Guest Posts, Society

Review: Working Dad’s Survival Guide

How can modern dads find a good and fulfilling balance in their work-and-family life? How do you negotiate with your boss working-from-home options or flexible hours? What are my priorities in life as a dad?

BOOK COVER! emailRecently I came across Scott Behson’s new book ‘The Working Dad’s Survival Guide’, and after chatting with him, we both exchanged and reviewed our books.

Behson has written a very practical guide for all (working) dads, who wish to be more in control of their job/work situation, but also at home. Each chapter is filled with inspirations and easy-to-do practices. The book can be of great help to find out what’s best for your personal work-and-family-life (and how to achieve it).

Here’s an interview with Scott Behson, PhD:

Torsten Klaus: For years men and fathers have been pressed and pushed into their classic roles: earning enough money to support the famil;, 24/7-workaholics who only see their children at weekends, if they’re lucky enough. From your experience and work, is there now a big shift in society?

FDU headshotScott Behson: Virtually every dad I know cares a lot about his career and earning enough for the family, WHILE ALSO being a hands-on, involved loving dad. Society, and especially the work world, still expects men to fulfil their breadwinner roles, and has not adequately supported men as involved fathers.

Despite these challenges, I see so many men stepping. But largely, we’ve been left to figure this out on our own. That’s why I wrote ‘The Working Dad’s Survival Guide’ – to provide advice and encouragement to my fellow working dads, showing them that they can have successful careers and still be the fathers they always wanted to be – and that our families need us to be. You are not alone. You can do it.

You’re a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a professional expert on family issues and a hands-on dad. You got at least three demanding jobs. Was this your personal motivation to write a book about successful dads at home and work? 

My career as a business school professor and consultant is focused on researching work-family balance and helping both dads and employers find solutions. But, more importantly, I’m a busy working dad who aspires to both career success and being a highly involved, loving dad and husband. I have some insight from my professional life, and also know what it is like for my readers who wish to live a more balanced life- I face the same challenges.

I think the unique value of my book is this dual perspective. I have never seen a book that looks at work-family challenges from these two perspectives at once. I think many readers will find it relatable and useful.

In your work you talk about the importance of supportive workplaces. What is, from your point, a well supportive workplace (for dads) and what deficits do you see in most current workplaces?

 Here in the US, it seems to me that work-family concerns are now firmly on the radar for many companies – as an important business issue, and not just as a “nice to have” women’s concern. Most organizational leaders can see the costs of employee turnover, and how they may lose the “war for talent” to competitors if they don’t adapt. As a result, we’ve seen a proliferation of pro-dad policies such as generous paternity leave and increased work flexibility.

However, enacting policy is just step one. Where companies need to make up ground is in changing supervisory attitudes and corporate cultures to take a more long-term view on employee management. More decision-makers need to see that accommodating employees in the short-term with their family challenges actually benefits them in the long-term by helping them hold onto valuable employees and increasing engagement and loyalty. The message is slowly starting to get through.

I’m an optimist. We’re not having this conversation 10 years ago. We’re grappling with it now. I imagine things will get better 10 years from now.

What were, so far, the three most inspirational moments when talking with fathers? 

dad1I interviewed dozens of dads for my book, and I was amazed that, even though the particulars were different, we all shared the same central challenge- succeeding at work and trying to be great dads. It seemed as if each dad had an inspirational story to share.  

The dad that sticks in my mind the most was the father of one of my students, whom I met at an Honors event at my university. He is an uneducated immigrant who worked and sacrificed his whole life, and poured that life into his son. I was with him as he watched his soon-to-be-college-graduate son receive his Honors diploma in a fancy hotel ballroom. I could just see the pride in his eyes as he felt all his years of sacrifice pay off. He’s my inspiration, both as a dad and as a college professor. 

What do you enjoy about fatherhood?

What don’t I enjoy!!! But the best thing, to me, is to be able to experience the world through the eyes of my son, with all the wonder of new discovery. Being a dad is the joy and privilege of my life.

In your book, you give a lot of practical advice and share exercises for dads to try out. Often you also speak from your own experience which is very encouraging for other dads. From all your advice for working dads, what’s the best and most important tip to help dads finding a better work-family-balance? And how have you implemented that into your own life?

I think it all starts with really thinking through your priorities. What do you really want out of life, your career, your family, your one shot at your kids’ childhoods? Once you figure out your priorities, there are hundreds of ways you can consciously make decisions to align your life with your priorities. This way, you can achieve your definition of success at work and at home instead of drifting through life without a clear plan. My book provides self-assessment exercises to get you started, and lots of ideas on how to implement your plan. 

On a personal level, thanks to writing the book, I’ve gotten much better at managing my time. Instead of multi-tasking and running from thing to thing, I am better at scheduling in “time chunks” to really focus on work and keep that time separate from the time chunks I spend fully immersed with family. I schedule time chunks for my priorities- playing with my son, a bi-weekly lunch date with my wife, a full hour for exercise, what have you. A solid two-hour chunk with my family, followed by a few hours of writing is far better for everyone than trying to write all night and stealing 15 minutes of family time here and there. 

What do you wish for all working fathers? 

I am incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to be fully present throughout my son’s childhood. I have a great job that gives me lots of control over my time, a supportive wife, and a great network of friends who can help. But even from my fortunate perch, I struggle with work and family pressures. We all have our challenges. We all could use some help. That’s why I wrote this book.  

It is my sincerest hope that all fathers can experience the joy of being fully present and involved through their kids’ childhoods. My wish for you and for all fathers is that you can succeed in your career, provide for your family, and spend vast quantities of high quality time with those you love.

Thank you so much, Scott, and good luck with your book!

book cover newScott Behson, PhD, is a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a national expert in work and family issues, and was a featured speaker at the recent White House Summit on Working Families. He’s the author of the book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home, the first book of its kind to provide advice and encouragement for working fathers, helping them to achieve success in their careers while also being the involved, loving dads they always wanted to be. Scott founded and runs the popular blog, “Fathers, Work, and Family,” dedicated to helping working fathers and encouraging more supportive workplaces. He writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review Online, Huffington Post and the Good Men Project, and has also been published in TIME and The Wall Street Journal.

Website: http://ScottBehson.com

Book: http://WorkingDadsSurvivalGuide.com, http://amzn.to/1PWQtky

Blog: http://FathersWorkandFamily.com

Professional Speaking: http://brightsightgroup.com/speakers/scott-behson/

 


 

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Say More YES! To Your Children

Yes

‘Papa, can I pitch up the tent in the garden?’, ‘Can you read me a book?’, ‘Please, I want to stay up a little longer tonight, just five more minutes.’, ‘Is there really chocolate ice cream in the freezer?!?’

I get those and probably a few dozen more (or maybe hundreds?) questions a day from my children. And not only me. All parents, I believe. The crucial point comes now: What do you answer? What do I answer? Sigh. I confess, I too often reply with an excuse like ‘Eeehm, maybe later’, or ‘Let me think about that’ (and not really thinking about it at all), or with a simple and straight forward NO! Full stop.

Often enough my NO will evoke disappointment, sadness or frustration in my kids. Yes, they might understand why they can’t have the ice cream right now, but why on earth is Papa not wanting to have a spontaneous campsite in the garden or isn’t in the mood for the favourite book?

The NO-word is easy to say. I’m the powerful parent and can decide and if I’m busy, tired, annoyed, stressed or simply not bothered many projects end up being dismissed before they even have a chance to take off.

Please, don’t get me wrong. There are very obvious and no-discussion-moments when you and I have to say ‘no’ to our children, to avoid danger and to simply protect them. Hey, that’s why we’re the parent and adult. And sure, children are more content, relaxed and co-operative when they know about clear and understandable boundaries.

No, here and now I’m talking about all those moments where I fired my NO without really thinking or reflecting. Sometimes just for the sake of my own peace and convenience. To get that moment of quiet or to enjoy the one little minute longer being on the sofa. And yes, that’s fine, too. We parents need to keep our sanity. But that doesn’t mean to use a NO as our power tool, or even worse, not take serious those things our children want to do.

We can make that change quite quickly and it doesn’t take too much effort. I started by taking my children’s requests for x, y and z more serious. When they asked me for something like ‘Can you play shop with me?’ and I just felt no desire at all in that moment, I decided this: give them the YES and just play for a few minutes. Honestly, a quick shopping trip to your child’s grocery doesn’t take longer than 3 to 5 minutes. I also asked my other son to join me and he went shopping as well. After a few moments they both were very busy with playing shop, so I could sneak out… I did my ‘duty’, gave a positive response by saying YES (even if I didn’t feel like it), but at the same time benefitted from it as both my sons were engaged in a game they liked and I could go back to – doing nothing.

(By the way, I prefer an honest NO (sometimes inevitable, I think) to ‘in a minute’, at least the child is not kept in the air and waiting. They know what to expect and continue in their game/do something else.)

Another way to show a more positive attitude is something psychologist Oliver James calls “Love Bombing”.

It could work like this: Spend this Saturday with the motto ‘Let the children decide!’ Yes, everything: from when they want to get up in the morning (hey, they might choose to stay in bed until lunchtime, so you have the morning to yourself), then the activities they chose for the daytime, their favourite food, to the point they decide it’s bedtime (agreed, it could be late!).

Oliver James says “I developed Love Bombing to reset the emotional thermostats of children aged from 3 to puberty. It gives your child a very intense, condensed experience of feeling completely loved and completely in control”. He advises to have a go at Love Bombing for a day or two or even a shorter period, followed by daily half hour slots devoted to it. He states that parents report a closer connection to their child and that Love Bombing balances the child’s behaviour and personality (read more about it here).

Of course you would have to negotiate. If your offspring ask for a super expensive day out (yeah, let’s go shopping and then to the fun park and then to the cinema and then to the zoo…), let’s calm them down a bit. Having a fun day, doesn’t mean you have to go bankrupt. We often spend an afternoon doing crafts with our children. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Try to see the day through your children’s eyes. They will love it – and you too!

Do you know the saying: When the children are happy, then the parents are happy too? I think that’s right!

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

5 Reminders for All Great Dads

Brent_and_Daddy
I believe most of us try every day to be the best father in the whole world. And that’s great. But we also have days where everything goes wrong. For exact those days I’ve written my personal list of reminders. Hope those five points can help you too!

  • Love your children unconditionally. Yes, there a plenty of moments where they gonna mess up; where they drive you insane, and where your only safe place is the locked bathroom to get at least five minutes peace. Tantrums, scream fits, broken things and even lies. It’s all part of the package. But, there are still the most magnificent and wonderful people on this planet. So, forgive, reconnect, give the love you would have hoped for when you were a kid and screwed up. Why did I put it here as Number 1? Because it’s my personal reminder and the most important thing to me when it comes to parenting and fatherhood.
  • Spend as much time as possible with your kids. Since I’m a father myself I can confirm this: Time flies. It’s such a precious time. And your children are only little once. Before you blink twice they’ve grown up and go their ways. You’ll still be part of their life (hopefully), but it’s nothing compared with the first years. So, get down onto the floor, or in the sandpit, or into the woods and play. When you join their games be present and follow your kids’ rules.
  • Have a just-before-bedtime-talk with your kid(s). It’s a win-win for my son and me. This way I learn about what’s going on inside him and he sees how I talk about emotions and feelings, that I take responsibility for them and reflect on my actions and words.
  • Connect with nature. Going to the park is a good start. But I’m talking about a real connection. Go wild. Off road. No phone signal (yes, that’s the hardest bit). Take a tent, a fire kettle and a few things to ‘survive’. You’ll discover how little you need. Collect wood, make a fire, respect all creatures and life out there. I always find that spending time with my kids in the woods awakes the most powerful feelings inside me. I slow down, I feel a strong bond to my children and I feel somehow home. And it doesn’t cost me anything.
  • Take time for yourself. You’ve heard right. TIME FOR YOURSELF! Take a day or a weekend (it helps when you talk and plan together with your partner) and just focus on your needs and wishes. I’m dreaming of a weekend where I just go for a long bike ride (cycling I mean). A tent, a sleeping bag and my bike. Then, in the evening, somewhere in the countryside, I will make a fire, roast some bread and veggies and have a beer… Sounds awesome to me. Then coming back to my family, feeling fully recharged and energised. Oh yes, we all need a break from time to time.

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

The Third Child: Yes, I’m Ready to Go

31 Wochen (4)‘When is the baby coming? Today? Now? I want the baby to come now!’ – These words are being said by my nearly 4-year-old every day. Every day for the last three months. You see, there is a little pressure and some expectations on us – the parents – or, to be more precise, on my wife. Come on, bring the baby on!

We’re expecting our third child this May. If everything goes by plan, birth should take place at home again, as with the other two. I feel ready for it. More or less.

Looking back I realise how little time we took to get prepared for this birth and the arrival of our baby. I remember the long evenings prior to our first birth. We sat on the sofa and chatted about everything baby related: how life will change, how to fold cloth nappies and we even practised the baby sling with a dolly inside (well, that was actually for me who needed a bit of help there… yes, I did manage dolly in the sling after twenty or so minutes). Everything we did or said was with the focus on baby or birth.

Things shifted slightly three years later when our second child came along. Yes, we were more exhausted and the evenings often ended with us going to bed the same time as our toddler, just to catch up. Still, we had great moments where my wife and I could sit down, reflect, relax, think, talk, laugh, cry and enjoy ourselves. With that kind of confidence the second birth went very smoothly and peacefully.

But life geared up again. Both our boys are wonderful and curious explorers. Most of the time anyway. Our days start normally around 6.30-ish in the morning and the eldest should be in bed around 8.30pm – but, hey ho, life is not like that and quite often the evening routine gets delayed. After we re-established a certain order and tidiness throughout the house we fall into bed as well. And in between I just finished writing my first book.
So, all fine by me. But, and here comes my point, we just noticed how little time there is for us. Not only time as a couple but also time to get prepared again.

Well, we already went through two home births, babymoon, sleepless nights, toddler tantrums & co., why should we need more preparation? Good question. For me it’s about celebrating that very special, beautiful and unique moment when a child enters the world. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve seen or experienced it before. This new life deserves the same attention and care I’ve given to my other two.

And, it’s about my wife. She, who went through the last 34 weeks, struggling with sickness, fatigue, heartburn and the general exhaustion pregnancy brings. She, who gets up every morning to be with our very active boys, seems to have quite endless energy and patience to deal with all the difficulties and joys parenting can bring.

So, taking that time to get ready again is also an important way to say ‘Thank you’ to her. To show respect and empathy. Yes, there is less time available now, but I believe in these small but important moments of kindness. For me to get up a little earlier in the morning to prepare her some breakfast and tea in bed; to let her nap in the afternoon while the boys and I are somewhere outdoors, or to give her a nice and relaxing belly massage (even when I’m terribly tired) before we go to sleep – I know it’s no big deal but it does help her.

Belly MassageWe also try to involve our children in the whole pre-birth celebrations. They love to use the natural belly massage oil (the more the better) and when the younger one can’t wait for his turn to massage, he then has a go at my belly (bliss). Or the other day they both helped me by inflating the birthing pool. Of course the hosepipe had to be tested and this way they found out that they can use it as a mega cool telephone…

Yes, time is tight. But it’s really up to us to make the best of it. Tonight we have planned something very special. It all happened quite spontaneously with the support of friends: My wife and I go out!! The eldest will stay with friends and the youngest with our adopted Granny. So, from around 5pm till tomorrow morning we’ll have time to ourselves!

The only plan we made is to go out for dinner – and then… let’s see. No plans, no pressure, no hurry. Just us. What a treat! Yes, we will talk about birth and the baby – of course! But we will also just enjoy ourselves – the couple, the lovers, the two of us. Recharging our emotional batteries for the weeks to come. I can’t wait. For both.

31 Wochen (1)


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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Why We Need Equal Support For Active Fathers

When I became a full time dad to my young sons, I felt very lucky. I was looking forward to doing this job, despite knowing how tired and exhausted my wife had often been when she was the main carer. I thrust myself into great outings, craft activities, even baking with my cake enthusiastic boys. I would say spending the last one and half years as a full time dad has been extremely rewarding and the changes I and others can see in me are only of a positive nature. However, there were times where I did ask myself whether I just had to live with the fact that my “colleagues” were now, almost exclusively women. Don’t get me wrong, I have made many wonderful female friends, but I also did miss male company here and there, especially being able to share my experiences with someone who was in the same boat.

file0001508134616Gideon Burrows, author of Men can do it too argues: “Today, to be a good dad should mean doing a fairer share of the baby work. Not just the high-profile nappy changes and the bedtime story reading, but an equal share of the slog and the career sacrifice mothers put up with.” The changes in UK paternity leave in 2011 were not met by a huge upheaval and change. Less than 1% of fathers take advantage of additional paternity leave of up to a total of 26 weeks. Reasons for this are complex. Some argue, they simply can’t afford to, others suggest they don’t want to opt out of the role of the man as the main breadwinner or because they are afraid their career might suffer, having lasting effects on their family’s financial situation. I know it is possible for many to reorganise their life to fit a family friendly career, although I do recognise this does require some support. New legislation provides that from April 2015 men and women can share parental leave in the first 12 months of their baby’s life, wanting to make it easier for new dads to take the time off.

I know there are other reasons fathers don’t take up the main care role. When talking to fathers as a coach or in my support workshops, I am confronted with fathers dismayed at how they feel treated by society as an at-home dad. We are doing ourselves a disservice – men, as well as women. The more men seen as full time carers, the more normal this would be and then fewer women would have to fight against the glass ceiling.

Our society is still very much expecting women to stay at home and regard men out and about with their children on a weekday as a novelty or worse as “cute”. Some just look at them with a mixture of pity and suspicion when dealing with the daily toddler struggles in a public domain or entering a playgroup. Yes, who would want this to happen to them? The more confident of men don’t blink an eyelid, while others just feel completely out of their comfort zone.

My wife struggled with suddenly being a mum; she went through a bout of postnatal depression and anxiety. However, there was support for her. She went to those lifesaving baby groups, where mums can sit and chat and by doing that offer the kind of counselling that is hard to come by – someone exactly in the same situation, struggling with the same issues, available regularly and at no cost. There is other support through the NHS, the La Leche League, the NCT etc. And this is brilliant, it’s a support cushion for a very demanding and extraordinary time in each woman’s life.

Equal parenting is the buzz word. No one would argue that the bond between father and child isn’t greatly enhanced by the father spending more time with his son or daughter. And by being more active around the house those household chores that seemed to have doubled since the birth, are more manageable when equally shared. But wait. What about the man’s new role? Is that just magically happening without any support necessary? It’s not exactly the same for men to go to these baby groups and feel the kind of support that women get. And yes, men suffer from postnatal depression too. However, professionals in this field are mostly women which is discomforting for some men.

Where is the emotional support in that big life changing time of a man? Suddenly it is not all so surprising that less men have the guts to commit themselves to caring for their children full time or at least equally share childcare. Where do men get the tools to become a brilliant father? Many men I talk to simply know they definitely don’t want to be like their own father. But how are they going to parent? Without a male role model to guide them, this isn’t such a comfortable place to be.

If we, as a whole society, want fathers to take an active role in raising their children, then we need to support them on their journey. Right now.

This article has been originally published by me in JUNO magazine, No 38, Winter issue 2014

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

Equal Parenting = Happy Parenting

familyI think to achieve a harmonious home life both partners need to be involved and active in parenting. But the truth is, that in most families either both parents work full time or one does while the other stays at home with the kids. I believe this is not a healthy situation in the long term. Even though both might love what they do, they get too much of one world and not enough of the other.

Yes, it’s a privilege and wonderful being able to spend the days with the kids as well as going out to work (as long as you like what you’re doing). But I find humans are not made for JUST one or the other. There are so many passions, wishes, dreams inside us. So many different things we can and want to do, that just choosing one path makes most of us dissatisfied.

When I am at home with the kids I love playing with them, have the freedom of spending my day as I wish, and they wish, do crafty, outdoorsy things together and have fun. BUT as soon as I do it for the third day in a row I catch myself wishing I had some more time for myself, pursuing things that are difficult to do with the kids in tow. Or just having some space for myself (hey, go to the toilet without being disrupted)!

But equally, when I spend days at work, I love being able to get things done uninterrupted, to be challenged intellectually and spend time with adults. BUT after a few days I miss being with the kids.

It’s a lose-lose situation for both partners. I think many parents want to escape these static roles and realise that we just don’t fit in only one role.

So how can you organise life in a way that you get the good of both worlds without having to move into a caravan and live in the woods? (Although that might actually be a great adventure!)

I think first of all it’s good to reflect on what you need and want. You only have this one life (yes, really! Well, reincarnation might exist, but who knows you might be an ant in your next life…). So, what is it that you need to do, that you have to do? What did you love to do when you were 9 years old?

Once, you have an idea, make sure you include that in your life! Make time, work less, share responsibilities equally. There are many different models out there, finding the right one is not easy, but definitely do-able. It takes courage and it’s scary to go for change, but it’s worth it, always. Only when you are happy in yourself and content with your life, can you also fully be present with your partner and your children, and this is the most important “thing”, don’t you think?

Tell me what you think and whether you have come up with ideas of how to parent more equally!

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