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Wellbeing / Work & family

The guilt few men ever talk about

Ever felt like you were missing out on something? What if it was something you’d never get back?

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I used to work in a corporate job for a large multinational. I liked the job, the pay was great, and, like most people in my situation, I put in the hours to ensure the boss knew how much of an asset to the company I was.

Those hours were generally 8.30am to 6pm but my commute meant I was out the door by 7.30am most mornings and generally home after 7pm.

Normal for working dads?

"In an equal opportunity world, we often think about how to better the work-life balance for women. And we should. But fathers also feel guilty about not seeing their kids as much as they should, and they should not be overlooked. "

Maybe.

But for me, it was unacceptable.

Here’s the problem. My child’s bedtime routine (bath, brush teeth, bed) was always around the time I was leaving work. Every night I’d arrive home, fly through the door and utter the words “is he awake?” to my wife, always knowing the answer would be a “no”, but still hoping for the best.

It seemed I was missing my son’s entire waking life for the sake of supporting him.

I was also mixing the stress of long hours with the weight of responsibility of providing for a growing family.

Then there was the guilt I felt that my wife was raising our child on her own.

Corporate life isn’t at all compatible with family (I know, newsflash!). The clock-on, clock-off mentality demands discipline, punctuality, and a presence at your desk even if by the afternoon you’re so mentally drained you have little to no productivity.

Big companies often talk about having their employees ‘work smarter not harder’ yet it’s still impossible to approach your boss and say: “look, I’m only working four hours today, but will fill it with eight hours of productivity”. Despite the well-documented law of diminishing returns with regard to long working hours, an early mark once in a while to put my kids into their pyjamas wasn’t an option. An afternoon off was seen as slacking off.

That rigidity had to stop – and it did.

I put an end to it.

I had the opportunity to go into business for myself and I grasped it with both hands.

Soloism changed my life. And it changed my family’s life too.

Like many soloists, I now work harder than ever, but I work when I want to work. I can start my day at 6am and finish at 3pm if I want to. I can be there for pivotal moments in my kids’ lives without feeling like my place of employment is doing me a favour I’ll have to somehow repay.

My heart breaks for men who aren’t able to share these special moments with their children – missing sports days and Christmas performances to deliver a report or hit their targets.

In an equal opportunity world, we often think about how to better the work-life balance for women. And we should. But men feel guilty too and they should not be overlooked.

Insights from my switch

  • My kids feel more connected to me and vice-versa.
  • My kids can come to work with me.
  • I can give my wife a day-off caring for the kids.
  • I can choose my hours or days.
  • I can work when my kids are asleep and be there when they’re awake.
  • I can work from anywhere.
  • I feel as though I’m providing for my family, yet still have time to be a part of their lives.

Corporations need to shed themselves of their rigidity and understand that men want to be fathers as much as women want to be mothers. Otherwise, the same ‘brain-drain’ we’ve seen from women leaving the corporate world in droves will soon be replicated on the working dads side of the scale too.

Has working for yourself made you a better family man?

Matthew White

is director of Ergoflex Australia, an online retailer of premium quality memory foam mattresses. As well as helping Australians get a better night's sleep, Matthew is a marketer, sleep blogger, father of four and home renovator.

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