DADs@HOME: When WFH Becomes WATT

“..without quantity time, quality time is meaningless. The reverse is true as well..”

Time seems to have come to a standstill over the last two months. We are almost in the middle of the year, and yet it seems like the year has barely begun. Looking back to late January and early February, the coronavirus was already wreaking havoc in China; and for us in Singapore, we were preparing for a SARS-like virus. But never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined how life as we knew it could have come to an abrupt halt. 

Fast-forward. We are now in end-April. Singapore has already implemented a series of Circuit-Breaker (CB) measures intended to curb the spread of the virus. Acronyms like WFH (Work From Home) and HBL (Home-Based Learning) have already become part of our daily routine. However, for many fathers who have to WFH, life has practically become WATT (Work All The Time). The lines of work and family have gradually become blurred, and this has been made worse given the extension of the CB period for another month. 

As fathers, how do we deal with the challenges of WFH during the CB while managing our children’s HBL, but at the same time avoiding the notion of WATT?

This has honestly been hard for me. Being self-employed in a time of Covid-19 has been very hard. My training workshops, which had previously contributed to the lion’s share of my income, are now completely non-existent. As such I have had to attempt newer and more innovative ways to earn a living. This means that I have had to work harder, with no guarantees of getting any remuneration. 

As such, finances weigh heavily on my mind. When my kids approach me to play with them, I cannot help but think of the work that I need to do – even as I talk to them and they engage with me about day-to-day matters. Oftentimes I tell them that “Daddy needs to work.” I then retreat to my safe house, which is my computer screen. But I can hear the sadness in their voices, as they tell me “It’s OK,” and turn away to find Mummy instead.

As a counsellor, I know it’s unhealthy to continually turn away my kids. I know that they need their father with them and not just merely around them. It is indeed a fallacy to assume that since we spend more physical time with our kids, that it is sufficient to meet their needs. When I conduct workshops I often ask what is more important – quality time or quantity time. Most parents respond by saying that quality time is more important than quantity time; but I respond by saying otherwise; that without quantity time, quality time is meaningless. The reverse is true as well; hence we need to spend both quantity and quality time with our kids.

How do I ensure that I manage this juggling act without having all the balls crash onto the floor? Well, I believe it’s about learning the rhythm of my kids. My older son, Z, for instance wakes up early. He loves a board game or two. I will therefore enjoy a precious father-son time with him at sun-up. Looking at his satisfied face after the board game, I’m in the kitchen in a jiffy, as I prepare his favourite sunny-side egg for breakfast. Then it’s off to work and managing the myriad of tasks that cry for my attention. 

The younger son E wakes up much later, and the boys have school with my wife for the rest of the morning. After lunch, I am in the process of factoring in some 1-on-1 time with the younger child. He has told me he would like me to help me with fixing or building work; and this is something I have committed to do as we head into the extended Circuit-Breaker period. That before I get back to my work for the rest of the afternoon.

After dinner it’s family time, and the whole family gathers for something special – movie night, games night or anything “fun”. This is best enjoyed with homemade popcorn, which my wife prepares fresh on the stove. Family time is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the kids, and to ask them questions on the things that matter in life.

How do I juggle all these competing demands? There really is no hard-and-fast-rule. All I know is that my family matters the most to me – I’m working hard so I can bring food to the table. And if I keep that perspective, I wouldn’t choose to WATT even if I have to WFH during the CB.

Mark Lim is dad to 2 lovable boys and husband to a doting wife. He is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He provides counselling during this COVID-19 season, and can be contacted at mark.thesocialfactor@gmail.com.

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