- How many minutes per day do you give each of your children your undivided attention? 0, 2, 4, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20
- Where does your children fit on your priority list in relation to money, power, status and the meaning your work gives you?
- Where do they fit in with respect to your leisure activities and your friends?
- Do you show your children that you want to be with them, and that it is not a chore for you?
Perhaps you have discovered after doing our little mental reckoning that your score is not as good as you would have liked. The brutal reality is that time is one of the most precious commodities for busy people.
Children know that too – time spent with children by dads who are busy is very much appreciated by kids (even if they don’t say so at the time). Indeed such time spent with kids goes a long way to making them feel worthwhile: “If my busy dad is willing to give up time to spend it with me, maybe I am worth something after all.”
The exact place where your time-work balance sits will vary according to your children’s ages. They need more of your focused time when they are young, (the very time when it is most tempting to work harder to try to get yourself established in your vocation), an opinion garnered by Professor Bruce Robinson after interviewing hundreds of families for his parenting books. Literacy is an essential component of our modern world, so anything a father can do to build his children’s literacy skills is a real bonus, and reading with a child is one of the best ways to bond with them.
An experience from a dad
Raymond Shanhun, a volunteer of The Fathering Project, has three children under five years old when he was in a new position in a country posting, with no grandparents to help.
“It was a very busy time in my life,” he says. “However every evening I would lie in bed with each of my kids and read to them (sometimes I would nod off and they would wake me up, demanding more of their story). The Dr Seuss story books were all our favourites. Although I was extremely busy as a young dad, that literacy time with my kids was invaluable for all of us. Now my kids are adults and interestingly, two of my adult children are avid readers.
“One of my boys is an electrical engineer and utilises his high level reading skills to scan professional articles. He often sends me interesting articles because we both share an interest in current issues and ideas. This is a wonderful side benefit of reading to him and discussing ideas with him when in his formative years.”
Managing your precious time
Some dads’ jobs start early in the morning while others work shifts or have irregular hours – and plenty of dads work weekends – but for over 80% of men there is some degree of flexibility in their working week hours.
Suggestions for juggling your work hours:
- Without any net loss of hours worked it is possible to generate better times with the children. You can alter the shape of your working week so that, for example, you start earlier one day and finish later the next day, enabling you to spend more time with your family on one of those mornings. For example, why not get up and start work at 5am one day then wait until 11am the next day before going in?
- Try taking your kids for breakfast before school, one at a time, so it’s one-on-one time
- Similarly you can finish work early once a week or fortnight and take the kids for an ice cream or down to the beach for a swim
- Ask your boss or line manager about working flexibly.
Men who have tried these tricks have found that they work really well and improve their relationships with their kids enormously. When children are little, time is so precious that anything you can do to spend more time with your little ones will be rewarded both now and later on in their lives.
Other tips on being there for children when they are young…
“I love having one-on-one times with the girls, going out for dinner at a restaurant or for a milkshake, or playing soccer together. The simple things often end up being special times with them.” – Father of four and Australian National Test Cricket Team coach and Justin Langer.
“The strategy I use to get time with my kids is to make my kids my hobby – and that works for me.” – Michael Malthouse, AFL coach
“I never realised how much they really wanted me to do things with them until many years later. I will be a better grandfather for it all, but it is too late for my own kids as they have all left home now. I wish I’d known all of this stuff when I started my fathering.” – Peter Provan, Welder