‘My daughter felt forgotten’: parents on working late

21 06 2017
man with child on his shoulders with both smiling
 Less time at work can mean more time to play with the kids. Photograph: Bbernard/Shutterstock

According to a study by the charity Working Families, only one in three parents leave work on time. We asked readers to tell us why they work late and how their absence from home affects their families. Some names have been changed to protect identities.

Tina, 38, analyst, France: Small kids don’t need you to earn lots of money, they need you to spend time with them

There is no culture of presenteeism at my company – no one gets brownie points for staying late. If I chose, I could work at home more (I currently do one day per week at home), and leave earlier. However, I would miss out on social and professional contact, and the career and development opportunities that brings, as well as feeling more part of the team. No one is directly discriminating, but if I am not there, I do not get the opportunities that others do.

My kids would love it if I could pick them up from school. My son was asked recently what he would change if he were boss of the school, and he said: “No after-school club, the parents come every day.” When I do make it, they are so happy to see me there. If I could get home on time I would be with the kids more, to play with them, teach them things and help them with their development. It would give me more time to feel on top of things in life, not just scraping by day to day.

My mother gave up work to bring up three kids. She went back when I was about 11. We clearly benefited enormously from all her input in terms of our education and development. I feel like kids of parents who are around more get a head start in life. It may seem strange coming from a family where both parents have good jobs and are relatively well paid … but small kids don’t need you to earn lots of money, they need you to spend time with them.

Tom, 40, financial analyst, the Netherlands: I am sick of staying so late

 Staff reductions with increased workloads make for a permanent sense of job insecurity. As the primary source of family income, covering all expenses, including mortgage and school fees, I feel the pressure to ensure I can continue to support them. I seldom work less than 50 hours a week.

It is often hard on my children, who complain about what time I return home. My wife can be stressed by having to deal with the children for long periods without additional support, and I am sick of staying so late. That said, in the time away from work I do try to ensure that I’m present and available: that we spend good-quality time together, doing things like reading bedtime stories and walking the dog. But I’m a person who also needs alone time, and getting anything like a reasonable balance no longer feels possible.

Molly, 34, architect, Dublin, Ireland: Having to leave early for work means I can’t breastfeed my son

I think a lot of architects are still recovering from the last recession, which left many of us unemployed or out of the industry for several years. So when the whole office is still there at 7 pm it is difficult to be the only one leaving on time each day. It has a terrible impact on us. I have a young son and he will only go to bed for me. If I am home late he goes to bed late and is exhausted and upset. My current office is relatively flexible if I come in early but it is limited. The only reason I stay late is that being unemployed again is worse than the stress of working late and having a tired baby.

An unexpected problem I have is that it affects breastfeeding because with my working hours it is difficult to be there both when my son wakes and falls asleep. He only has milk at those two times, so some days he misses out on that crucial nutrition. That is an extremely difficult thing for me – to leave early for work with him asleep because he is exhausted, and me knowing he isn’t getting his milk.

Owen, 41, manager, Washington DC, United States: It’s affected the kids’ concentration at school

There is more work to do than the staff can deliver. I know that to keep my manager’s salary I need to continue to deliver the same results so I end up working until 7 or 8pm. I used to take work home to do after the family dinner when the kids are in bed, but as I get older I find it harder to motivate myself back to work once I’ve switched off. Hence I stay later. Mealtimes and bedtimes get pushed back. This was fine for a while, but recently it’s affected the kids’ concentration at school and even their grades – although I can’t say this is definitely the reason, it just feels like it. It also puts a strain on my wife, who has the kids all by herself for longer. If I had more time with my family I think they would be happier as the day-to-day events wouldn’t always come second to work.

Stef, 38, PR manager, Scotland: I probably don’t play enough with my kids

I like my job, so staying later at work is satisfying; I get home around 7.30pm most nights. It also helps to delay having to face the chaos of over-tired children, the bedtime battle and hours of chores that wait for me. I probably don’t play enough with my kids; my husband does that more than I do. I end up having very little time with them during the week, but I don’t work Friday afternoons so I make up for it then, if I can. Also, my house is an absolute tip – all of the time. If I didn’t stay so late at work, my kids might have a better bedtime routine if I were there, as I am strict about trying to get to bed on time.

Jason, 38, software developer, Nagoya, Japan: We feel guilty when we can’t do things as a family

The primary reason I stay late is the workload. The workload in an average week is about 65 hours, and falling behind is considered a sign of poor performance that can seriously limit a person’s career. I have no plans on staying in the same job beyond 45, and this means needing to stay late to stay afloat. Our son is less than a year old and quite an active child. My wife is always exhausted. She just doesn’t have time to accomplish everything she needs to do for her work, and everything she wants to do at home. I help out as much as I can with the laundry, dishes, nappies, bottles, and everything else, but there’s only so much noise you can make after 10 on a work night. When the weekend comes around, we want to spend as much time together as a family, but end up dedicating half of our waking hours to cleaning. We feel guilty when we can’t do things as a family. We feel awful when the house is a mess. But we feel exhausted by nine every night. Going home early would open up our evenings and weekends more.

Karina, 55, teacher, England: My daughter felt forgotten

As a teacher, it was impossible to complete work duties in a regular eight hour work day. As a single parent either my teenage daughter spent lots of time alone at home or she had to spend afternoons at my school watching me work. I was tired and completely overwhelmed. My stress levels were sky high and my daughter became resentful of my career, and she and I were on antidepressants. My daughter felt forgotten and acted out by ditching school. The irony of teaching, was that I spent more time with other people’s children than I did with my own child.



My Dad’s Sudden Outburst: ‘I Love You’

18 06 2017

“I love you.”

Those three simple words messed me up for an entire week. I asked my wife if she heard them, too, or if I was hallucinating. I couldn’t believe the man in front of me said them. It wasn’t the message, but the messenger: my father.

Who was this impostor? Could it be that this Pakistani-American immigrant, who grills halal lamb chops in boxers and sandals while listening to Sabri Brothers qawwali, had just said this to his almost-3-year-old grandson, Ibrahim?

I understand how fatherhood, and grandfatherhood, can profoundly change a man. The joyous burden forces some of us to adjust our career priorities, creates excessive anxiety for tiny people who don’t pay rent and inspires a lifelong goal of trying to become the only man in existence who looks cool driving a Toyota Sienna.

But this sentiment from my father was a drastic disruption of a life I had always known.

18aliweb-superjumbo

In my 36 years of existence, my parents have never said “I love you” to me or vice versa. We are not an “I love you” family. Years ago, my mother told me “I love you” was for “Amreekans” and “goras” (white people), which at the time were synonymous, until they realized South Asians and other immigrants had every right to claim the American label as well.

On Facebook, I recently asked if other children of immigrants, who are now parents, have witnessed a similar transformation.

My old college friend Hooma Multani said some of us were used to a “Klingon-type way of displaying affection” and said her Pakistani father used to pat them on the back really hard instead of dispensing hugs and kisses.

“Unconditional love” for some of my immigrant-children friends was as mythical as wearing shoes in the house or talking back to elders. There was always an implicit understanding that love was very conditional, often based on achieving good grades and behaving properly.

Many of us grew up with chappal — sandal — diplomacy. If you messed up, you would figuratively “eat” the chappal or be threatened with eating the chappal in the near future. Yet here’s this strange man, my father, scolding me on FaceTime for using a firm voice with my son, who was running around naked throwing Lego pieces in the air. “He is special and very smart,” my father informed me without providing evidence. “You have to be gentle with him.” If I had thrown a single Lego piece fully clothed, I would have felt diplomacy across my face.

When I was growing up, my father did plant big, wet kisses on my cheeks, which I would wipe off with my palms. There were our weekend trips to comic book shops, consistent encouragement for my artistic endeavors, many terms of endearment (“Wajoo Baba” — no one calls me Wajahat in my home) and comparing me to pieces of organ meat in Urdu (it’s a sign of affection).

However, there were no “I love yous” or P.T.A. meetings attended.

Unlike me, my father didn’t spend two hours with the family on a Thursday night testing a dozen double strollers at Babies “R” Us, after already investing significant time researching different brands and prices. I also have zero memories of my father taking me to hang out with other brown dads wearing their babies in a 360 Baby Carrier at a park on a weekday without any wives present. In fact, if you saw several brown men alone with babies in a playground in the 1980s, you would be excused and applauded for calling the police.

My father does notice the difference. He tells me that for his generation it’s a cultural change. When he was young, he said, fathers weren’t expected to sit near their wives or even hold up their kids in public. My grandfather, whom I remember as being affectionate with me, was not “demonstrative” when my father was growing up. My father doesn’t blame him for his reserve. They were victims of partition, traumatized, forced to migrate to a new country. Even though they were loving, my father said “they had zero capability” to express their love as we do now.

“We don’t have the words for it in the language,” said my father-in-law, a retired Pakistani-American doctor, meaning there’s no phrase that is the literal equivalent of “I love you” in Urdu or Hindi. He now uses it all the time, not just for his grandchildren, but also with my wife and her siblings. He credits American culture and his kids for helping him learn how to express it.

I was thinking about all this recently as I was opening my Ramadan fast with a few friends, all children of immigrants, who are now parents. We were trading stories about how our parents have mellowed with age, softened with our kids and resorted to using Bollywood melodrama when it comes to guilt and discussions of mortality. We realized our parents are old now. Time can’t be taken for granted.

None of us had ever told our parents “I love you.” None of us had ever heard it from them.

I came home and called my father. I asked him why he never said it. He reasoned you don’t have to say it to show it. Indeed, it’s true, and my privileged life and upbringing was a testament to that.

“Sometimes people say it so much that it sounds hypocritical,” he said. “It becomes just words, and words don’t mean anything.”

But some words do have meaning. They don’t have to be hoarded. They don’t need formality. They can and should be given out freely. And it’s a sentiment that makes for a pretty economical gift. I know what I’ll try saying for the first time when I talk to my dad on Father’s Day.