The following is an excerpt from NYC Dads Group member Scott Behson’s new book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home, which provides encouragement and advice for dads trying to succeed in their careers while also being the loving, involved dads they always wanted to be – that their families need them to be.
Members of any City Dads group can buy the book and use coupon code CityDads20 for a 20% discount.
Avoiding the Distractions of Technology
Here’s one dad, in his own words:
My New Year’s Resolution is to severely limit screen time
when I’m with my family. A little while ago, I was in the
living room with my wife and daughters. I took out my
phone to check if a text had come just when my youngest
started to ask me a question. I didn’t even hear her, and
she was right next to me. My wife jumped in – “Hello…
she’s asking you something!” I didn’t even realize my
daughter was there. A real wake-up call for me.
Like this dad, I often struggle with the distractions of technology. Unlike many of you, I really don’t have a boss to blame; frankly, I often do it to myself.
Last year, my family and I flew down to Orlando the first week of January, which is a slow time at work for me – just after the holidays and still two weeks from the beginning of the spring semester. We’re a Disney family and love being in the happiest place on Earth. I was filling in for our department chair during her sabbatical, so I did have things to get done, but there was nothing pressing for me to finish until I got back from Florida and back on campus.
However, while waiting in lines with Amy and Nick, I found myself checking for work emails on my phone. That’s not so bad; I’m just waiting in line. But then I was checking the phone while walking through the park. I even found myself pulling the phone out at dinnertime. Lots of people do this, but I was with my family, my in-laws and two family friends. Pretty rude. Worse still, Tigger and Eeyore were coming to our table and I almost missed it!
And, you know what? I didn’t even have very many emails. I confess I was also checking in on my blog and my blog twitter account – talk about a time suck! And even if I did have emails, it’s not like I work in a nuclear power plant. I could reply to student queries at night, and everything else could wait a few days for me to return. People knew I was away, and no one at work would have cared that much.
I’m sure I’m not alone in checking the smartphone for work emails and texts when I really should be focused on family time. Most of you have more demanding work situations than I do, and I understand sometimes this is necessary. However, I’m convinced we do this to ourselves, sometimes even more than our employers. Sometimes, we are our own strictest taskmasters. I think this dad has it right:
Have a look in the mirror before you lay blame on the
boss or the corporate culture. It’s been my experience that
most men who have worked hard to build the reputation
of being a hard worker have a substantial amount of
difficulty dealing with the inevitable by-products of
working more flexibly.
After my two and a half days in the parks checking emails on my cellphone- I took a long look in the mirror (no, not that one- I know I’m the fairest of them all!) and kept the phone in my pocket, where it belonged, for the rest of the trip. Here are some really great ideas from dads who have been able to counter the siren song of technology:
- One dad I know set “no screen hours” for everyone in his family from 6pm until 8pm. All phones, iPads, TVs and computers are off. This way family dinner and other unstructured time is protected.
- There’s a fun trend I read about called “phone stacking” in which when people go out to dinner, everyone stacks up their phones into a single pile. The first person who reaches for their phone has to pick up the tab.
- One family I know bans all electronic devices from the living and dining rooms.
- One dad brilliantly puts his iPhone into a docking station as soon as he gets home from work. He sets it to Pandora so the house gets nice ambient music. But, best of all, his phone is never in his hands or his pocket, so he does not feel the temptation to check texts and emails when at home.
The problem with technology is that it can keep us from being mentally present when we are physically with our families. Being there, but not being there means that neither you nor your family get the benefits of being together. Even worse, we send a signal that work or other distractions come before paying attention to family. None of us would intentionally send that message; we need to stop doing so unintentionally.
Now that we have some ideas of how to create and protect regularly scheduled time chunks of unstructured activity, we’ll continue our discussion of family time in the next chapter. There, we’ll focus on how we can maximize the time we’ve set aside, so that it is fun and memorable for everyone.
Excerpted from The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home by Scott Behson (Motivational Press, 2015) with permission of the author.