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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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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Ask the readers: When is parenting hard?

Ask the readers: When is parenting hard-toddler bed
My two-year-old has been relatively easy for the past several months.
We haven’t had any major tantrums or patience-testing phases. He’s been sleeping through the night like clockwork. And he has been so patient and compliant even when I would never expect a toddler to be (such as sitting calmly in an over-crowded Costco while waiting in the longest-ever line… sigh). In short—dare I say—we’re in an “easy phase” of parenting!

Throughout my short tenure as a mom, these “easy” periods seem to come and go. Just when I’m thinking, “I’m getting the hang of this!” my toddler comes up with another scheme to change my mind. In the early days, I would see parents of older babies and toddlers who seemed to have everything together and wonder when in the world I would ever get to that point in parenthood.

With two-and-a-half years of parenting, I realize that raising kids gets easier… and it doesn’t. There seems to be a general increase in “easy-ness” over time, but one marked with quick downturns of hardships as well. Below are some of the more trying times in raising my kiddo:

  • Newborn days. The first few months after my baby was born was by far the most difficult period of parenting. Some reasons are obvious: sleep deprivation, the extreme needs of an infant, breastfeeding every two hours. But perhaps the hardest factor was adjusting to parenthood and accepting the difficulties of raising an infant.
  • Worrying about SIDS. My toddler sleeps with a pillow, three blankets, bumpers, a lovey and a stuffed bunny… all piled on top of his face. I assume he’s rebelling against his first year when his crib had absolutely nothing in it because his parents worried relentlessly about SIDS.
  • Feeling like a camel strapped with pounds and pounds of baby stuff. Dropping off the baby to my aunt’s was no easy feat: in addition to a baby in a car seat, I carried my purse, lunch, pump and bottles and the diaper bag. And since it isn’t humanly possible to carry all of the above, I had to lug the car seat into the stroller so I could free my hands to carry everything else. Weekends were only slightly better if only for the fact that my husband was usually with me: going to our parents’ houses easily meant bringing most of the above plus a booster seat and pack-and-play (for the four times that our toddler actually napped somewhere else besides at home).
  • Insanely attached to me and no one else. My toddler went through a phase when he wanted to be with me and no one else. When my husband came home from work, LO wouldn’t want anything to do with him and preferred I do everything for him. Dropping him off at my aunt’s was a struggle, since he would cry and want to run after me while I walked towards the door.
  • Crying hysterically during bath time. Who knew that water could be so scary? Apparently to my toddler, taking a bath warranted a crying fiasco. The boy was scared—his whole body trembled if he even so much as got five inches close to the water, and would cling to us with all his might.
  • Transitioning to a toddler bed. We converted our toddler’s crib into a bed not by choice—he started climbing out of his crib and falling smack on the floor. Transitioning to a toddler bed felt like sleep training all over again (in fact we had to employ the same methods). I remember emotions surfacing once more as I wondered, When does this ever end? Will we always have to sleep on the floor next to his bed every night from now on?
  • Tantrums. I hesitate to list this because there’s no way tantrums are even remotely out of our lives just yet, but yes, tantrums are one of the most emotionally-draining experiences of parenthood to date. And I heard it all comes back in the teen years (yay).

Thankfully the kid has a way of making us love him even as he’s acting like the most illogical, obnoxious and demanding person ever. Yes, he tested our patience and driven us mad, but when the storm calms down, he also makes parenting the most worthwhile and rewarding job.

Your turn: what are some of the most difficult periods of raising a kid for you? Which situations made you realize that parenting is hard? Do you think parenting gets easy?

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Dads are co-parents, not babysitters

Dads are co-parents, not babysitters
On mom boards, I’ve been hearing from moms wondering how to get dads to pitch in more, particularly in the child-rearing department. They’re stay-at-home moms with husbands who expect them to handle the kids, or working moms who come home from work only to do even more work around the house. They’re not sure how to get their partners to ease some of the burden from their shoulders.

I’m not surprised with this situation. Women are seen as the nurturing gender, the caregivers of the family (maybe that’s why most schools, hospitals or single-income families I’ve seen tend to have female teachers, female nurses, and stay-at-home moms). Some parenting books even have a section “just for dad,” insinuating that most parenting falls on mom and, oh hey, dad can be involved too. SSBE reader (and dad) Chris from Babies and Dogs posted an article describing a parenting book with just that kind of section:

My favorite lines are in the “Your Young Toddler” section of “Dad’s Role.”  Here it advises you to take your toddler to the park, to the pool, on a walk around the block, and to the bathtub (all activities that give Mom a break, I might add).

At a park it advises that, “While playing at the park, some safety rules have to be followed. Your toddler is still learning to walk, so she may not be as good a climber as you think she is.”  ‘Cause let’s face it, Dad’s are idiots.

Apparently even parenting experts consider dads as a byline, a helping hand. Time-wise, I spend more time with our toddler, but effort-wise, my husband and I expend the same amount and equally co-parent LO.

Yet even with a willing husband, there have been times when I wasn’t always so eager to unburden my duties. I remember a particular day when LO was several months old. We were heading out the door, and without thinking, I grabbed the baby, the diaper bag and my own purse. I walked straight to the garage door, fumbling at my keys and trying to reach the doorknob, all the while carrying the baby and my bundles when my husband, “Let me do it.” I didn’t even stop to think that he could open the door too, particularly since he wasn’t carrying the baby.

We talked about that incident later that night, and he pointed out that he wants to do more, especially if I’m clearly struggling with a heavy load (literally). Until that point, I hadn’t even realized that 1) I was trying to do everything myself, and 2) my husband wanted to and could share the burden as well. I remembered to let go of many responsibilities I automatically assumed. I don’t have to do everything, don’t want to do everything, and that I have a husband whom I was shutting out of the parenting role.

Since I spent more time with the baby, I grew quite adept at handling things—I’ve carried the baby, diaper bag and my purse while fumbling for keys to open the garage door—alone, often and successfully. So I had to consciously remind myself that when my husband is around, I needed to step back, share the load, and give him the opportunity to care for his son as well. I needed to let him do things his way and parent the way he wanted to as well.

Thankfully we are more often than not a tag-team extraordinaire. We’ve assumed dad- and mom-designated chores, so that I tend to pack our toddler’s main lunch and snacks while he fills the sippy cups and roasts the sweet potatoes. I put on LO’s pajamas while he reads to him. It’s nice not to have to wonder whose turn it is to give him a bath or to keep score. But we still share plenty of roles interchangeably as well (I don’t think either one of us want to have sole responsibility for changing diapers).

I want my toddler to know that his dad is just as invested in him as his mom is. He sees me more than his dad (which is probably even more true for kids of stay-at-home moms) but he knows that his dad has equal parental authority over and love for him. When kids witness their dads willingly chop up their food, do their laundry and sing them lullabies, they’ll hopefully grow up and be yet another generation that will blur gender lines when it comes to parental duties (and for this reason, I applaud stay-at-home dads and their partners most of all for paving the way).

I’m thankful that my husband will gladly don the parenting badge and assume its duties, both good and bad. He has even worn the Moby Wrap (“Why did you have to pick beige?” he asked. “Couldn’t you have chosen black instead?”). Life at home is just so much smoother when we work as a team. I don’t have to do everything; I have a hands-on dad—a co-parent—as my partner in crime.

How do you and your partner work together? Do you find the workload more or less balanced or tilted to one parent? Stay-at-home dads, have your thoughts on parental roles changed now that you are the one who stays home with the kids?

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