Reflecting on priorities of family & work
Part of prioritization is that there are no absolutes. Prioritizing family over work is more of a philosophy than a set of hard and fast rules. While there are practices I try to adhere to in order to realize this philosophy, there are always going to be instances where I simply cannot prioritize family over work. When cases like this involve my kids, disappointment ensues.
I write this blog from Boise, Idaho. I’ve had several trips over the past year back and forth to Boise for a project for work. It’s been a fun project coming to a close and I do relish the opportunity to get away and have time to reflect. This trip happens to coincide with the annual school Father-Daughter Dance at my kids’ school. I do say I am a little more than flattered that my daughter still wants to be seen in public with me. How long can this last?
I learned of this dance only a couple of weeks ago – I’m not extremely diligent in reading the weekly school newsletter (it’s usually filled with drivel). Truth is, even if I did learn about the dance 6 months ago, I would not have been able to avoid this trip. Our client has had this day planned for close to a year, since we initially started the work, and I am required to be a presenter to a large group of teachers. I’ve held this relationship from the start and need to see it through to the end. Not going, was never an option.
My daughter is none too pleased with me. She wondered why I couldn’t just change the trip. After all, her friend’s dad changed his travel plans for this dance. To be fair, he travels every week and I travel every few months. I did examine other flight options and it just was not possible. Even this morning, my daughter lobbied for me to change the plans. It’s hard for her to understand.
This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last that I have missed something involving my kids – either big or small – because of work. Last year, it was my son’s piano recital – where I was supposed to play a duet with him. I’ve missed a swim meet, soccer game or two, and some school performances because of conflicts at work.
With my reflection time during this trip, I’ve been able to think about my parents and when I grew up. My parents tried to attend all of my games, recitals, performances, etc. throughout my life. I remember them being present at ALL of them. I remember that, but also know it wasn’t true. I am certain that as my dad traveled to Europe often, he must have missed things and his absence must have disappointed me at the time. These disappointments are not even memories. The memories are of all the things he and my mom were there for.
As an aside, I don’t think disappointment is necessarily a bad thing. My kids will be disappointed at other times in their life by me, my wife, and probably many others. Maybe they don’t get into a college they want to go to or don’t get a promotion they want at work. They’ll be dumped by a girlfriend or boyfriend or have a friend that doesn’t follow through on a promise. I’ve referenced my favorite parenting book before, “Blessings of Skinned Knee” and try to teach my kids how to bounce back from such disappointments and keep perspective. In the grand scheme of life, missing a dance may seem big for a 9 year old, but it really is miniscule. Communicating that to my kids is a delicate dance (double entendre intended), trying not to be overly dogmatic (it is what it is), dismissive (just get over it), or preachy (there are starving kids in the world and you’re upset about this?).
Equally, I cannot be overly dogmatic about my prioritization of family and work. My career still pays the bills and affords us the opportunity to take trips as a family, live where we do, and enjoy being together. My career fulfills me in other ways and this is not lost on me either.
The fact is that I, too, am disappointed when I miss such things with my kids – maybe more so than they are. There is no worse feeling than disappointing a child. I hope that I can minimize times when I do disappoint them and isolate those disappointments to unavoidable conflicts as opposed to broken promises or mis-aligned priorities. Just as I only remember the times when my parents were there for me as opposed to when they were not, I hope the same is true for my own kids.