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Babies At Work

I bring my infant son with me to work. Just like I brought my (now 2 year old) daughter to work when she was an baby. It’s the single best parenting decision I ever made, and it makes me realize how the modern world has driven a wedge between parents and their children.

When my daughter was born, we were wholly unprepared for her arrival. I mean, to some extent all first time parents are unprepared, but we hadn’t really sorted out really basic things like where she was going to school. We assumed, naively, that you pick the daycare or preschool that best suits your child, as opposed to the reality that you choose your daycare or preschool before your child is even conceived.

This isn’t hyperbole. My brother and sister-in-law just had their first kid too, and at our advice they started their child care search really early: there were waitlists that were longer than 12 months. Given that human gestation is only 9 months, that means there were parents putting strictly hypothetical babies on a waiting list to get into school. When my nephew was born, there was still no room for him in any of the places they’d looked, so even with much more foresight than us, they are still in a similar boat.

Oh, Sweet Naiveté

My wife and I innocently thought that we’d handle all of this when the kid was a few months old. Because we were idiots. Sure enough, there wasn’t room for our daughter, and even with a little insider pull/nepotism due to my mother having been on the board of one of the schools, they were only able to put my daughter on a waitlist with a rough estimate of when a spot would open up for her to drop into.

We scrambled to figure out a short-term solution to our child-care problem. We looked at nanny situations, we toured less-reputable daycare facilities (by our standards, anything that was “for profit” and in a strip mall was less reputable), we relied on family to fill in for us and ultimately my wife worked from home for some of it so she could look after the kid at the same time. My mother took the baby for one day a week… and I took my infant daughter with me to teach high school twice a week.

I worked at a small independent school at the time. It’s the kind of place that used to get the label as an “alternative school,” with all the baggage that implies. I taught a wide array of fascinating kids between the 9th and post-12th grade. Some of them had mental health issues, some had unaddressed learning disorders, others had substance abuse problems, and a lot of them were just too joyously, wonderfully, gleefully weird to succeed in a big high school. The school was, and is, a truly wonderful place to rediscover a real love of learning and figure out who you really are. Into this celebration of teenage individuality, I introduced a 2 month old…

…and it was AWESOME!

How It Worked

My classes were small: under 10 students in a small room that might’ve at one point been a bedroom or a Victorian-style parlor. To my daughter, who was just getting into the developmental stage of recognizing and locking on to faces, it was heaven. As I lectured about the fall of the Roman Empire, she looked out at all the attentive teenage faces and studied each one intently until the vibration of my torso against her back slowly lulled her into sleep.

                   

But the benefits weren’t limited to my daughter. During the “Community” period between my first and second classes, I’d change her diaper and feed her a bottle, and gradually students began to ask if they could help. Community class became the time when my high school students could interact with her, and although my daughter was always sociable with most people, she did develop favorites. Even better, I was heartened to see that a number of teenage boys wanted to participate as well. I strongly feel that as a society, we encourage “maternal” behaviors in young women without asking our young males to explore the same.

The students referred to my daughter as “Professor Baby,” and I credit her current ease in social situations with her early indoctrination to the “village” or “tribe.” She came to trust a number of young adults and they in turn learned about how to care for a baby. When those young adults grow up and have children of their own (some of them sooner than I’m comfortable with), they will have a better understanding of parenting. It was a win-win situation.

Moving On And Growing Up

Eventually, of course, we found a daycare situation that we loved for the kid. There was a bit of sadness about her leaving the high school, and some jokes about her “graduating” to daycare. She got her own page (alongside my own) in the school yearbook and she slowly phased out of being attached to me for 4 hours of the day.

She’s been back to the high school a few times. She clearly doesn’t remember the individual students who used to hold her or feed her a bottle, but she does warm up to them quickly and smile at them. She also looks around the school itself like it’s familiar but she can’t figure out why. It’s deep into her core programming: she knows that people besides her parents care for her and look out for her, and also probably that daddy talks a lot.

Second Verse, Same As The First

Fast forward two years. I’m not working at the cool funky high school anymore. I work in a brand new government building alongside the local department of Housing and Human Services, Child Protection Services, and various social services that help with employment. I help people who have fallen through the cracks get a second chance at either a better job or a shot at college by getting their high school equivalency. While my wife was pregnant, the county announced that they were implementing a program where new parents could bring their children to work on a limited basis.

 

It’s a completely different environment, and I don’t know how much my clients get out of me bringing my kid with me to work (seeing how most of them have kids of their own… incidentally, the largest demographic I work with is “women who dropped out of high school to have a baby”), but I get to spend time with my seven month old who is in the “smile at anything” phase. As a father, I’ve had a lot less time to be the sole parent who my baby relies on, so spending all day with my little guy twice a week is great for making me feel like I’m providing for him. It’s bonding that, honestly, I hadn’t really had previous to this program. Maybe I’m projecting, but I get the feeling like my son knows me and trusts me more. I’m probably projecting.

One thing I know for sure I’m not fabricating is that my co-workers talk to me more when I have a kid. Yeah, I know it’s an excuse to interact with the baby strapped to me, but there has been a marked upturn in work interactions since I started bringing the kid with me to work. My learning lab is off the beaten track, and so it’s easy for me to be antisocial and only interact with my clients (I’m known as “that quiet guy” at work, which would surprise my friends, as well as former students and colleagues, I’m sure). There’s a degree of, “my eyes are up here, Ladies” when I’m wearing a baby on my chest, but there have been more genuine conversations prompted by my baby in the last few months than in the previous year combined.

              

Getting To The Point

The reason I chose to write about my two experiences bringing my babies to work isn’t just so I can set up jokes about the time that a female co-worker said, “hey, who’s that handsome man” and I thought they were talking about me rather than the baby I was wearing. It’s that I think there is something fundamentally wrong with a father NOT having this kind of bonding with their children.

One of my coworkers on the first day I brought my son to work was an asylum-seeker from South Sudan, a single mother who was forced to leave two children behind at a refugee camp, and also a former client of mine who finished her high school equivalency and started attending community college in a language she doesn’t have full fluency in (I’m impressed with her and you should be too). One of my other colleagues conveyed a conversation they had with her while she stood transfixed while watching me play with my child. Apparently, it was unheard of for men to take any sort of interest in the care of very young children in her home country at all. She was amazed and fascinated by the demonstration of paternal infant care, and I can’t imagine her culture is alone in dissuading men from taking an active hand in the rearing of their young kids.

In fact, I’d be willing to speculate, based on nothing more than some general undergraduate history, sociology and anthropology courses, that infant care is socially and historically almost always a woman’s domain. It makes sense: babies rely on their mothers for sustenance which creates a bond unique among humans. Psychologists have stated that the connection between mother and newborn is akin to being one entity. So where does a father factor in?

I don’t have an answer. All I know is that when I was able to take my infant children and care for them on my own for a stretch of time through bottle-feeding, I cemented a bond with them that maybe other dads are missing. By being the “lone parent” for just a little while, I felt a tighter bond with my kids than I had before. It was a potent enough feeling that until I replicated the experience with my younger one, I was worried that I didn’t feel appropriately strong feelings for him. I had felt this connection with my eldest kid, and it wasn’t immediately present in my younger one when he was born; it took becoming the primary parent (even just for a little while) for me to feel like I was an important part of his infant life.

If I’m right, and human history has deprived men of the chance to bond with their infant children, then it is a grievous evolutionary misstep. I may not be totally comfortable with my role in my job, or in my academic career, or even in my adult social circles, but I have a firm grounding of where I stand with my kids, and I attribute it largely to having been able to spend a great deal of time as the primary caregiver for them as infants.

Conclusion

Fathers, if you can take your kids to work, I encourage it. If you can’t, I implore you to take your kids on your own for father-child adventures; to the park, to the store, to hangout with your friends, wherever and whenever. Early childhood development is essential and far more influential than you may know. So the earlier you can establish yourself in your child’s life, the better. You can break a socio-historical pattern that has excluded you from your kids’ lives, so do it.

 

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