Doing nightly math homework with my third grader has me in somewhat of a calculative mood...
Along with fatherhood and silver streaks has come a more honed ability to be introspective and self-aware. I remember a much more raw me just 10 years ago who was much more self-centered and focused on the moment at hand. FUN was the point of life and, I must say, very easily achieved especially when you just don't give a shit. FUN at work. After work, FUN. Weekend, FUN. Life balance is easy!
Then we had our first daughter. While I began to get my act together well in advance of purposefully trying to create a human, you just can't know what it's going to be like to be a parent until you are one.
All of a sudden I had quite a bit more at the forefront of my worry; providing for my family over the long-term, college, a home in a good school district, continuous home improvement, making sure my wife had time for herself, making time for us all together, making time for my wife and I has a couple, making time for myself, work, etc., etc., etc.
Life balance was now complicated, and in a big way.
I found myself in a position where I had to almost keep score in my head as to where I was spending my time to ensure I wasn't inadvertently upsetting any of the weights on the scale. My hobbies tend to take days or many hours at a time, which often puts me and my family way out of whack.
Years of failure in this constant ebb and flow have shown me some things that can help avoid the inevitable catastrophe to follow an extended period of lopsidedness:
Engage in communication with your family, employer, and any other critical relationship. When you think you're falling out of balance, it's probably because you are. Ask your spouse and children how they feel and tell them how you feel. These conversations alone can ease the situation and help everyone who is impacted by a sway in the balance (including you) understand what you're doing, why, and how things will change.
If momma ain't happy, nobody's happy. It's an adage for a reason. Most dudedads I know would never purposefully make their spouse resentful of the time you're spending on your hobby, work, with friends, etc., however, it happens. The key to avoiding this is ensuring that they are thinking about and acting on what they need, even if that's simply more time with or from you. If everyone is thinking now and again about what they need and getting it, then everyone in theory, should feel OK.
Routine. The more routine you have in life the more easy it is to modify and tweak as you seek balance. If every day is different then your just juggling the chaos. In my experience, if you can't somehow maintain some resemblance of a routine you will find yourself way off kilter.
Do it together! I'm not talking about Bring Your Kid to Work Day, although I'm sure that's valuable. I'm talking about working toward activities and hobbies that you can all do together, with the kids, or as a couple. If you and your spouse don't share any passions, try some give and take, or agree to find something new that you can both enjoy and then pull the kids into it. My wife recently bent significantly on her willingness to go skiing with me and the kids, however, I'm still working to get all 4 of us on the couch Sundays to watch football (someday?).
Find your inner gyroscope. I mentioned keeping score in my head earlier...and this is essentially what I'm talking about. It's trying to be self-aware and reflective of what's been going on within your inner circle. Have I been spending an unusual amount of hours at the office? Has my family recovered from the 3 weeks that I was on business travel 2 months ago? Has my wife been able to get any time to herself? When is the last time we bonded as a family for a day or more?
Don't get me wrong - I'm not pretending that I've got this figured out. For this dudedad, life balance is actually not something that I feel could ever be achieved at this point, which is one of life's great garlands; for those of us trying hard to get ahead and make more for our families we end up having to put more time into things that will often take us away from the best and most fleeting moments with our children.
There will always be a give and take, and ensuring we're avoiding extremes is something that I know I need to be aware of at the very least. At best, well, maybe we can all be happy and have some FUN!!!
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