As a co-founder, I always get asked about business: “How do you scale ideas? How do you support great talent? How do you make customers feel special?”
One thing I have never been asked is, “You’re a dad — how do you juggle it all?”
As a father of three kids — a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and a five-month-old — and of two companies — Harry’s and Warby Parker — life’s pretty busy. Work can be all consuming, but I also know I have a very important role at home. I don’t want to be an absentee dad. But it takes work.
By being open about my struggle to carve out family time — and my techniques for making the most of it — I hope I encourage others to open up and share their own experiences and advice. We can all learn from each other, and I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. It takes vigilance to find balance, and there are family rituals and routines that my wife Laura and I always set aside. We want to make sure the time we spend with our kids is quality time for them, and for us.
My favorite family tradition is the one we do every night at bedtime: Books and Songs. We pile into our kids’ bunk beds and read and listen. Our two oldest, Charlie and Emma, pick one book each, and then we end the routine by playing songs on my phone. Sometimes they request songs, and other times I choose (when I choose, they are called “tricky songs”… I’m not sure why…). It’s a great way to calmly ease them into sleep and introduce them to music we love (although Charlie has only been requesting Johnny B. Goode of late, which is getting a bit repetitive). They literally will not go to bed without it, and I look forward to it throughout my work day.
My wife and I also make sure we have one-on-one time with each of our kids. We want them to know how much we each love them personally. We visit a destination in the city or choose an activity, and we call it an “Adventure.” Recently, I took Charlie on an Adventure to the Intrepid, an aircraft carrier docked in the Hudson river, with a space museum onboard. For him, it was the coolest thing ever. For me, it was a chance to focus on him for a couple of hours and to build great memories that we’ll both harbor for years to come. There’s nothing like sharing in the joy and exuberance of a five-year-old seeing a fighter plane on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
But making time for those traditions isn’t always easy.
Just last week, I was leaving work to get home for Books and Songs, and as I was heading to the elevator, someone stopped me and said, “I really need you for just ten minutes.” In the few seconds I had to reply, I thought, “The ten extra minutes I spend here means one less book I get to read tonight.” So, I said, “Can I call you in an hour?” This is an example of the real tension I feel as a working dad, and I’ve found it’s not about how much you work, but about how much control you have over those hours. I was still there for my team and got the work done; it was just on terms that worked for my family and me.
Being a founder gives me flexibility other parents might not have, and it also gives me the chance to offer that flexibility to everyone at Harry’s. We encourage people to find creative ways to balance their work lives with their families, like adding “mommy or daddy time” to their calendars so we don’t schedule over family experiences.
I’ve personally adopted a “No before Yes” policy when it comes to scheduling commitments outside of work. It’s simple: say “no” more often than saying “yes.” And when you can, say “no.” I’ve found that you can always go back to someone and say, “That event you mentioned; is it okay if I swing by after all?” much more comfortably than bailing on something at the last minute.
Keeping my free time, well, free, also allows me to work when I feel most productive. That’s not always between nine and five for me. My kids and my wife both go to sleep before I do, and afterward, our apartment is nearly silent. I use those hours to think and tackle tough decisions that deserve my full attention.
Andy, my co-founder, and I talk a lot about being present wherever we are, and how that helps redefine life as a working dad. Since we are both fathers, we see an opportunity to progress this idea, and as founders, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our team can prioritize family, too.
That may sound lofty, but it starts small. For example, at Harry’s, we now offer 16 weeks of paid parental leave for everyone on our team. People can take parental leave any time within the first year of a birth or adoption, and we complement that time off with flexible and customized re-boarding. Our company and industry move at a pretty incredible clip. When someone comes back from leave, getting them back up to speed, and finding the right structure, whether that’s part-time or partially working from home, is key.
People want to work for companies that view them holistically – we want that ourselves. Hopefully by putting these policies in place at Harry’s, we can open up a larger dialogue about true, transparent equality in parenting. We know this is a constant learning process, and we’ll never be “finished.”
In the meantime, I’d like to flip that question back to all of you working parents out there...how do you juggle it all?