Conquer The In-Between State

July 26, 2011 in Dad Tips  

Conquer The In-Between State

It is 3:45 pm. I’m at work.

There are a few ways I can think about the rest of the day.

Here’s what typically comes spilling out of my brain:

“So much stuff to do… what with the kettle bell swings, the cooking, the doing of the works and the writing of the blog posts. How can I keep Aiden busy when I get home?”

That is the status quo of my brain in all things: 1.) here’s this thing I want to do, and 2.) oh crap, I have a kid/wife/relationship/responsibility.

The In-Between State

This is not the way I want it to be. It’s selfish. When I’m in this ‘natural’ mode I end up making everyone’s life more difficult.

It’s like I’m trying to carry around my agenda – all these things I want to do, these little ideas I want to explore, these requirements I’d like to follow through on – while I also dawn the dadly duties, husbandly duties, and other duties.

When I do this it’s like I’m in some in-between state – not ‘ON,’ not ‘OFF,’ just bouncing off a bunch of walls, no good connections, no satisfaction, no real forward movement or contentedness.

Nobody wins in these times: I’m short with my son, I’m shallow with my wife, I’m thin on making any progress on anything, and it makes my time with my son so much more tiresome and sucky than it needs to be.

We need to fix this. I need to fix this now before I get home.

A Simple Fix

Here’s the simple fix: get rid of the agenda while I’m with my kid. I need to get rid of all those things I want to do, let go of the ideas and emails and dreams and work, wrap them up, put them in my Rickshaw Commuter bag and leave it in the car while I hang out with my son.

Then, when he’s down for bed time I can go get the bag and start going through all those things I want to do. But not till then. Between arrival time and bed time the agenda is on ice.

That’s the simple fix.

If I take this line of thought here’s how I could think about the rest of the afternoon and evening:

“What could I do with Aiden tonight? What’s something he would go nuts for? What could we setup around the house or the park or something that he’s never done?”

See the switch there? It’s not about me and my agenda; it’s about my son and what he could get out of tonight.

I think one of the great tips here is to learn how to use curiosity in parenting. As I’m writing and editing content for the bookish thing this keeps coming up. More on that later.

So, maybe you leave your agenda in the bag when you get home tonight. Maybe tomorrow too. And maybe you come up with a little totem so you don’t get incepted back into selfish-agenda-guy mode for a while.

Please Comment & Add Your Voice!

Chris Neiger July 26, 2011 at 9:13 am

Great thoughts, Chase. I really love the idea of creating new experiences for kids. When my son gets a little older (and he knows what’s going on) I definitely want to do this.

My dad used to announce to the family that some nights were “diddly-squat nights” where no one did anything except hang out with each other. No productivity, just family time. I need to keep that tradition going.

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Kamen Gordon July 26, 2011 at 10:20 am

I with this man. I have been working a few 12 hour days here and there and it means on those days I get a mere 30 minutes with my kids. Nothing exists in those 30 minutes beyond my children. I walk in, embrace the moment with them until they are asleep. On the days that the timing isn’t so pitiful, I try to do the same, but for hours, not minutes.

And PS, they can tell when you are engaged and when you are distracted with “other stuff”. Their behavior is different when you are engaged. Considering I didn’t spend much time like this with my dad, it’s something at the top of my list of priorities. I don’t always treat it as such, but most of the time I do. And it’s always incredible.

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Chase July 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

BTW, I should confess that yesterday, just after I wrote this, I was so tired when I got home that I didn’t take my own advice and really engage my son… I just kinda waddled along.

We each survived, but it wasn’t pretty.

He was in a shitty mood. So was I. And Nemo wasn’t cutting it for either of us.

So, hopefully today I do a better job.

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Kamen Gordon July 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

DO IT! Considering yesterday yielded me 30 minutes. Tonight from 5:30-bedtime is all theirs.

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Courtney July 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Long time listener, first time caller.

Hate this problem. The classic tug-of-war is almost a default battle every day. And every day I have to make the same decision. I SHOULD actually leave my bag in the car. With two kids under 6 it’s nigh impossible to make a claim for me time before bed and any attempts to the contrary are frustrating for all involve.

I’ll go one further and before checking back into “me time” after the monsters are down, make sure you’ve checked in the spouse-partner-w.o.g.f. With the “to-do” bag still in the car, even if your moment is brief, it will have a lot less agenda behind it and be better received. She probably has stuff she wants to do as well. But if not, she’s more important anyway. Mom and Dad have to have a lock on their time.

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Chase July 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Thx Courtney, I believe you.

ThatGuyKC July 28, 2011 at 5:59 am

Solid stuff, Chase. I had to master the in-between for 2 years during graduate school. I’d come home from work and focus only on the family until dinner was over and the kids were in bed. After that I’d study for 2-3 hours before hitting the sack.

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Chase July 28, 2011 at 8:07 am

That’s actually a great point, KC. One of the reasons why this in-between state is so hard for me is because I have a handful of projects I’m passionate about, lil’ businesses I want to get off the ground.

So, when I get home I’ve got these projects I really want to get into… because if I don’t, I won’t.

It’s all creative work, but it will all likely be my main source of income in a year or two… So, these aren’t some chance fancies I’m chasing after – they’re my craft, my shop, my business.

It’s like you with grad school: you’ve got this stuff needs doing and you’re the only one to do it.

  1. You can give up on it, choosing instead to spend time with your family and move up the ol’ corporate latter at Starbucks (or whatever you’re day job was). Cost: your craft and less family vacations.
  2. You can give it all your attention to make the most of it and (hopefully) advance your career, potentially ignoring your family during that time. Cost: your family.
  3. You can get C plusses across the board and be a little neither here nor there with your family but overall giving everything the same amount of focus. Cost: your craft and family, a little.

That third one is where I am: neither here nor there – so my work and my family suffer… a little.

And the missing variable is the way I feel about it. Right now I feel like shit about it because I see all the ways I’m falling short and I feel how much better it all could be.

So, I think there may be a fourth option. I’m looking for that one. I think I need to get all zen on the mountain top to pull it down or out of me… but that’s what I’m looking for now.

This career/family thing is my big question now, and I’m doing a lot of thinking about it… I hope to god it all turns into a thing I can share here and people will spend money on it and be, all, like, “holy shit my family/work balance is so good now!!”

:) Thanks KC.

Dirty Roots July 28, 2011 at 8:26 am

Chase, this last comment (listing the three options) really hits me. I’m in much the same situation. I don’t struggle with “bringing my work home”…but I do struggle with working on things I want to start up. I rationalize it: “I’ll be happier if I can get this new thing going…” or “This will be so much better for us…”, but then I miss out on the “now”. Sometimes I just say that I need to decompress or whatever…but either way, my kid suffers. This is such a tough one.

And everyone around me – seems to be putting ALL of their time into advancing themselves and their careers. I’m always wondering…are their kids TOTALLY suffering, or do they just have it all figured out? I gotta think it’s the former.

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Chase July 28, 2011 at 8:46 am

Big time… It’s like some Buddhist riddle where we have to learn how to be the path instead of choose the right one.

I think it’s not just about time though… I think it’s about how we think about our work.

I had a professor who said he got through his PHD twice as fast as anyone else in the program. Why? Because he was the only one who had kids.

There’s something focusing about kids. If I didn’t have one I’d be chasing after tons of ideas and potentially not following through on any of them.

Now that I have a kid I have to get really fk’n serious about what I chase down. Hopefully that makes me better… but I’m also just as in the dark as what can be a successful project to chase down.

So, because I don’t know what will or won’t be successful, I have to try lots of stuff. But I have a family and I can’t try all the things to see what will be successful. So I just have to be better than everyone else, or narrow my definition of success.

In Adjustment Bureau the ‘adjusters’ try to keep a senator away from this girl because if he falls in love with her he won’t have the drive and ambition and talent to become the president.

I feel like that a little… and I could get butt-hurt about what I’m not able to accomplish because of my family situation. Sometimes I do. But that’s just now: 29 years old, “young man, full of big plans, dreaming about tomorrow.”

I think the long-plan is hard to account for… like course management on a golf course: I could try to crush this drive to get on the green with the potential to slice wildly off target, or I could lay up my 4 iron and chip with about 90% certainty I’ll do it right.

Golf’s a game of 18 holes. Life’s a lot longer than I think it is right now.

So, I think my goal is to understand and content myself a little more with where I am… lay up, and “beat” the “competitors” on the back nine.

But I still have these goddam dreams and plans and things I want to build… I have to figure out how to move forward on them as well as be who I need to be with my son and wife, as well as keep my day job, etc.

Life Is Suffering™ :)

Courtney July 28, 2011 at 8:46 am

It’s like when you start pouring Makers at an afternoon barbecue. Moderation if you want to make the long haul. I’ve found with balancing family and passion projects it really comes down to discipline and not beating yourself up for the pace, or just giving yourself a break if you are beat tired and family comes first.

Slow and steady wins the race. Patience in all things. Bend like the willow. Float like a butterfinger, stink like a tree. All that zen sh*t.

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Chase July 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

Exactly! but I think the phrase is “Fart Like a Butterwhistle, Bristle Like a Loin™.”

Also, you just think this because you’re not good at working…. fk’n liberal. LOL!

Kyle July 28, 2011 at 9:03 am

My wife will tell you that she’s trained me to do this but one of the first things I do, aside from setting my computer bag down and NOT unzipping it to get said computer, is check in. “What can I do for you? What can I do for Sam (our 9 month old)?” This lets her know that I’m home and I’m ready. It tells her that I’ve set my agenda aside.

Some days it’s really easy to actually be prepared to say this. Other days, I feel like I have to pull at my own teeth to be able to say this but it is a commitment that I have made to myself, my wife, and my son.

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Adam July 28, 2011 at 9:15 am

I struggle with this too. I’m self employed (graphic designer) so the workday is never actually over. I often find myself struggling with the choice of engaging with my son (in the evenings) or doing more of the work that pays the bills.

It’s a constant game of give and take, and usually my business is the side that gives :)

I’m a sucker for a four year old who loves the beach

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Danny July 28, 2011 at 9:16 am

Another great post! Actually got this article sent to my email while my wife and I were on a car trip this weekend. Sparked a good conversation between us.

This is something I struggle with daily — hoping that each day I get a bit better at focusing my time. Like you Chase, I have too many irons in the fire — a 12 hour a day full time job, two websites I’m trying to get off the ground on my own and a part time writing gig. I often feel overwhelmed just with those tasks — let alone with the pressures of being a good spouse and father.

When my son was born a lil over a year ago I tried to juggle it all, which ended up resulting in me doing a pretty crummy job on all fronts. I had to break free of the “me” routine.

Since then, I’ve tried to better allocate my time. If my son is awake and wanting to play, I’m there — computer turned off, phone put away. Sure, I sometimes struggle with “being there” but I’d like to think I’m doing better.

And what I’ve come to find out is I enjoy my time with him more when it is completely uninterrupted. Yeah, this sometimes results in my wife and I having to schedule blocks of time to be with him so the other person can get things done…but the more uninterrupted time I have with him the closer we become…and hopefully the better dad I become.

I want to work hard for my family’s future…and I will continue to as I can. But I’m slowly learning that this little boy only grows once…and the “future” can’t come at the cost of “today”.

Thanks again for the great post! Such a great reminder for all of us hardworking Dads!

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Chase July 28, 2011 at 9:36 am

Good words, Danny. Thanks for your input.

“The future can’t come at the cost of today.” I like that.

But my question is still: how can I build anything for the future whilst still doing the father and husband thing well?

Courtney July 28, 2011 at 9:51 am

RE: But my question is still: how can I build anything for the future whilst still doing the father and husband thing well?

Our jobs as husband/fathers IS what builds the future. If we fail at that then our personal success-in-work is meaningless vanity. I think it’s important for our kids to see us struggle at being what we want while still being what they need. That has an impact on them as they grow. It’s better they see us try and fail than not try at all. As long as they always know they are the most important thing in the universe to us. Ideas come and go but there is only one of each child.

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Chase July 28, 2011 at 10:17 am

I hear you Courtney… If I build my business at the peril of my relationship with my son and wife I’ve lost.

And I big-time agree with you about how I want my son to see me struggle a bit, to find my place in the world, to hone my craft, to build my business, etc.

And I should restate: these side projects I’m talking about are somewhere in-between self-employment and magnum opus. They’re not small lil’ hobbies, they’re next year’s full-time job, so to speak. So they’re important.

I don’t agree that my role as father is my “job.” At least, I don’t think I agree with it… I may need to think more about it, but I want my son to grow up and become an artisan of his trade, and I want that for me as well. I think shaping my son is one of the most important things I can do with my life. I do believe that.

I want my son to see me pushing towards something my heart wants, some kind of passion and skill intersection. And that means that work has to count a great deal to me; almost as much as my son matters to me. Because I think that’s what a man does… at least part of it… a man creates. Fishermen cast nets, builders put things together, emailers be emailin’… And I want my son to create too.

This is all just off the cuff stuff, so I could be saying a bunch of shitty stuff right now… but Max Richter is playing in the background so it feels really big, like the freedom scene in Braveheart.

What I’m getting at is: A man loves and builds the thing he loves. I don’t love only my son. I don’t love only my wife. I have a really big love for the things I want to build. That last love can be really unhealthy – that’s why it’s taken me 30 years to get to know my dad, because he loved the stuff he was building too much. I can make that same mistake, run from my family loves into what feels like the only love I am entirely in control of: my work.

So, it can get out of balance, but I think the whole thing, the whole “life, the universe, and everything” thing is about balancing these loves. Because without my work I’m a shit-poor father, and a worse husband.

Still Thinking™

Dirty Roots July 28, 2011 at 9:53 am

I agree, these are all good posts. And, Chase, I’m still looking for input on that question (how can I build anything for the future whilst still doing the father and husband thing well?).

I’d like to go a step further (and maybe this is a different conversation for a different day), but, is there ever “too much” undivided attention for kids?

Please don’t misinterpret…We NEED to give our kids good, solid, uninterrupted, quality time with their dad. Our wives need that, too. BUT…it’s the balance I’m looking for.

I want my daughter to learn that daddy’s there for her, no matter what. BUT, I also want her to learn to play and work on her own some. I also want her to know a balance of when to “expect” my attention and when to know that grown ups aren’t at her whim (no matter how I word that last part, it never sounds right).

There’s also something to be said for a kid seeing dad provide. Again…obviously there’s a line here. If dad’s always working, that’s BAD. But…for her to see a healthy example of it is good.

Is this making sense? I’m afraid it sounds way more negative than I mean.

We need pressure to be there 100%. But, we don’t need so much pressure to that the pressure itself becomes a crippling thing that does collateral damage in some other way.

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James July 28, 2011 at 10:43 am

CR,

That is a tough one for self employed guys (gals too) to get a handle on. Every word you said was true to script. As a homebuilder, my world at times is off the chart demanding. Yet its just a job.

Like you I decided as owner of my job, to not let it control me, but rather I control the job. So at dinner time I have learned to throw the switch off. Calls don’t get made, work slips a bit, and in that time between 6pm and 9:30pm . . .I am my sons guy. I am with family. With that change I have learned that yes that 3.5 hrs. of loss productivity is gone, but I improved my game enough to overcome any negatives that rise up in that time of mental absence in my work world.

That has made me better at what I do. I manage sub-contractors. I communicate to every player that builds and supplies the house. Really my son in many ways has made me better at what I do for work.

So playing cars on the floor, and drawing stories, and legos, and all that 6 yr.old kind of stuff . . . is really what I need . . . to be at my best day in and day out.

Great post CR.

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Paul July 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm

For most of us, it is THE one.
I am 32, father of a 5/yr boy, 2/yr girl and the completion of my little trilogy will be dropping on Aug 31st (girl). I have a small business that started in my brain in 2003 and now has a hard-earned 20 employees across NY State. I can hear all the math prodigies now…”you didn’t have kids when you started…you dirty-mutha-shut cho mouff!” Thats right, I was able to do the start up phase sans-offspring. However, given that the company has steadily grown and required a ton of effort, I’ve had to deal with all of this…and we’re still building on all fronts.

Here are 2 principles that have helped me:
1. When I’m old enough to poop my pants again, I want my family to be my masterpiece, period. As idealistic as this sounds, it is really what I want and requires that I remind myself of this often.
2. I’m better off when I think of our health and joy as a family in a long(er) term perspective. Sacrifice of SOME family time this year in order to quadruple it for the rest of our lives = good. Sacrifice ALL family time in order to have more money in 10 years = bad. You gotta pay to play on every front.

Great conversation Chase!

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Chase July 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I like your thoughts, Paul. Thanks!

Sylvia April 5, 2013 at 3:41 pm

It’s not an easy battle for Dad, or Mom. I am a new mom who works full time, and it wears on you all the time. I have always been one who is driven and works really hard to get the things I want on an accelerated timetable, which has gotten me things that most people my age do not have, but now I am so used to putting myself behind whatever I am working on, that I don’t really know how to turn it off. Now I really have to stop and think why am I doing this????? Do I really want to put in a 50hr week? Yeah it might make some of my bills dissappear quicker, but at what cost. I have worked so hard for so long, that now I think I have earned the right to slow down and try to enjoy my family. But, that go go go habit is hard to break. And it usually makes me feel better to just say the hell with whatever project I have brought home, and to play with my baby when I can. Realizing you cant do everything and do it perfect all the time is key, but very hard to do! All I can say is thank goodness for my husband (who is an excellent father), who reminds me that it is ok to spend time and money enjoying life and the rest can wait. It is wonderful to have someone you can depend on (I cannot imagine how single parents do it, I have major respect for their abilities!).

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