My Work Life Balance, as a Working Fatherby Alec Dobbie
A caveat, as all self-indulgent posts start, I’m not trying to preach here, far from it. There is no correct parenthood, only the path you choose. This is the way that my wife and I chose to bring up our kids and it’s simply a description of how I did my part. If your chosen route is different, all power to you, this was simply ours. We both wanted to be hands-on day to day, where I could change nappies (diapers for those over the pond), do night time stuff and as they grew, take them to school, see plays and watch sports days.
As mentioned in a previous post, I’m a long-time software guy. After tripping and stumbling into a kind of very haphazard programming apprenticeship and several years learning my trade I ended up a jobbing computer contractor, this means chasing short pieces of work 3-6 months in length. The plus side of this is you get paid more, the downside you get no pension/sick pay and most relevant to a life with kids, no stability and are often far from home. Whilst contracting, I’ve worked in Finland, London, Aberdeen, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Yorkshire, where I live with my family. As I’m sure you can see, this sporadic, distant working doesn’t lend itself to being a day to day parent. Over the years of working like this, I’d seen lots of parents missing lots of time with their children due to work commitments and I wanted mine to be different.
My first target was to stop working so far away, to bring my life nearer to home. I found out there is a reasonable amount of home working available in my field, usually paid a little less and I didn’t get the pick of exciting work, but at least it was at home. So I made our conservatory an office (props to the wise, don’t. It's too warm in the summer with highs of 40 and too cold in winter with lows of 5). This usually involved a day or two each week in an office somewhere but was miles better than driving to Aberdeen once a week and staying in a hotel.
By the point I had made this move, we'd had Jack and he was already around 9 months or so. Turns out, in the first couple of years it's quite hard to tell a toddler when daddy is working but we persevered and it was still bloody hard, the little face appearing at the door to see daddy was pretty hard to say no to.
At the same time as doing this we had started to build the routes of what became Your Baby Club, I had the idea (that seemed pretty far fetched at the time) of building a business that would allow me to enjoy the work I do, work with some ace people, stop chasing little bits of work and spend meaningful time with my kids. I’ve written about it over here so won’t bore you again.
After 3-4 years of building FanFinders, I was in roughly the place I am now. It's not for everyone but my work-life balance is roughly where I wanted it to be. It has big pluses and some negatives.
My kids are 8 and 10 now and I can do plenty of parenting around work. My waking day normally starts around 5 (yup I’m one of those awful early morning sods), I pop to the gym (when I can be bothered) and then home for 6 ish. My kids, much to my wife's annoyance are also early risers and often up by the time I’m home, so we have breakfast together (6 scrambled eggs if you are asking). I then try to go through my task list from the day before, catch up on messages and do my emails. I usually fail at emails but it's the trying that counts right?
I’m away on business at about 6 days a month so we split the school run, I do it most days when I’m around, we walk the ½ mile to school and back come rain or shine. I really really enjoy it and would suggest anyone lucky enough to have the chance to do it as often as possible. My kids remember things they forget later in the day, stuff like what they did all day, what they ate, what their favourite lesson is.
In between the school runs, I’m at my desk as the saying goes, getting shit done. After the later school run, my wife is home from work. She makes dinner usually and we sit down around 530-6pm to eat. We then take it, in turn, to shuttle the kids around to after school things, kickboxing, cubs, scouts and to walk the dog. I then return to my desk to catch up on anything I’ve missed finishing around 8 pm. Then time for an hours TV with my other half and then I go to bed to read.
The work/kids/work/kids/work thing isn’t for everyone but it allows me to spend decent quality time with my children where in other circumstances I couldn’t. My main concern now is that with the rapidly approaching secondary school they simply won’t need me as much, I know it's part of growing up and to be celebrated but I’ll miss my walks to school with them and hearing all about their lunch decisions.