I’m often asked how I balance life and family since I am a work-from-home dad. The truth is, it isn’t always easy. I never imagined a day would come when my role as a provider for my family would put a strain on the perceptions I have regarding what it means for me to be a good father. Growing up, being a responsible father had a singular, clear-cut definition--the unspoken expectation that being a provider and being a good dad were the same thing. This is no longer my definition of a good dad.
The “bread-winner only dad” perception was challenged for me in November 2013. While speaking at a business conference, a good friend asked, “How can you sit here and talk about being a good dad while you have a sick son at home?” His question set off a chain reaction of feelings that made me question my identity as a father. Later that year, reality hit once again when I found myself leaving my sick son’s hospital bed to take a conference call. I was torn between the pressure to excel in my career and guilt over not being there for my son. I knew I needed to make a choice, but I was stuck. Sometimes it takes an outside force to guide you toward the right decision. For me, this happened when my company eliminated my position.
While my transition to a “work-from-home” environment was forced, it was, however, one that I was unknowingly preparing for my entire career. I have always been an entrepreneur at heart, so I had a side business going for years. Because of that, I have had to learn how to schedule my after-work time to handle my business and my family. I share that because there are some major pitfalls to working from home, and one of the biggest is managing yourself. At the office, the environment is set up for one sole purpose--working, so life’s distractions are managed and minimized. However, the home-office is clearly different. The thought of being a highly productive at-home worker is great in theory; however, in reality, I often felt like I could not get anything finished. If you want to even have a chance of making working from home productive, I have four major pieces of the puzzle:
1. Communication: You must talk with your family and let them know that you do not have free time during the workday just because you’re at home. Develop the right mindset to stop life and family distractions by shifting your focus and transitioning into work mode.
2. Your calendar is your boss: Schedule everything! Work and personal time must be planned out so that the two can successfully coexist in a home office. I suggest even having a giant wall calendar the color codes work, family, and personal time. It is also essential to have consistency; I start and end my days at the same time and have regularly scheduled breaks at the same time each day, so my family knows and can count on my availability.
3. Create a dedicated workspace: Have an area where you “go to work.” This will help establish a boundary in which your family will physically see you “going to work” and will help them process why you are at home but not available to engage with them.
4. Set your boundaries: When it is time to go to work, go to work. However, when it is time to get off work, “turn off the lights”-- the day is over! Working from home does not mean working all the time. Being clear with your family that your work ends and you have set aside time for them tells them that they matter.
I also realized it is okay to feel conflicted between work and family, and there are steps to make doing it successfully. This article with tips for boosting productivity as a stay-at-home parent helped me manage my workflow and helped me avoid feeling like I was on call 24 hours a day.
Even after I started to figure out how to handle my workflow, the needs of my son were not as easy to manage. I still found myself totally consumed by caring for him and being available to the family, so I wasn’t as productive at work as when I went to an office every day. This had a direct impact on my income. Therefore, I did some more digging on how other dads were making it work and came across this article, which not only helped me not feel so alone in this work-from-home struggle, but also gave me some pointers where I could continue to improve.
Today, more than 7 years since my work-from-home transition, I have been able to find joy and happiness as a home-based business owner and an active and engaged husband and father. The continued support of friends, other fathers, coaching youth football, and dad support groups keep me going. Websites like Fatherhood.gov and Black Fathers provide answers to many of my parenting questions. Working on various National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) initiatives and regularly attending conferences around the country on behalf of the NRFC keep me on the cutting edge of best practices for raising my boys. Combined, these supports reassure me that making the choice to be a work-from-home dad was the best professional decision of my life, and I can do it without shortchanging my work or my family. It’s a great feeling to be a productive work-at-home executive, dad, and husband!