Hi Dr Justin,
I have two sons, ages 6 and 4. I have a chance for a big promotion that would help the family financially but would mean more time at work for me. I’m the main breadwinner and more money means my boys will have more opportunities. I want the extra money and the extra development that will come with the role. But my wife and I are also worried about losing time with them. What should I do?
It’s a great, but challenging problem to have. A promotion is positive on a number of levels. It indicates success, it offers the possibility of financial freedom. (We all want ‘better’ for our children – even if we’ve had it pretty good ourselves.) And there’s the chance to learn new skills, have more influence, create more impact, leave a bigger legacy at work, make a contribution, and more.
All of these considerations sit on one end of the scale. On the other end it’s family; wife (or partner) and kids.
While more money may give our kids some more opportunities in the short term, in the long term, TIME is the single most important ingredient in our relationships – especially when it comes to dads and their children.
I don’t know your circumstances and it would be easy for me to hedge my bets and circle around the topic by saying “only you can decide”… but I’m taking a position on this one because you’ve asked for one.
Present dads, healthy kids
The research is compelling – kids need their dads.
The more a dad is present and involved in his children’s lives in a positive way, the better the outcomes for them. Fathers make unique and direct contributions to their children’s wellbeing, from better physical health to more prosperity. Children with involved dads are smarter (they have higher IQs!) and more prosperous. They also have a better sense of self-esteem, and grow up with more self-control, confidence and self-worth.
Additionally, it’s better for dad! Dads who spend time with their kids are more likely to be satisfied with their lives, feel less psychological distress and have more empathy. They also have a greater sense of self, feel a greater general wellbeing and have more happiness in their relationships. And when a father is emotionally involved with his children, it acts as a buffer against work-related stresses.
Being involved increases feelings of connectedness and inclusion for dad and kids!
Absent dads, at-risk kids
On the other hand, David Blankehorn stated in Fatherless America, ‘Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation.’
Australian experts confirm that children who grow up with absent fathers are more likely to be involved in crime, premature sexuality, teen pregnancy, physical and sexual abuse and alcohol and drug use and abuse. They are also more likely to experience lowered educational outcomes, physical and mental health problems and ultimately, poverty.
Furthermore, fatherless children have an increased risk of serious illness – in fact, it can literally rewrite a child’s genes. Researchers from Princeton University found that fatherless children had shortened telomeres in their cells’ chromosomes. This is strongly linked to premature aging and cancer.
Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys, said, ‘For fathers, this might be the most important sentence in this whole book: if you routinely work a fifty-five- or sixty-hour week, including commute, you just won’t cut it as a dad. Your sons will have problems in life, your daughters will have self-esteem issues, and it will be down to you…. Next time you’re offered a promotion involving longer hours and more nights away from home, seriously consider telling your boss, ‘Sorry, my kids come first.’
Now to be clear: there are many kids raised without a dad who is present and they thrive. There are some dads who are better off being nowhere near their kids. And there are tens of thousands of incredible single mums who are more than compensating for an absent dad (whether for career or personal safety reasons.)
But ultimately – since you asked – you matter as a dad. When someone quits at work, they are instantly replaced. But at home, you’re simply irreplaceable.
We want to raise our children to be the best humans that they can be. While money is important, we can only do this by giving our TIME to our children. So how do we do that?
First, be around. If this sounds like hard work, or a big sacrifice, I get it. But I have some good news – kids don’t ‘need’ us to be constantly talking to them, or teaching them. Most of the time, our children just want to know that we are close so that if they need us, we are there. By simply being there, we act as a secure base and a safe haven.
Second, be involved. Researchers found that involvement in everyday activities, like eating dinner together or playing in the yard is more important than big outings or trips (those are good too!). Dads and their kids experience more happiness and connectedness when they spend time together doing everyday activities.
Third, STOP, LOOK and LISTEN. Our children need to know that they matter. We show them this when we stop what we are doing and pay attention. We look into their eyes as we speak with them and as they speak with us. We listen to what they say. This allows dads to really connect with their children, and their children will recognise that they matter to dad.
Only you, as the parent, can find the right balance between work and home life. Of course children need a roof over their heads and food in their mouths. As a family, we need enough financial stability that we feel secure in our day-to-day lives. But then we need to consider whether the balance is right for our kids. Getting it right can be challenging and confronting, but once we do we’ll be giving our children the best start in life.