How to make a positive start to combining fatherhood and career

Your onward journey as a working farther

2 Identify your ideal personal/professional time split

How central are work and family to your identity? Imagine a scale of 0-10 for both work and family: where would you put yourself? A high score on one doesn’t preclude a high score on the other, although it could present a significant challenge in how you organise your time. Ideally the scores are reflected in the time and effort you plough into each. There are 119 waking hours in a week (with seven hours a night for sleep). How many of those will you give to work? Remember also that this will change: you might have great visions of not reducing workload but when you are the only one who can get your baby to sleep and that takes two hours in the middle of the night, you might end up changing that!

"There are three options in my view. Option one is continue as before in the knowledge that others are looking after your child well. Option two is to say that being a father is considerably more important than a career so you shift towards the work to live view. Option three is a mid-point between the other two. If you intend to take option three then my suggestions would be as follows. First, try to build a platform of a work pattern that is agreeable to both work and home. Come to an agreement with your partner that you feel allows you to be the involved dad that you want to be whilst still allowing you to maintain your career progression (albeit at a slightly diminished rate for a period). Be disciplined. Leave work when you have agreed. This may mean having to say no to certain meetings etc. Equally, agree regular days when you will work late so you know that you can focus on work on those days. I have also found that my focus on making the flexible working pattern work (and be seen to work) has made me more efficient at work. My time management has improved due to my focus on, for example, getting everything done so I can leave to be home for bath time. Having both the set agreement and the discipline has, paradoxically, given me the flexibility to adapt such as to busy times at work where some flex in the agreement is needed or to take calls at home etc.”

Chris Purcell, solicitor, in-house, third sector

“Time management is key for any mother or father. If you can manage your time well and have robust routines in place, anything is possible!”

Solicitor, in-house, private sector

“My wife and I worked out a routine fairly early on after our daughter was born. I would always be home to do the evening bath (subject to the unavoidable marketing/seminar engagements, but I try to limit these to one per week where possible). This means that I always have to work to a deadline and leave work at a certain time. Without this there is always the temptation to stay that little bit longer because there is always something else that can be done…The bath/getting ready for bed routine means I am always guaranteed at least one hour with my daughter per day. This sounds so little on paper but in reality a lot can be achieved within that time. I usually get back home an hour before bath time so, in practice, I get two to two and a half hours. This is also a huge relief to my wife who appreciates me taking over at the end of the day for those last few hours.”

Che Meakins, solicitor, private practice

3 Identify your personal and professional priorities

What gives you purpose and worth? What activities give you a sense of accomplishment? What will give you recognition and make a difference to how quickly you progress (if that is important to you)? It's possible to be a high performer who is progressing professionally and still have time to be an active, present father. The key is to know in your own mind what specific activities/deliverables you want your name against and which you are prepared to ditch, delegate or do less of. You might want to think about whether your career could move more slowly for a time whilst you and your partner adjust to being parents and also go through her return to work transition.

"Your kids are only young once. If you don’t read to them or put them to bed now, you never will. And the benefits to your mental health are amazing. Continue doing the same things you did at work before; you’ll be amazed how your body adjusts to the change of pace (most of the time...). If you hadn’t before, learn to say no and leave the office promptly from time to time. If the culture is such that you’re expected to be there all hours God sends, you probably need to re-examine your priorities."

Father-of-two, senior solicitor, private practice

Katy Wedderburn, Macroberts
"Make the kids' tea. Do the washing. Hang it up. Put it away. Take the kids to the park and let your partner have a bath for an hour. Support your partner in their career aspirations, and work as a team. Share the nursery/school drop-off and pick-up. All of this works both ways."

Katy Wedderburn, solicitor, MacRoberts LLP

4 Consider how flexible working could support your priorities

Flexible working may be useful or necessary depending on your childcare arrangements. If your partner/spouse also works, you will probably need to agree a shared schedule of childcare drop-offs and pick-ups. For example, it might be ideal for you to have one day a week where you come in later and finish later and another in reverse. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy one-to-one time with your son or daughter at breakfast or bedtime. This altered pattern of work has the benefit of you being able to focus and get more done at either end of the day when the office is quieter and/or be available to clients outside usual hours. Flexible working could also include working from home which could cut out a lengthy commute and mean more time for sleep or the opportunity to get to the gym, play team sports or continue with another interest after work.

Ian Rodger
"A small town practice allows me to live five minutes walk from work. I start early, go home for breakfast and see my kids before they go to school nearly every day. Starting early means most evenings I finish about 6pm and I am home by 6.05pm, so I see my kids then as well."

Ian Rodger, solicitor, Williamson and Henry

Sue Arrowsmith Rodger
"Try to separate your time at work from your time at home - you can't be in two places at once, but you can make sure you are giving 100% to the place that you are. Try to be around for mealtimes at least a few times a week - this is the place where news and views are shared the most. When you're at home, try to focus on the tasks that need to be done and try to share both the childcare and domestic tasks equally. This should ensure that both you and the child's mother can enjoy some quality time with your children and also some quality time together once the tasks are complete.”

Sue Arrowsmith Rodger, partner, Pagan Osborne

"My partner goes into work very early each morning and leaves at 5pm sharp to be home for the evening time. Father's need to change their work habits as well and be flexible enough to take on some of the childcare pick-ups/drop-offs to give their partner greater flexibility.”

Claire Anderson, solicitor, Scottish Government

5 Discuss and agree flexible working

Since 30 June 2014, all employees who have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks have had the right to request flexible working (previously just parents and carers). The right to request does not mean the right to have requests granted, it means that your employer must handle requests in a 'reasonable manner'. A reasonable manner includes assessing the advantages and disadvantages of granting your request. You might judge that a less formal agreement can be reached with your line manager, particularly if you hold a senior role and/or have a trusting, output-focused culture. Whichever route you take, do think about how you can demonstrate how flexible arrangements can be beneficial for you/the team/clients/wider business and at the very least how it won't be detrimental to any of those groups.

“Talk to your employer. Agree what pattern you will work, what is expected of you and take any advice and help available to ensure you get the right work/life balance.”

Father, senior in-house solicitor

"Be seen to be sharing some childcare responsibilities, so that the message is out that you are involved. Don't take the easy option of leaving it all to the mother. Don't stay at work late on her days off - those will be the days that she needs to see you most after work, for some adult company/conversation. Be a devil and make a flexible working application, even just for one half-day a week - it will make a big difference to your relationship with your kids.”

Lindsey Cartwright, partner, Morton Fraser

“My husband is also a solicitor but in the private sector. His employers will not properly consider any flexible working arrangements and my husband has been questioned as to why he leaves the office before 6pm (his explanation is because he wants to see his children before bedtime and perhaps even eat the evening meal with them), despite the fact that he meets his feeing targets and is contracted only until 5pm. Therefore my advice would be to ensure that you fully undertake work but try and juggle that with spending time with your family.”

Solicitor, in-house, public sector

6 Be fanatically focused on professional priorities

Knowing what your professional priorities are makes it is easier to have a fantastic focus on what needs done by you and what can be delegated, ignored or put to one side. Get into the habit of drawing up a list of key actions for each priority case/project for the week ahead and stick to it. Match the tasks that require complete focus and concentration to the times of day you are most alert. Leave emails and low effort tasks to other times and do any personal admin at lunchtime.

“Be more productive. I don't mean that in a harsh way - I mean cut out the chats to office workers that eat into the day; check email less often; say no, or if you must, a qualified yes; use techniques that make you more efficient. It will likely mean that you clear more work in less time, meaning that you can actually contribute at home.”

Rob Marrs, Head of Education, Law Society of Scotland

7 Be strategic about professional socials and 'off the side of desk’ activities

Consistently putting in appearances at work socials helps you keep up to date with what’s happening beyond your immediate priorities. If it's an after work drink session and you want to get home to the family, decide on the one or two people you'd really like to have a catch-up with, make a beeline for them and once you've had the conversations, leave. Consider online CPD or CPD that coincides with your preferred way of working.

8 Carve out time chunks for family and protect them

A US study of nearly 50 dual-earning, middle class families who were successfully managing work and home found ten common themes, one of which was maintaining work boundaries (Haddock et al, 2001). These families were clear on the time they were setting aside for family and excluded work-related activities at that time - and when at work they were completely immersed in work to the exclusion of all else.  There will always be more you can, want or perceive you need to do, especially if you are a partner or are on that track. However, without downtime you risk ill-health, crumbling relationships and poorer professional performance. Many professionals report the quality of the time spent with their family - and everyone being clear on when this time will be, and sticking to it - being more important than the quantity.

"As I live walking distance from the office, I would go home most lunchtimes and see my wife and child. I tried to ensure that I took my lunch each day to guarantee this time at home. I also designated Thursday evening as a late night, which I would work late before heading to my regular football practice. This meant I could head home on time the rest of the week. Having that one evening each week was really important, allowing me to catch up or get on top of things outside office hours."

Liam Colville, solicitor, private practice

"Set expectations at home and at work - make a commitment to be home for bath time/story time a certain number of nights per week. If you can work from home in the evening, there is no need to hang around the office for the sake of presentism.”

Claire Whyte, solicitor, RBS

"Be strict at leaving work in time to have dinner with the kids - spend one meal and some time with the kids each day. It makes a big difference. You need to understand that your partner also has a job and cannot be responsible for everything. Be firm when agreeing to meetings that they need to be over at a certain time to ensure you can be home at an agreed time.”

Alison Stuart, lecturer, RGU

9 When with family, focus on family

Relationships are nourished and good feeling created when we give our children our full attention. Dilution of attention (for instance, by checking emails whilst playing Duplo with a toddler) means that neither activity is done to the best of our ability and each one takes longer because of our brains' need to refocus each time we switch between tasks.

“The hardest thing over the last two years has been switching off from work and not taking work home. I try to physically keep work in the office. If I have to work on the weekend, then it's best to go in to the office for a few focused hours rather than bringing work home and blurring the lines. The result of the latter very often being not being able to relax or get the work done. I’ve made small changes, like switching off all notifications on my phone so that I don't check emails unless I want to. This has been one of the most effective ways of switching off from work and not reading that stressful email from a client or the boss that will ruin your mood for the rest of the weekend. This also applies to social media in an age where we are pushed to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn for work - all of these can serve to bring work into the home, taking your mind and attention away from where it should be.”

Che Meakins, solicitor, private practice

"Everyone around you will tell you that your children are only children for a moment and you should work less and give them more of your time. They are absolutely correct but it is easy to think that you can care best for your children by working harder, generating more income and giving them the best of everything. It is easy to overlook that the thing the children want most is more of your time.”

Father, senior in-house solicitor

Katherine Allan
"Block time in your diary for nursery drop-offs and pick-ups. Try to get home for bath time two or three times per week. You can log back in later. Resist the temptation to read work emails while caring for your child - they can sense you are not giving them your full attention.”

Katherine Allan, solicitor, RBS

10 Co-create a domestic schedule

Research shows that even where a man and woman both work full-time, women pick up significantly more domestic and child-related tasks than men. It's worth taking a team approach to family life and suggesting you co-create a plan of who will do what and when. This gives everyone clarity, lessens any potential resentment and makes family life flow more easily by saving time and energy that would otherwise be spent on daily negotiations.

“I would be in charge of preparing milk bottles whenever I was at home and sterilising bottles. As our daughter grew older, milk was only in the morning and evenings so this was something I could fit in around working hours. In the mornings, if I left for work early, I could prepare the bottle and leave it near the bed in a thermal bag ready for when our daughter woke up. My wife does most of the housework but instead of trying to share that equally, I simply have a general responsibility for the kitchen. Again, this is something I can do because I do the majority of the cooking in the evenings and weekends. It means I look after planning the shopping, putting things away, cleaning up after meals, doing the bins, etc.”

Che Meakins, solicitor, private practice

"Working fathers need time to adapt too and having a period of time in the week where they shut off and spend time with their children is invaluable. Parenting is a partnership, work with one another. If you are both working you will be juggling childcare and communication is key to ensure that you can both continue to deliver at work.”

Lindsay Anderson, solicitor, Stewart and Watson

"Be organised, visible, on time, present at meetings and key social events, but accept that ‘me time’, whether it is pub, golf, etc, will be much less. Most working women with kids have no me time at all - they either do work, or childcare. Don't grimace at having to go to parties, nativity plays etc - it irritates all colleagues and you look very dated with that attitude. Keep a sense of humour and don't emulate your parents/older colleagues - the world has moved on fast.”

Partner, private practice

Carolyn Burns
"Agree on your and your partner’s priorities and goals and then get organised so you can support each other. It is a juggling act for everyone but unless you have agreed that someone’s job is more important than the other, childcare and housework shouldn’t place any greater burden on one parent than another. We have a general rule that we are each responsible for the children 2 days per week (with grandparents sharing the 5th day). This means that responsibility for getting away for pick up and dealing with illness is shared equally and each of our firms doesn’t need to feel that they suffer disproportionately.”

Carolyn Burns, director, Maclay, Murray and Spens LLP

See below for an example of a jointly agreed family plan. Kim (K) works three days a week and Paul (P) five. They have a cleaner (C). Taken with permission from Mothers Work! by Jessica Chivers.

Family Organiser - Who Does What And When (Download)

DescriptionMTWTFSSAs Needed
Dress/breakfast/teeth cleanPPKKK   
Nursery/childminder drop-offPPK     
Nursery/childminder pick-upKKP     
Make/organise dinnerKKPKK   
Bath time/bedtime routineKPPPPBothBoth 
Sterilise bottles/get stuff ready for t’rowKKPKKPP 
Plan meals for week       Kim
Do online shopping   K    
Put away online shopping delivery     P  
Top-up shopping       K/P
Make dinnerKKPKKPP 
Change beds    C   
Stay on top of laundry basket       Kim
Ironing       Paul
Quick clean of kitchen/stack dishwasherKKPKKPP 
Full dust/clean of house    C   
Keep on top of nursery paperwork       Paul
Pay bills/keep eye on joint account       Paul
Organise car insurance, MOT etc       Kim
Remember birthdays       Kim
Night out – choir/running clubP  K    
12 Look after your health and wellbeing

Good health is the foundation of you being able to deliver at work and enjoy family life. Interrupted sleep and insufficient sleep in the early days of being a parent are likely to impair your judgment and performance so it's worth prioritising sleep above other 'me time' activities until you get back to have seven hours solid sleep.

"If you are zombified by a poor night’s sleep, tell your clients. Most of them will understand. Those that do not are likely to be ‘those clients’ anyway. Sometimes, moving to another room is a survival technique if you want an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Just be prepared to make up for it in other ways."

Senior solicitor, private practice

"Although it might seem an unduly negative point, the birth of a new baby does put strain on a relationship, and Families Need Fathers Scotland hear from many fathers whose marriage or cohabitation ends during pregnancy or shortly after birth of a child. All fathers should be aware that the period after returning to work is often fraught, caused by a combination of renewed work pressures, sleepless nights and the end of the post-birth euphoria. Post-natal depression, which affects both women and men, can add further strain. Seek help from a health visitor or GP or contact helplines such as The Spark (0808 802 2088) or Relationships Scotland (0845 119 2020)."

Ian Maxwell, manager, Families Need Fathers Scotland


The following prompts are designed to help you consider how you can make a positive start to combining fatherhood and career.

  1. How much leave will you take and when?
  2. How much time will you strive to give to work and family each week?
  3. What are your top professional priorities and how will you fit them into the time you have allocated to work?
  4. What points do you need to discuss with your line manager?
  5. What one thing can you start to do differently for the good of family life?