Having it all – the last word

In reflecting on this summer, the stories that stick with me most were the London Summer Olympics and the “having it all” debate that has stimulated so much conversation. The latter was initiated by Anne Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic and was continued by the appointment of Marissa Mayer as the new CEO of Yahoo. Let’s start there.

In her piece in The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a political science professor and former US State Department senior executive, put forth her views on “Why Women Can’t Have It All.” She candidly described her overwrought life working as a senior policy director in the Obama administration and offered many useful insights into the challenge of balancing work and family in a very senior, highly demanding role. Her teenage son was having difficulties and acting out as she worked countless hours in a job that also had her living away from home every week.

As a result, Slaughter felt she needed to return to her tenured position at Princeton which she described as follows: “I teach a full course load, write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book.” Yet somehow in spite of this seemingly Utopian, highly prestigious, and obviously demanding job, the comments of her colleagues when she left the State Department made her feel “less than.” Really? This isn’t having it all?

Then there was the case of Marissa Meyer, the new Yahoo CEO who is in the “unimaginable” situation of being pregnant. That this is worthy of more than a small footnote in her story is the first problem. The last time I checked, in order to deliver children women need to get pregnant, and all of us are here thanks to that series of fortunate events. Yet this is seen as newsworthy. To counter any skeptics of a “pregnant CEO”, Ms. Meyer announced that she will only take a few weeks off for the birth of her child and will work throughout that time. Is this necessary in order for others to feel that Yahoo made the right choice? How about pointing to her degrees from Stanford and her stellar track record at Google, one of the world’s most successful technology companies? Shouldn’t those suffice? Ms. Meyer has a husband and personal worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars, yet feels compelled to show that she can work through the birth of her first child. With all she has going for her, this doesn’t allow her to “have it all?”

The other story was this summer’s Olympics, which I loved. But despite my thorough enjoyment in watching this amazing event, I was troubled by the syndrome often expressed that you either win gold, or you are somehow “less than.” I had difficulty watching some members of our Olympic team receiving their silver medal as if it was an unworthy consolation prize. The media plays into this notion that the athletes “disappointing performance” must be an inconsolable loss. Imagine those silver medalists are only second best in the world at what they do. How can they live with that? How do they bear up under the weight of knowing that they couldn’t have it all?

No one believes more than I do that striving to have a full life is a noble and desirable goal. We all want to have career success, rich family lives, and rewarding personal experiences. But at what point do we say – “This is enough.” At what point do we realize that we do have it all? At what point do we, who are blessed with good educations and good jobs, comprehend that making trade-offs or not reaching the pinnacle in everything isn’t a tragedy, it’s simply reality.

I’m sure there are those that, quite rightly, would see Michael Phelps as the great Olympic icon. After all, he’s the person with the most hardware in Olympic history and virtually every medal Phelps won was gold. But to me the person who best symbolized the Olympic ideal was Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who was the first double amputee to participate in the Games. Losing his legs as a child obviously meant he would live in a world with limits, yet somehow he achieved his dream of making it to the Olympics. He raced in the semi-finals of the 400 meters and finished last. Yet he earned the respect and admiration of fellow athletes and the world because of his spirit of optimism, courage, and good sportsmanship.

Pistorius’s motto is, “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.” To paraphrase his words in the spirit of the “having it all” debate, I would suggest: Don’t measure your life by the things you can’t have, but rather, by the many blessings you do have.

That is having it all.

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in our member newsletter.

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The New Dad: Right at Home

The message that the American father “ain’t who he used to be” has echoed throughout the country and begun to challenge our views of traditional gender roles. As revealed in the Center’s previous two research reports in The New Dad series, today’s fathers seek to play a much more active role in raising their children, and nowhere is that desire more keenly manifested than in the small but rapidly growing group of stay-at-home fathers.

Last month we released the results of our latest study, The New Dad: Right At Home which continued our look at the changing role of fathers in America. The study included in-depth interviews with 31 at-home fathers. While the number of full-time, stay-at-home dads remains small, 3.4% of all stay-at-home parents, that number has doubled over the last decade. Some estimates have put the number of fathers who are now the primary caregivers in the US as high as 2 million. Beyond this number, we are also seeing an attitudinal shift among working men about their role in hands-on parenting. In our 2010 study, The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted, 53% of the nearly 1,000 fathers we surveyed indicated that they would be comfortable being an at-home father if their spouse had sufficient earnings to allow them to do so. That numbers may suggest that the relatively small number of those who are at-home dads may be “canaries in the coalmine” as all fathers increase their role in caregiving.

The fathers in our current study have made the commitment to be the primary caregivers in their families. Our research sought to better understand why they chose to leave the workforce, the challenges and successes they have experienced, and the impact that being at-home has had on their families, and most especially, their working wives. Some of our significant findings included:

  • In spite of all the media “hype” regarding laid-off fathers who re-invent themselves as full-time caregivers, that image did not match the data we reviewed or our experiences in speaking with at-home fathers. We found that in most cases being at home was a choice, often made by both spouses for pragmatic and value-driven reasons, not simply a reaction to an unanticipated lay-off. An out of work father may be providing dependent care during his period of unemployment, but this may not commit him to identify with the role of at-home father.
  • Like women who are at-home parents, men who make this decision face a number of obstacles and challenges, which they feel even more acutely than their female counterparts. Feelings of social isolation, loss of an adult network, uncertainty about future career plans, and concerns about how future potential employers will perceive them are all matters of great concern. For example, research we found regarding at-home fathers suggests thatfeelings of social isolation are significantly greater for men than women.  
  • At-home dads make very good parents. Not only did the fathers we interviewed view themselves as good parents, but their spouses strongly confirmed their assessments. The at-home fathers were clearly devoted to their children and active, involved parents. Much like our image of the competent and caring at-home mom, these fathers are committed to their children, supportive of their spouses, and doing the myriad of daily tasks needed to maintain their households (even if in a few cases their assessment of a clean house fell slightly short of their wives’ standards).
  • In addition to exploring the effects of at-home fathering on the men in our study, we also gathered data from the men’s spouses. Not surprisingly, we found that having an at-home husband greatly facilitated the careers of their working partners. The overwhelming response from the wives was that this arrangement had enabled them to pursue their careers in a much more assertive fashion without the limitations that virtually all other working mothers experience. 
  • Very often, we focus on work-family conflict and the “burdens and responsibilities” of parenting that mostly fall to American mothers. However,we should not let this conflict / burden paradigm lead us to forget the richness and rewards that also go with parenting. The men we interviewed made it clear that they relish the opportunity to be primary players in their children’s lives and were very cognizant of the fact that they were enjoying meaningful relationships with their children that most men never enjoy to the same degree.

Men’s involvement in raising the next generation of American children is clearly on the rise. While the number of at-home fathers is still small when compared to fathers who work outside the home, it is clear that most fathers will be more engaged with their children in the future than was the case in the previous generation. While that brings with it new challenges and work-family arrangements for many men (and employers), our research suggests that the benefits of fathers’ greater active involvement with their children will likely outweigh the costs in men’s lives. As these changes occur, however slowly and awkwardly, we should never forget what a difference a dad makes.

I hope your summer is off to a great start !!

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in our member newsletter.

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A MEMORABLE MOTHER’S DAY

This week I spent an evening with my daughters shopping for my wife Annie’s Mother’s Day present. While shopping isn’t my favorite activity, spending an evening with the girls to find a way to express their appreciation for their mother seemed a highly worthwhile endeavor. I know very little of the history of Mother’s Day. Many of you may see this as a “Hallmark holiday”, fueled by retailers’ desire to stimulate spending. But to me, Mother’s Day is always a much needed reminder of how grateful we should be to those who raise us – and an equally welcome opportunity to celebrate the critical role that family plays in our lives. 

But Mother’s Day is hardly the only reason that family is front and center in the minds of many Americans right now. That’s because this week, for the first time in US history, a sitting president said that he believes that same sex couples should have the right to become families in the eyes of the law. In an interview on ABC News, President Obama admitted that his thinking has evolved in recent years on this issue but that “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

President Obama had at one time opposed gay marriage in favor of civil unions. The president said that he was “sensitive to the fact that — for a lot of people — that the word marriage is something that provokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.” But he said he had changed his stance on this issue after witnessing committed same-sex marriages and thinking about U.S. service personnel who were bravely serving their country but “not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”

People in the United States have widely varying perspectives, with the population now pretty evenly split on the issue of same sex marriage. Often, deeply held religious beliefs figure strongly for those who feel that the opportunity for marriage between same sex couples should not be the law of the land. As many people of good faith wrestle with this issue, there is no doubt that for most this is a sincere struggle in which issues of their tradition, culture, and religious beliefs weigh heavily. Not surprisingly, many left-wing groups strongly supported the President’s statement as a significant step in the right direction. Liberal congressional leader Barney Frank said that “no president could have made such a statement” as recently as 10 years ago. Some might say, well, that’s Barney Frank.

But the desire to put this issue into an ideological box is not so easy to do. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, was arguably the most politically conservative candidate for President of the last half of the 20th century. He was often called the Godfather of Modern Conservatism – a fervent believer in Thomas Paine’s philosophy (also sometimes attributed to Thoreau) that government that governs best, governs least. Senator Goldwater spent considerable time in his later life supporting gay rights, including gay marriage. Goldwater believed that no true conservative would want more government intrusion in people’ personal lives and said, “It’s time America realized that there was no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.”

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, another staunch conservative and supporter of gay marriage, has said “Freedom means freedom for everyone … People ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish”, although Cheney, like Obama, believes this issue should be handled at the state, not national, level. 

In making his historic statement, President Obama discussed the fact that his daughters have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. Obama stated that “It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.” By invoking the image of his two young daughters, the President reminds us that the most  significant divide on this issue is generational. As recently as 8 years ago, one national poll suggested that Americans were against gay marriage 2-1. But today, according to the Pew Research Center, 64% of Americans born after 1981 (the next generation of policy makers) support same sex marriage and this statistic may offer the greatest insight into what the future holds for this issue.

So while this week’s vote in North Carolina to protect that sanctity of marriage (i.e. outlawing gay marriage in that state) demonstrates that strong feelings persist on both sides of the gay marriage debate, and while there is no clear consensus in sight, this week seems to mark another shift toward the acceptance of a new and broader definition of family in the United States. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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A Tale of Two Countries … and Their Respective Challenges

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in our member newsletter.

For me, the month of March has included more than the run-of-the-mill work and family experiences. Two in particular stand out and speak to the complexities of the global challenges we face in these two related spheres, work and family, which dominate much, if not most, of our daily lives.

On the work front, I had my first opportunity to visit Brazil where we hosted our annual Global Workforce Roundtable Summit with 40 representatives from 14 multi-national companies in attendance. Danielle Hartmann, our Director of Corporate Partnerships, did a wonderful job constructing the agenda and selecting speakers that gave us an in-depth understanding of the laws, cultural norms, and workplace practices that must be understood when working in this vibrant country. The gathering was a great success.

Upon returning to the US and on the family front, my mother, who is now 90, had a series of minor strokes which impacted her significantly. These episodes left my family, and specifically my sister who was her primary caregiver, with the unwelcome decision that our Mom needed around the clock care. Her move to a nursing facility was traumatic and emotional as many of you can personally attest to from your own experience. Ironically, one of my colleagues at the Center was also transitioning her mother to a similar care facility at nearly the same time (that is two people in a Center with a staff of 7). In my case, a sister and her husband who had retired early and had my mother live with them for the past year made the logistics of the move less difficult for the rest of the family – but certainly not for them. I’m not sure what we would have done had my sister and brother-in-law not been able to manage this difficult and complex situation. Their efforts minimized the time impact for the rest of the family, but not the emotional one. In my colleague’s case, the children of her elderly parent were still working so the move was emotionally traumatic and enormously time consuming for all.

Both Brazil and the United States are large countries (populations of 200 million and 300 million respectively). They are both rich in natural resources and have diverse and high impact economies (the 1st and 2nd largest economies in the Western Hemisphere). Brazil is a country that has had many challenges in the past especially on the economic front where they experienced periods of prolonged economic stagnation followed by times of hyper-inflation.

The US has also experienced its own booms and bursting bubbles. In the late 1990’s it was the dotcom meltdown and in the 2000’s the real estate industry. But our swings have not been as dramatic as those of our friends to the South.

But to move away from the macro-issues in both countries for a moment, I’d like to go back to the more personal perspective.

My impressions of Brazil were formed in Sao Paulo which makes any generalizations dangerous at best. It’s like judging the United States from a visit to New York which of course no self-respecting Bostonian would ever do. Brazil is clearly a country on the move with a vibrant, growing economy and a young population (average age is 29), but it faces challenges in terms of sustainability that come with that growth. The three lasting impressions I had of Brazil were its wonderful people, economic growth, and massive traffic jams that seemed just a few cars short of complete gridlock. And this as the city of Sao Paulo continued on a very aggressive business development path. I wondered what could be done to continue to foster the country’s economy while somehow maintaining or improving the quality of life for its citizens.

By contrast, the US is not in a high-growth period. Our economy remains sluggish and our unemployment rate, while hardly the worst of world’s major economies, remains too high. We also have an older population with 13% of our citizens over age 65. With the oldest baby boomers now reaching that age in large numbers that percentage is on the verge of a dramatic increase. As we debate the merits of guaranteed healthcare for all citizens in the nation’s highest court this week (which by contrast is a universal right in Brazil) we face an even larger problem called elder care that we have not begun to fully grasp. With MetLife reporting that the average price for a person to be cared for in a private room in a US nursing home is $70,000 per year, our spending on elder care may make the price of your child’s college education seem affordable. And the emotional toll, time investment, and lost work productivity resulting from this issue may make the economic costs seem like the least of the problem.

March was an excellent reminder for me – both professionally and personally – of the tremendous challenges that confront two great countries as they each search for ways to improve their quality of life. And an equally great reminder of the importance of the work we engage in on a daily basis.

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Taking Charge of Your Career and Life

In spite of the recent improvements in the US employment numbers, the last few years have been extremely trying for many individuals’ careers. While anytime is a good time to tweak your career management strategy, these days it is especially important to be sure your plans and your portfolio are up to date. This is especially true for three groups:

• Employees who feel they have been stuck in a less than ideal job. The numbers are actually startling. According to the Gallup Employee Engagement Index, it is estimated that 70% of American workers are disengaged at their job. About 50% report they simply don’t feel connected to their work. 20% are actively alienated from their work or employer.

• Employees who are rightly worried about the stability of their position. Since the recession began, we may feel we’ve been laboring beneath the Sword of Damocles, simply waiting for the bad news to come around to us. Obviously, this is unnerving and can lead to high levels of anxiety.

• Employees who struggle with their career-life fit. Those are the fortunate ones that have good jobs but feel the challenge of integrating their work with other life priorities is extremely difficult. These employees may go out looking for other jobs when, in fact, simply working with their manager and thinking creatively may allow them to happily stay in their current role.

For those of you who fall into one of these categories – that may be many or perhaps most of us – now is the time to reflect and take actions to re-focus your career strategy. I have written before about a new career model that Prof. Tim Hall has called the “Protean career”. Protean skills include being able to change frequently or easily, to be able to do many different things, to be versatile. A Protean career is one that is characterized by such adaptability and versatility.

To succeed in a Protean career, the individual must take responsibility for charting his or her own career path – one that leads to their definition of success. There are three characteristics that are foundational in managing a Protean career. First is simply committing to be proactive. Many of us say we’ll do that, but as the Gallup data suggests, most of us do not. Second is possessing a high degree of self-awareness (i.e. a clear sense of “identity”). Third is demonstrating adaptability; using our increased level of self-knowledge to adapt to the ever-changing professional and personal circumstances we encounter.

So where to begin? Once you have made the commitment to be proactive, you need know yourself. Specifically, to understand your skills, values, desired lifestyle, and career/life aspirations. How do you do this? In the Career Management and Work-Life Integration course I teach at Boston College, I ask students to complete a battery of exercises to increase their level of self-understanding. There are two activities in particular that are simple and fun to do:

• The first is the “Peak Experiences Exercise.” It asks participants to describe a number of events / moments when they felt particularly proud of an accomplishment or just happy with their life or their work. Reflecting on these moments can tell us a great deal about what we value, the skills we possess, and what we feel a strong emotional connection to.

• The second is the “5 or 10-Years-Out Exercise”. The goal is to paint a word portrait of what you would ideally like your life to look in the future. This is your personal vision. Simply writing down a detailed description of what you hope for greatly increases the likelihood that you will achieve it and will help you determine/consider the path you need to take to get there.

We’ve posted these exercises on our Center’s website homepage. If you have time, try them out. I believe you will find them enjoyable and they will start you on the road toward improved career health. You don’t want to be one of the 70% of the employees who aren’t excited to come to work each day. It isn’t fun, and can lead to your becoming what my old boss called a “WCRT” – that’s a walking cost reduction target for those unfamiliar with the acronym. My hope is that completing these exercises will represent the first step in taking charge of your career and life.

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in the BCCWF Member Newsletter. Click here to view the Fox 25 News Work-Life Wednesday interview on Managing Your Career.

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Christmas Presence beats Christmas Presents Every Time


Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work& Family.  This post originally appeared in our member newsletter. 
 
This week Jennifer Fraone appeared on one of Boston’s local news channels to do our monthly Work-Life Wednesday segment. We’ve been doing these regular pieces for nearly a year and it has been a great way for us to talk about our research, provide updates on new developments in the field, and offer some evidence-based advice on how individuals can flourish in the work-family aspects of their lives. The staff members of the Center take turns doing these pieces and we have all enjoyed the opportunity to experience what Andy Warhol memorably called our “15 minutes of fame” – although in this case, it’s closer to five minutes.

In her work and her writing, Jennifer frequently offers her thoughts, suggestions, and advice on what one can do to create greater work-life harmony to borrow a term from my friends in Singapore. In this week’s segment, she provided a number of excellent tips on maintaining balance during the stressful holiday season. One of her pearls of wisdom was “It’s more about presence than presents.” Jennifer discussed the fact that we often feel compelled to get everyone on our list a present. As a result, we spend much of our precious holiday time in frenzied malls hunting down the perfect gift, which often doesn’t prove to be that perfect. Instead, we might choose to slow down long enough to realize that spending time with our loved ones might prove far more valuable than something that comes in a box with a bow.

My own family is certainly not exempt from the “rushing around to buy presents syndrome”. But there are three things we do every year that are far more meaningful and memorable to all of us than any material gift could ever be. First, we do an annual pilgrimage to Providence, RI to see a wonderful and always unique rendering of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We make an overnight of it and after the show enjoy a meal in one of Providence’s many wonderful Italian restaurants. Second, on a mid -December afternoon we go as a family to pick out our tree and then spend the early evening decorating it together (with the late, great Vince Guaraldi’s classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack always playing in the background.)

Finally, as many of you know, I am quite proud of my Irish-American heritage. So the third much beloved tradition is I drag the entire family to see A Christmas Celtic Sojourn. I’m the only one in the family who really loves Irish music so part of the beauty of this tradition is seeing the disappointed looks on my angelic children’s faces every year as I hold up the tickets and announce the good tidings that we will once again be attending this wonderful show. So every year, however reluctantly, the kids get dressed-up and truly seem to enjoy an evening of Irish music, storytelling and dance. Even though the kids are more excited about seeing Scrooge and decorating the tree than they are about their Gaelic evening, they are present in each of these three small but important traditions. And their presence is the greatest gift I receive each year.

I wish you happy holidays, a Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year!
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Work and Family Month: Large Policies, Small Moments

In honor of National Work and Family Month, I was asked to write some thoughts on the subject. Many excellent articles by our field’s leading thinkers have been appearing that explore policies and programs that could or should be implemented to advance the work and family agenda. Most convey that making progress will take large-scale organizational changes and perhaps new government policies, which will prove difficult in the present U.S. political environment.

Beyond all the needed strategic policy changes voiced by my colleagues, I also feel deeply that change will only occur when individuals make the right choices in those thousands of small moments that unfold over the course of their lives… which is perhaps a more daunting task than influencing our political discourse. So rather than repeat what has been said, let me share one personal example of a small moment that came to mind as I reflect on this occasion.

One of my endearing behaviors upon arriving home from work each day is to do a “quick final check” of my work email the moment I walk through the door. I’m not sure why I developed this habit, but I justify it as a necessary step in transitioning from work to family. I’m quite compulsive about this whether arriving home from my daily commute or returning from an extended business trip.

Last fall, I was on my way home at the end of the day after picking
up my (then) 15-year-old daughter. I pride myself on my openness to those meaningful father-daughter conversations one sees in the movies; where the dad demonstrates active listening and disseminates wisdom in large doses. But I like those conversations to occur on my schedule. On this particular day, Maggie and I discussed her potential areas of interest. It may have been related to college preparation or perhaps just increasing her involvement in extra-curricular activities. I offered the usual clichés: “Do something you are interested in” and, “Just follow your passion.” But my daughter was stuck and admitted her passions weren’t 100 percent clear.

Pulling into the driveway I was eagerly anticipating my email ritual and began to conclude the conversation by offering one last “pearl” to cement my place in the Fatherhood Hall-Of-Fame. As I reached for the car door, Maggie said, “There is one thing I am interested in.” Having made my closing point, my initial reaction was, “Let’s save that for another time.” Instead I fought my instinct and asked, “What is that?” “I’m interested in social media and how it can change things in the world” she replied.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I briefly pondered “You’re kidding” or “Don’t they have a chess club or ultimate Frisbee team at school?” But quickly realized this was one of those moments where further inquiry might be more helpful. So I asked what exactly she meant. She told me about young activists she admired who were doing charitable work around the world not through the Peace Corps or another large organization, but through individual efforts that they promoted via YouTube. She asked if she could show me their sites, and resisting the emails that were summoning me, I said “Sure.”

I was impressed by both the work of these caring Millennials, and also by Maggie’s feeling of connection to it. I told her we used social media at the Center to try to advance the work-family agenda. Maggie later explored and arranged a brief internship at our Center last summer with the help of our communications director. She learned more about our work and helped us develop our social media, including some videos to communicate “a day in the life at the Center for Work & Family.”

Then recently, Maggie asked Annie (her Mom), if she could take her to the Occupy Boston protests. She brought her flip-cam and captured the spirit and rallying cries of the movement. That night she quietly edited her video into a three-minute montage of the chanting crowds. On Tuesday, I was speaking at the Work-Life Expo in Minneapolis, and Annie emailed me a link to a Huffington Post article “Occupy Wall Street: Citizen Journalists Document Protests Nationwide.” When you scrolled down past the scenes of New York, LA, and Chicago, there was one video called Occupy Boston Chants from a 16-year-old “citizen journalist.”

I was obviously very proud of Maggie. But her accomplishment also caused me to reflect on that conversation we had in my car nearly one year earlier. Work emails and compulsive habits beckoned and the time was not of my choosing but life, as they say, happens. And on those all-too-rare instances when you have the awareness to seize the moment, you realize that no policy in the world is needed to be mindful of those you hold most dear.

Happy National Work and Family Month!!

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family and lead author of The New Dad study on fatherhood.  This blog originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

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