Parents with Great Jobs

“This is my daughter.”

I keep saying that as often as I can because it doesn’t seem possible. But since Sunday morning, it’s been undeniably true — this little freaking person lives in my house and loves me and my wife more than anyone in the entire world.

There’s a playbook for having a kid when you’re someone like me; a.k.a., a college educated white guy professional in his early-mid thirties. Not everyone follows it, but a lot of people do — having a child changes the way you see everything, puts your high powered career into perspective, and makes you add “Dad” to your Twitter profile. If you have a daughter, you ocassionally blog about Gamergate and say “I have a daughter” and people tell you how brave you are.

Maybe, like a lot of things, that playbook is just public-facing nonsense and nobody’s being honest. Or maybe people really do act so predictably in response to something that most people go through at similar points in their life. I have no idea, and honestly, I’m not particularly interested in finding out. What I do know is that so far, being a parent has been small, incredible moments surrounded by a mix of boredom, guilt, and a strong motivation to care about things you’ve never been able to before. Again… it’s been two days. I’m going to let it breathe for a while.

Parenting and My Job

My situation is unique for a lot of reasons, but the most interesting one is that my employer has a wildly progressive parental leave policy that allows me to stay at home with my new baby for an extended period of time. This is simultaneously a very small amount of time in the life of a growing person, and an enormous amount of time in the life of a busy, rapidly growing company (which is what we are). That puts me in the weird position of feeling like I am both entitled to every minute of singing and rocking and napping with my little girl, and impossibly negligent when it comes to doing something I am really, truly passionate about — building a great company and revolutionizing an industry.

If you know me, and my endearing, often cynical brand of gallows humor, you’re probably waiting for the punchline here. But there isn’t one. I really feel this way about what I’m doing, and as a result, for the first time in my life I think I really understand the challenge some people face in making family their top priority. That reality hit me in the face when I came down the stairs on Saturday morning to work on some dumb slides for work (okay, they aren’t dumb, they’re actually really cool, and I’m saying that without a trace of irony). I only had about a week until my wife’s due date, but my colleagues and I had a pretty good plan for wrapping up a few things and getting both my team and the teams we work closely with on a great path for the next few months.

“Hey!” my wife said, as I scrounged around the living room looking for my laptop. “Wanna have a baby today?”

Wait, what?

So of course, everything blew up in high-speed slow motion. I worked on my dumb slides (again, not really dumb) in between contractions, typing the same sentence over and over again before realizing I wasn’t getting anywhere, and watching The Goonies until labor starting getting serious. We had our kid at home (which was an amazing process, I could write a whole post about our midwife team), so we pretty quickly transitioned from “casual Saturday” to “AHHHHHHH!!!!” before I really knew what hit me. And while I have a million very typical “new Dad” thoughts on the whole thing, the weirdest thing is probably how much I thought about work. Not about some form I had to fill out or anything, but about my actual purpose there, and how real the cost of my departure was going to be to the things I was trying to do, and to at least some degree, the things that people I work with are trying to do.

The fact that this cost exists is not a bad thing. Who wants a job where their departure doesn’t matter? What does that say about what you do all day? But if you care about what you do and the people you do it with, that doesn’t make acknowledging the cost any easier, and the fact that you love your new little kid (someone you barely know, but immediately know really well, which is very weird) doesn’t make that cost go away. It just makes you think “this enormous cost is worth it”, which is the kind of thing I associate with buying a new roof, or maxing out the RAM in my laptop, not using my amazing parental benefits.

an honest acknowledgement of a real cost

When I first found out about the benefits at FiscalNote, my first thought was “how can they do this?” After really diving in there for the last six months, and taking just three days of those benefits, I now totally understand it. Having a family has an enormous personal and professional cost, for an enormous personal gain, and a very nebulous professional one. It’s not some magic, everyone-wins scenario where my company benefits from me being gone for months at a critical time in its growth. It’s just the acknowledgment of the truth — a lot of people you’re going to want to have at your company are going to want to have families, and having them take a measly couple of days off for the birth of a child like they’re taking a vacation to the Jersey Shore instead of bringing a brand new human into the world doesn’t reduce the cost of the endeavor. It just hides it, or offloads it onto your employees marriages, creativity, mental health, or some other finite personal resource that, once depleted, has a high risk of destroying them as a professional and a team member. Sure, you can expect Mom and Dad to be back at their desks and passionately arguing for their choice of action at the next product development meeting, but you can’t expect the emotional and intellectual cost of doing so to evaporate simply because you’ve determined that you don’t want to pay it. Employees are people. People want families. Families take a lot out of people. The math is pretty straightforward.

So yes, I desperately want to be here for my daughter, and I absolutely, 100% want to go into the office tomorrow. What can I say? It’s on me to reconcile those things. It’s on my company to give me the opportunity to do so, and in my case (unlike with most jobs) that’s exactly what they’ve done. I’ll never forget that I had this opportunity, not because I think it’s a gift or a bribe that shouldn’t exist, but because it takes a lot of faith in your people and your business to acknowledge real costs of life and allow your team to pay them.

I’m paying them now, and trust me, it’s expensive. Expensive, and hilarious, and enlightening, and wonderful.  

(… and by the way, there’s something extra validating about a company that supports things like this also enabling its newest Dad to get off to a great start with his daughter. Warrants mentioning.)