Meet Samantha Gloria Sabo (pictured above). She is three and a half years old. Here are her priorities:
Have diaper changed. Watch "SpongeBob." Find hole in driveway fence to run to park.
Grab Mom's cell phone, iPad and earphones. Eat hot dogs, raw, by the handful.
Eat bologna by the handful. Eat Frosted Mini Wheats. Drink formula.
Slam Dad's computer when he tries to write blogs.
I'm Mr. Mom tothree very young daughters. They have a great mom who thanks to physical challenges cannot always take care of them with me. I make the dinner, lunch, breakfast, sweep, buy the food, deliver the playdates, do the laundry (sort of), load the dishwasher and settle the fights over usage of the SYMS computer.
Yup I'm Mr. Mom. The Modern Man.
For a few minutes a day, I focus on my much easier, professional work. That work usually involves the computer. When Samantha sees me using the computer she either runs over and slams the screen shut and laughs or she says, "eggs eggs eggs," meaning she wants to watch the Surprise Eggs videos. (Don't ask, just search.)
The theory of an ideal work/family balance is smashed by the reality of unexpected events.
The family part, in my experience, is out of my control. The three year old pushes her agenda, or it's time for dance class for the 12 year old or the 10 year old needs help with her homework -- always impossible math. I cannot control the length of time any of these events take up in my schedule because it's not my schedule.
You may be thinking that if I was a stronger or more disciplined/disciplining parent that these issues would be resolved. Not so. If you know me, strength of personality is not an issue.
Outside forces are the challenge. I don't decide when or how long the dance school schedule is, I'm just happy the 12 year old has passion for an athletic activity and gets off the couch. Lacking the necessary skills, it's hard to predict when I will master 4th grade math. And three year olds are like the leaders of Iran: There is no negotiating.
For many parents, there is no manageable family/work balance. It's either/or. If I really need to concentrate on getting work done, I have to go on the road.
To be a good parent and enjoy my kids, they deserve my undivided attention.
Watching the three year old play safely is impossible if I am doing email. I might goof on the emails, forwarding some to the wrong person, God forbid. And while doing email, I will miss out on seeing the three year old's joy of performing a perfect somersault. What else can you do while watching a three year old?
When there is a crisis in middle school, my job is not to "hear about it later after I finish my work," but to hear about it right now. Listening right now is key to mitigating the kid's problem; listening to her problems legitimizes her concerns.
All of the "work and family" columns and books encourage and suggest ways to strike the balance. But none of them factor in the realities of uncontrollable events. It is far easier to schedule a work project than a nanny who has finals or a dance class that is the only one the 12 year old will take. The only one! And just try telling Samantha Gloria not to slam the computer screen closed.
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