Tag Archives: work

When Dad Doesn’t Fit In

photo credit: Rest in Piece via photopin (license)
photo credit: Rest in Piece via photopin (license)

The irony is rich.

When I accepted a new job as a director of a PR agency in Boston a couple of months ago, I was worried about a lot of things. Could I do the work? Would I fit in with the people there? Will the learning curve be too steep? Will I be able to hack it in the city? As it turns out, those fears were unwarranted. I can do the work, I love the people, I’m contributing as I learn, and I’ve come to really enjoy the city. I’m out of the creative rut I was in at IBM, I’m back with a smaller company which is more my style, and I get to do something different just about every single day. It’s fantastic.

The problem I have isn’t at work, it’s at home.

I used to work from home three days a week, which meant I saw my kids all the time. I was still connected if not always available. I could do things like put my son on the bus and volunteer in his classroom every Friday. I was home for dinner almost every night. I was plugged in.

Now I commute into Boston five days a week. I’m out the door by 6:30 am and I don’t get home for another 12 hours. Sometimes the kids are awake when I leave, sometimes they aren’t, and I get home half an hour before Sam goes to bed. I miss every dinner. I have just enough time to scarf down some food, put Sam to bed, ask Will how his day was, put Will to bed, and gaze at Tommy as he drifts off to sleep.

Occasionally my wife and I even say hello to one another before falling into bed exhausted.

That means MJ is basically a single mom for 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday. She handles everything at home because I’m not there, and she does it well. I married a fiercely independent woman, and even before I started my job she was preparing herself for when I was gone. That means developing routines predicated on being a one-woman show, maximizing individual effectiveness, and strategically adapting to life as a solo, on-the-go mom.

I was prepared for all of that. What I wasn’t ready for was what happens when I am finally there.

MJ scrambles to get by with three kids in tow on a daily basis and she’s developed certain routines. But when I’m home, my strategies are a little different. We’ve always differed in our approaches to just about everything, but now that she has the bulk of the parenting responsibilities during the week, it’s all her way. Needless to say, the weekends are full of clashes.

She and the kids are used to one thing, I’m bringing something else to the table. Neither of us is right or wrong, it’s just a matter of familiarity. Being unfamiliar with their regimen, I feel like I’m gumming up the works. Mainly because my oldest has no qualms telling me “you’re doing it wrong, dad” when I’m upending their routines.

I feel a little bit like an outsider or a fish out of water. I watch my family operate — accustomed to life without me during the week — and I get a little sad. I feel like I don’t fit in, and worse than that, I feel like a hindrance. I’m unnecessary drag on their sailboat as I struggle to figure out what my crew is doing.

MJ would never say this and she denies it, but I’m confident I see it at times. I don’t blame her, she’s doing what she has to do to get by on a daily basis. But still, I feel so — removed.

I used to eyeball Will’s homework and work with him on his spelling every morning over breakfast. I used to be the go-to person for his teacher and I was a familiar face in the classroom thanks to volunteering. Working at home allowed me to see Sam grow up and become awesome on a near daily basis, as I was the first to hear new words and watch him meet milestones. I was still working at home so I couldn’t always play, but I could take five minutes and snuggle with him. And I could discuss things with my wife and give her a hand when necessary.

Now? I’m a ship passing my family in the night. Sam sings the alphabet and counts to 15, and I didn’t know right away. A girl has a crush on Will at school, and I found out days later because it had already been discussed. And Tommy seems to age 6 months every time I come home from work. I try to plug back in on weekends between emails and sponsored blog posts for my second job, but I never feel like I’m on the same page. Nothing feels like it fits anymore, and sometimes I wonder if all my kids will remember of me is the guy who left when it was dark and got home when it was darker.

Kids don’t care that the lights need to be kept on, rent needs to be paid, and down payments need to be saved for a house. Stay-at-home parents are amazing and keep the world turning, but working parents are forced to give up life’s most precious commodity — time. We worry every single day our contributions — while completely necessary — aren’t enough. We worry we’re more of a hindrance than a help, and an annoyance patiently endured until Monday morning when things get back to normal.

This tightrope we walk is so perilous, not because of the fall, but because success isn’t even guaranteed should we make it across.

It’s time to find my fit and focus on quality time versus quantity. Oh, and single parents — I have no freaking idea how you do it!

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MBTA Adventures: Boarding the Crazy Train

For those of you who don’t know, I have a new job as of a month ago. I’m very excited and I love it, but it’s in downtown Boston. That means the biggest change for me is my commute, which necessitates me taking the MBTA train into the city every day.

The MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) is commonly referred to as the “T,” but that’s mainly for the subway. I take the commuter rail, which connects the suburbs to the Hub of the Universe that is Boston. I’ve been doing it for a month now and let me tell you — it is a whole different universe than what I’m used to.

I’m learning train etiquette such as don’t sit next to someone while there are still empty seats to be had. And don’t EVER sit in the middle of the 3-person seats when there’s still an empty spot in the 2-seat row. With 45 minutes to kill on my way into the city, there are a variety of options for people. Some work on laptops and the train’s spotty WiFi. Others listen to music or podcasts, the purists read books, and somehow a certain percentage of the population manages to sleep in public.

I’ve had strange conversations with strangers, I’ve sat next to a snoring giant, I’ve had people refuse to take their bags off empty seats, and I sat behind one guy who inexplicably smelled like a Caesar salad (no one was eating a Caesar salad on board the train). But in my short month-long stint, I’ve never run into someone quite like the woman sitting behind me last night.

I’m not sure what she was on and, much to everyone’s chagrin, I can’t tell you what she looked like. She was a couple of seats behind me and I didn’t look back because I felt it would’ve spoiled the magic, but she gave me the most entertaining 45 minutes of my commuting life. My wife asked me if I made it all up, but quite honestly, I’m not this imaginative.

I captured it in Facebook updates and while I fully admit I was struggling to hear everything, the following is a running tally of the snippets I could make out. Enjoy. And stay tuned, because “People on the Train” might become a recurring series.

Facebook screenshot mbta

facebook screenshot

facebook screenshot

train4

train5

train6

train7

train8

train9

train10

Thank you, people of the MBTA commuter rail. It’s hard coming up with content as a writer, but I imagine I’ll never be in short supply now.

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Working Parents Have It Tough

wheresdadWill, who will be six years old in April, was asked by his kindergarten teacher to draw a picture of his family. The picture to the left is the result.

When I saw it, I mistakenly thought he forgot about Sam, our newest addition. “Hey buddy, there I am with mom and we’re holding your hand, but I think you forgot about Sam, silly,” I said with a grin. His face immediately turned pale and his eyes darted furiously from me to his mother to the picture. His face contorted into a panicked look, leaving little doubt tears would be following closely behind.

“Sorry dad, I forgot to draw you in our family…because you’re always working.”

He would go on to tell me that while he loves me, he just loves his mom more. Ouch. Cue Cat’s in the Cradle with a side of massive working parent guilt.

Continue reading Working Parents Have It Tough

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Paternity Leave is Essential (And It’s Not a Vacation)

paternity“So, how was your vacation?”

I can’t tell you how many people have asked me that recently. I know they probably don’t mean anything by it and I’m certain they gave very little thought to their words, but it still irks me something fierce. Because if you’ve ever done it, you’d know that paternity leave is most assuredly NOT a vacation.

I took two weeks of paternity leave after Sam was born. Luckily for me, they were two PAID weeks. I’m one of the fortunate few who works for a company that actually offers new dads two weeks of fully paid paternity leave. But even if my company didn’t offer the two weeks, I would’ve taken time anyway — either via vacation time or unpaid FMLA. Because I think it’s very important — hell, I’ll go so far as to say it should be mandatory — for both moms and dads to be home with the baby in the weeks following birth.

Mainly because those weeks are 1) really important and 2) really damn difficult.

Continue reading Paternity Leave is Essential (And It’s Not a Vacation)

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Many Women Don’t Support Stay-at-Home Dads

moms_dadsHow many times have we heard that men need to do more at home?

I know I’ve heard it. A lot. Online parenting sites and message boards are filled with frustrated moms lamenting the fact that their husbands spend too much time at the office and not enough on household and childcare chores. If only they’d focus more on family, change some diapers, clean the house, and cook a few meals. Hell, if only they’d pick up their socks off the living room floor, right? Whatever the case, these guys need to do SOMETHING to take the burden off poor mom who is stuck at home with the kids all day, because Lord knows she needs the support.

Well, it turns out a new survey just released by Salary.com shows a potentially ugly flip side to that argument.

Salary.com (where I work as the content manager, for full disclosure) surveyed more than 2,100 people about work and shifting gender roles in April, and a couple of the questions were about stay-at-home parenting. The results of two questions in particular raised some eyebrows, dispelling some myths regarding the attitudes of men and women toward full-time parenting and gender roles in general.

The survey asked people “If it were financially feasible, would you give up your own career to be a stay-at-home parent?” The long-held belief is that women are natural born caregivers who are automatic nurturers, while men are predisposed providers who bring home the bacon and leave the child-rearing to the lady folk.

Yet when asked if they’d give up their careers to be a stay-at-home parent, just as many men as women answered in the affirmative.

Yup, that’s right. The survey showed 57% of both men AND women expressed a desire to give up their careers to stay at home full time. Some might argue that number is high because more men are out of work these days after the recent recession, but I disagree. A study called The New Dad from the Boston College Center for Work and Family showed men are placing an increased importance on work/life balance, and making a concerted effort to be more involved at home than their fathers were. That shift in attitude is probably why the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade, according to U.S. Census statistics, and now sits at close to 200,000.

But as staggering as that number is, this next stat startled me even more.

When asked if they’d financially and emotionally support a spouse who expressed a desire to stay home and take care of the kids and house full time, 91% of men answered yes. That shouldn’t surprise too many people as the arrangement of a working dad and a stay-at-home mom has been the status quo forever and a day. But what about women? What about the moms who have been calling for men to pick up the slack on the home front? Surely they must be thrilled to hear that 91% of men seek to support a woman’s choice to stay at home AND  just as many of them want to stay home with the kids as women. It’s a no-brainer they’d be just as supportive, right?

Not exactly.

More than one-quarter of women surveyed (26%) said they fundamentally refuse to support a spouse’s decision to be a stay-at-home parent. So even though the men in this survey are just as open to sacrificing their careers as women, women are more than three times as likely not to support the same decision for men.

Why is this the case? I’m not sure, and the survey didn’t ask. But here’s what I do know:

Men are facing a similar battle attempting to make home life a priority as women did when leaving the home and entering the workforce. There’s no doubt women faced (and still face) obstacles and obstructions from a good old boys network who didn’t want to see things change in the workplace, and they made progress by being relentless and eventually gaining support from men and women already in positions of power who became allies to working women.

And just like that old boys network, I absolutely believe there are women who look at parenting and the home front as “their turf,” and don’t want to give up control. Any dad who has gone to the playground with his kid sans wife, or tried to join a real-life or online parenting community can attest to the sideways glances and disapproving stares from many of the mothers present. Sometimes it’s the very same women complaining about a lack of help who end up being opposed to the idea of stay-at-home dads. And that has to change if progress is to be made.

This survey tells me men have realized they need to make family a priority. But it also seems some women have a scorching case of “be careful what you wish for.”

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