Jul 6th, 2020
A good friend became a father recently, and wanted to get some free advice about what to expect when he got back to work.
If you’re reading this because you are getting back to work after your paternity leave, congratulations mate, well done! However, I do not envy you at all, practically speaking. Your life has changed dramatically in the last 2-3 months, you are barely keeping your eyes open, and hoping people around stop advising you on everything and also the opposite. And, I hope, you are also a bit anxious and worried about how best you can support your spouse through this time - as men, we go through nothing compared. These are difficult times, no doubt.
At the outset, the first thing to internalise is, you will not be able to get back to full throttle for a couple of years. Very few people I know have, and almost all of the time its because the weight of parenting a baby is off their shoulders during this time. So before getting back to work, talk to your manager and set the expectations right every 3 months, especially about stuff like travel, on-call schedule, off-work timings etc. You would need to be very predictable for your family, and hence its best to communicate a strict no office outside of office hours expectation.
You would need a lot of planned and unplanned leaves. People at work would generally understand, there’s vaccinations and regular check-ups at the clinic, illnesses and so on, but its best to communicate whatever is planned beforehand. I found that taking a full day off instead of a couple of hours for a quick walk-in walk-out worked best. Especially when the doctor tells you to expect fever the next day after she’s poked in the sharp end into the baby. Stay home, its just a day, be around.
You would also be waking up in the ungodly hours, and many a time feel the urge to put in a couple of hours of work between the nappy changes. You will be very error prone, sleep deprivation has these effects. Keep the output to yourself, edit in the morning before committing. Last thing you want to do, even though everyone would be fine, is to reduce hours as well as reduce quality. Keep up the quality, reduce the hours; the other way around won’t scale at work and at home.
If your job involves travelling, a pause on that might be needed for the first few months. Remote tools are a whole lot better than a decade back, try to do more of that and see if it suits you. If you really need to, its best to plan months in advance to get help at home while you are out.
Shifting jobs and roles during the first 6 months is going to stretch everyone around, do it with caution. Especially avoid pressure cookers like startups and poorly managed companies. You have to be superhuman to be able to deal with not one but two stress boilers and not hurt someone in the process, and believe me, you are not that superhuman.
Seek help if you can afford it. If you can hire or get someone to help substitute you out at home from time to time, even for a couple of hours a day is going to be of immense help. You are buying time which in turn relieves the massive stress. Sometimes those 2 hours of down time is enough for you to be a better partner and parent and employee.
Be there, be predictable. It gets better. Take a lot of pictures. (but please don’t post them online).