7 practices that help me navigate work and home life as a dad

Mar 17, 2015, 6:38 PM | Updated: 6:39 pm

Editor's note: This post by Justin Ricklefs originally appeared on his blog, It has been posted here with permission.

My wife and I have five kids, five unique, amazing little kids. We love eating out. We love going to the beach. We love being in public. Almost every time we’re out, we get asked, “Are those all yours?” or “Are you Catholic?” I’ll save my reaction to the first one for later, but I always answer the second with, “No, we’re just crazy.”

I was fortunate enough to marry up. However, I was unfortunate to have a baby face. Here’s a story to illustrate these two realities. We were flying to our honeymoon in St. John in 2003. I was sleeping in the window seat, and Brooke was in the middle seat. I’m a gentleman, I know.

Brooke’s neighbor on the aisle was a middle-aged, sharp-dressed businessman. I’ll assume he was single by the way he was talking to my wife of 18 hours. After a quick nap, I woke up to him asking her, “Are you and your little brother meeting anyone in St. John?” Amazing pickup line, right?

The honeymoon period was short-lived as, one by one, we started having babies in 2004 — lots of them. At the same time, we went to one income. (Not a big one at all. I was making $28,000 plus commission in my first sales role). I was laser-focused on building my career but also loving the heck out of my new family.

In 2005, another baby. In 2006, a move to Memphis, Tennessee, from Columbia, Missouri, for a new job. In 2007, another baby. In 2008, a move to Kansas City, Missouri, from Memphis for another new job. In 2010, another baby (the only boy). In 2011, another baby (the final). In 2013, a move to Stuart, Florida, from Kansas City for another new job.

My career had taken off. My ability to generate sales for the companies I represented had taken off. My responsibilities at work had taken off. Meanwhile, my appetite for loving and leading my family was only increasing. I kept asking this question: Is it possible to excel in a high-profile job and be an engaged family man? I wanted to be wildly successful at both.

The thought of putting my family on the back burner while I built a career wasn’t an option but neither was passively allowing great opportunities to pass me by. Being awesome at both was the answer I wanted.

I don’t have the answers yet. I’m still very much in the process. We now have a 10-year-old, and I don’t know if I’ll even have the answers by the time she graduates high school. But I’m pursuing an incredible career and an incredible family life.

Here are seven ideas that have helped me on this journey. I would love to hear your thoughts as well.

1. Exercise early, before work. Your single colleagues or those without kids can workout after work. You can’t. Put your shoes and your workout clothes right by your bed. Put your alarm across the room, and set it for 5:30 a.m. Being on the healthier end of the spectrum makes you a better mom or dad.

2. Put your phone away. Once you’re home from work, set your phone to vibrate, and put it down until the kids are asleep. You’ll have a bunch of missed texts, unread emails and a long Twitter feed to catch up on, but your time from 6 to 8 p.m. is the only real time those kids see you each day. I’m addicted to my iPhone, so this one is still super hard for me today. But I promise that if the world is burning down, your neighbor will knock on the door.

3. Eat clean. I’ll write more on my specific eating habits later, but what you put into your body directly impacts your energy level. It’s not OK to be an awesome employee and use your best strength at the office and then come home and shut it down. Your family deserves better. This especially applies to high-performers who are always at lunches, dinners and events; you don’t have to drink at every business function, and you certainly don’t have to eat all the food options that are in front of you. Figure out a few simple things that work for you, and stick to them during the week. Our family has “sweet Saturday.” We start with doughnuts and end it with ice cream, but the rest of the week, we all eat clean.

4. Perform at work and get home by 6 p.m. Man, that’s a hard one, especially in a big office setting where it doesn’t seem OK to leave. There are nights when this doesn’t work, but, for the most part, the real heroes are at home. So quit looking at Facebook or checking your fantasy football team. Do your work. Be awesome during the day. Be efficient with your role and actually work. You have the time to get your stuff done from 8ish to 5ish. Figure it out, and then work after kids are in bed if you must.

5. For those of you with kids, eat lunch at school once a month. Whether it’s taco salad or chicken nugget day, it doesn’t matter, but block a recurring meeting on your calendar. Put your phone away while you’re there, and eat an 18-minute lunch with your kids. They’ll think you’re a rock star, and you’ll get to see what punk kid flirts with your daughter.

6. Date night. If you’re amazing at your job and an engaged parent, that’s great, but don’t forget your spouse. Put a date night on the calendar every week — every single week. It might be a 30-minute date on the back deck or a five-course meal at your favorite restaurant, but connect with your spouse. The rhythm of your family flows directly from the strength of your marriage.

7. Laugh. At work and at home, laugh often. Pay attention to how much you see other adults laugh. It’s sad really because it doesn’t happen much. We’re stressed out, spread thin and always busy. Start laughing and watch what happens.

These are seven things that have helped shape my personal, professional and family life. Hope they’re helpful to you. Go be awesome.

Justin is a sales guy at heart, who loves the art of putting a good deal together. He has worked in college athletics, the front office of an NFL team and enterprise technology companies. He and his wife, Brooke, have five young children and are often asked, “Are those all yours?” They call Kansas City, Missouri, home. Justin writes about how to reclaim meaning in business, wellness and at home. You can connect with him on his website,, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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7 practices that help me navigate work and home life as a dad