The Most Important Thing?

work_life“Is this the most important and impactful thing I can be doing right now?”

That’s the fundamental question we all ask ourselves at my day job to figure out which projects should be prioritized. There are lots of things that need doing, but working on a little bit here and a little bit there leaves us scattered and unfocused. So whenever we get spread too thin we stop, ask that question, and then get back to work on the most important thing.

Unfortunately it’s not so clear-cut when you’re a parent — especially a working parent.

An average day for me consists of leaving the house at 7 a.m. just after my son wakes up, and getting back around 6:30-7 p.m. which is an hour before he goes to bed at 8. That’s thanks to long hours and a really shitty commute that averages roughly 80-90 minutes — each way. And I really love my job. I do. And not just because the salary I derive from it keeps our family afloat. I love the people I work with, I get to write and edit every day, I’ve learned countless new skills switching from print to digital and I’ve grown personally and professionally because of it. I hope to stay and thrive there for many years and I enjoy immense satisfaction from almost every part of it.

And yet as much as I love work, there’s a little voice chirping in the back of my head: “Is this the most important thing I can be doing?”

I come home and I see arts and crafts projects MJ and Will have done together during the day. I see Facebook pictures throughout the day of places they go and things they do. And when I get home I listen to them talk, close as can be with inside jokes and things that can only be had from spending all that time together. MJ knows the intricate details of what’s happening on a daily basis at preschool, which friends Will is having a problem with at the moment, whether Batman, Power Rangers or Transformers is currently his Favorite. Thing. Ever.

These things might seem insignificant, but they’re not. In fact, I think these little nuggets are the things that really make parenting worth it. They are quite literally the most important thing a parent can be doing.

Working parents know this. We do. We know we’re missing out on so much good stuff, and yet there’s almost nothing we can do about it. Because the simple fact of the matter is our salaries from our jobs keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Sure we can try to work from home or cut back our hours, but that comes with risks too. Fair or not, the truth is people (men especially) are punished for missing work, and often thought of as lazy for asking for leave or time off related to family.

Being a working dad is a constant battle for me. I’m trying to advance my career so I can better provide for my family, while also remaining present enough as a husband so my wife doesn’t feel like a single parent, and as a good enough dad so my kid still remembers who I am and doesn’t see me as a novelty.

It’s an absolutely exhausting tightrope walk in hurricane force winds, and all too often you end up feeling like you have one foot in each world and you’re not performing well in either role.

While I’m not sure if I could hack being a stay-at-home parent, I do envy them in one big way. I really do believe that while their job is immeasurably difficult, they can comfort themselves with the knowledge that they are absolutely doing the most important thing they can be doing by raising a quality human being every single day. It doesn’t make the work itself any easier, but the peace of mind that comes with it has to be a relief.

Meanwhile working parents are left with a paycheck that never seems to cover all the self-doubt when trying to figure out if we’re doing the most important thing.

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6 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing?

  1. I hadn’t even read this when I left this morning at 7:03, but the sentiment is exactly what was going through my mind as I said goodbye to the boys and my wife. Right now, right this second, I wish like hell I could get up from this cubicle and go do something at home with or for my sons. Every second away from them feels like an opportunity lost. Yet, what are working parents to do in the US? We’re locked into rigid, old-fashioned corporate thinking about what makes a good worker, and statistics/surveys say that is compounded for fathers. (Although, certainly, working mothers have it just as tough.) Topping it off is the cost of childcare, for which we have paid nearly $100,000 since our older son was born seven years ago. It’s a brutal dilemma. Some people might call it a first-world problem, and yeah. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a real problem here in the US. Something needs to be done about it. I just don’t know what yet. I’m thinking about it, though. Thanks for writing this, Aaron.

  2. I hear ya my friend. No easy answers. I think it’s getting a little better, but only by centimeters. Not enough to make a difference for us, but we’ll be able to say we were at the forefront of change. And then we’ll die. So…there’s that.
    Daddy Files recently posted..The Most Important Thing?My Profile

  3. It can’t be easy. I’ve been blessed to get to stay home with all of my kids. My youngest is now ten and the last one still at home. I homeschool him so he’s still here during the day. I’ve always worked,either overnights or part-time in the evenings, and hated being away even that much though.

    I think one way you could claim your own time to build some of those memories would be to make bedtime your time with Will. Let MJ go for a coffee or a walk or take a hot bath (whatever she likes for a little me time), and build an elaborate bedtime ritual for you and your son. Have a snack, read a book , share stories from your own childhood, make up your own stories or whatever. I think you’ll soon find you’ll have your own “inside jokes” and special memories.

    If that doesn’t work, try to make a date on the weekend and commit to it every week. It doesn’t have to be huge or take away from the overall family time, but it will give him something to look forward to each week while you’re at work (and you too). And as the stay-at-home parent, I’m sure MJ would appreciate the time to herself – which can be hard to get sometimes.

    I’m not saying it will make it easier for you to walk out the door at 7 AM, but it might help with some of the self-doubt.
    Todd recently posted..Movie Review: Escape From Planet EarthMy Profile

  4. I’m a single mom. And I commute (I’m up at 3am to get to the train station for the 7am train, to work 830-430 in downtown Toronto, then, I catch the 410 or 425 train home, and I get in the door about…645ish. My son goes to bed at 8 as well.

    During the winter, there are days that I don’t get home due to winter whiteouts, black ice, freezing rain. Those are the hardest, as I only see my son every other week (I have joint custody with his father, my ex husband)

    In June I will be moving with him a little closer as I will be able to float my own place. I will be able to get him up in the morning at 530 with me, drop him off to day care for 630 and pick him up at hopefully 6pm. I will get a little more time with him, but not much. But what we do with our time I find has been more important than how much. We snuggle, we giggle, ticklefights, we try writing his name, colour, play trucks (I get down on my hands and knees and drive those trucks right with him) on the weekends we go skating, sledding, play outside, ride the horsies (I live at my mother’s farm right now)or swimming. I try to make the time I do get as valuable as possible. He has a bit of separation anxiety we are working through, but it’s because he never knows right now when mommy will get home from work (winter is wonderful)- falling asleep in my bed and my moving him to his own after he’s asleep has greatly helped this. I he does crawl in with me every once in a while, but that’s usually in the morning and I don’t want to get up right at that moment.

    You are doing your best. And even though you doubt yourself, know, that the quality time you spend with him when you are with him, Will will understand and know that daddy is there for him, daddy loves him, and daddy is setting a great example: that you do what you have to do to give your family what they need. He will respect you for that, and grow up with great values and know the meaning of working for what he has. And he will appreciate it a lot more as well.

  5. I can totally sympathize with you and your self doubts. I was there when my two children were your son’s age. As much as I loved my job and career, I really, really wanted to be home so I can enjoy the experiences my stay at home wife had with our children. I questioned my role in life constantly as I was away at work. A nice promotion came with more money but it took me away on business trips and longer hours. But, life is too short and children grow too fast. Their childhood years are so limited. I couldn’t let it pass me by.

    I had to find a way to be at home. It took a few years to do it, including taking a demotion to be closer to home with no more business trips, but I did it. We are fortunate to switch roles and glad we have lived well within our means and saved enough throughout our 14 year marriage. I hope you find your ultimate goal, set a plan, a time frame and go for it. It may take a few more years to get there but it starts with actions you can take today.

    I’m willing to work longer later in life in exchange for this time in my children’s lives. Perhaps, you will, too. Good luck and know that the love you have for your son is the best gift you can give him.

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