How to Work From Home and Still Be a Decent Dad
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Get your priorities straight and you can be a boss at both.
Before my first daughter was born, I made the deliberate decision to be a work-from-home dad. But those dreams of midweek picnics and lazy afternoons spent reading Dr. Seuss? These were immediately replaced by a more frazzled and fecal reality, but I’m still not complaining. Three kids, seven years and myriad parenting fails later, I’m no closer to getting an office job.
And then, in a recent column, Darcy Lockman lifted the lid on a conspiracy that, deep down, all parents can surely relate to in her New York Times op-ed “What ‘Good’ Dads Get Away With.” Lockman argues that the “optimistic tale of the modern, involved dad has been greatly exaggerated” before prophesying that “at this rate it will be another 75 years before men do half the work.” She’s not wrong: I’ve known for a while that society gives me a far easier ride than it gives my wife … who also works from home and also has three kids. In the spirit of self-improvement, here are a few legit work-from-home dad hacks that will hopefully help us to close the gap before 2094.
Assign an hourly rate to spending time with your kids and only take on jobs that pay more than this rate.
To start, remind yourself daily why you chose to work from home — and don’t fall into the trap of thinking your kids are getting in the way of your job when really it’s the other way around. Need a reminder? Get stuck in rush-hour traffic at least once a month. Being surrounded by annoyed adults operating heavy machinery while catching up on the latest antics of the adult babies who rule the world will make your kid(s) and their cheerful nagging to ride bikes and bake cakes seem a whole lot nicer.
Outside of this monthly penance, make all face-to-face meetings for 10:30 am. No exceptions. This time is late enough to avoid morning rush hour and early enough to be back in time to fetch the kids from school.
Here’s another idea: Assign an hourly rate for spending time with your kids and only take on jobs that pay more than this rate. (When calculating this rate, remember that dealing with your own kids’ bodily fluids beats the hell out of dealing with some of the shit adult clients can put you through.) Also, bear in mind that center-based infant care costs more than college tuition in 28 states in America.
Andre, a work-from-home attorney dad from Cape Town, South Africa (who prefers not to reveal his surname), advises keeping your work diary up to date with kids’ appointments and other parenting activities. When a business meeting is requested, “always arrange it around your kids’ schedule with no exceptions,” he says. Your clients do not need to know why you are not available at that time, he argues with lawyerly precision. “All they need to realize is that you are in demand and that your time is valuable.”
Once you’ve got these fundamentals sorted, there are loads of little tricks to ensure you end up walking the talk. Here are a few that work for Andre and me.
- Get yourself a baby carrier and a standing desk (or just put a crate on your regular desk). In that fraught first year, this really is the ultimate win-win: guilt-free work time for dad and all-important human contact for baby. Calls can be a bit of a challenge, but you’ll likely have developed a sense for when she’s sleeping deeply enough to deal with a short chat — even if that means conducting meetings in a not-so-professional husky whisper.
- Embrace child labor. If you’re a journalist, drag one of your kids along on stories (to provide human interest in photos, assist in rating the kiddy menu, etc.). For other fields of work, just be creative. And when the kiddos are older, get them to help with filing and taxes! Sure beats paying for extra math lessons.
- Work in the most scenic and comfortable part of the house, whenever you can. “Sit in your favorite chair while reading that report,” Andre urges. Take that call in the garden. Mull over that conundrum while walking the dogs. “You’re working at home, so you might as well make the most of it!”
Before we go, Darcy Lockman, I have an admission to make. I still don’t do 50 percent of the parenting work around my house. But at least I’ve gotten over the denial phase.