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Balance Work & Family: Be a Better Husband & Father with Less Effort

Posted by Patrick Lethert

Creating Good Habits Makes It Easier to Be an Effective Parent and Partner

One of the most important aspects of being a good parent and partner is being consistent and reliable. Doing well once can be a great thing. Doing well constantly so that your wife can rely on you is a much greater success. As a parent, “saving the day” is a small accomplishment compared to avoiding the need to do so. To use an analogy–it is better to never run out of gas than to constantly run out of gas within a few blocks of a station.

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As a working father, I am often mentally immersed in my work. Doing well at work pays the bills and sets the stage for future earnings that can make my family’s life better. Like many fathers, however, my commitment to a better tomorrow can get in the way of a better today. NFI recently wrote about protecting your family's financial safety, while I'm interested in all things related to fatherhood, sometimes, it helps me to not only think of the big-picture, but it's helpful to think of the daily picture as well. 

For example, my concern about a presentation that may have lasting impact can explain why I failed to make a phone call that I had agreed to make or why I left crib sheets in the washer rather than remember to dry them. Those mistakes are temporary, but their cumulative impact changes the way that my wife runs her life out of fear that she cannot count on me.

Rather than committing significant time to worrying about all of the little things that I may have forgotten at home, I need to use a simpler tactic to do those things that must be done over and over again. I need to create the mental “ping” that my car gives me when I have 40 miles left before I am stranded. That tactic - that “ping” - is habit. Turning certain responsibilities into habit means that you are more reliable and spend less time “saving the day” (or “saving your bacon”).

As I illustrate in my book Covering Your Bases: Forty Simple Plays to Improve Life for Your Stay-At-Home Spouse habits that take just a few seconds and minimal effort can have enormous impact. During my first few years of work, I found myself forgetting something useful (money clip, phone, checkbook, ID badge) about once per week.Eventually, I created a mental checklist that I went through every morning. My list was only seven items long, but if something was missing I knew it before I left.

Committing a number of low-effort/high-impact tasks to habit or making them part of a checklist will make most fathers more effective and save them considerable stress. Fielding a phone call about the fact that there are no clean baby bottles takes more time and energy than programming yourself to be sure that the dishwasher is clean or running when you leave in the morning.

According to author Stephen R. Covey, “Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” When competing priorities of work and parenthood squeeze your time, I believe that there is a fourth consideration – bandwidth (how much one can do). The ability to be both a star employee and fantastic parent can demand all of our focus for long periods of time. Occasional failures or omissions are more common than most of us realize. However, some people’s result in more harm than others.In many cases it is not about whether you fail but about what particular mistakes you make.

As noted above and throughout Covering Your Bases, the biggest cost of mistakes can be the time spent dealing with them. The aftermath of a small error can be larger than the mistake itself and result in both wasted time and a negative attitude that further suppresses your productivity. By making the small, repeatable tasks in your life part of a routine, you will find that you avoid not only the consequences of your mistakes but a prolonged drag on your productivity and attitude.

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