“It used to sting me when I was working hard at building my business and I’d hear my kids talking about me,” he said. “One would ask the other to see if I had time to play with them, and the other would tell him not to bother, because he knew I’d be too busy. It was like a knife in my heart. With the economy as tight as it is, I know that I’m not the only father with the same issue. These days, many fathers are either unemployed and working hard to find work or they are working two jobs or more just to make ends meet. Either they don’t have much time for family, or they just aren’t in the mood for family because they are despondent or feeling helpless as a provider.”
But, it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Watson, author of the autobiographical Man Shoes: The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband & Father. Watson’s tips for dads in a tough economy include:
- Share Time – Don’t spend time with your kids, because that term makes it sound like you are giving away time that you could be using for other things. Share time with them, because sharing indicates that you both get something out of that time. It’s important for your kids to know that you aren’t paying attention to them out of obligation, but rather, because you need to be with them as much as they need to be with you.
- Make a Schedule – Stability and security are important to kids, so set up a time every week that is just for them, and do your best to make that time on your calendar immovable. Give them something they can look forward to on a regular schedule and it will show them how important they are to you and help you build a trusting relationship with them.
- A Little Time is Better Than None – If you’re working two jobs or work out of town and commute home on the weekends, they will understand if you don’t have a lot of time to spend. Even if you can only block out a couple of hours every week, that can be enough. As long as you keep to the schedule and don’t let them down, that time will be as valuable as if you spent the entire weekend with them.
- Don’t Plan Big – Parents who work a lot sometimes feel guilty about neglecting their kids, and they cater to that guilt by making big plans with their kids on a regular basis. They feel that doing something lavish and expensive will somehow be seen as a payback to their kids for not seeing them often. The pitfall is that the bigger the plan, the bigger the expectation. The truth is, kids don’t care. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or make big plans all the time. It could be as simple as going to the park to fly kites and eating a brown bag lunch together, and most kids would be happy with that.
“Life is a choice and the person you choose to be is in your control. No matter the hand you may have been dealt, there are no excuses,” Watson added. “I grew up as an orphan and I acted out a lot, because I lacked the guidance of a family until I was finally adopted,” he said. “And even when I found stability with my adoptive parents, the Watsons, it took some time for me to settle down. Having shoes on my feet, clothes on my back and food on the table were all good things, but it wasn’t those things that soothed me as a child. It was the time, love and attention I received from the Watsons that put me back on course and that’s what every child needs. While it may seem to some that working hard to provide for their families is their primary responsibility as a father, that’s just not so. Children are adaptable and can do without material things more easily than they can do without the love and attention of their parents. If my experience meant anything to me, it showed me that it takes more to be a dad than to just bring home the bacon. It’s not enough to just do for your children – you have to be with them, too.”
Tom Watson is a survivor of child abuse, upheaval and 13 foster homes, so he learned how to overcome adversity at an early age. Later in life, Tom was faced with heartbreaking tragedies which threatened to destroy him. He drew from previous life lessons to persevere and show that new beginnings are possible at any age or stage of life – no matter what obstacles get in the way. These principles and their applications are chronicled in his new book Man Shoes: The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband & Father.