Rookie Mum: Balloons are a child's-eye view of a balanced lifestyle
There is a lot of talk these days about that nebulous thing called work-life balance. In Hong Kong's culture of long working days, it's easy to fall off the tightrope and feel like you're doing neither very well.
I am lucky enough to work part time. My husband, however, often leaves for work as our young son, Tom, gets up and is home well after he's in bed.
But companies are increasingly aware of the importance of maintaining some balance, which is why my husband's employer, Barclay's, holds an annual "bring your children to work" day.
Confounding my usual cynicism, it proves to be a brilliant event. When we arrive, the party room is filled with balloons and long tables where the older children are painting. There's not a computer terminal or video-conferencing machine in sight (but more of that later).
Writing in The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, parenting author Armin Brott suggests a few ways we can maximise time with family, minimise stress "and avoid trashing your career". His alternatives include arrangements such as flexi-time, job-sharing, and working part time - none of which seem particularly acceptable to Hong Kong employers.
Our little boy is blissfully unaware of any questions about work-life balance. He runs round grabbing balloons, screaming "balloo, ballooo!"
We are eventually herded through into the IT department, where I spot an office in which a couple of children sit video-conferencing with their fathers in an adjacent room. They appear to be really enjoying themselves.
"For the employees, it's an opportunity to show their kids where they work and what they do five days a week," says Richard Lowe, head of IT at Barclay's Hong Kong, who organised the event. "For families, aside from enjoying the event itself, it's an excellent opportunity for the parents to meet, share experiences and hopefully expand their network of contacts." I hope they intended the networking for the children, too.
In his book, Brott cites research in which men describe fatherhood as having improved their work. They cited "new abilities to juggle conflicting demands, make decisions, and communicate quickly and clearly both at home and at work … Some described themselves as more aware of personal relationships on the job, and more able to use some of their managerial skills in the solution of family problems."
We are still trying to find the right balance between our jobs and parenthood. But as far as Tom is concerned, he's delighted that Daddy works in a balloon factory where some painting takes place on the side.