“Don’t blink,” or you’ll miss your children’s days as tiny beings, the wisdom goes. Yes, and “the days are long but the years are short,” we are also often reminded.
Today, I’m so delighted to welcome Brian Anderson, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Fathering Together, to the Mindful Return blog. Remember celebrating “Mother’s Monday” a few weeks ago, on the Monday after Mother’s Day? Brian is one of the driving forces behind “Father’s Friday” – this upcoming Friday before Father’s Day.
To celebrate Father’s Friday and show that fathers are #MoreThanANeckTie (their campaign hashtag), I’ve asked Brian to share some of his working dad reflections here. I’m sure you’ll enjoy his poignant observations on working parent life. His bottom line? Don’t blink – stay present!
“I missed it Dad!” My daughter shouted in frustration
“Sorry, kiddo, you shouldn’t’ve blinked!” I replied with a smirk. We were looking for fireflies in the dusk light of summer. It was still early, and only one or two were flying around our backyard. Try as she might, my daughter was always looking in the wrong direction. Blink, and they’re gone.
It was a rare moment. My wife was putting our youngest down, and I got a chance to just be with my eldest. She was four and newly discovering the joys of staying up “late.”
That moment was three years ago. Since then, she and her sister started doing gymnastics and soccer, started school and pre-school, and have developed quite the social calendar with their neighborhood friends. Their mom switched jobs and started a side business helping postpartum moms return to physical activities without pain. And I co-founded a non-profit.
When you line up everything so succinctly, it’s a wonder our heads don’t spin out of control. (And sometimes they do!)
However, in leaving my full-time job to launch the non-profit, we’re taking great care not to get caught up in the craziness that our life had become over the last three years. And as I move forward, I am keeping two things front and center. First, life will always be busy and complicated. And second, I trust I have everything I need to be an active and engaged father, if I slow down.
Don’t Blink: Life is Busy and Complicated
Growing up in the 1980s long before “Fam Tech” and electronic calendars existed, my mom kept our family calendar hanging in the kitchen. It was a myriad of pencil scratches denoting birthdays, school and church responsibilities, and vacations. She was a master at keeping everyone’s life in balance. And if it wasn’t in the calendar, it might as well not exist.
Forty years later, I don’t recall the last time I used a paper calendar. My wife and I keep things organized using apps and a virtual calendar to help us sync our schedules. Both of us are caught in-between being Gen X and Millennials, so our grasp on technology is fairly solid. Though I admit there are plenty of days when I want to just chuck it out the window.
The point is that life is busy, and the tools we need to stay organized can make it complicated if we don’t make a plan. There are an endless stream of apps, strategies, and bloggers to tell you how to do it. But ultimately what system you use comes down to what works for you as a family.
You may end up with a paper calendar hanging on a fridge. But as long as your system allows you to communicate important events and block time for family game nights and bath time, you’ll know why you are busy and how to manage it.
Our current system is a master google calendar, Listonic for groceries, and a labeled-Gmail inbox with lots of colors. Our days are taken as small blocks of time, so that if something goes wrong, we can always reset at mealtime. And evenings are balanced with game nights, movie nights, and family walks. Don’t blink, I remind myself during these times.
I Have Everything I Need to Be an Active and Engaged Dad
As I shift in my career and take on lead-parent responsibilities, I’m finding my stride again! I no longer have the 2 hours of commute time and monthly weekends away on business. My commute is now 15 minutes on a bike taking my daughters to school. and I get a 60-minute lunch break with them. If I’m lucky, they help with dinner preparations, and we talk about our afternoons.
This happens, because our current system isn’t centered on work. Family connection is the new center. Meals, bath times, and bedtime routines mark our calendars. While meetings still take up the better part of my mornings and afternoons, they aren’t allowed between 5 and 8pm.
By doing this, I’m able to be active in my daughters’ lives, because I use this time to talk and connect. I take the same strategies I employed at work as I built teams and mentored leaders to engage my kids. Research tells us that children learn by our actions for more than our words. I doubt we’ll remember the exact details of each conversation, but we will remember that we had them every day.
And hopefully, that will mean we won’t blink and miss the fireflies. Because we’ll have countless moments to watch them together.
Brian Anderson is a husband to an amazing wife and father to two spirited daughters that keep him inspired and exhausted every day. He started Fathering Together as a way to better connect and learn from his fellow dads. Prior to Fathering Together, Brian has worked as a social worker, university chaplain, and interfaith leadership consultant. When not working on the future of Fathering Together, you can find Brian writing letters to his daughters, creating “cooking” lessons with his daughters, and learning dance moves too!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave