'People first' only goes so far for parents

In remote work, the role of parent crosses boundaries.

I wear a lot of hats at home and at work. At work, I'm a senior backend engineer, making sure everything on Slite runs smoothly; I'm also the guy who posts deep philosophical questions in our #watercooler channel on Slack.

And at home, I'm a gamer, a progressive metal musician, a loyal friend and devoted partner.

This is an article about a new role I just took on: dad.

Becoming a parent was one of the biggest events of my life, and it got me thinking about how it's not so easy to categorize this role as "work" or "home." It's actually intimately linked to how we approach the human side of work. Which in turn, will determine our success as a company.

Planning around a child

My partner and I have been together for most of our lives (we've actually spent more time in each other's life than not, which I still can't properly process), but we weren't ready to welcome a child into our lives until the beginning of 2021. Once we started talking more about it, we realized we were ready to start a family, and started planning.

With the first baby, one naturally doesn't have any idea how or where to start. Our goal during this phase was to remove anything that could generate stress once our baby was here.

Personal plans

Prepping the house was a big project, but we were able to account for most necessary (material) things:

  • Crib to sleep in? Check.
  • Clothing? Check
  • Baby food? Check
  • Play area? Check

Work plans

I created a similar checklist of work items to complete and delegate to my team ahead of our baby's arrival:

  • Big tasks done before leave? Check.
  • Leave enough context/explanations on smaller tasks that still need attention? Check
  • Did I produce enough documentation so that the team can work without the stress of not having me for answers? Check.

But there are also a few questions I couldn't plan ahead for:

  • Will our baby be ready to be with one parent only when I get back to work?
  • Will my partner be ready to be with the baby alone when I get back to work?
  • Will I be ready to leave my baby during the workday when I get back to work?
  • What if ... (millions of questions ad infinitum.)

A generous parental leave policy...x2

I live in France, and as of July 2021, the law allows for 25 days of paternity leave. That is a great improvement on what it used to be - 11 days - and a great improvement on paternity leave in other countries (aka the U.S.), but it still is much less than what mothers would have.

The way it worked out for our family, my paternity leave would end before my partner's leave, and as a result she would be alone in charge of our little baby for a little more than a month.

While I was worrying about that, in October 2021, Slite decided to double down on the French law, give 50 days of paternity leave, and make sure there would be no loss of pay during that off time. You know that feeling when the stars align and you are just that lucky? Yeah. I do.

On February 22th 2022, Sasha came into our world, and although I can't speak from tons of experience, as she is my first born, here are some of the positive impacts I can share from this experience:

Sharing the mental load

We men mostly take this for granted until we see it happening in front of our eyes. Mothers are the strongest people on earth, both physically and mentally. It takes everything you have to bring someone to the world, and the (physical and mental) recovery process can be stressful, painful and long.

Being there to help your partner makes the biggest difference in the world. It used to be that after a couple weeks French mothers would have to do everything alone, for lack of the dad around during the day.  Taking care of a baby is easily a full time job, with unlimited hours and a very mood-swinging boss.

With those two changes I was able to provide all the help I could to my partner so she could focus on the things I was absolutely unable to do like breastfeeding and recovering from the birth.

Managing stress levels

Being able to be there full time for my partner greatly reduced the amounts of stress she felt.

I believe that has a direct impact in our relation with our baby: She didn't feel stress at all from us because we weren't feeling any either. Everything we could have prepared was accounted for, and we had plenty of time to deal with the rest with our full attention (or what's left of it after a few days of sleep deprivation, 😜).

Being present

It is easier to welcome a newborn into the world when you are 100% available for their well-being.  Not having to worry about work and income has that nice effect on your life.

We were 100% present for our baby from the first day and for a long time so we could make her first weeks in the world the best they could be while giving her our full attention all the time.

Taking care of the relationship

It's very easy when you have a baby to forget that before you were a family of three you were a couple. The baby is coming into your life and much like water takes all the space available in the container that is your home and couple.

It is up to you to find a way to keep some space for you two, and not having to worry about the base of Maslow's pyramid makes it easier (note: I didn't say easy) to carve time to take care of yourselves as a couple.

The larger implications of fair parental leave

Having a newborn means having lots of awake time for a little while. During those moments I took the time to, amongst other things, educate myself about the societal change that allowed me to be enjoying the time with my little girl fully.

What still keeps me up at night (besides the baby) is this:

We've come a long way as a company and as a society, but we still have a long way to go.

I spoke a little about the moral/physical comfort that being two caregivers for your baby provides, but we need to talk about the societal side as well.

A Danish study done in 2018 shows that in the long run having a child equals to taking a 20% penalty in earnings for mothers.

This happens because when they become mothers, women have to stop working for a given time. During that time, nothing will happen to their career. However, during that same timespan men or women not having children will continue their career evolution normally.

The two following figures show that effect in place.

Another interesting comparison is looking at the difference between men who have kids and men who don't. As we can see from the figure above, it makes no difference.

This discrepancy exists because we classify mothers and fathers differently:

  • Mothers are the caregivers.
  • Dads are the providers.

But this is an antiquated model and it doesn't have to stay that way anymore. More and more countries are pushing changes in laws to narrowing the gap of both how we see each one's roles, and the gender pay.

In 1981, Iceland passed their law on maternity leave giving 3 months of paid leave to moms.

In 1988 it increased to 6 months. In 2000, the parental leave was also given to dads with an incentive to take it or they'd lose the advantage fully.

With that change the gender paygap in Iceland went from 0.81 in 2004 to 0.90 in 2016, meaning women were getting paid almost the same as men for the same job.

In January 2021 , Iceland changed the game again and gave 6 months to both parents. It's still too early to talk about the consequences of this, but we could argue that it should dramatically improve the situation as there wouldn't be any reason to not hire a woman in their late 20s - early 30s now as the same leave would apply for both dad and mother. That should remove one of the main discrimination points during hiring altogether. This improves diversity, boosts employee retention, and saves the company money long term.

So, as Sasha would say:

Why aren't you looking into it? 

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