12 Work-Life Balance Tips From a Working Dad
Almost all dads care about both their careers and their families. Here’s some advice for finding that elusive work-family success.
Hey dads, answer these two quick questions. They might hold the key to whether you are working toward a successful work-life balance or whether you feel stuck:
- How should the childcare in my family be divided?
- How is the childcare in my family divided?
We’ll get to your answers in a second, but first, some context.
According to new research from Boston College’s Center for Work and Family, there are three types of working dads. In a recent study, BCCWF asked about 1,000 mostly white-collar working dads these two questions.
As it turns out, about two-thirds of dads stated that caregiving should be divided relatively equally, but only about one-third of dads say this is true for their families. In fact, after a deeper dive into the numbers, the responses to these two questions fell into three pretty equal categories:
- Egalitarian Dads: Dads who say caregiving should be shared equally and are doing so.
- Traditional Dads: Dads who say caregiving should not be equal; that their spouse should do more, and she does more.
- Conflicted Dads: Dads who say caregiving should be shared equally but have not figured out a way to make it happen.
So which category do you find yourself in? And more importantly, what does this mean for your work-family juggle?
Related: 6 Ways to Be a Better Parent
Well BCCWF dug even deeper and compared the responses of these three types of working dads on a variety of other questions, including life satisfaction, job satisfaction and the amount of stress based on work-family conflict. The results are really interesting.
The happiest group in terms of life and job satisfaction, as well as lower work-family conflict, was the Egalitarian Dads. This is true despite the fact that egalitarian dads probably have the largest workload when looking at both workplace and the home.
The next happiest group was the Traditional Dads.
The Conflicted Dads were the least happy—far less happy than the first two groups.
I work with employers and fathers all over the country to help them with their work-family challenges. The BCCWF results actually make a lot of sense to me.
The egalitarian and traditional dads are generally happy because they are living consistently with their priorities. Although I generally extol the virtues of egalitarian marriages (they have lower divorce rates, higher income, a financial safety valve if one loses their job and pass on egalitarian values to their children), the traditional dads are also following a path for success. In fact, those who have the highest trajectory careers often have the support of a spouse who handles more of the childcare and home management.
Presuming that one’s spouse is also on board with the egalitarian or traditional arrangement, and that the kids are getting enough of their parents, either pattern is a recipe for a successful work-family arrangement.
By contrast, the conflicted dads have it rough because they aspire to egalitarian goals but can’t make it work because of the barriers posed by finances, family, or most typically the structure and culture of the workplace.
In my book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home, I lay out a plan for conflicted dads to assess their priorities and start making changes large and small so they can achieve a more successful work-life balance. Here’s some of the most relevant advice:
- Assess your work-family priorities and compare these against how you use your time.
- Have open, honest and sometimes difficult discussions with your spouse about the way things are, the way you’d both like them to be and how you might be able to get there.
- Take a thorough look at your financial situation, as this can greatly constrain your choices or provide you the freedom to make big changes.
- Start small, with two- to three-week goals and plans to start building more time in your life for your priorities. For example, if you want more family time, schedule family board game night every Thursday or declare “no screen” hours for everyone in your home (including you!) from 6 to 8 p.m. every night. Build on these over time.
- Assess your work situation. You might discover you can access flexible work options or have more allies at work than you think. Maybe your boss will support part-time telecommuting. You’ll never know unless you ask.
- Once you build up your work credibility, use this to negotiate for more freedom—all while understanding and addressing the needs or concerns of your manager, clients or co-workers. One dad I know negotiated a compressed workweek; longer workdays but every other Friday off.
- Explore the informal and less-visible ways to accommodate your work schedule to your family responsibilities. One dad worked out a handshake agreement with his manager so he could come in at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays to lock in weekly “daddy-daughter” time when his kids were little. Over the years, he has continued his high-flying career trajectory.
- If you can, assert yourself. One dad I know simply left early on days he coached little league. He didn’t advertise it, but he didn’t hide it either. Over time, since his work remained great, no one cared.
- Schedule in time for family and personal priorities. If they are not locked into your calendar, it is surprisingly easy for life and work to get in the way. Date night every other Friday night, pickup basketball Saturday mornings, and Thursday night dad-and-kid Lego sessions should be built into your schedule and defended with police tape and barbed wire.
- If your spouse is finding it hard to let go of primary parenting, hovers over you or micromanages you, it is time for another frank discussion about values and actions.
- Take care of yourself by making sure you have enough couple time, social time and “me time.” Be sure to get enough exercise and take some time to relax and recharge.
- Make friends with other similarly situated dads at work or in your neighborhood. Many dads don’t talk about their struggles and challenges, but we can really help each other if we communicated more.
Virtually all dads care a lot about career success and having the time to be a highly involved, loving dad. Whatever your specific priorities, we need to make conscious choices to align our actions so we can be successful on both fronts. It’s what our families need from us, and we all benefit (yes, even employers) when we live closer to our priorities.