“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.