Adventures of an OpsDad: “Work/Life” Balance

Posted on March 10, 2011

At LISA, back in November, an attendee asked that I blog about work/life balance… “how you do it”.  I’ve obviously taken my time about it.  Everyone’s situation is different, ideology is different, culture is different.  Parenting is very important to me, so I will indulge, but going in please understand that no two families are the same, therefore I can share my situation, but this is not prescriptive or intended say any other way is right or wrong.

Also… I am totally stealing “OpsDad” from John Allspaw, who once posted to Twitter with the #opsdad tag… I loved it.  I’m using it.

For those who still don’t know, the pink haired beauty at the top of my blog (and on most of the Cuddletech pages) is my wife, Tamarah.  We met at 15 as sophomores in high school.  We married almost 5 years later, which was the soonest I could make it happen.  Following that, we went for 5 years without children, during which I increased my earning potential, Tamarah finished college (BA in British Lit.), and we generally enjoyed each other.  After she graduated and I finally got over the fear of having children we gave birth to our first, Nova.

Last year we gave birth to our fourth, and final, child.  Nova is now 7, Glenn is 5, Conrad is 2, and Eve is almost 1.

We have an ideal situation.  I work from home.  Thanks to the collapse of the housing market in California we were able to buy an affordable big house in Tracy, CA (within driving distance to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco) which is much more family friendly than the Bay Area.  We had kids after Tamarah finished school but before she started her career so that she could stay home with the kids.  We home school the kids.

We have extraordinary balance… one that I intend to hold onto as long as possible.  We’re all in the house all day, together, but our house is big enough that I have my own office, we use the front room as a school house, dining room was converted to a library, the kids double up on bed rooms.  Thanks to the home we were blessed with we have plenty of space to all live and work here and not feel cramped by it.

People often wonder how we can handle four children.   “Do you ever sleep?”  The answer is, yes.  Quite well.  Eve is now old enough that she sleeps through the night.  Tamarah is a morning person, so she has her “alone time” before the kids wake up, and I’m a night person, so I work on personal projects (“midnight hacker”) after she goes to bed at 11-12 untill 2-3am.  When the kids were waking up in the night this essentially put me on the “night shift”, I’d put the kids in the office with me at night in a swing, or hold them and work one handed.

Another question is, “Why do you home school?”  It’s actually a combination of factors.  First and foremost, by and large the public schools in California suck unless you can afford the good neighborhoods.  Private schools are too expensive.  Not only do we object to the curriculum which is overly focused on testing rather than critical thinking, but kids pick up a lot of bad habits from other children, even in the best schools.  We’ve both been around kids for a long time (I paid for SCUBA lessons when I was 12 thanks to babysitting money) and its unmistakable the bad habits kids teach each other.  But, most importantly, Tamarah is a teacher… if you could have a private teacher for your children would you do it?  We can.  We don’t free-lance it though, we use a charter program called CAVA (California Virtual Acadamy), so we submit records, are audited regularly, participate in CAVA programs like field trips and science faires, etc, etc, etc.  Its awesome.

Another question is, “Aren’t they a handful?”  Not really, no.  When I was sent to Beijing for 3 weeks, followed by another week in Hong Kong, Joyent (amazingly) allowed me to take my family.  The kids had a blast, they were amazing.  We took them to Disneyland in Hong Kong before we left Asia as a “thank you” to the kids.  Just 2 weeks ago we did a 4 day family road trip to the Grand Canyon, Utah, and Death Valley… family of 6 in a car for 4 days, no DVD players, no video games… we had a blast!

Another question is, “When do you get a break?”  Actually, never.  We don’t have family near by that can take the kids and we don’t have nannies or babysitters… so we are always with the children.  Once a week the kids are in Awana’s so we pretend we’re the parents of 2 on a date night, but that’s the closest we get.

When your busy with work around the clock, one important thing to do is to include your children as much as you can in your work.  If I have to make a run to the data center I’ll bring one of the kids if I’m not going to be too long.  I take them to the office on a Saturday so they can be in a professional environment.  When I did a conference in Las Vegas for Sun I took the family along.  Its not possible all the time, but whenever you can, do so.

Its also important for them to learn early in life what work is, that work is a good thing, and the boundaries between work and home.  The kids know that my office is “work”… they know when “daddy is working”.  They will bring me things during the day or ask me questions, but they know what it means when I have iPhone headphones in my ears (daddy’s on the phone).  If you explain it to them and show them the parallel to their schooling they appreciate the distinction.  I don’t have incidents where I’m screaming “get out!” or anything, they just know the boundaries.

Its also important, when you spend so much time at home like we do, to get out!  We eat out way too much.  Tamarah is a fantastic chef, but a lot of nights we just need to get out of the house for a while.  We also are blessed to have a lake (Del Val Lake in Livermore, CA) just 20 mins away, so in the summer I’ll close up shop at 6PM promptly and by 6:30PM we’re all swimming in the lake until sundown.  In the winter we’ll go to a local park, go do errands as a family, or just get hot chocolate and coffee at Starbucks and go for a drive.

A big question for many parents is how do other parents discipline.  I do believe in spanking, strongly, but with equally strict guidelines on it.  I never spank in anger.  You must be very consistent.  And, most importantly, it depends on the individual child.  My daughter is strong spirited and needs a much firmer hand than my son who is very gentle.  My kids always know why they are getting a spanking and I tell them in advance how many they’ll get.  After the spanking, I give them a hug and a kiss and off they go.  Spanking is quick, effective, and gentle when done properly.  To me, making a kid sit in a “timeout” for 15 minutes is just cruel and unusual.  The best book I’ve ever read about discipline is Tedd Tripp’s book “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”.  Highly recommended.

A common myth, for those of you with infants, is that of the “terrible 2’s”… that’s BS.  Its 3, not 2.  Personally, my favorite time in a childs development is right around 2, because they are old enough to obey commands and are self powered, they are super cute and can talk a little but its mostly cute gibberish.

Particularly for the OpsDad, always make sure you spend as much time with your family as you can.  You never know when disaster might hit and you’ll be swamped with work and unable to spend the evening playing with Lego’s.  I’ve always made it clear to staff that for me 6pm to 10pm is completely non-negotiable, that’s family time, period.  The only reason I will work between those times is if something is hard down.  If you have to work on Saturday’s, do it during naptime, not all day, etc.  I hack at night, when everyone is asleep, not during family time.

But, above all… enjoy it!  Your wife will never be younger than she is today.  Your children will never be as young as they are today.  Enjoy it now, don’t wait.  So many guys I see are unhappy, even though they have a beautiful wife and sweet kids.   Box with your boys, build with them.  Kiss your girls and read with them.

I’ve avoided preaching, but I’ll leave you two Bible verses: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. (Ecclesiastes 5:18 ESV)” and “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 9:9 ESV)”  I live by these principles… I work hard, I learn and get stronger every day, I take pride in my work and am grateful to do it (even on the bad days, at least I’m not bagging groceries), I enjoy my children and my wife, and will as long as I possibly can.