Twilight of the idols
July 10, 2007 1:08 AM   Subscribe

How can I hold down a highly stressful job in the City of London along with a newborn baby at home?

Our daughter is a month old and I have been back at work for 2 works now following paternity leave. Unfortunately the Summer is the busiest time of the year at my place of work and it is not possible for me to take holiday until October. The bottom line is I am going to have to effectively function in a stressful job that often requires up to 12 hour days and occasion Saturday mornings and somehow learn to manage this. We live in a studio flat (ie. 1 room) and have the baby in a moses basket next to the bed. I am a lighter sleeper than my wife so I get woken up in the night before my wife. I find it hard to turn over and go back to sleep as I feel bad for my wife. After two weeks I am struggling and have tried to avoid artificial stimulants thus far. My sight has become very poor and if I turn my head my sight becomes double vision.

It is not that I am getting no sleep at all, it is just that the sleep is broken and the cumulative effect of this has now caught up with me. Millions of people around the world are going through this in much more difficult circumstances I know, but as the sole bread winner in an already stressful job I am eager to get all the advice I can. I am 25 years old and my body should be able to bounce back better than someone older I would have thought but it seems to be taking this badly. Fresh fruit and veg, huge amounts of water and gentle exercise are not helping here. Thanks.
posted by numberstation to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Earplugs, or sleep headphones with white noise.
A power nap during your lunch break.
Upgrade your bed/pillows/sheets if you can afford to (benefits your wife, too).
And, of course, spending as much time taking care of the baby as you can so that you don't feel guilty over the time your wife spends.
posted by anaelith at 1:30 AM on July 10, 2007

Honestly, ear plugs. The foam kind. They work very well for this. Sleep deprivation is not a joke, and eventually your wife will learn to nurse the baby back to sleep without hardly remembering it in the morning. Get lots of takeout and let your wife go to sleep the moment you walk in the door. This is going to be a really tough challenge for the both of you, but you're only a few months away from the baby sleeping through most of the night (probably).
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 1:33 AM on July 10, 2007

First, congrats on becoming a new dad!

I'm not British, but some quick searching came up with this Directgov page on paternity leave/pay rights and this more detailed page from the Department for Trade and Industry. It might behoove you to peruse it and make sure that your job is giving you everything you're legally entitled to.

It might also be worth talking to the boss about reducing your workload even if this means lower pay for a few weeks/months, until you can get back into the swing of things, and in the long run, start thinking about finding a job that lets you spend more time with your child and perhaps, should she so desire, lets your wife re-enter the workforce.
posted by mdonley at 1:36 AM on July 10, 2007

I feel for you, really... you're in a tough spot.

Short term: ear plugs.

Long term: I know that the London Elite will flame me for even suggesting it, but I think you may better off out of the city, where you'll be able to afford a bigger flat and find a less stressful job. There will also be better schools...
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:43 AM on July 10, 2007

Get a nanny or au pair. It's worth investing in this *now*, even if they only do the evening or night-times. It gives you AND your wife some rest. Seriously, spend as much money as you can over the next few months making it as easy as possible on both of you. Takeaway meals, help from parents / nannies / friends / whatever.

Maybe for the next few weeks, take Wednesday off as holiday. A two day off, two day on, one day off, two day on schedule will be tremendously easier than a full week. Spend time with your baby, talk them on walks, sleep when they do.

You will get used to a lower amount of sleep but it's tough in the first few months. And after about three months, your child will start sleeping much better. It will get easier.
posted by humuhumu at 2:04 AM on July 10, 2007

You need another bedroom (or at least room) in the longer term but try earplugs now. Our life improved a lot with the first child when we moved out of a studio flat into a 2 bedroom.

We ultimately moved right out of town and as much as I hate my vast commute into the City I could at least sleep on both journeys when we had child number two.

It is hard to see past the exhaustion with the first child (especially with stressful job) but you will get through the pain barrier.
posted by zemblamatic at 2:25 AM on July 10, 2007

My best suggestion is to explain that you need sleep and try and do as much extra housework as you can so she can grab a nap during the day when the baby does.
Its hard to walk in the door after work to a load of washing, but it beats no sleep.
It gets better in a month or so usually, but it is unlikely you will ever again get as much sleep as you did a month ago, I'm afraid. My friends with teenagers seem to get less than me a lot of the time with all the school and activity commitments.
Now is also not a bad time to start discussing longer term plans, especially if you might have more children. A job with 60+ hour weeks makes it *really* hard to be a good dad to growing kids.
Good luck, kids have been an astonishing improvement to my life overall, and I hope you find it just as rewarding.
posted by bystander at 3:07 AM on July 10, 2007

I was in exactly this situation (new baby, stressful job, long hours) a few years ago, so I know how difficult it can be.

The good news is that there has never been a better time to be a working dad. Employers are under strong pressure to adopt family-friendly policies, and if you go to your manager, explain your situation and ask for special concessions (flexible hours or whatever), it will be difficult for them to say no. This is a trump card in your hand; don't be shy about using it. (Of course you have to play it in the right way. Don't say, 'I'm under a lot of pressure here', say 'I need extra flexibility to help me function more effectively.' It also helps to have baby photographs prominently on display above your desk, and to drop the subject regularly into conversation, so that everybody at work knows you're a devoted and committed father. People will respect you for it, and it gives you useful moral leverage if you're trying to extract concessions from your boss. I hope this doesn't sound too Machiavellian.)

Everyone says 'earplugs', but I never found that earplugs helped at all. Yes, they blocked out the sound of the baby crying, but they also amplified the sound of my own breathing, which kept me awake. Anyway, the role of a responsible father, these days, is not necessarily to sleep through the night, but to share the parental burden -- which may mean getting up in the night to change the baby's nappy, or make your wife a cup of tea while you heat the expressed milk in a saucepan on the stove. You say that you find it hard to turn over and go back to sleep because you feel bad for your wife. That's good; it shows what a caring husband you are. Of course there will be times when you need an uninterrupted night's sleep in order to be ready for work; but there will be other times when your work simply has to take second place to your family. Let it.

As for the baby's sleep patterns, the only thing I can say for certain is that as soon as you've settled into a routine, the baby will change the routine. However, one useful tip (it worked for us, anyway, so I might as well pass it on) is to try and ensure that the baby stays awake in the late afternoon and early evening. That greatly improves the chances of sleeping through the night.

And, of course, congratulations on the new arrival! (Looking back at your MeFi posting history, I wonder if she was conceived on that romantic holiday you were planning last summer ..)
posted by verstegan at 3:23 AM on July 10, 2007

Firstly, congratulations! And secondly, what verstegan said about brining it up with your employers. I agree, approach the topic in a businesslike manner - but don't be afraid to stand your ground if they say no. You are already experiencing physical problems because of your lack of sleep; your youth and fitness will be of little help here - consistently getting less sleep than their body requires will cause anybody problems. If your employers are making unreasonable demands that take no account of your status as a new parent, tell them so.

With the caveat that I obviously don't know the details of your employment, or what your contract demands of you, if your working environment is anything like the City stereotype then you may well be coming under unreasonable amounts of pressure - either by your firm, or by yourself. Of course City jobs are high pressure, and that there's a lot of unspoken assumptions about what you have to do to stay competitive and on top of the job in that environment... but don't let that pressure push you to a point where you're doing yourself harm.

On the one hand, because a lot of the pressure is unspoken, you may be convincing yourself that you need to spend more time in the office than your employers actually want from you. On the other hand, those assumptions about how hard you must work might be entirely accurate - in which case, it would be prudent for you to get your bosses to say the unspoken out loud. Or, ideally, in writing. If the situation gets any worse, it might be nice to have clear details of exactly how long your company demanded a person with a newborn baby should work. Remember, the EU Working Time Directive is your friend...
posted by flashboy at 4:41 AM on July 10, 2007

You don't talk about your context. I can imagine two stories behind this:

1.) You are very well paid for this job and there is little else you can do to make enough money to support your family. Also your wife is ready to support you however she can (ie, willing to take care of the baby almost 100% of the time, let you get a lot more sleep than she does.) -- well, btw, this sucks because you are going to miss out on a lot of the really good stuff about being a parent, which is a big sacrifice. If this is the scenario, you need to get a bigger apartment and sleep away from your wife and child. I had to do this for the first six months so that I wouldn't get fired.

2.) You are not married to this job and/or your spouse is getting angry with you for your minimal help with the child. Then you need to rethink everything and change your life. Honestly, if you can do this you very likely should. You'll get to enjoy your kid so much more -- being a parent is going to turn everything upside down and totally change you anyway... why not start now and get things set so that you can be there when the kid goes to bed every night and you can give baths, etc?
posted by n9 at 4:50 AM on July 10, 2007

i don't really like earplugs. what helps me (years of living in new york, with all attendant noises) was falling asleep with my ipod (get a cheap refurbished shuffle if you're afraid to bring the big one into the bed with you) and a white-noise album on repeat all night long. invest in some comfortable earbuds or headphones.

i second the others who say to talk to your employer, too. see if there's any way to slow down at work at least until the kid starts sleeping through the night.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:04 AM on July 10, 2007

Another short term suggestion (if you are being well paid for your stress) - spend 1 night a week away from home. You can really catch up with sleep + just having some quiet time to yourself will probably do you good. Tough for your partner though.

If you're not being well paid for the stress - think seriously about changing job. It's not worth it.

Longer term though - what everyone else said about re-examining your priorities. A family of three in a studio flat sounds like a recipe for constant stress. Move further out and get something bigger and cheaper. Sleep while you commute. I did this when we had our first child but we'd already moved before the baby was born - I don't think I could have focussed enough to move for several months afterwards.

The sleep problems will get easier though. It may only be for a couple of months if you're lucky.
posted by crocomancer at 5:44 AM on July 10, 2007

First, talk to your wife. Let her know everything that you've said here, and get her input. She loves you and wants to help you work through this just as much as you want to help her.

Second, get a nanny. If you can find someone to come to the house for just a few (say four) hours 3-5 times a week, the whole ordeal will go much more smoothly. You'll feel a lot less guilty about asking your wife to shoulder the night-time burden knowing that she has help during the day. Your wife will be grateful for having time during the day to simple sit down and relax for a bit.
posted by oddman at 5:46 AM on July 10, 2007

Thank you for all of your responses thus far and congratulations on becoming a father. Verstegan I am pleased to say that the romantic holiday last year was with my (now) wife though I don't believe it was the time of conception.

In regards to the other responses, the point to make is that I am not particularly well paid. That said, my job (which I don't want to say too much about) has its global epicentre in the City and it would be very difficult for me to move elsewhere without taking a significant reduction in pay and responsibilitys.

The situation with my job is that it is understood that part of the job entails not taking any holiday between June and October. The workload increased substantially during this time and I am not in a position to negotiate any sort of flexible time. At least not until October. As for the working times directive I believe I signed a document opting out when I first began here in 2003.

My wife is a professional also but unfortunately we both sucummbed to debt in order to gain our respective industry qualifications. I am not in a position to afford extra paid help though we have discussed the possibility of moving out into the commuter belt. Her family however are London based and she is scared of feeling isolated (clearly this would be exacerbated by the increased time of my commute if we did move).
posted by numberstation at 6:37 AM on July 10, 2007

I'm not sure whether you mentioned if your wife is nursing. If she is, at night/ during night awakenings- she can bring the baby into bed with her and lie on her side to nurse. This may not be ideal sleep for her- but you will all sleep more if she does this (no wine before bed, though- there is no danger of rolling onto baby so long as there is not alcohol/ meds involved)

You might invest in a futon that you can roll-up during the day (given your limited space)- this way you can leave the bed to the 2 of them and not overcrowd.

Co-sleeping is a controversial subject and a personal choice- but I was in the same situation as you with my first born- my husband had to work long hours and he had to get sleep to function- so I slept with the baby. Our son slept with me on and off until he was around 12 months and then we acclimated him to his crib.

Good communication with your wife is important here as well- it may that she will have to bear the lesser sleep burden for now (this is so often the case anyway). If you are given opportunities to sleep it is so important that you not by lying awake feeling guilty- assurances of her support for you in this undertaking will be important...

Give her long naps on the weekend.

One more thing about co-sleeping- it really formed a strong bond b/w me and my son.

Co-sleeping may also be a good solution if your baby is on formula- I just don't have experience with that scenario...

good luck- you'll get through it. It will get less intense over time.
posted by ohdeanna at 7:13 AM on July 10, 2007

Paternity leave is now a statutory right remember. Your employers might not like it, but you are entitled to take it (I realise it's not always as easy as that, but taking time off for your baby is not the same thing as taking holiday).
posted by crocomancer at 7:24 AM on July 10, 2007

crocomancer: he's already taken the paternity leave - see the question.
posted by flashboy at 7:30 AM on July 10, 2007

Whoops, sorry.
posted by crocomancer at 7:43 AM on July 10, 2007

Get a housecleaner, order groceries online and arrange for meals to be dropped off (you should be able to order these).

However, your baby is a month old. This constant waking is not going to last forever. You may find that things settle down considerably in the next two weeks. (Four to six weeks often seems the worst. If you can get past six weeks, you'll all feel things have eased up a little.)

We kept our baby in our room till he was 8 months old. I know people who had their babies in their rooms till they were around 2 years old. Be assured that your baby will not have night wakings for the entire time. In fact, your baby will be moving toward sleeping for five hours fairly soon.

You might want to get a co-sleeper bed for the baby. This attaches to the side of the bed. Your baby can just pull the baby close for night-time feedings. This may work better than regular co-sleeping, as you (dad) will have more space in the bed.

Can you take a nap during the day at work? Is there a sick room or somewhere that you could take a break, perhaps over lunch hour? Most employers would understand your need to have some midday rest, if you're working 12-hour days.

Find out if you really need to work 12-hour days right now.

But, really, your baby will be sleeping more soon. Things are going to get better. There is hope! There is light at the end of the tunnel.
posted by acoutu at 7:57 AM on July 10, 2007

Just realised - something I meant to say before, which I only touched on. Hopefully it's obvious, but that bit about "My sight has become very poor and if I turn my head my sight becomes double vision" is really not something to be taken lightly.

If those symptoms persist, go see your doctor. At the very least, you might come out with some industrial strength sleeping pills (maybe work out a one-night-on, one-night-off rota with your wife?). And you'll have a medical person on your side if work starts getting on your back about falling asleep at your desk, or whatever
posted by flashboy at 8:25 AM on July 10, 2007

it would be very difficult for me to move elsewhere without taking a significant reduction in pay

Would the money you save by living outside of central London be enough to make up the difference if you moved to a different location with the same job? This chart might help you compare other UK regions to where you live now.
posted by mdonley at 9:49 AM on July 10, 2007

This too will end! difficult as it is to imagine. Are you in a one-bed cos you absolutely need to be in the city?You can probably afford a 2-3bed in the external circle T'bridge Wells, for example.
If your wife is nursing a few nights a week in another room may help. If not, get a nanny in to do the night feeds.

Certainly all the evidence suggests Power-napping right during the time indicated by our circadian rhythm even for 20 mins is extremely effective for performance. ( I have the research for surgeons, drop me a mail and I'll send it you) 30 mins max about 2.30 can make a huge difference to your cognitive impairment. More defeats the purpose.

it will pass but a bit more space in general, expecially as baby gets bigger will help ( I speak as a Mom who once put her baby in a drawer as the most convenient way to manage a 1-bed flat. You'd think I was guilty of child abuse to hear my friends. Both children are now wonderfully balanced members of society. FYI)
posted by Wilder at 2:59 PM on July 10, 2007

(You didn't close the drawer, I hope.)

Really, though, I think things will get better fairly soon. I know it's so hard to believe that when you're so tired and wiped out. But you'll soon be at the turning point. Really.
posted by acoutu at 9:18 PM on July 10, 2007

Are you happy to say where you live exactly?

The precise borough of the City of London itself is probably London's quietest district on weekends. In some patches it's mostly deserted, and thus very quiet. There are some areas which are also very quiet during the evenings.

Depending on where you live there may also be parents' groups in your area that could offer your advice.

Finally, is moving an option? If you'd like to talk about this aspect send me a mail and let me know in this thread.
posted by skylar at 10:52 PM on July 10, 2007

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