Starting the Day Well
I’ve realized recently that I am doing one of the best things that I can do for my wife and daughter when I am geographically the farthest away from them.
When I get to work early at my job in Tempe, I turn off the ignition in my 2003 Pathfinder. I put my $3 Wal-Mart sun shade over my windshield in front of my no-longer-smelly Little Tree air freshener, and turn on some worship music.
Then, I pray, read God’s word, and meditate and reflect for 15 to 30 minutes. This quiet time with God starts the day off right. It helps me to reset after the 5:00 AM controlled chaos of getting ready, getting the baby to the sitter, and dealing with pre-rush hour freeway traffic.
I sometimes text my wife how I’m praying for her. Not to be showy, but to let her know she is on my heart and in my prayers. “I’ll pray for you” and “I just prayed for you, here’s how” convey vastly different meanings.
Starting my day in prayer and closeness to God, and thinking about my family helps me set the tone for the day. Going into work in the morning feeling God’s fullness helps me to start stress-free and ready to tackle the day!
So while the title of this article says that being a better dad starts with mental health, my daily mental health routine really starts with quiet time with God.
Once my work day has started, I take frequent mini-breaks. Sometimes it’s getting up and stretching at my desk. Others, it’s walking to the farthest bathroom instead of the closest one, or going to the cafeteria for a drink or snack.
I also take at least one full fifteen minute break on most days.
I go out to the “smoke deck” on my floor. I’ll sit by myself, watch airplanes landing at Sky Harbor Airport, listen to the birds, and reflect. On days that it’s nice out, I’ll go for a short walk and take in the clouds and sunshine.
What these breaks help me to do is manage stress and remain calm and focused during the day. Especially on intense, deadline-focused days where it’s easy to build up frustration.
Yesterday, the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, I took about three breaks because I needed to pace myself for a twelve-hour day.
Adjusting the Commute
The Phoenix metro is fortunate to have a grid system that lets us hop on and off the freeway and maneuver from street to street at will while still moving in the same direction. So when it’s time to go home, I will occasionally take the streets instead of the freeway.
Sometimes I do this because I know that freeway drivers are more likely to irritate and frustrate me. Others, it’s because I have had a more stressful than usual day at work. The extra 15 minutes of listening to worship music or hearing God’s word through a podcast while driving can bring my heart back to the right place before reuniting with my family.
The effect work stress can have on family
Notice that all this stress and irritation is happening at work or on my commute when I am away from my family. But it’s even more important to me as a husband and father that I am intentional about disengaging from work for a minute or two work when I feel overwhelmed, tired, or just busy. And it’s critical that I don’t allow my short fuse to get me irritated on my drive home from work.
Because if I let all that build up over the course of the day, it’s not going to just disappear when I pick up my daughter, or before my wife gets home from her job.
If I allow work stress to pile on during the day, it will come out in the things I say and the way that I act toward my family that evening… Even if I’m trying hard not to let it happen. We’re human and we tend to mess things up even when we try hard and believe in ourselves, right?
Now, here’s why that is so important.
Choosing my family
My wife and I get up early. She gets up at 4:00 or 4:30 AM every day, and I get up about an hour later. This means we are often in bed by 8:00 PM, sometimes even earlier. She gets home at 5:30 PM.
So that means I get about 2.5 hours with my family on an average week day, and most of that is dinner, cleanup, dishes, laundry, showers, baths, and putting baby to sleep. So mostly it’s routine stuff that “has to get done,” with a few minutes of talking with my wife and playing with my daughter sprinkled in.
I have a choice to make every evening with the things we have to do together as a family after work and before bed each night:
Be engaged and help feed our daughter, listen to the story of my wife’s day, help with the dishes, and put our daughter to bed joyfully.
Or, check out and mindlessly scroll on Instagram because I am tired, while Maggie (who is also tired from an even longer day) does all the work.
If I have been checking in with God and with myself throughout the work day, being careful to identify whether I am feeling stressed or burned out or tired or overwhelmed, and then adjusting the rest of my daily habits accordingly (like my breaks and my commute home), I will be much more likely to choose my family over myself when I get home.
Putting others first
The book of Philippians reminds us to treat others as more important than ourselves. It says in verse 2 that each of us is to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It then goes on to say that even Christ “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant … [and] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”
So if even Jesus humbled himself to the point that he was willing to die for others (us), we as husbands and dads can surely put away our desire to focus on ourselves after a long day of work and spend some quality time with our families.
Accomplishing what sometimes feels impossible
Some days are just absolutely exhausting. Murphy’s Law is in full effect. Equipment breaking down and software glitching out. Unfair criticism by a boss, spilling coffee everywhere, and a dead battery when it’s finally all over with.
But even on the days where all those things happen, we are still called as husbands and dads to lay our lives down for our families.
In 2 Timothy, we read how this can be accomplished: God gave us a spirit of power, love, and self-control.
In fact, these three things work together in us all the time. When we have self control, it’s because God gives us the power to exercise it. And when we exercise self-control, it often comes from love.
So if we exercise the power that God gave us to love and control ourselves, that places us on a path of choosing our families in the short time we have with them after work each day.
And one of the best ways to keep this task in the forefront of our minds is to start off each day by worshiping him and reading his word and seeking his will in prayer, and keeping tabs on where we are mentally during the day by taking frequent short breaks when we can, using that time to reflect and pray.
It’s all in the choices we make
I know that on the days I’m able (and willing) to do this, my work days are better and my evenings even better. There are some days where I opt to use that early morning time to stop and get breakfast instead of bringing it with me, or to get a head start on the day’s work.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those are the days where I tend to lose sight of what’s really important, come home in a bad mood, and choose myself over my wife and daughter.
So it’s really all about choosing to be intentional.
Choosing to spend authentic, uninterrupted quiet time with God.
Choosing to monitor my own stress and mental well-being through out the day.
Choosing a commute that is least likely to get me worked up.
And choosing to engage with my family when I get home.