For the first time in my career, I received the opportunity to take 30 days off to conduct a permanent change-of-station move to Germany. This sounds a bit over the top for a vacation, but most people in the military rarely get to take advantage of this blessing. Given that the move was across the sea, I almost didn’t have a choice — and that is a good thing.
It forced me to slow down and enjoy my family after working from dusk until dawn for the previous three years. While getting prepared to move all of our things, I got to do something I rarely get the opportunity to do: spend quality time with my family.
Here’s an outlook on the life lessons I learned and that I continue to reflect upon.
Time is precious.
On average, fathers in the United States spend an average of 85 minutes per day with their families, based upon their workload and responsibilities. That was about the amount of time I was spending with my kids during the average weeknight. Every father is different, but it would appear that not a lot of fathers, or parents in general, get to spend nearly enough time with their children. Statistics show that most people make a good effort, but it just isn’t enough or as much as we’d like.
A problem I once had was a lack of enough sincere effort to balance my necessary work obligations with my family life. After finding that balance and really spending time with my children, I realized just how stupid I was for wasting my time on work that would be there waiting for me tomorrow. What was incredible about this break away from work was realizing that the time I’m mainly spending with my family is after work hours. The majority of our fun is literally sandwiched between the hours of 4:30–9 p.m.
Reflecting on what I could’ve been doing all along is heartbreaking and makes me feel quite dumb, to say the least. Time management and cherishing family time are becoming more precious than any promotions or monetary goals I’ve ever dreamed of attaining.
The best things in life really are free.
After finally getting a semblance of a vacation, I had huge plans prepared to have fun with my wife and kids. We went to Busch Gardens, Water Country USA, several fairs and plenty of other kid-friendly attractions.
I spent some money, figuring I’d make up for the lost time to ensure they had a memorable experience. Wrong. You can’t buy your family back. You can’t purchase time and memories you missed out on.
After a heated contest of rock, paper, scissors with my children to decide what they wanted to do next, I was surprised by what they chose: the beach, with the stipulation that I would swim and have fun with them.
Kids don’t want your money: They want your time and undivided attention. They want your participation.
It turned out to be the best day I’ve had with my family in more than three years — and it didn’t cost me a single dime. Kids don’t want your money: They want your time and undivided attention. They want your participation. Inclusion, not seclusion. This was a very important insight for me.
Ditch the electronic devices.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages 8–18 now spend, on average, a whopping 7.5 hours in front of a screen each day, 4.5 of which are spent watching TV.
This isn’t just a child problem, though. I can’t begin to fathom how often I pulled out my phone or laptop while I was “spending quality time” with my kids. Multitasking, I called it.
During this time, and forever, we ditched those devices at every meal and during our time together. No more browsing the net for videos for the kids, and no more checking work emails for me. This was the most beautiful deal, because I sincerely hate the way those devices have replaced human contact.
Just think of how often precious time is lost to a device. During car rides and meals, while standing in line, and at every other gathering where you feel bored because people don’t know how to entertain one another without a mobile device. We've lost the art of conversation — and, quite frankly, manners. It’s rude to pull out a phone during dinner or a movie, so why do we do it or allow it?
As much as I dread my daughter dating, I don’t want an inept, socially awkward, rude and boring person sitting across the table from her date because she doesn’t have enough social skills and presence to enjoy his company. The same goes for my son. Shame on him for asking a young lady on a date, and half the date he’s looking at sports scores. That level of rudeness is learned and tolerated. If it starts with me, I choose to set the example and stop the behavior.
I wasted a lot of time chasing the mastery of my career to make a better life for my family instead of actually living life with them. What’s the purpose of gaining that big promotion if you have no one to celebrate it with? These basic factors most of us know, but I failed to apply them to my own life:
- Time is more valuable than money.
- Work will always be there, but your family won’t.
- What is important is to be present and be involved.
I hope this will help you as much as it has helped me.
This article was originally published on Medium.