By Christina Elston
Even Dads Putting In Extra-Long Hours Can – And Should – Make Time For Baby
Working dads – especially new dads – have more to come home to than ever before. But the economic downturn means they might also have more reason to stay at work, if they’re lucky enough to have work. As of early February, the Labor Department reported that 3.6 million jobs had been lost since December 2007. Half of those losses came during November and December of 2008 and January of 2009, and experts and regular folks alike are still feeling for the bottom of this long, steep slide.
This means that people with jobs are doing what it takes to keep them.
So how can men balance their jobs as “providers” with their new roles as “dads”?
And why do they want to?
Why Dads Care
One reason is that more dads are going along on OB-GYN appointments, attending ultrasounds, and singing to the baby in Mom’s tummy, says Greg Bishop, founder of the nonprofit orientation program Boot Camp For New Dads. “You have a lot more men becoming a lot more involved a lot earlier,” Bishop explains. And after a bit of time off for the birth and more bonding, many men don’t feel right leaving that new baby all day. “By the time they go back to work, they know what they’re missing,” says Bishop.
Unfortunately, even though dads Want to be as involved as possible, our society hasn’t quite caught up yet. Dads are still supposed to be the providers, and they mainly still fulfill that role. “For all the hoopla given to stay-at-home dads,” Bishop says, “the fact is that we’re still a fairly traditional society.” An American Time Use Survey released June 25 by the Labor Department backs this assertion. It found that on an average weekday in households with kids under age 6, moms spent more than four times as much time caring for those children as did dads. On the weekend, dads did a bit better, but women still put in twice as much time.
Bishop, whose organization provides help to fathers-to-be at more than 260 sites across the U.S. and internationally, says moms are the biggest factor in how involved the father of their child will be and how early he will get involved. He advises women to encourage their partners to jump in, and then step back and give men the space to care for the baby on their own. His book, Crash Course for New Dads (Dads Adventure Inc.), offers even more tips.
Working It Out
But with long work days and everlonger commutes, where’s a dad to find the time? Bishop recalls that during his first child’s first six months of life, his commute from Los Angeles to Orange County meant he didn’t make it home on weeknights until after the baby was asleep.
One way for dads to carve out some time is to try for a more flexible work schedule. Work at home part of the time, even just one day a week, and fit some baby time between e-mails and other tasks. Or negotiate a later start time. Babies tend to be early risers, so taking the morning shift with the baby could give Mom an extra half-hour of sleep and mean 30 minutes of Daddy time for you. You could also get to the office extra early and then make it home in time for some bonding in the evening.
Not all bosses, however, will be ready to get on board with your babyflexible plan. “If your employer doesn’t have any kids, find another employer,” jokes Bishop. On a more serious note, however, he points out that it’s unreasonable to expect your employer to cut you some slack because you have kids. You need to present your plan to them as a winwin situation. Talk to your boss about how this flexibility can make you more efficient and productive.
Unfortunately, for some dads, long hours at the office or on the road are the only option. And Bishop warns these men against getting sucked into the notion that if you’re not there, you’re less of a dad. “Do your best to work something out, and do what you’ve gotta do,” he says, adding that taking care of your family financially is also part of being a good dad.
While you’re away at the office, keep your baby’s picture where you can see it often (like on your computer desktop), and consider calling or texting home at lunchtime for a baby update. Most camera phones will even let Mom e-mail a photo on the spot to keep you in touch.
And remember that eventually, you’ll get some time at home. “You’ve got weekends,” says Bishop. “Make ’em count.”
Part of that means being involved with the baby at the diaper-changing level. “Changing diapers is just part of the territory,” Bishop says. “When you go trout fishing, you clean the trout.” For those worried about the smell, he advises dabbing a bit of Vicks VapoRub under the nose.
Being ready to tackle even the dirtiest diaper means you’re prepared for alone-time with the baby, which Bishop says is essential – especially for dads with little time to spare. “That’s really when the connection occurs,” he says. When Mom isn’t around to jump in and solve problems, you’ll discover that you actually can comfort a crying baby. And when you’re all alone and Baby is happy, you’ll know it’s because of you.
Dads shouldn’t worry too much about something going wrong while Mom is away and need to realize that Mom’s way isn’t necessarily the only way. Dads on their own often find their own ways of doing things. “The fear factor is the biggest thing,” Bishop says, so remember that even if something truly does go wrong, Mom is just a phone call away.
Even when Mom is around, dads should make time to play with their babies every day. This has benefits for both Baby and Mom. “The more Dad plays with that baby, the more balance she’s going to get in her life,” Bishop says. “And the baby’s going to learn more by having that different interaction with Dad.”
Balancing the Budget, and Beyond
Bishop says he understands how tough it can be to manage a job and family, especially in today’s financial world. “It’s mind boggling the responsibilities these young men today have as they become fathers,” he says.
And the pressures can really mount once you add all the new-baby spending to the mix. Diapers, childcare and baby gear can get pricey. And this all comes at a time when Mom – often one of the family wage earners – will be away from work at least for a while. While California is one of the few states that offers paid maternity leave, few women receive their full salary while they’re away.
To help keep things from getting out of hand, Bishop suggests putting together a budget and discussing your financial and work situations together. Try to approach this in a realistic, organized fashion, so that you can avoid spending more than you’re bringing in.
And remember that as a new dad trying to bring home the bacon and still make time for Baby, you’re still blazing a fairly new trail. So give yourself a break and realize that no one gets it right all the time. “We tend to forget,” says Bishop, “that it was just a generation or so ago that we weren’t supposed to do these things.”