Work/life balance isn’t a challenge exclusive to single dads – the vast majority of single moms I know work too – but I think that finding balance between work and parenting is tougher for men. Decades after the modern feminist movement began, our culture still reflects the belief in men as so-called breadwinners and women as nurturers, managing the house and taking care of the children. Don’t believe me? Check out the movies in the local cineplex, the most popular TV shows and the books that have a sustained run on the best seller list. Or ask your friends how many know men who feel emasculated because they earn less than their female partner.
It’s an even greater challenge when you approach parenting from an AP perspective, because once they’re not wee little ones, attachment parenting involves really paying attention to your children, listening, making time, and honoring and respecting them. As you would imagine, that takes time. Time that could otherwise be spent watching an NFL game or World Cup match, shooting hoops with buddies, grabbing a post-work beer, or – gasp! - dating and having a social life of your own, even as you’re a father.
Ostensibly, the “proper” thing to do as a single dad is to focus on your children when they’re with you, and live the rest of your life when they’re with the other parent. Kinda works if it’s a 50/50 situation (or less, many, many men seem to end up with a gradually diminishing percentage of their children’s time, but that’s another discussion entirely), but even there, if parenting time is split 50/50, that means that you have to squeeze a week’s worth of your work and life into half a week of time. Doesn’t leave much space for sleep!
Maybe that’s not so proper after all. I mean, are we supposed to completely change our schedules and our lives to meet the needs of our children, or is there some happy middle ground where they learn to work around the reality of our adult lives too?
More importantly, one of the things I think about frequently is that I am modeling behaviors for my children. I can talk about work, but if they never see me working, the message I’m sending them is that money just shows up magically. Sure I work when they’re not around, but if they don’t see it, they don’t really believe it.
I’m in my third year of being a single dad and have evolved my perspective to where I now believe it’s important for me to work when my children are with me rather than compartmentalize it to where I just hang out and play with them for half of each week. I am fortunate that I’m an entrepreneur and can arrange my work hours to meet whatever weird schedule I desire, but that’s not typical: most people have someone else set their work hours.
The challenge is to find a balance that lets them see me as a worker, as someone who is doing something to earn a living (because, darn it, money doesn’t grow on trees after all and they’re going to have to understand work begets money begets the stuff you want and lifestyle you desire), but who is still a doting and devoted father who always has time for them and their concerns, their interests and their passions.
And that’s where it gets interesting because by having my own interests, meeting up with my friends sometimes when we’re out, and having them occasionally occupy themselves for an hour or two while I work, they’re also learning that life is defined by what you give, not what you take.
It’s an interesting topic, and if you’re a dad who has to not only earn your own living but cover child support and even write an alimony (oops, sorry, “maintenance”) check, it’s a fine balance to attain. How are you doing it and how’s it going for you and your kids?