“Would you be willing to work less in order to spend more time with your child?”
When my wife and I decided to plan a family, she approached me early on with a question. “Would you be willing to work less in order to spend more time with your child?” I had not considered it until then and only after giving it some thought, I realised that this simple question was bigger than apparent on the surface.
We talked a lot, did some research and — being the methodical guy that I am — I made spreadsheets and calculations. Financially, we would take a hit but we agreed that it would be manageable if I decided that I wanted to do this. In the end, three reasons lead me to take these steps towards fatherhood, and I’ll say a few words about each of them.
I did it for my wife. While I currently have the better-paying job off the two of us, her career is as important to me as it is to herself. Working as a freelance producer, the longer she can’t take on jobs and the more clients she has to turn down, the harder it will be for her to continue after the maternal leave. While it is generally accepted for women to accept the setback in their career, it’s only fair for us to share the impact. At the same time, she’s currently writing a book, therefore, me taking care of our daughter, even if it is only for a few hours extra during the day, allows her to rest a bit, free her mind and follow her own goals.
I did it for my daughter. I want her to grow up surrounded by both of her parents as much as possible. She will have the luxury to have two people she can equally rely on to take care of her needs, to entertain her or to simply hold her until she sleeps.
By sharing our time at home and alternating our working hours, she’ll learn that we will always come back when one of us leaves for a while.
When the time comes for her to sleep in her own room for the first time, she will hopefully have less fear of being alone. This might even help with the transition into daycare or spending a day with the grandparents when we are at work at the same time.
I did it for myself, not for praise or acknowledgement. Yes, at least to some extent it was a selfish decision. It was I who wanted to spend more time with my daughter and to be part of her life from the very first moment. This decision allowed me to be there when she smiled for the very first time and when we first heard her beautiful gigglish laughter. Those are moments that can’t be paid for and they will stay with me forever.
Furthermore, I’ve taken care of her from day one. I know how to handle her, how to dress her and how to calm her. I even mastered the art of putting on those dreaded long-sleeve shirts. At times, my wife and I have been desperate together and together we’ve found solutions for us and our daughter. I’m part of the team in every aspect.
We are privileged for being able to do this.
Until recently, I’ve been a full-time IT guy building websites and apps (as you might have figured if you read some of my other articles). Working freelance always comes with a certain risk of not getting enough projects to pay the bills so my regular 9-to-5 job’s income was necessary security for us. If we had taken the “usual path”, I would have used a few weeks of vacation for us to settle back in after childbirth and then gone back to work while my wife would have stayed at home with the little one. That’s the way many of my colleagues did it and judging by what I hear and read from others, it’s still the norm for many young families in Germany as well as many other parts of the world.
We are privileged for being able to do this. Taking a break for two months and working part-time takes a big chunk out of your savings as we’re missing out on 50% of my pay as well as hers. Without having additional paid parental leave, we would have a hard time making ends meet.
Working less to spend more time at home is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
There are a few additional things I’ve learned so far and some of which I’m still trying to master. First and foremost, taking on and embracing my role as a father includes more than just cuddling, feeding, washing and dressing her while enjoying the happy moments. It also means taking parts of the mental workload off my wife’s shoulders which includes keeping doctors’ appointments in mind, searching for a daycare, buying baby clothes and accessories, remembering giving her medicine and supplements. This also includes managing many of the other things not directly child-related that continue to demand our limited attention not only as parents but as human beings, not to mention regular intake of healthy food.
Furthermore, I had to learn to employ patience in everything I do. Handing over the little one to my wife for comfort-breastfeeding when she’s too agitated and I can’t seem to calm her in any way, that’s the easy way out. I had to earn my daughter’s trust and build our emotional intimacy where my wife had the advantage of an innate connection from carrying her for nine months. If that means walking in circles for 20 minutes while humming the tune of our favourite song ( Zelda’s Lullaby — The legend of Zelda / yeah, I’m a nerd…) then you do what you have to do and with every time it works a little bit better.
The road ahead
Sharing the workload and time at home, the additional paid parental leave covers us for the first 16 months. If things go well, we will continue working part-time and slowly introduce her to daycare. I will write articles and tutorials at home, work on open-source projects and offer my services as a coach and speaker. As of now, it’s unclear if we can keep it up but so far we are good and working less to spend more time at home is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Dear fathers and fathers-to-be
If you can somehow afford it and maybe, like me, just didn’t really think about it until now, I recommend doing so from the bottom of my heart. Maybe sit down for a moment, talk to your partner, do some math and listen to your inner voice. It is definitely a life-changing decision, just as having a child in the first place, but there is hardly a better reason to take the leap.
Some words about me:
If you want to read more of my articles, feel free to check out my author page. I’m usually writing about my experience as an IT Senior, tutorials for react web/native and my open-source projects paired with the occasional emotional outbursts about work and work-life related subjects like this article.