My Work-Family Balance Story

After a month or so of writing this blog, I realize that I should have started from the beginning- by sharing my own work-family balance story.  So, please allow myself to introduce…myself…

I’m a very lucky dad!

I’m lucky in that, as a college professor, I have a career with a lot of built-in flexibility in terms of where and when I get most of my work done.  Aside from classes, office hours and occasional meetings and campus events (usually about 15-20 hours a week), all my other work- class prep, grading, research writing, statistical analysis, committee work- can be done from anywhere at anytime- as long as it gets done (my work motto: have laptop, will travel).  I could be grading, preparing, teaching or even writing this blog in my pajamas from the Bahamas, although it is usually from the dining room table.

With all this autonomy and flexibility, you’d think I had it made.  However, the most limiting factor for me in devoting large, uninterrupted swaths of time at work is my wife’s career. Amy is a musical theater actress (see her website), and her work schedule is demanding, haphazard, inconvenient and inflexible (but, even in her brutally competitive field, she is talented enough to be working all the time!*).  If she’s called for an audition, it is often scheduled for tomorrow! and it cannot be rescheduled to fit her preferences.  When she’s rehearsing, it’s usually 10-6, six days a week (plus a driving commute to/from NYC).  When she’s in a long-running show, she works at night and on weekends. On the plus side, she’s usually home during the day, and does far more than her share in parenting and maintaining the household.  However, in general, entertainers work when others don’t, and the world it not set up to help parents with non-traditional work hours.

As a result, the evening routine usually falls to me, and my opportunities to work or play at night are limited by my ability/willingness to get a babysitter.  With Amy’s four-show weekends, a lot falls to me during days/times in which school and activities can’t pick up the slack (when Nick was younger, the lack of evening and weekend daycare was a big problem).  Also, as Amy is sometimes unreachable and usually unable to leave work on short notice, I need to arrange my schedule in order to meet Nick’s bus or cover emergencies.  We don’t have local family- my parents, in-laws and sister are all a good drive away.  While they are awesome and extremely helpful when they visit, we don’t get built-in day-to-day family assistance.

I’m not complaining about any of this- I’m an unbelievably lucky man to be as involved in Nick’s life as I am.  Most dads don’t have the opportunity to be as constant a day-to-day presence in their kid’s lives.  It really is a blessing.  And I do make sure to remind myself to savor my time with him, as he is growing up so fast.

I have also been very fortunate to have very supportive supervisors during my career.  Before Nick was born, Amy was on national tour.  I requested that my teaching schedule be compressed to three consecutive days, so that I’d be able to take long weekends to meet up with her in various cities around the country, and my supervisor granted the request.  A few years later, when Nick was young and Amy was in a long-running show (she still is- three-plus years of 6 nights a week of evening performances!), I requested to mostly teach daytime classes, and my supervisor agreed.

The support of my supervisors and colleagues has been invaluable in helping me balance work and family. Their consideration of my needs has only improved my job performance and built up my commitment to the university.  I doubt I could find a more reasonable employer, so I’m not looking around.  My greatest work-related struggle is avoiding getting so distracted by work or my “mental to-do list” during parenting time that I am not always present with Nicky- it is hard to resist the lure of the smartphone and laptop.

I’m also fortunate to live in a great community, Nyack, NY.  There are lots of families with kids around Nick’s age in my immediate neighborhood, and we met incredible families at a local infant play-group.  Nyack’s a diverse, artsy, walkable town with parks, a downtown full of shops and restaurants, and frequent family-friendly events.  I’ve been trying to take my own advice about building networks with neighborhood parents.  Now if I’m in a pinch at work, I know at least 5 sets of parents that would get Nick from the bus or act as emergency play-date babysitters.

But mostly I’m lucky because, despite her odd and inconsistent work schedule, Amy is an incredible wife and mother.  I couldn’t have a more supportive partner and Nick could not have a better Mom.

In short, when it comes to balancing work and family, I’ve know I’ve got a pretty sweet situation, and I have it better than almost any dad I know.  Despite all these built-in advantages, juggling work and family still isn’t easy.

So, in short, the following aspects help me balance work and family:

  • Career and industry that lends itself to workplace flexibility
  • A supportive workplace in which supervisors are willing to be flexible and the focus is on performance rather than hours spent at work
  • Helpful neighbors and friends
  • An awesome and very supportive wife/co-parent
  • While we’ll never be rich, we do make a comfortable living
  • Only one kid, who is now old enough that some of the intense parenting stress is off
  • Everyone is healthy

Things I struggle with:

  • My wife’s odd work schedule that makes me the primary parent on evenings and weekends, and makes us lean on my workplace flexibility
  • Grandparents are 2-4 hours away
  • Avoiding work distractions during family time- the downside to being able to work from anywhere is that you can always be working from anywhere

Every situation has challenges, every situation is different, but we all share something very important in common.

The main reason I started this blog is that, despite my relatively cushy situation, I know there’s a need for information, advice and peer support for involved dads trying to juggle work and family roles. Based on my academic and professional work in this area, plus my experience and that of the many dads I know, I think I have something to contribute.  I hope you agree and continue supporting this blog.  Thanks, and hello.

What aspects help you in balancing work and family?  What do you struggle with?  What would you like to read more about? Would you like to contribute with ideas, information or guest posting?  Let’s discuss in the comments section.

* you can see Amy in the long-running Off-Broadway hit, Newsical: The Musical, and in the holiday musical, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Finally, please subscribe to the blog via email or twitter.  I’m donating $2 for every new subscriber to the National Fatherhood Initiative.

16 thoughts on “My Work-Family Balance Story

  1. I am writing this as my daughter participates in dance class and parents get stuck in the hallway. What do you think of getting rid of to-do lists? If it needs to be done, schedule a time and stick to it. This goes for family time, etc.

    Thoughts?

  2. my wife is not working right now, but when she was we offset our schedules. she asked for a 7am-4pm shift because my job has me working two evenings per week and i take an after-work class on tuesdays. It worked well overall and fortunately we don’t t have the type of jobs where we had to work from home or on weekends. we struggle with the same thing most families these days do, trying to balance between being providers and parents and doing both successfully. we have my mother in law really close and that’s super helpful because she’s our go-to call for those emergency pickups you mentioned.

    p.s. I hope you’re staying safe/dry up there…

  3. Everyone stayed safe, no property damage, but no power or heat for the last 4 days. Luckily, i live in a fantastic town and friends and neighbors were stepping up dfor each other left and right.

    Nick and I went to my father’s upstate, and this is the first tv or Internet coverage of the storm damage I’ve seen. Just horrific.

  4. Thanks for sharing some of the factors that give you flexibility as well as make finding balance challenging. It sounds like your wife’s work schedule can make things difficult, but as you noted, it’s also an amazing opportunity to be with your son in such a meaningful way. My wife works full-time but with more standard hours. While I love my occasional time alone with the girls when my wife is out (our kids are 3 and 1), I am completely exhausted by the time she gets home! Scott, we are lucky to have academic positions that offer a lot of flexibility — in fact, it was an important factor in my decision to pursue this career.

    • Hi Mark- Yes, we academics have a realy good thing going with the autonomy and flexibility. We still have challenges, though. Things must have been much easier with the “man breadwinner, woman caregiver” model- but I think the more egalitarian approaches of today allow for so much more paternal involvement.
      Finally, it may sound like I’m complaining, but I love my wife’s acreer- it is very exciting and theater people are really synamic (I get to meet celebrities from time to time, too!).
      Thanks for following the blog, and please come back and comment often!

  5. Hey Scott, Tks for taking on the topic of Fathers, Work and Family. My life situation is very different than yours as I am a grandfather. However, I still have work life balance challenges. My wife, Betty and I like to spend time with the grand-kids, they live in Washington, DC. And I have my own business in sales effectiveness consulting firm. So like you I can do much of my work virtually.

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