Recently, my younger child came up to me with a handwritten Multiple Choice Question (MCQ). I regularly guide her with her homework, so I wasn’t surprised when she approached me.
However, the options of the MCQ confused me. The options were:
I assumed that “FOTF” meant Focus on the Family Singapore since I work there. So I asked her, “Chloe, what does FOTP mean?”
Her reply: “Focus on the Phone”.
This incident left a deep impression on me.
Since 2015, I’ve enjoyed a flexible work arrangement (FWA) of working from home in the afternoons — replying my emails on the go, and corresponding with colleagues and associates via text messages or calls. However, this arrangement has also blurred the line between work and home.
Many times, I’m “caught” working on my mobile even after office hours, at the expense of being fully present for my children.
At that moment, I realised that it was not just about having work-life benefits, but about understanding my priorities and managing my time.
Work-life harmony for fathers
When we discuss work-life harmony, the spotlight is often on mothers as managing household affairs and children tend to fall to them. But in recent years, more fathers are playing larger roles at home, and I believe we need to find that harmony.
Some struggles I face are
- Letting go of work at the end of the day, and
- Being less focused on tasks and more present with my family when they need me.
Let me share a funny story — Chloe asked for help with her work. In my haste, I gave her the answer so I could get on with my work. My answer read: “The curly clown has hair.” Thankfully, my wife spotted my mistake and we could correct it.
In the initial stages of my FWA, she wanted my attention or help immediately. We had to find our balance, so I explained that while I was physically present, I cannot be with her all the time.
How can fathers achieve work-life harmony?
After the FOTP incident, I became more aware of my daughter’s needs. So I think, for dads, a step in the right direction is to be aware of our family’s needs, and try to put those needs above our work.
This doesn’t mean that we cannot work or touch the phone at home. Rather, it is intentionally creating a space to be together with our kids and spouse.
My kids are growing up and don’t need to talk to me 24/7. But when they need me, they need me; so I need to be present, even if it’s help with homework or just offering a listening ear.
Yes, I still need to manage my work, but I’ve found that when I give my kids that time and space they need, they also learn to respect my time and space for work.
When I give my kids that time and space they need, they also learn to respect my time and space for work.
Learning through mistakes
Prior to joining Focus Singapore, I worked in the manufacturing sector for over 10 years. Work took up a large part of my time; sometimes I worked 7 days a week to meet deadlines.
The setting didn’t allow me to work from home and I was based overseas for a while. Work was hectic and demanding, so I didn’t have much time with my first child. When Chloe came along, I wanted to be there for her. It was also time for a change of pace and environment as my first child was approaching adolescence.
Making fathering a priority
After working at Focus, I better understand the different roles that I have in life. We are sons, fathers, employees, friends; we want to be effective in all these roles.
I think fathering is a greater priority for me now as I see my children growing up so quickly.
One of my greatest lessons is that it's never too late to be an intentional parent. I may have had less one-on-one time with my eldest when he was young, but now I relish the opportunity to make up for lost time, even in the little things like sending him to school.
It's never too late to be an intentional parent.
What works and what doesn’t, in flexi-work
For FWA to offer true flexibility, we need sufficient support from fellow colleagues when you have to be off work. It is good to have a ‘family’ culture in your workplace to support one another.
Having the management set the right tone also makes a difference. There can be good FWA policy but if the leaders don’t set the culture, it makes it hard for employees to freely use the options available.
Likewise for paternity leave, fathers should not be shy in using it! Take the first step to support your wife in caring for your newborn.
Taking little steps
As the FOTP story suggests, I’m still honing the balance between being effective at home and at work. There is some way to go and I’m not there yet.
But I’ve learned much in the past few years, and I’m thankful for the road I’ve travelled. I think my biggest takeaway is this: The little steps I take towards carving more time out for family go a long way in signalling to my children what truly matters.
"Yes Chloe, I choose to FOTF – Focus on the Family.”
As a loving father of 2, Martin Lim enjoys his flexi-work arrangements so he can have more face-to-face time with his great passion – family. His other joys include nature and meeting new people. The latter is an especially good fit for his role in strategic partnerships at Focus on the Family Singapore.
How can you focus on the family more than your phone this coming week?
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