Advice for a new work at home dad?
June 22, 2007 3:49 AM   Subscribe

I currently am self employed and work at home. We have our first kiddy on the way. What am I going to need to compromise on/totally change?

Currently I work relatively long hours running a web hosting company from home but my work allows me to takes lot of little breaks to speak to the wife, get a drink etc. I generally don't have to concentrate hard for anything more than 15-30 minutes at one time but its a long day to cover support for customers.

Now I'm aware there are going to be major changes but are there any work at home dads (or mums) who can tell me what to expect. Obvious would be to hire someone to cover me but that isn't doable currently. Any hints / tips would help
posted by rus to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get at least a door betweeen yourself and your beloved family? Family is like hydrogen gas: it is very very hard to contain and for me the only solution was to get a seperate office (the door was not sufficient, YMMV).

A first child brings terrific change with it. Some of that change is the result of sleep deprivation. So my second piece of advice would be GET ALL THE HELP YOU CAN, WHERE-EVER YOU CAN. Maybe a temp. secretary for the first three months, maybe a temp. house-help of some kind (parents can be tricky, we had great success with a 'single' sibling) Unfortunately at lot of things you won't know you need until you need them.

Good Luck, oh, and always look for ways to have fun/keep things in perspective (poop leaks from diaper onto rug? Hey, at least it's not on the couch. On the couch too? At least it's not on the curtains? Oh, and the curtains and the chair and TV. Well at least the baby's not a slacker...) because otherwise it's just way too much work.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:06 AM on June 22, 2007

I do the same thing - except my kids are now 9 and 6 and I do web programming as opposed to hosting.

Prioritizing and planning your day the day before is the most important thing for me.

For me it requires that I determine my most important items of the day that need to be completed and plan accordingly. If I cannot get things done during the day because of constant baby/kid interruptions, then I will get up earlier in the morning (even 4am sometimes!) to allow myself 3-4 hours to devote to a project. Then during the day I could fire off emails, write proposals, write invoices, and so forth in between other items - even while watching Sesame Street with the kids.

Nowadays my kids are older, and have school, summer camp, Little League, friends and such, so it is not much of an issue anymore - but I remember those days where the young ones needed constant care - and that was my trick:

prioritize and follow thru.

posted by donmak at 5:09 AM on June 22, 2007

Get a good, easy to open baby gate for your office door. You want to be able to close the gate so the baby can't get in, but still have the door open.

Buy a decent projector (at least 1024x768) for your living room and get a wireless keyboard and mouse. Hook an extra computer up to the projector. That way, you can sit in the living room while the baby is playing near you (as I am doing now), without being totally zoned on a laptop. Be aware that babies, like most other people, have a strong attraction to Apple products.
posted by Caviar at 5:46 AM on June 22, 2007

I remember trying to work at home when my children were small. The thing I remember most – and not to be obvious, but – is that multi-tasking in baby care is unlike multitasking anything else. Babies have a way of shorting out your brain. I'm a pretty organized and focused person, but put a baby in my hands and I'm likely to walk out the door without my pants. And, I've noticed this with many other people. My boss stayed home on maternity leave. I'd call her at an appointed time to go over stuff and you could just tell her brain wasn't engaged. The point here: just be prepared that a baby, and the sleep pattern changes, are going to affect your focus ... even if and when the child is not in your direct care. Good luck. It'll be an amazing and rewarding ride. Hope you can pull it off.
posted by lpsguy at 6:16 AM on June 22, 2007

It sounds like your wife is able to stay at home as well. Address any questions of who will do what now. Are you splitting diapering tasks evenly? If bottle feeding, will you be sharing that duty? Walking, rocking, cooing if you get a screamer with colic? How will you determine whose sleep gets eliminated if the baby screams all night? A lot of relationships balance this out so the mom is responsible for all of the above and dad gets a medal or a cookie when he tries his hand at them. Or worse, he gets corrected or reprimanded for poorly executing the task.

You have to openly and honestly talk about your expectations. This baby is 100% yours and 100% hers.

Together, you might need to change a lot of things. Unfortunately, I don't know anything about who you are or what kind of father you want to be. Sit down with yourself and write it out. Think of it as making a little map for yourself. This map will probably get edited over time.

In the short term, cook and freeze meals that you like. Better if you can get friends to do this for you, give them a recipe and they'll probably pee themselves with glee. (If not, pick another friend for this task!) Learn how your wife likes things done if she's the primary cleaner, find out which things she doesn't really care about.
posted by bilabial at 6:24 AM on June 22, 2007

I've been there, though I don't work from home every day, just a lot.

Create space for yourself with a door, a separate room or entirely separate building somewhere in the garden (if you've got a garden/yard).

Get ready for sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, you can't bank it in advance. I tried! This will make it more important for you to plan and structure your work as much as you can (though customer support happens when it happens...). Lack of sleep will make you forget things, so write everything down. I used a whiteboard on the wall.

But most of all, although your job takes up a lot of your time, never, ever lose sight of the fact that it's your baby as much as your wife's, no matter what approach to parenting you think you'll take. So try and think about the ways you could be supportive during those frequent, brief breaks you have. If you want to be hands-on, do the yucky diaper stuff for her, give her a rest and enjoy the time with your new child. If that's not for you, use the time to do everything you can for your wife, depending on what she needs most when you have a break. But don't forget to stay sane yourself.

Don't get me wrong - fatherhood's great, and compatible with earning a living.

Oh, and Bilabial's talking a lot of sense.
posted by dowcrag at 6:36 AM on June 22, 2007

Couple of things when I became a work at home mom:

1) It is difficult to schedule things definitively around a baby. They need what they need when they need it. You can't tell a hungry infant, "Honey, just five more minutes and mommy/daddy will be done with this call." I knew this intellectually going in but the reality of it was still a little shock. I was used to being able to complete a task or call and then go on to the next task. I had to become much more flexible and laid back about closure. Meaning, I didn't get much and had to deal emotionally with leaving things undone a lot.

2) Your baby knows when they don't have your full attention. A baby can't think through, "Oh. Mommy/daddy are working on the laptop for a minute and then they will look at me." Try not to be on the computer or phone all of the time when you are the one looking after baby. You might be in the room physically, but emotionally/mentally/ intellectually? They know you're gone.

3) Whoever has to attend to night feedings will be sleep deprived and potentially very, very cranky. If you want to be a hero to your spouse, either switch off night duty every other night so someone in the house is always relatively well-rested, or find some way to take the baby during the day for a few hours so your spouse can nap and try to catch up with sleep. This will also help with the fact that the baby caregiving spouse can occasionally resent the spouse working in the next room because they are "so close and yet so far" when there is wailing and diaper blow-outs and exhaustion. It may not make sense to be resentful, but it is survival of the fittest those first few months.

4) I'm sure that I had a number 4 but I'm taking a AskMefi break while the kid is napping and the laundry is going. After only six hours of sleep last night, my brain is kind of toast.

Congrats on being a parent. I know that I'm making it sound kind of "Ack!" but, honestly? I never thought that i would like my kid as much as I do and it is cooler than I thought it would be, sleep deprivation and all.
posted by jeanmari at 6:49 AM on June 22, 2007

First, don't think that you can predict and plan for the changes. Babies are absolute masters of unpredictable behavior and they quickly (with blinding speed really) grow out of their few patterns. So, just be mentally prepared to play it by ear.

Second, try to arrange it so that you can leave the house if you need to. Can you set up a way to do some of your work from a nearby coffee shop? Do it. There will be days when you absolutely have to get something done and the baby decides to cry for 40 minutes straight. You'll need be able to just get away. (In my experience no amount of doors can block out a baby's wail.)

Third, talk to your wife about taking baby care in shifts. Maybe you'll get the baby early in the morning and in the evening while she'll take care of the baby during the majority of the day. This gives both of you a break and time to focus on other things. (She is going to need to leave the baby with you once in a while, just to stay sane.) But, again, be willing to be flexible, if your wife is at a breaking point taking the little rug rat for 20 minutes can make a huge difference.

Bonus Point: Buy your wife a gift certificate to a local spa. Being able to go and get a massage once or twice during the first pair of months will be invaluable to her. Trust me, it's the only reason my wife didn't divorce me when we had our little girl, 4 months ago.)

Good luck! My little girl is sleeping right now (ah napping is awesome, but I hear her stirring. Gotta go.) Babies are wonderful little balls of stress, totally and completely worth it. (I want like a dozen more.)
posted by oddman at 6:54 AM on June 22, 2007

yeah, I'm going to be all "abandon all hope". But if most of your tasks tend to run 15-30 minutes and they're the urgent, put this fire out sort of thing, then maybe. Is your SO fully onboard to give you the freedom to work in peace? I'd say, set up your boundaries (door closed during work hours; or whatever) early. Don't expect to be able to set new boundaries a year or two in, because it'll be even harder. A nearby office you could go to would work a lot better if you're at all like me.
posted by DarkForest at 7:53 AM on June 22, 2007

Response by poster: Cheers for all the advice so far. Just to clear up a few things we are both planning to be at home so that hopefully will help. I have my own space currently but the door is open as it feels better for me but I see what people are saying generally about being there physically but in multiple ways could be emotionally distant.

Its given me a few idea of how I can filter things better and try to give as much time as possible. The shift idea is a good one as well
posted by rus at 8:25 AM on June 22, 2007

Couple things I remember being important (my boy is 5 now, its been a while :)

1) For the first X amount of time you'll need to be very involved unless there is outside help. X varies a lot (eg: more for C sections or difficult births) but I would think at least a week. Just getting over the physicial exhaustion takes a while.

2) After getting over the pure recovery stage of things, the division of labor depends a lot on personal circumstances. The most important being who is working (in the sense of working outside the home for wages, not wanting to imply that being a full time parent is not "work").

Despite the unequal number of hours involved (caring for a newborn is quite a bit more than a 40-a-week-thing) it is vital for some jobs that you are not a sleep deprived zombie (not so much for retail, for example, but progamming on 3-a-night is a very bad idea). That means you need to work out a system where on work nights you are not being interrupted by the baby. While caring for a newborn is long hours it is not exactly mentally taxing (for a healthy child anyway). If a full time parent is getting a bit ragged from sleep dep it has a much smaller impact on the family than if the primary monitary provider loses their job because of trying to "equally" split the burden of late night feedings etc...
posted by Riemann at 1:10 PM on June 22, 2007

I would be wary of setting up a situation where you are both in the house but the mrs is the designated primary care giver. Infant care is very exhausting in any number of ways. Primary carers need breaks, desperately. Eating, bathing and napping are excellent examples of why.

Would it be possible to do a setup where your wife at least mans the phones for 30 minutes and eats some lunch while you baby wrangle, every day?
posted by DarlingBri at 4:10 PM on June 22, 2007

Response by poster: I've got my blackberry which I can run the business from so its not so bad to be away from my desk
posted by rus at 2:19 AM on June 23, 2007

IMHO the difficulty of getting work done at home won't really hit til your baby is mobile. I frequently work some at home, and things like being online and nursing, or taking a phone call while rocking a baby, were pretty easy for me when she was tiny (putting aside the sleep deprivation issue and also noting this is my second chld so the cataclismic life shattering joy of parenting was not so intense). My daughter is insanely active, though, so once she hit eight months or so and could move, working at home became much more difficult. It's sometimes easier when my husband is home as well, but not always, as she really dislikes either of us being on the computer (and very quicly learned how to turn the computers off-fun stuff). I think a baby gate with you in view might aggravate things; I think a closed door would probably work better, as out of sight can quickly be out of mind when they are little.

Infant care IS very exhausting, so be kind to your wife. WIll she be trying to work at home, too? If not, I think you need to really figure stuff out before hand-will you be available some for assistance during the day, or will the two of you need to treat it like you are off at the office completely and unavailable except for emergencies and lunch or whatever? Either choice is doable, but just make sure your expectations are clear. Good luck-and congratulations!
posted by purenitrous at 12:49 PM on June 24, 2007

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