BY DR. DAN PETERS
I was saying goodbye to my wife and kids and leaving a long family weekend trip one day early. I kissed my girls and said I would see them in a few days. My son was playing with his cousin, and I bent down to give him a hug, saying I had to go and would see him soon.
He looked up at me and said, “Why?” followed by “Again?”…I felt like I was shot in the heart. I didn’t even think he knew when I was gone.
A few days earlier I had reminded him that I would be leaving our family trip a day early and I explained why. But now I see that I explained things to make myself feel better but my son’s remarks showed me how much I was missing.
I had a three-hour drive to the airport and I could not stop thinking about our surprising exchange. The first part of my drive I felt guilty and then I felt sorry for myself. Why was I feeling so badly? I was building my business and my career. I was responsible for our bills and our financial well-being. I needed to travel for my job. “He will understand one day,” I told myself. “I am doing what I need to for my family.” Even after three hours of driving, the uncomfortable feelings didn’t go away. My son had definitely hit a nerve.
I distracted myself in the airport by responding to emails. I started editing my power point presentation for the talk I was traveling to give. I pushed off the lingering yet bad feelings. I continued to work on my presentation on the plane. But I had to admit that I was still very distracted.
I kept seeing his face and hearing him say, “You are leaving again?” I realized that my son held up a mirror for me that morning and it force me to gtt in touch with why I was so affected by his comment. I was working too much and I was traveling more than I wanted to; I was off balance and the thing I cared about most was being impacted negatively – my family. Worst of all I had known this for a while and I kept living in denial. Today I realized I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
Daily, I hear parents in my office struggling with the same challenges. “How can I be there for my kids and do my job well?”… “I don’t even think about myself anymore. I am running as fast as I can to keep the home going and getting my kids to their sports and appointments.”… “I am supposed to be half-time but my job responsibilities are full-time.”… “I am trapped. I have to travel. I am expected to.”… “I am falling short as a parent.” And the list goes on and on and on and on.
When I realized I felt the same way, I knew I had to make a change and lead by example for my family and for my patients.
Parenting is always changing but what never changes is the fact that parenting is one of the most important, if not the most important, of all our jobs. Expectations for being a “good” parent have increased and the pressure to raise “successful” kids has reached ab all time high. I have lived, parented, and consulted with families long enough to know that there is no “right” recipe for finding a work-life balance. But I do know we can make a change by parenting with purpose every single day. How? The key is being aware of what you are doing in your life and assessing whether what you ARE doing matches with what you WANT to be doing.
Technology is giving us far more options than our parents had in terms of working and where/when we work. Ask yourself: Are you happy with what you are doing? Are you spending the time with your family that you want to every day? Do you have time to exercise, think, and connect with your friends? Do you have time and energy for your spouse or partner? Asking and answering these questions can feel scary and you may find yourself wanting to avoid them but don’t. Start finding YOUR ideal work-life balance now and start making changes, even small ones, to reach your desired goals.
By the time the plane landed everything was different. Imade the decision that I was going to take a hard look at my travel and nights away, including late nights, from my family. I slowly started traveling less, scheduled my late day appointments earlier in the day, and scheduled email time when the kids were asleep or not around. I made a commitment to protect my running time three mornings a week because that is when I do some of my best thinking. In a very short time I reached my goal of living in a world where there is a work-life balance.
My 10-year-old son is now a 14-year-old teenager and he only wants to be with his friends…My cautionary tale to all parents is simple: don’t wait! Find your own work-life balance now so you can parent — and live — with purpose.
This blog originally appeared on Psychology Today.
Image courtesy of Dr. Dan Peters.