Having Kids Won’t Kill Your Career, But Seeking Work/Life Balance Might

Kids are generally thought of as little career killers for their parents. I can understand why. Kids take up a lot of a parent’s time with their need for attention and supervision, and time is a manager’s most valuable and scarcest resource. Kids can also be unpredictable and cause their mom or dad to miss work because of their little kid sized emergencies. Kids also spread their little kid diseases to their parents, causing their professional parents to either miss work or show up like zombies – moaning, coughing, sneezing, and drooling all over their grown-up keyboards.

Just twenty months into being a parent I already have experienced some of these kid-tastrophies, but on balance I think my little Jack-Jack has actually made me a better manager at work. For starters, my kid gets my behind out of bed earlier than I ever thought possible. When I was in my early twenties I saw 6:00 a.m. more when staying up too late the night before than waking up early for work. Even in my late twenties I found getting up before 8:00 a.m. difficult. Not anymore. My little Jack-Jack is a persistent and potent alarm clock, and we still have not found his snooze button. No one sleeps when Jack’s awake.

Practically speaking, getting up earlier is one of the best habits for a manager. Check out this New York Times article that profiles the morning routines of some of New York’s biggest movers and shakers. For me an early start feels like getting a jump on the rest of the professional world – like starting the race a few moments before the other runners hear the starting gun.

My little guy has also added depth and perspective to my life, what some people call “life experience.” I remember hearing this phrase condescendingly described to me by both direct reports and bosses as something I lacked as a young manager, which frustrated me to no end. I already knew everything, what did I need experience for anyway?

Now I get what they meant by life experience. Now I can credibly discuss shared events like marriage and child-birth, helping me emotionally connect to coworkers on a more human level. As a parent I’m now much more patient, caring, and empathetic as a manager. Now I am trying to focus more on others than on myself.

I’m also more committed to working harder. I was always ambitious, pursuing career advancement for the sake of pride and prestige. Now I crave that next step in my career for my family’s sake too. I want to provide a better living and set a good example for my son, passing on the value of hard work to the next generation.

My great-grandfather Leonardo emigrated from Italy in 1902 and worked as a mason’s helper, which is a nice title for someone who lugged bricks and bags of mortar around all day. He was poor and illiterate , but he still raised ten children on a shoestring and he permanently changed the course of my family story. My grandfather started a successful restaurant after serving in World War Two that is still open for business nearly eighty years later. He served three meals each day, often sleeping in the apartment above the restaurant for days without going home. My grandfather passed the restaurant to my parents, who grew the family business and gave me and my sisters a wonderful start on life. We weren’t rich growing up, but my family went from hard labor and hunger to master’s degrees and steaks in just a few generations.

I wonder how Jack will advance our story. Maybe he’ll be the first ivy league graduate or the first senator in our family.

I now understand that I have to realize my full potential if he will have a chance to realize his, which is why I have unexpectedly and completely changed my view on work/life balance. I used to dream about how lovely it would be to work just forty hours each week with weekends and holidays off and lots of free time to waste away at home. But now I question what I was really interested in as someone who sought more “balance” and less work. Do I really need more time off? For what? Who really stands to benefit from this extra time off, me or my family? Sure Jack needs his dad to participate in his life, but my son doesn’t benefit from seeing his dad lying around on the couch eating potato chips and watching TV all day? What kind of example would I be setting by working less and playing more?

I’m now beginning to realize that trying to create an “easy” path at work is just a lazy and selfish pursuit, and my family ultimately needs me to work and work well for all of us to lead a balanced life. As it turns out for me, my son hasn’t hurt my career. He’s opened my eyes earlier in the morning, and shown me that building a successful career is perfectly aligned with building a successful family.