.

I know that my schedule can be very demanding so what my wife and I implemented in our household is a set time – usually on a Friday evening – when we cut off the outside world and just bond as a family. No phone, TV, iPad or anything else - just us. We usually go to a restaurant or to some form of entertainment. We’ve done that consistently from the beginning of our marriage and continue to do so to this day. So each week, though I get pretty busy, I know that that allotted time for all 4 of us is on the calendar. And on the weekend, we really spend some meaningful time. It’s time throughout the week that can be a challenge.

With our son, his schedule is different from everyone else’s. He wakes up about 8:00 AM and goes to bed at 9:00 PM. My daughter and I have our time each day on the drive to and from school. Then my wife and I have our time early in the morning and when I get home at night. So the only person who gets short-changed is the youngest, most vulnerable one – our son.

It really bothered me that, as much as I share the message on the importance of fatherhood, I was losing that essential connection with my own child. And it’s not that I don’t want to build and maintain that connection; it’s just that I’m trying to juggle so many responsibilities – career and family. Still, regardless of what reasons I may have, a 2 year old routinely getting 10 minutes or even no minutes with his dad each day is not fair to him.

I was faced with the reality of this situation and had a decision to make: either keep up the same routine or make drastic and radical changes to ensure that my son and I continue to build on that essential bond between father and child.

So here’s what I did: I took an inventory of my daily and weekly obligations; then I considered the additional opportunities that are routinely presented to me for consideration – opportunities that saying “yes” to would mean saying “no” to time with my son.

I reviewed and dissected each of these things and realized that, too easily, I said “yes” to opportunities that, though good for my professional advancement, cost me that time with him. I realize that when I’m trying to build on the vision of the organization and work on other opportunities that arise, I have to put in the time. I also realize that my obligations should be first to my household and then to my career.

So what I’ve decided to do is cut out some of the evening obligations that consume my time. And, in some cases, I push back the obligations so that I can have a few hours with my son and then when he goes to bed, I can get to them. As I write this, it’s 11:30 PM. I had hoped to have it written before but time got away from me. Still, I came home to spend some meaningful time with him before bedtime. And now that he’s asleep, I can get back to this work.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve implemented these changes. Some weeks are more challenging than others but, for the most part, the changes are allowing me to build on that special relationship. In just this short time, I’m really seeing a new degree of closeness that I think was lacking. We have a long way to go but I know we’re on the right track.

And as I recall, when my daughter was the same age, I had a similar issue. I had a job that required me to travel extensively. One day I was working locally and told her I was leaving for work. Her response was, “Daddy, are you going to the airport?” Those simple words changed my life and my perspective. Read 7Words That Changed My Life: Daddy, Are You Going to the Airport? for more about this.

Why do I share this post? Well, I believe that my story is not all that unusual. Men all across the world get up daily and go to work with the mindset that they must provide for their families. So they go out and put in long hours and then go to networking events, meetings and other places. They leave early and come home late, seeing very little of the kids. So in essence they are absentee dads living at home. (See The Absentee Dad Living at Home for a post I wrote about this very issue.)

Just like these men, I also have an obligation to provide for my family. Still, I realize that climbing the corporate ladder is not worth it when it’s at the expense of time spent with one’s family. There’s much that we can do ensure that our professional advancement is not at the expense of time with our wives and kids. I often say that we express our love to our kids by the time we spend with them.

To give a good example of this principle in action, think of President Barack Obama. I don’t get into politics here but I think it’s good to note that he makes it a point to be home by 6:30 PM each day he’s in Washington DC to have dinner with his family. Sure he works crazy hours throughout the day and late into the night. But I think it’s admirable that he ensures that his wife and 2 young daughters have his undivided attention at dinner time so that their connection remains intact.

If you find yourself in a position where you’ve lost or you’re losing that essential bond with your kids, I hope that this post has spoken to your heart. There’s much that we can do to ensure our obligations to our kids are kept. Maybe your job is flexible enough for you to work around your kids schedule so you can take them to school, go to their games, play catch in the backyard, etc. All of these things are available to us if we are diligent in creating and maintaining that bond that our kids need.

Parenthood is the role of a lifetime. As a dad, I know the importance of my involvement in my kids’ lives. So I’ve made some necessary changes to ensure that I’m very much a part of their daily routines. Not long ago our daughter was in day care. Now she’s in high school and soon will be gone off to college. Our son is 2 now and I’m sure that before long he’ll be asking to borrow the car keys to go out. They aren’t young forever so, as the expression goes, we have to “make hay while the sun shines,” and enjoy meaningful time with them while we can.

We have more control than we think. Sometimes, when we say “no” to some things, we say “yes” to so much more – time with the kids. Do make the changes you need to. And share this post with those who you know would stand to benefit from its message. Our kids deserve our very best. And I believe that, with the case I’ve sought to present here, many men and women will look within and do the right thing and make changes in their kids’ best interest.

Keep these thoughts at the forefront of your mind and do what you know you need to do. You’re well on your way to being just the type of parent that your kids deserve.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad