What’s better than good advice? Time-tested strategies passed down from one working parent to the next.
Working fatherhood comes with a fair share of challenges. It’s easier to stay on your game when you have a seasoned working parent in your corner, giving you great advice. Here, in their own words, some of our Working Dads of the Year share the smartest suggestions they ever received.
Our Working Dads of the Year were nominated by their employers, which have been named a Working Mother Best Company for Dads. Read more from our Working Dads of the Year on their inspiring stories and how they achieve work-life balance.
Eric A. Lynch, Director of U.S. Patient Care Model Strategy, Specialty & Oncology, AbbVie
The most important advice I’ve been given about work-life balance is, “Don’t live to work… Work to live!” My wake-up came on January 2, 1999. It was a long holiday weekend, but I had committed to coming in to work. That morning a massive blizzard hit the area. I left my wife, pregnant with our first child, to drive three long hours to work. My boss wasn’t there when I arrived. I called and he indicated that he couldn’t make it. I sat alone in the building, realizing that I had made a ridiculous choice to put my life at risk for a project and job that my own boss didn’t see as important. From that moment forward I worked to live. It’s a mindset that allows you to focus on the truly important things in life–your health, family and friends.
The best advice I learned as a working parent is to totally rethink how you define success–to change your aspiration from “perfection” to “optimized.” Early in a life and a career, aiming for perfection in projects, presentations, fitness and so on, can create lots of satisfaction and rewards. But for a working parent, the quest for perfection in any part of life steals too much time, energy, and focus from the rest. When our first child came, I had to change my whole mindset. Now I had to optimize, get comfortable with trade-offs, and settle for less than the best. Instead of perfect, I now do very good work–plus tummy time, silly songs and bath-and-book before bed. And I help to set my wife up for success in her career as an airline executive. It is far from perfect, but far better optimized.
Lee Henderson, Partner, Assurance, Ernst & Young LLP
When I was a manager early on in my career, I would ask partners I’d meet, “If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?” The response that came up consistently was, “spend more time with my kids.” At the time, I was working with a senior partner–one of the most respected, busiest partners that I worked with–and he was always running. He would end a meeting saying that he was running to a commitment for his daughter. One day, I asked him how he fits it all in with our busy work schedules, and he told me very simply to schedule it. His family commitments were in his calendar just like any client or EY meeting. It really helps. If you looked at my calendar today, you’d see that I have things scheduled for my kids,’ events. Establishing the narrative that being present in your kids’ lives is important to you and communicating that to your teams helps people around you understand and support your priorities.
My wife and I had our first child while I was working on obtaining my MBA and working full-time. I developed a habit of burning the midnight oil to stay above water with school and work. Unfortunately, this habit followed me into the son’s toddler years until I attended a leadership conference where one of the speakers, a very successful CEO, said something that thwarted it. He told the audience that when he gets home he turns it completely off, and his staff only reach out in the case of an emergency. To be honest, I thought he misspoke because the picture of a successful CEO in my mind was one that never really turned it off. He went on to say that it was important for him to be present with his children when he gets home because you can’t get that time back. I decided at that moment to make more of an effort to be more present with my family after work. If a CEO could do it, there was really no excuse for me not to do it. Surprisingly, the psychological effect of putting my proverbial pencil down was very positive. I began working more diligently, trusting my team more and pushing decisions down to those better suited to make them–all things I needed to be doing as an effective leader–in an effort to lessen the work burden once I got home.
Nick Fuller, Director, Hybrid Cloud Services at IBM Research, IBM
Many years ago, one of my mentors, former IBM Senior Executive, Rod Adkins, was asked how he balanced parenthood and professional life. To which he joked “I am at every basketball game; however, I might be online while I’m there.” We all chuckled, and my original reaction to “work-life integration” was that it implied “stealing” time from either activity. However, today I have a better interpretation of what Rod meant. I schedule meetings during my commute, answer emails while putting my sons, ages 7 and 9, to bed, and ensure that an effective delegation process is in place while I am on family vacation. Above all, I’ve developed a practice of providing an expeditious and concise response to prioritized requests.
Luis (Lou) Abad, Principal, Tax, KPMG
The most valuable advice I received as a parent has served as a guiding principle in managing my work-life balance and keeping working-parent guilt at bay: You will never have this day with your children again. Tomorrow they’ll be a little older than they were today. This day is a gift. Just breathe, notice, study their faces and little feet. Pay attention. Relish the charms of the present. Enjoy today. It will be over before you know it. I schedule work travel to make sure I spend more time at home, even if that means taking the red-eye; I work through the night so that I can catch the afternoon dance recital; and I leverage technology to be present even when I can’t, teleconferencing into meetings from home, or FaceTiming into the little league game from the office. I strongly believe that prioritizing these decisions about what to focus on, and how to focus on it, will forge healthy bonds with our kids and drive success at work. So that we can blink without any regrets.
Anthony DiChiaro, Vice President, Finance, L’Oreal USA
The truth is making time is not easy when you have career goals, a family and the overall demands that go along with both. Planning your priorities at work and home is key, and so is developing a schedule that allows for flexibility when possible. Nobody is perfect; you have to make choices, sometimes difficult ones, and learn from them. I think keeping a positive attitude and a can-do spirit at work and at home is so important to successfully navigating the journey.
John Gagel, Senior Manager Global Corporate Sustainability, Lexmark
My greatest mentor as a working father was my own father. No matter how hard he worked or how stressful work was, he always made time for me and my brothers. Almost every evening, as soon as he got in the door, he would stop and play ball with us. It didn’t matter how long it was or if he was really focused on “the ball game”–what mattered was that he made time for us. I have never forgotten that, and it is something that I have tried to emulate over the years with our children. I must say that I haven’t always been successful in that regard, and sometimes my own kids have to remind me to “put work away”–so they too have been awesome mentors.
Thomas Zambito III, Consulting Director, Moss Adams
Like many families around the world, we closed our doors to shelter-in-place. Now it was only the four of us: two parents working at least 10-hour days, and two preschoolers who had Zoom calls with their teachers and needed constant supervision. We thought we could handle this and would be fine. I soon learned I was in over my head. The emotional and intellectual stimuli the kids needed was impaired. Worktimes were becoming earlier and shutdown was well after midnight. Then came the daddy tantrum. I hadn’t left the house in a week or more and was feeling confined to the office. Something had to change. One awesome piece of advice I was given was that if you don’t seize the time with children now it will be lost forever. Imagination and near-daily outings took over, and life became easier. Our dining room chairs became airplanes, and we would “land” in different places. We went “camping in Yosemite” and to a “beach in Hawaii,” watching a movie in their bathing suits–all from the comfort of our basement. We dressed up for dinner, pretending we are at a Parisian cafe. For dads out there who find themselves struggling with this new environment, you can do this.
David Cruz, Senior Vice President and Head of Institutional Annuities, New York Life
In one of my early leadership roles at New York Life, my manager and I had a discussion around an article he shared with me about the Shadow of a Leader and how far that shadow can extend into the people, culture and the ultimate fabric of an organization. This conversation lives with me today and impacts the way I conduct myself at work and the way I parent. It reinforced the importance of having the insights and the right feedback mechanisms to make sure I am moving in the right direction, working with integrity and everyone is along for the ride. My wife and I want the guiding light for our children to be kindness, humility and inclusiveness; the shadow will follow. One of the most rewarding parts of being a parent is to see how each of our children learn these values and express them in a way that is unique to them. I hope the shadow we cast today will be a long one for our kids, their kids and generations to come.
Gary Ault, Director, Data & Analytics Government Field Size & Structure, Novo Nordisk
I learned early on as a father the importance of finding a balance between preparing children for the world versus shielding them, and allowing them to enjoy being kids. This year, it’s been important to balance where we educate our children about the issues impacting our nation, while ensuring that these issues do not become burdens that take away from the joys of childhood. My family has created an environment where we can have frank discussions, allowing the kids to ask questions, share their emotions and be open about their thoughts and concerns. Having these frank conversations allows us to intimately connect with our children and ensures that they’re not bottling up concerns. We find this balance by focusing on the hopeful aspects tied to the issues–from honoring the healthcare workers who are addressing the pandemic, to the diaspora of people fighting to address racial inequalities. We also don’t let any of the ongoing issues distract from ensuring that our kids are living in a fun, engaging environment. It’s important that they can run around and play, laugh and be silly, and be carefree.
Sarfraz Maredia, Regional General Manager, US & Canada Ridesharing, Uber
In 2017, when my wife, Moneeza, and I were expecting our second child, my boss at the time, Rachel, another working parent imparted some valuable advice: “Set clear boundaries and don’t apologize for them.” During one of our weekly Zoom meetings, she mentioned that our CEO had called her the evening before about an important issue we were discussing. “What was his perspective?” I asked. Rachel responded that they didn’t get a chance to talk because she was putting her daughter to bed and didn’t take the call; instead, she texted him back that she was busy with bedtime duties and would follow up later. In the years that have followed, I’ve made it a point to carve out more time for family (regardless of what’s happening at Uber) and proactively share that with my colleagues.
What’s better than good advice? Time-tested strategies passed down from one working parent to the next.
These fathers at the Best Companies for Dads share the advice that helps them balance it all.