Tag Archives: work life balance

When Dad Doesn’t Fit In

photo credit: Rest in Piece via photopin (license)
photo credit: Rest in Piece via photopin (license)

The irony is rich.

When I accepted a new job as a director of a PR agency in Boston a couple of months ago, I was worried about a lot of things. Could I do the work? Would I fit in with the people there? Will the learning curve be too steep? Will I be able to hack it in the city? As it turns out, those fears were unwarranted. I can do the work, I love the people, I’m contributing as I learn, and I’ve come to really enjoy the city. I’m out of the creative rut I was in at IBM, I’m back with a smaller company which is more my style, and I get to do something different just about every single day. It’s fantastic.

The problem I have isn’t at work, it’s at home.

I used to work from home three days a week, which meant I saw my kids all the time. I was still connected if not always available. I could do things like put my son on the bus and volunteer in his classroom every Friday. I was home for dinner almost every night. I was plugged in.

Now I commute into Boston five days a week. I’m out the door by 6:30 am and I don’t get home for another 12 hours. Sometimes the kids are awake when I leave, sometimes they aren’t, and I get home half an hour before Sam goes to bed. I miss every dinner. I have just enough time to scarf down some food, put Sam to bed, ask Will how his day was, put Will to bed, and gaze at Tommy as he drifts off to sleep.

Occasionally my wife and I even say hello to one another before falling into bed exhausted.

That means MJ is basically a single mom for 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday. She handles everything at home because I’m not there, and she does it well. I married a fiercely independent woman, and even before I started my job she was preparing herself for when I was gone. That means developing routines predicated on being a one-woman show, maximizing individual effectiveness, and strategically adapting to life as a solo, on-the-go mom.

I was prepared for all of that. What I wasn’t ready for was what happens when I am finally there.

MJ scrambles to get by with three kids in tow on a daily basis and she’s developed certain routines. But when I’m home, my strategies are a little different. We’ve always differed in our approaches to just about everything, but now that she has the bulk of the parenting responsibilities during the week, it’s all her way. Needless to say, the weekends are full of clashes.

She and the kids are used to one thing, I’m bringing something else to the table. Neither of us is right or wrong, it’s just a matter of familiarity. Being unfamiliar with their regimen, I feel like I’m gumming up the works. Mainly because my oldest has no qualms telling me “you’re doing it wrong, dad” when I’m upending their routines.

I feel a little bit like an outsider or a fish out of water. I watch my family operate — accustomed to life without me during the week — and I get a little sad. I feel like I don’t fit in, and worse than that, I feel like a hindrance. I’m unnecessary drag on their sailboat as I struggle to figure out what my crew is doing.

MJ would never say this and she denies it, but I’m confident I see it at times. I don’t blame her, she’s doing what she has to do to get by on a daily basis. But still, I feel so — removed.

I used to eyeball Will’s homework and work with him on his spelling every morning over breakfast. I used to be the go-to person for his teacher and I was a familiar face in the classroom thanks to volunteering. Working at home allowed me to see Sam grow up and become awesome on a near daily basis, as I was the first to hear new words and watch him meet milestones. I was still working at home so I couldn’t always play, but I could take five minutes and snuggle with him. And I could discuss things with my wife and give her a hand when necessary.

Now? I’m a ship passing my family in the night. Sam sings the alphabet and counts to 15, and I didn’t know right away. A girl has a crush on Will at school, and I found out days later because it had already been discussed. And Tommy seems to age 6 months every time I come home from work. I try to plug back in on weekends between emails and sponsored blog posts for my second job, but I never feel like I’m on the same page. Nothing feels like it fits anymore, and sometimes I wonder if all my kids will remember of me is the guy who left when it was dark and got home when it was darker.

Kids don’t care that the lights need to be kept on, rent needs to be paid, and down payments need to be saved for a house. Stay-at-home parents are amazing and keep the world turning, but working parents are forced to give up life’s most precious commodity — time. We worry every single day our contributions — while completely necessary — aren’t enough. We worry we’re more of a hindrance than a help, and an annoyance patiently endured until Monday morning when things get back to normal.

This tightrope we walk is so perilous, not because of the fall, but because success isn’t even guaranteed should we make it across.

It’s time to find my fit and focus on quality time versus quantity. Oh, and single parents — I have no freaking idea how you do it!

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IBM Now Offers 6 Weeks Paid Paternity Leave. And I’m Taking Every Bit of It


Convincing companies to offer paid paternity leave is challenging. But convincing male employees to actually take it and use all that’s available to them? Much tougher.

My third child is due in September. I just found out my employer, IBM, changed its policy and is now giving dads and domestic partners six weeks of paid parental leave. This is excellent news — both for me personally and dads as a whole. Yet when I announced the good news on social media, one of the first things someone said to me was “That’s cool. But you’re not gonna use all six weeks, right? No way I could get away with that.”

And I realized how far we still have to go on this issue.

While 89% of men say employers should offer paid paternity leave, according to the Boston College Center for Work and Family, those men don’t always take it. In most cases that’s because only 12% of US companies offer paid paternity leave, and very few people these days can afford to take unpaid FMLA. But even when companies make fully paid paternity leave available to employees, many men are still hesitant. Unfortunately, they have good reasons.

Surveys have shown men who actively and publicly prioritize family over work are subject to pay decreases, demotions, mistreatment on the job, and even job loss. Risking that career success and the income that provides for your family is scary, especially for men who are the sole breadwinner (as I am). Add to that a culture that says men are only men if they work their fingers to the bone and taking time off for family matters is for women, and you have a potentially menacing situation.

But I don’t care and I’m willing to risk it. I hope dads at IBM (and elsewhere) feel the same, because it’s worth the risk. Why? In order for paid parental leave to become commonplace, men who have it available to them need to take it — all of it — and make an unequivocally bold statement that family comes first.

With more dads than ever seeking to be hands-on parents and simultaneously feeling the pangs that work/life conflicts bring, now is the time for action.

We need to take all of our available leave because studies show fathers who are heavily involved right from their child’s birth, are much more likely to stay involved as time passes. And children with involved fathers have been shown to perform better in school, avoid drugs and alcohol, get arrested less, and delay sexual activity.

Furthermore, paternity leave doesn’t just benefit men. In fact, its biggest beneficiaries might be women.

When men are doing more household and childcare duties at home, it frees up women to reenter the workforce and cut down on the so called “Second Shift” working mothers endure. In fact, a mother’s future earnings increase by 7% for every month of leave taken by the father. So while dads take a more egalitarian role at home, they are actually helping to strengthen the number of women in the workforce while simultaneously doing their part to bridge the gender wage gap.

Lastly, it’s not just people who benefit from paternity leave. Companies that offer paid leave to parents might struggle while the employees are gone, but happier workers stay at their jobs and the savings via employee retention far exceeds any short-term difficulties. This also enables companies to attract top-tier talent when positions do have to be filled, as many workers clamor to be part of an organization that invests in the happiness and well-being of its rank and file workers.

So now I have six weeks of paid leave I can take in September. Although my team and managers are very supportive, there’s always a chance I could face some unspoken penalty for taking my full leave. There’s a chance this impacts my bonus or my being promoted.

But you know what? It’s worth it.

Within minutes of finding out about the policy change, I emailed my managers and requested the full six weeks off. I might take it all at once after the baby is born, or I might stagger it. But either way, I’m using it.

I’m going to bond with my baby. I’m going to wake up with my wife for every feeding. I’m going to learn which cry means “I’m hungry” and which cry means “change my diaper.” I’m going to help my wife with our other two kids, including my oldest who could have his first day of 2nd grade while we’re in the delivery room. I’m going to be as involved as possible because dads are equal partners in parenting, not glorified babysitters.

I’m going to take my leave as publicly as possible. I’m going to write about it and chronicle it on these pages. I’m going to talk to my male coworkers whose partners are expecting, and urge them to take all six weeks too. As one of a select few who have the privilege of taking this time off, I feel that’s my duty. I view it as my responsibility to help make paternity leave normal instead of shameful. To be proud of being a family man instead of doing it on the sly or worried it might cost me my job.

More companies like IBM are being progressive in offering paid leave, and that’s great. Now it’s up to dads to step up to the plate and make our priorities known. So if you don’t have paid leave, advocate for it. And if you have it, take it. All of it.

You won’t regret it.


For more on this important topic, these two recently released books are absolutely essential. And better yet, both authors are friends of mine. And damn good fathers to boot.

The Working Dad's Survival Guide by Scott Behson
The Working Dad’s Survival Guide by Scott Behson
All In, by Josh Levs
All In, by Josh Levs
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The Working Dad’s Survival Guide Is Must-Read


“Virtually every working dad I know struggles with balancing the time and effort required to be a good financial provider with the time and effort needed to be a present, involved, loving father.”
– Scott Behson, Working Dad’s Survival Guide

I love great people and great books. So when a great friend of mine writes a great book about a topic I’m over the moon passionate about, it’s a win-win-win.

Scott is a professor at Farleigh Dickinson University and a national expert on work and family issues who gets invited to fancy White House summits to talk about fatherhood, work, and family. But most important, Scott is a working father — someone who knows all too well what it’s like to constantly feel torn between the need to provide financially for your family while being a present and loving dad.

Books about motherhood and leaning in and having it all are pretty common, and with good reason. Moms — both of the working variety and those who stay at home — are worthy subjects for books and discussions. However, dads have been largely left out of the equation. Especially working fathers, who don’t have the novelty factor of stay-at-home dads.

Until now.

Scott’s book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home, comes out on June 9. And you should buy it. I don’t say that because I’ve known Scott for years, I say it because I’ve read it and can say with certainty that is a well-researched, sourced, and entertaining book that tackles a topic of immense importance. Even the parts that don’t quote me.

And speaking of quotes, here are some of my favorites from the book.

“There is a strange “wall of silence” that has built up over the issue of involved fathers who work hard to juggle work and family demands. So, if you have ever felt that all your efforts in attaining career success while also making the time to be an involved dad have been overlooked, you, my friend, are not alone.”

Step 1 – know you’re not alone. This is more true than you can possibly know, and Scott realizes that. Once you comprehend the fact that you’re not enduring this struggle all by your lonesome, Scott takes you by the hand and helps you figure out where to go from there.

“It’s time that we recognized that, in order to succeed at work and at home, we can’t just rely on society or workplaces to change. We need to recognize the important challenge we face, and do what we can both to gather support and to act more in accordance with our priorities. I believe that we can achieve success in our careers while also being the involved, loving dads we always wanted to be.”

Don’t get me wrong, the deck is stacked against working dads who want more time with family. But be that as it may, that doesn’t mean we should just do nothing and suffer in silence. We need to speak up and start having the difficult conversations required to bring about change.

“We need to stop seeing work and family as ‘either-or.’ Time for work and time for family are both very important components of a full, meaningful life, and there’s more to life, too. If we don’t reflexively see them as opposing forces, we may come to understand that both can enhance the other in helping to build a balanced life.”

This is one of the most important points in Scott’s book. I don’t believe there is any such thing as work/life balance. I think it has become a blend. With email and messaging capabilities, we are always connected and work and family time are no longer segmented. We need to learn to operate within the new normal.

“We need to live in the world as it is, but we should not give up trying to make things better. If our generation of busy involved dads doesn’t start making change happen, more dads will struggle seemingly alone.”

Precisely. If we don’t advocate for ourselves, no one else is going to. So let’s start.

“Society sends many repeated signals, especially to men, that MORE success, MORE money and MORE power are the keys to being seen as a success, a man in full. Most of us have been receiving this signal for virtually our whole lives. It takes a strong sense of self to turn away from more. Swimming against the tide isn’t easy, but it might just be worth it.”

This is the truest thing I have ever known. And once I came to realize my career is important, but never as important as my family, everything fell into place. Getting demoted at work might be unpleasant, but being demoted as a dad is downright unacceptable.


You can learn more about The Working Dad’s Survival Guide here. Scott’s book is available on Amazon starting June 9, but you can pre-order today. Just in time for Father’s Day.

Also, I have not been compensated in any way for this review. In fact, Scott is a New York Jets fan. So think about how much I, as a New England Patriots fan, must like this book in order to promote it on my site!

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Why I Never Want to be a Stay-at-Home Dad


“If things were different and I didn’t have to work full time, I’d love to be a stay-at-home dad.”

Like many working dads I know, I’ve said that a lot over the years. After all, these two kids are my life. My heart and soul. My reason for existing and doing what I do. They are, quite literally, the best parts of me. So knowing all that, what kind of dad wouldn’t want to genuinely quit his job and be a stay-at-home dad?

This kind. Right here. Me.

I was on vacation last week, which means I spent a ton of time with my two sons. And I enjoyed that time. Most of that time. Definitely some of it, anyway.

But in between wrestling a screwdriver out of Sam’s hands with my oldest on my back, and trying to figure out how Sam managed to make Chinese the default language on my smartphone, I came to a realization. An epiphany, if you will.

I don’t want to be a stay-at-home dad. Not even a little bit. Not ever.

Now let me make something very clear. I love stay-at-home dads and I support them 100%. I know a TON of guys who made this decision, and they are badasses whom I love. I’m not denigrating them or downplaying what they do. What I’m writing is not meant as an insult to stay-at-home dads, nor will it turn into into yet another piece by a working parent blowing sunshine up the collective asses of at-home parents while spouting that “hardest job in the world” nonsense (your job is not more difficult than coal miners, those Deadliest Catch guys, military personnel, cops, firefighters, and air traffic controllers).

This is about me. It’s about finally overcoming the self-imposed shame and stigma of not wanting to care for my kids full time. Because that’s not an easy thing to admit — to you or to myself.

I feel like a hypocrite because my true feelings go against everything I’ve said since Will was born. For years I’ve been telling people I’d love to try my hand at being a full-time stay-at-home dad. I’d talk about how freeing and wonderful it would be to slip my corporate shackles and shed my primary breadwinner responsibilities in favor of play dates. As a proponent of involved fatherhood, I’ve spoken at length about how — if circumstances were different — I’d happily be home taking care of the kids and bucking societal gender norms.

But I overlooked one pretty important factor: I wouldn’t be very good at it.

Don’t confuse that with me not being able to do the job. I could keep the house reasonably clean, get my oldest to school with a packed lunch, and keep the youngest one alive. I could be a full-time, stay-at-home dad. But being able to do something and being good at something are two very different things.

And watching how phenomenal my wife is as a stay-at-home mom, I simply realized this is an area in which I wouldn’t excel.

For starters, I love to work and I need to work. Working fulfills me, and if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be very happy. Of course my kids fulfill me too (albeit in a completely different way), but for years I felt guilty about saying I liked to work. That I needed to work. It felt like ignoring my kids or prioritizing myself above them.

I also don’t have the right temperament for the job. I don’t do well with imaginative or creative play, mainly because (and this sounds even more horrible) I’m not a huge fan of babies and little kids. I’m much better starting around age 3. Add to that, even as a kid I always hated arts and crafts. And the chances of me becoming a “Pinterest Parent” are slim to none.

MJ does all those things and she does them well. I marvel at her ability to seamlessly get through the day while weathering Hurricane Sam and even managing to make things educational for him in the process. Where I break down and tear my hair out, she finds a way to redirect him and engage him in something I never would have thought of in a million years.

As Will has gotten older I’ve been able to relate to him a lot more, but when they’re little I’m just frustrated and confused. I’m still occasionally silly and I get down on the floor to play, but I know my strength will be relating to my boys as they get older — a time my wife admits she is dreading.

You stay-at-home parents do an amazing job. A tough job. And, as I’m finally ready to admit, you do a job I just don’t want to do. After nearly seven years and a hefty heaping of guilt, I’m finally OK with that. I’ve talked to a lot of at-home parents who admit they couldn’t handle going to work full time, and that’s OK too.

The trick is finding someone who complements you by being strong where you’re weak, and vice versa. MJ can’t work right now and I’d go crazy at home full time. It works for us. It works for now.

So I have this to say to working parents who love to work: stop beating yourself up for not wanting to be home full time. It’s not a character flaw and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. You can be a good parent and still love to work, as long as you find the right blend of home and career. And there’s certainly something to be said for modeling hard work and professional success to your kids.

Stepping back and taking an honest look at the situation has given me clarity, relieved me of some guilt and doubt, and made me ever more appreciative of the job my wife does at home. If you’re in the same boat I was, I wish the same for you.

And for the single parents laughing to yourselves and calling me a wimp because you’re out there working and parenting full-time every day without any help, you’re right. You folks really are superheroes!

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Working Parents Have It Tough

wheresdadWill, who will be six years old in April, was asked by his kindergarten teacher to draw a picture of his family. The picture to the left is the result.

When I saw it, I mistakenly thought he forgot about Sam, our newest addition. “Hey buddy, there I am with mom and we’re holding your hand, but I think you forgot about Sam, silly,” I said with a grin. His face immediately turned pale and his eyes darted furiously from me to his mother to the picture. His face contorted into a panicked look, leaving little doubt tears would be following closely behind.

“Sorry dad, I forgot to draw you in our family…because you’re always working.”

He would go on to tell me that while he loves me, he just loves his mom more. Ouch. Cue Cat’s in the Cradle with a side of massive working parent guilt.

Continue reading Working Parents Have It Tough

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