When my daughter, Maura, was born nearly thirteen years ago I was between steady jobs, selling books at Borders while I tried to develop a freelance web design career. The freelance career never worked out for me, but the retail job conveniently allowed me to work nights and weekends. When my wife, Jennifer, went back to work a month after giving birth, infant day care wasn’t a real option. It would have cost more than my take-home pay. I changed my hours so I could be at home during Jennifer’s working hours and stayed home with Maura. For the next ten years I was a stay-at-home dad.
Taking care of Maua was (and is) a rewarding experience for me. She was a sleepy baby, and other than sometimes having to wake her up to feed her, she wasn’t usually difficult to look after when she was small. When baby Maura was awake she was generally happy. As she grew from infant to toddler to school-aged child, she stayed relatively easy. While Maura’s had her difficult moments, especially when she was a toddler, she’s always been good natured and usually well behaved. Maura’s also been remarkably healthy. Apart from minor seasonal allergies, she hasn’t developed any long term health issues. As a baby that meant that all I had to worry about was the routine—feedings, diaper changes, and naps.
For me the problems of being a stay-at-home dad weren’t related to difficulties with caregiving, but were mostly social and emotional. While I wasn’t the only stay-at-home dad I met, there weren’t ever many of us, so it was often an isolating experience. Most of the activities for stay-at-home parents of young children were geared toward women. I never felt I would be very welcome at “Mommy and Me” time at the gym. I often took Maura to the playground or the library. It was usually fun for her, but lonely for me. I found that for me “stay-at-home” often really meant that I stayed at home. Some weeks I pretty much stayed there during normal business hours, except for the days when we had lunch with a friend, or with Jennifer.
I was working full time hours on nights and weekends, but this was a mixed blessing. Work kept me from being completely isolated, but it could be exhausting, even after my daughter was old enough to sleep through the night. I didn’t see nearly enough of my wife when we worked opposite shifts. I also often felt unsuccessful and unfulfilled. I knew my job was a dead end and not a career. I got along well with my co-workers and the regular customers, and there were times when the work could actually be fun. On the other hand, the pay was low, the working conditions weren’t always good, and the bad customers sometimes treated the booksellers as something less than human. Because I was the stay-at-home dad I felt trapped. I had little time or energy to look for a better job, and I wasn’t developing any skills I wanted to be using. If I had found a good job, I would have felt guilty taking it because I would have been abandoning Maura into the hands of strangers.
When Maura went to school, starting with full-day kindergarten, I was able to pick up some daytime hours when Maura was in school. I spent less time alone with Maura and more time with Jennifer. I also spent hours on the road, playing taxi driver for Maura and shuttling myself to and from work, often twice a day. I felt increasingly restless at work and trapped in a job that was less and less rewarding. I reduced my hours to part time and tried to start a freelance writing career, with as little success. For me a new career had to wait until I was able to go back to school to retrain and Maura was able to look after herself for a few hours, while her mother and I were both at work.
What does this mean with respect to Semafores or Curi™, our family caregiving application? Caring for a very young child is the most complicated caregiving I’ve been involved in, at least so far. Even when they are healthy and have no special needs, babies are absolutely dependent on their parents and need to be looked after 24-7. This was years before I ever owned a smartphone but there were certainly times when Jennifer and I could have used something like Curi™ to coordinate things. Maura never got left behind...but there were times when it might have happened. Nothing truly critical was ever forgotten, but there were a few missed appointments along the way, and a few emergency schedule changes.
The experience also taught me a lot about what a family friendly corporate culture would be like. To Borders’ and my then boss’s credit, I was able to get hours that fit my caregiving needs. Without that flexibility on their part, I could never have been the caregiver that I was. Flexible work arrangements and leave policies are a must for companies that want to support employees in their caregiving responsibilities.