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Work Life Balance Sometimes Means Working Less

I missed my daughter standing up. That's when I knew I had to make a big change.

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We had the life that many other parents of our generation have: my wife and I both worked, our two kids were in daycare until 5 p.m., and we made the mad dash from dinner to bath to bed by eight. We were getting about three hours per day with our kids during the week. It was 180 minutes of time playing, essentially, icebreaker games. It just didn’t feel right.

I had experienced enough with our first child to know that after we put our daughter in daycare, there were going to be days I picked her up and learned that she had hit some milestone that her mother and I had missed. I knew this but hadn’t handled it. Then that day came. I walked into the daycare and her provider told me that Rona, then just nine months old, had stood up. She leaned against a bookcase and became bipedal. Her teacher was delighted and so was Rona (it seemed). I was delighted too, but also upset. But I didn’t have time to process. I had to rush the kids home. My wife and I fed Rona and Fox dinner, gave them a bath, and said goodnight before we, ourselves, called it a day.

Although I knew I was missing out on my kid’s lives, I was reluctant to give up my own. I knew what career I wanted when I was 14 and I’d worked every day since to realize that teenage dream. I worked in entertainment and brushed shoulders with some of the most brag-worthy names out there. I didn’t want to give that up, but I also couldn’t slip the feeling I was missing crucial moments of my kid’s life.

Eventually, my anxiety about missing out mixed with my work-related anxiety. Depression followed. I had made a compromise that wasn’t working. I came clean to my boss and company. I asked for a change.

The timing was just right. We moved our first kid to a Montessori school that ends at 3 p.m. every day. The school was also willing to accommodate our youngest on a part-time basis (three days a week) if we chose. I used this change as a catalyst to my own. I went from a traditional work schedule to working from home two days a week with Rona by my side, and leaving the office (or home office) early each day so I could pick the kids up from school and get a few bonus hours.

I knew that this was the outcome I wanted and I sensed I could get it, but I wrestled with the decision for weeks. I was nervous about asking for the schedule change, not just because I was worried that my boss would say no, but also because my personal identity was and is so deeply tied to what I do for a living. I kept asking myself: “Who am I if I am not this guy?” It felt like an impasse when it was, in fact, a situation that required me to have an honest discussion and make a personal choice. That choice doesn’t define me, but it is reflective of who I am and what I value.

I was fortunate that when I made it, I was met with understanding by both my coworkers and my wife.

Now, I have what I want. The commute to and from school is longer than when they were in daycare, but it doesn’t matter. It’s during those car rides that I get to enjoy the rewards of my chosen path. My 4-year-old jabbers on about what he did that day or what he sees outside his window, or literally anything that comes into his mind. I get to know him a little better. He enjoys the routine of Dad picking him up and we have a few extra hours to spend than we did before. Sure, I know way too much about Paw Patrol plot lines these days, but we get these moments together, a connection that is fulfilling and unquantifiable.

The schedule is hard. The workload didn’t change as much as you might think, but I’m consolidating my time: an hour with the kids, an hour for work. I can’t make all the work trips I used to, which was sometimes the reward to the job. That’s fine. So be it.

But when I think back to that 14-year old kid, who sat in his bedroom, dreaming of making a living in entertainment, I know I did okay. I know that I’ve done enough that I can re-direct my goals. I’m planning on getting another 40-plus years in this career. I’m lucky if I get another four years with kids who want to share this amount of themselves with me. I can revisit the career stuff like a favorite record, but this time with my kids, at the age they are, just becoming humans – this is the stuff that’s finite.

Only a week into our new schedule with a new school, I took the kids straight to the park after school. Fox rushed off to feed the ducks. I took Rona out of her stroller and went to plop her on the grass. I failed because she got her feet down first, sticking the landing. She stood on her own. No leaning for support. No holding my hand. She was happy. I was happy. She was standing on her own and I was there to see it happen.