It’s 7:04 and I have been up since 4 am for the 90-minute commute to Belfast City airport. I’m about to take off on another Monday morning flight to London, my seventy-fifth in the last year. As the engines roar, I plan to use the next fifty minutes scribbling down my thoughts, planning for the week and using my time wisely, something I’ve become robotic about.
I’ve had no choice over the last two years. I’ve learned to compartmentalise my days, so I can balance the pressures of a full-time job and working away from home, as well as managing a start-up business from a distance, all while my wife gave birth to our first child and is expecting our second child any day now.
To give you some context of my situation, I live in Northern Ireland and work for a Big Four firm in their technology consulting business. However, I spend approximately eighty per cent of my time in mainland UK at client sites. My normal work week starts with an early Monday morning flight from Belfast to London, returning home late on Thursday night to my family. Friday’s are usually spent in the office in Belfast, which is a four-hour roundtrip commute from home. I also own a restaurant, which I started two years ago as an ambition I had from my younger years. So, you can only imagine my time is short and needs planning to be effective.
It will always be difficult to be away from my young family for obvious reasons, as my eighteen-month-old son gets older he starts to realise that daddy is not always there.
Sadly, he knows no other way as this has been the norm since he was born. The hardest part is when he gets upset as I leave. I’m left with the thought of him standing in the hallway, facing a closed door as I make the ninety-minute drive to the airport.
Another punch in the gut came when his first words were ‘Dada gone away.’ He said it repeatedly for three or four weeks, much to the delight of my wife!
I often ask myself, if it’s worth it. And the honest answer is ‘no’. I’m aware of the important things in life: your health and your family, everything else is secondary. Then reality kicks in and I’m thinking of the next project deadline, business sales for the week, household bills… a noise that dominates almost everyone’s life.
I think it’s tougher than ever to be a parent. With the increasing cost of childcare and an overall increase in the cost of living more often than not, both parents have to work. This is only exasperated by the Instagram/selfie society we live in, where parents often spend more than they can afford just to keep up with the Joneses. Thankfully I understand that spoiling your kids with material things will never substitute for spoiling your kids with experiences and love, which is free of charge last time I checked.
The double-edged sword of Technology
Though I said we’ve got it harder than ever as parents and moan about our millennial generation’s obsession with social media, the one thing I’m truly grateful for is to be living in a time where we can stay connected to our families with the click of a button for little to no cost.
It’s no substitute for the real thing but at least I can start and end every day that I’m working away, with a FaceTime call to my family so I get to see my son eat breakfast and in the evening before bed. Even though he’s not yet two, my son really looks forward to these calls and thinks it’s fascinating that he can see his dad on screen. So much so, that he doesn’t like phone calls now where he cannot see who is speaking on the other end.
Conversely, technology can be a hindrance when I am home. My life revolves around technology, but I try to make a concerted effort when I am home to ensure phones are put away and there are no distractions, especially at mealtime. It is all too tempting to check the latest email or WhatsApp message but then I catch a glimpse of my son watching me staring into a little black device and that’s not the type of example I want to be setting. My wife may have differing opinions on the subject but it’s something I’m really making an effort to improve.
Having the flexibility to work from home helps a lot. I try to stay home every other Friday and balance work and time with my son. Most consulting and technology organisations are strategically promoting work-life balance through ‘agile working’ policies.
My employer offers generous paternity benefits in the form of shared paternal leave. My wife is about to give birth to our second and I intend on taking the twelve weeks to spend the much-needed time at home. This shared parental leave has been a lifesaver. With our first born, I took the twelve weeks off, which gave me the necessary bonding time with him and the opportunity to recharge and relax. A win-win for everyone.
Nobody willingly chooses to be away from their family. If you did, then you probably shouldn’t have one. It is, however, a reality faced by many parents. Most high-paying jobs are in the big city but moving away from the extended family that offer us support was never an option for my wife and me. A lot of our friends have made this choice. They either live away or work away bringing with it a slight sadness as our town experiences a brain drain which I feel steals its soul. The lack of talent leads to diminishing prosperities for the future.
To make it work you need a strong support system. My wife is very understanding and an incredibly strong person who plays the role of both parents while I’m away. How long can I continue to do this? I am not sure. I do believe extended periods of working away is never conducive to a happy home life. It may work for some, but for others, it doesn’t. The key is to do what works for you and your family and be happy. I feel guilty about being away, so I remind myself that this is temporary and time lost now shall be gained later when I can be in a position to choose my own hours and have the autonomy to predict my own schedule.
No matter how tough a job or career you have, raising a kid is the toughest yet most rewarding thing you will ever do. I certainly don’t want to be the guy that looks back and regrets missing his kids growing up because he wasn’t there. For me right now it is certainly quality over quantity when it comes to time spent.
As we begin to land, it is the start of another week where my time is dictated and maximised to the fullest. Next week is Mother’s Day so we are taking the day off to have some family time and thank the person who is the pillar of our family. A day in Donegal with empty beaches and no phone signal sounds like the perfect day!