The double standard of “missing out on kids’ childhood”

One of the reasons moms weigh the decision whether to resume working or stay home with the baby is the feeling that we’ll miss out on his childhood. I understand this sentiment—when I was pregnant, I wanted to find any way to stay at home with the baby so that I could spend more time with him. With most working people clocking in some nine hours at the office plus whatever commute they have, time seems limited when you only get to see your kid a few hours of the day.

This discussion isn’t anything new. We moms discuss all this and more: Some women battle with working mom guilt. Others have to weigh whether to sacrifice potential career growth in lieu of being more available for our kids. And more of us struggle to balance motherhood and careers and having it all (as Taiia My Brown Baby writes).

But this isn’t a discussion on staying at home versus working, or who exactly is “raising our kids” when we go back to work, or whether or not we could truly balance motherhood and careers, or even whether we’re really missing out on our kids’ childhoods to begin with.

Instead, I want to talk about the double standard: Why don’t we ask these same questions of dads?

The decision to go back to work or stay at home often falls on the mother’s shoulders, but in this era where women work just as much as men, we still expect men to continue working while women are the ones to decide whether they need to go back to work or stay at home.

Maybe there’s some sort of biological, evolutionary explanation to this. Maybe women are the more nurturing of the gender and therefore would feel more inclined to consider staying at home. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

But whenever I hear moms bemoaning other moms for missing out on their kids’ childhood or pitying working moms because someone else is raising their kids, I can’t help but wonder about their husbands and think, “Does that mean then that your husbands are missing out on your kids’ childhood?” We don’t tsk tsk when dads work and only see their kids a few hours of the day just as working moms do, yet we create this guilt trap on moms and place the decision on ourselves when maybe we need to start including dads in this equation.

There’s no doubt that someone has to work. Rare is the situation where both parents can avoid working for a few years. Perhaps the next closest arrangement is where both parents work from home and take turns in caring for the kids, as a former coworker of mine did. But more often than not, at least one parent brings in an income.

But why do we assume dads will continue to work regardless of having children or not? Why don’t dads debate whether they should take a sabbatical for a few years, or choose the path of homemaker while mom brings in the bucks? Maybe we’re still too fresh from the generations where dads work and moms stay home. Or maybe it really is that biological makeup that defines genders and drives women to want to be with their kids more so than men.

Nonetheless, we need to do a better job about balancing these expectations nowadays. When moms make a decision to go back to work or not, that discussion needs to include dads too. Maybe we need to discuss how both parents feel about going back to work, and which situation works best for both mom and dad instead of making this a “mom and career” issue.

Thankfully no one has yet to tsk tsk me about my decision to work or wonder how on earth I could be missing out on my toddler’s childhood (hint: I’m not). I’m pretty sure no one has ever wondered the same question of my husband. I actually thought about this topic mostly from reading mom boards, and how easily we pity working moms for missing out on said childhood or burden ourselves with the decision to work or not, as we are the only ones who should be weighing our options. Maybe that’s why we hardly hear about “working dad guilt.”

Before we feel bad for moms missing out on their kids’ childhood, let’s consider whether we would feel just as bad for dads as well.

Have you wondered if dads miss out on kids’ childhood just as much as moms?

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Why do you work or stay-at-home?

Why do you work or stay-at-home?
I have a strange work schedule:
I work full-time, but work from home for the equivalent of two days. For the first year post-maternity leave, I worked part-time. For both situations, I realize I’m extremely fortunate to have arranged this schedule with my boss and company, as it allows me the opportunity to work with others in the office but also be home with my two-year-old.

I’m also one of those moms who work for financial reasons. We technically could live off of one of our salaries, but we like to save aggressively for our short- and long-term goals, and relying on only one of our salaries at this point—however frugally we already live—wouldn’t afford us that ability. That’s why I actually much preferred my part-time schedule because the income I made was enough for our goals yet still allowed me that extra day to hang out with my kid.

That said, I actually don’t mind working. My boss and coworkers are pretty cool, my commute is a measly eight minutes, the actual work is challenging yet doable, and… I even got promoted! Considering that I’m not in the office for two days of the week simply because I want to be with my son, I have to give a ton of props to my company for promoting someone like me. They recognize that a flexible schedule—and being a parent—doesn’t prevent employees from doing a stellar job.

If money wasn’t an issue though, I would like to be a stay-at-home mom, with a caveat. While I would spend most of my time with my toddler, I’d still like to work on projects that are solely mine, whether that’s volunteering my current work skills, pursuing interests and side businesses, or working on this blog. Then again, I may just have a case of greener grass on the other side; I’ve never been a stay-at-home mom so for all I know, I might just prefer working instead.

How about you? For instance, I know The High Needs Baby Blog is a stay-at-home mom to her daughter after reading her post on why she decided to become one (and whose post was the inspiration for this discussion). And a few months ago, I featured a poll asking you what your current employment status is, and the results were pretty much even:

  • 35% work full-time
  • 35% are stay-at-home parents
  • 30% work part-time

Tell me, why do you work or stay-at-home?

Do you work outside the home or are you a stay-at-home mom (or dad)? Why did you decide on either working or staying at home? What is your ideal situation? What are the pros and cons to your current situation?

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Get out of the house on time even with young children

How to get out of the house on time even with small children
I’m not a morning person.
Before kids, I would wake up at the earliest 8am in order to get to work by 9. Now that I have a kid, waking up at 6:30am every day hasn’t exactly been one of the perks of motherhood, and this is only worsened when we have to leave the house by a certain time.

These past few months, our toddler hasn’t been too difficult about leaving the house, give or take a few trying episodes. Whether we drop him off before work or attend an event or play date, he has been obliging when it comes to leaving the house. We’ve relied on several tricks to ease the morning madness and actually get out on time in the morning:

  • Get enough sleep in the evenings. Funny how morning madness can easily be avoided by simply getting enough sleep the previous night. I notice that I’m crankier in the mornings when I stayed up a bit later than usual. I find it difficult to wake up on time and therefore feel rushed the rest of the morning. To avoid all that, I make sure to sleep by 10:30 at the latest so that I won’t hate my alarm clock at 6:30 the next morning.
  • Similarly, allow plenty of time for everyone to wake up and play or get ready. Even though we don’t have to leave the house until 8:20, we wake our toddler at 7am so that he feels he has enough play time in the morning before having to leave. He’s a bit of a homebody and could easily stay home all day if he had a choice, so there’s nothing worse than prying him away from a brief play time to leave.
  • If possible, pick a good time to leave, such as after a snack. On days when we don’t have to drop him off at my aunt’s, I tend to go with the flow and run our errands when I find a good opportunity to do so. This is usually after he’s had plenty of play time, a ton to eat and a clean diaper. He’s more willing to leave when the environment and situation are conducive for him.
  • Eat breakfast, preferably together. I can’t imagine rushing out of the house on an empty stomach, so every day we all have something to eat. We also eat together as often as we can so that the day starts off positively.
  • Wake up earlier than the kids. Like I said, I’m not a morning person, but even I can’t help but heed this advice. Sure, we’ve gotten away with waking up when we hear our little guy babbling (or crying) in his room, but to avoid feeling rushed, we wake up 30 minutes before we plan to rouse our two-year-old.
  • Allow your kids a special toy or item to take with them out of the house. For my toddler, this is often any toy he’s currently into: Legos, crayons, even acorns and nuts. He’ll then have something from home to take while he’s away.
  • Give enough of a head’s up. We let our toddler know when we’re about to leave and say, “In twenty minutes, we’re going to…” and continue doing this at certain intervals, “In ten minutes, we’re going to…”
  • Keep optional outings to a minimum. To keep him from feeling overwhelmed, we usually keep our outings to two per day.
  • Break it down step-by-step. I notice that my toddler has an easier time transitioning when I give the exact next step instead of simply saying where we’re going. For instance, I’ll say, “Let’s put on your shoes,” instead of “Let’s go to the park.” After putting on his shoes, I’ll say, “Now let’s go to the elevator,” and so forth.

What are the worst days and times for you and your kids to leave the house? What factors make leaving the house more difficult? Easier?

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How to transition back to work after maternity leave

How to transition back to work after maternity leave
The other day, I walked in to the office and noticed a coworker who just returned from maternity leave. “Welcome back!” I told her. We discussed the usual baby talk (“I never knew breastfeeding could be so hard!” she revealed) as she settled in to her desk.

Later, as I was grabbing a cup of tea, I ran into her roaming the hallways. Apparently she was looking for the new room designated solely for pumping (in my days, I had to pump in the HR room—not cool as I was almost walked in on!). Neither of us knew where this mystery room was located. Watching her walk around the office with her tote bag containing her pump and storage bottles, I clearly remembered my transition back to work, and how I too made a mad scramble to find a room, lugging my pumping bag as well.

Though for the most part, I was able to transition back to work fairly smoothly. I followed most of the tips below, while the ones I didn’t, I wish I had:

  • Schedule a meeting with your supervisor a week before returning. During this meeting, discuss your working status (are you returning full-time or part-time?), make adjustments to your schedule if needed (will you come in and leave earlier?) and learn what’s been going at work in your absence (any shifts in employees or impending projects you should be aware of, for instance). I met with my boss at a nearby coffee shop and in that 45-minute meeting, we caught up with what’s new at work as well as established my new schedule.
  • Find good childcare. Admittedly, my husband and I didn’t establish our childcare situation until a mere two weeks before my maternity leave was due to finish. Thankfully, we lucked out and made arrangements with my aunt. Having good childcare can ease anxiety or worry you may have about returning to work. Additionally, working mom guilt often stems from a dissatisfaction with childcare.
  • On the same note, schedule a run through with the nanny if you have one. Pick a date close to your return to work and run through the same hours so that both nanny and baby can get used to each other. The nanny will also be better acquainted with your schedule as well as the baby’s. Show her how the baby likes to sleep, how to operate any gear you may have (baby carriers, for instance) and other quirks and preferences the baby may have.
  • Prior to leaving for maternity leave, confirm with HR which room you can use to pump. For breastfeeding moms like myself and my coworker, finding out where the pumping room is located will help eliminate another hassle on your first day back to work. I remember that our HR staff didn’t get in as early as I did, so I had to make do and use any old room, hoping no one would walk in.
  • Similarly, obtain any keys to the nursing room beforehand, and find out who else will be using the room to coordinate any schedules you may have or define your “in use” indicators (my coworkers and I made our own custom signs to indicate to one another that the room was in use).
  • Buy a double pump. Staying motivated to keep breastfeeding can be difficult, and nothing makes pumping more difficult than doubling your pumping time. Take it from someone who used a single pump for nine months: halve your pumping time and invest in a double pump.
  • Pack everything the night before. As tired as you may be in the evenings, you’ll be even more tired and probably dumber in the morning. So lay out your outfit, pack your lunch, leave your purse by the door and everything that needs to leave with you and try to do as much as you can in the evening.
  • If possible, return mid-week, on a Wednesday or Thursday for instance. That way the rest of week won’t loom like one interminable saga.
  • Print a list of things you need to bring and hang it by your door. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve had to rush back home because I forgot yet another storage bag, my cell phone or lunch for the day.
  • Bring a picture of your little one. I made sure to email myself a photo of my baby so that I could set it as my desktop photo. I also have a physical photo on my desk. When the day proves tough to handle, one quick look at his face usually sends me smiling.

These tips work for my scenario, particularly that I pumped, hired a nanny (or relative) and worked in an office. Other situations may require different tips; for instance, moms who work in a non-office environment like retail or a hospital, work from home or run their own businesses, as well as moms who use day care. That said…

What tips can you offer moms making the transition back to work after maternity leave? For those of who you don’t work in an office environment, what advice would you give pregnant women returning to work? And for those who use day care, what worked best for you to help you transition back to work smoothly?

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“Are dads the new moms?”: The generation of hands-on fatherhood

"Are dads the new moms?": The generation of hands-on fatherhood
Dads have raised the ante with the role of fatherhood. While I’ve seen plenty of dads at park outings, I’m seeing more and more of them taking an active role in the daily routine. On Facebook, my dad friends post blurbs about helping with homework or taking their kids to the doctor’s appointment. In my own home, my husband isn’t merely the occasional babysitter and instead feeds, bathes, and regularly interacts with our toddler. And recently, my brother—long known for packing his daughters’ lunches, doing their laundry and playing ridiculous games with them—proudly proclaimed, “I know how to do a French braid!”

Welcome to the new dad: men who no longer see themselves merely as husbands or providers, but have stepped up their game as amazing fathers.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal writer Susan Gregory Thomas asks, Are dads the new moms? She writes:

Whether it is because today’s men were raised amid the women’s movement of the 1970s, or because they themselves experienced the costs of that era’s absent fathers, there is little question that the age of dads as full partners in parenting has arrived.

I’ve long since been a fan of hands-on dads for several reasons:

  • When more dads want to be the primary caregiver just as much as women want to be the company CEO will we truly blur the gender lines often found at home and in the workplace.
  • In dual-income families, women end up assuming not only the role of the income-earner but often the role of child-care provider alone.
  • Kids benefit from having an active relationship with their dads, whether through stronger bonds with both parents or a less fearful view of the disciplinarian dad.

I’m excited that dads are stepping up to the plate. With both mom and dad attempting to balance it all, perhaps we’ll see a cultural shift that will support working parents as they attempt to create a healthy work/life balance. And to all the awesome SSBE dad readers: Happy Father’s Day! My hats off to you on this well-deserved day of yours.

What role does your partner play in your family? How does dad balance career, marriage and fatherhood? What was your father’s role growing up, and how has it affected your own perceptions of fatherhood?

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