Life/Work Challenges

Last Monday, I posted a clip from a talk that I gave at Northwestern as part of a workshop on work/life challenges. Hosted at a place of employment, I set out to talk about these issues through the lens of how we can make our work environment fit into the rest of our life. On a pragmatic level, we talked about parental leave, flexible schedules, childcare support, and such details that really focused on the work side of the equation. We affirmed that “life” (i.e. family, fun, etc.) was important, complicated, and that we needed to find a way to fit it into our work-life. One of my main arguments is that while working dads of course often experience work/life integration pressures, we don’t talk about them enough, and that it’s critical we do so (especially when we hold positions of power). So I talked a lot about work and making work flexible enough to fit in family.

On both days of the workshop, though, at one point the conversation shifted to thinking about that we have to be good to ourselves when we don’t manage to live up to our goals in our life, too. This was a point made by a panelist on the first day and one that I was sure to bring up on the second, as I think it’s critical. You do not have to be SuperDad or SuperMom or even SuperSpouse. There will be moments in which you have to let yourself fail to be perfect at home and to be ok with that. Because of course we all fail.

This is a moment in which you, dear reader, say, “Well of course!” When I post about such things in Facebook, some of my friends react as if I need lecturing about not being SuperDad. But I’m not so sure it’s as easy as some would make it. We all have an aspirational self that competes with the realities of our circumstances.

Last week, I beat myself up this week because of Nico’s homework. Before you launch into a harangue about kids and homework, which I generally agree with, Nico’s homework is reasonable. With 10 minutes a day, Monday-Thursday, he’d be done, as it’s just 5-6 worksheets (Nico is 6). But last week, it was hard to get him to concentrate. I picked up the kids after 6 and didn’t have dinner done until 7. No one can do homework with him at his after-school, since he needs an aide or parent, and he just plays at the afterschool (which is a good thing!). By 7, he was tired, as his body clock was reacting to daylight savings time, and just wouldn’t concentrate.

Yes, we can force him to sit down or try to bribe him with post-homework ipad/tv time, and we do those things as appropriate. I’m a big fan of targeted bribery. But not this week. My wife was out of town on one of her regular work trips. I have multiple grant proposals to polish and a talk to revise. I had a huge stack of grading and several projects for the committee. My whole headspace is focused on getting back to work by 9.

So Nico hasn’t done his homework.

I’m letting it go.

This may sound trivial, and it is, but there are other things I don’t do also that are harder to let go. Nico has some outside therapy, but he could have more, and some of them might help him with various challenges. Therapies, though, take about 2 hours. One hour for therapy and a half-hour of travel and setup and such on either side. I just don’t have more 2 hour blocks in the week to use for this. I can’t find those hours. We were in a hotel last weekend and I was reminded for the 50th time that Nico loves swimming and I /need/ to get him lessons, that it would be great for gross motor issues (and make him happy). I feel like I’m letting him down. These are more serious things than a week of homework.

Similarly, my daughter talks about music, soccer, gymnastics, dance, and countless other activities that she’d like to do more often. We need to get on this. 

But we need to be good to ourselves and admit that life is complicated and just as we ask our work to accommodate our lives, it’s alright to reverse that relationship as needed. And to do it intentionally and without guilt.

Easier said than done.

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