Working Remotely with a new Baby
Our team is popping babies out left and right. If you join us, be careful as odds are, you (or your spouse) is about to get pregnant. I’ve been wondering how I could help Peter, Reid, Brandon & Lucas prepare for something they have tried to imagine but can’t know until they are in the thick of it. Having a child is challenging for anyone, but if you are also trying to run a company from home, its a double header.
There were a few simple pieces of advice that truly helped me. Some were environmental and other behavioral. So I got the team together and here are the thoughts we wanted to share.
You need your own space.
This is simply non-negotiable. First of all, babies are loud. They hoot and holler and cry and shriek and giggle. It is cute as hell, but is an overwhelming distraction if you are trying to focus. Crying can also get stressful at times (that is genetically intentional, are you really such an asshole as to ignore your crying baby?). Add that cacophony as background noise to a meeting and I guarantee your clients will get annoyed and you will feel like giving up.
I had a friend advise me to replace the door to my office with a solid core door and weatherproofing like therapists do to keep the sounds both in and out.
If you can’t get an ideal space at home, it might be time to sign up at a coworking space or scope out a few trusty coffee shops. You could also spring for the hotspot on your iPhone or one of those verizon cards and then work anywhere.
Don’t wake up the baby or you will pay.
I make noise when I work. I like to pace. I get excited and speak louder during certain calls. I curse when I code. I had to learn to keep that to myself. Trust me, if you wake a sleeping baby, your spouse or caregiver will torture you (and the baby will finish you off if they don’t first). Sleep is sacred and must be protected at all cost. Plan for coffee shop visits, organize your call schedule and do everything you can to ensures a disturbance free nap and good night sleep.
You can tell the difference between a parent and non-parent based upon their response to a missed nap:
#nonparent – oh thats fine, they’ll just sleep-in tomorrow morning
#parent – I’m so fucked. Now they will be all wired and cranky all day and won’t sleep tonight. Today is going to SUCK.
The thing is, sleep begets sleep. Lack of sleep begets lack of sleep. And as most of you know, lack of sleep = emotional, cranky you. Same thing for your kid.
Good work requires good sleep.
You will need sleep. You will need to build strategies with your partner to get some sleep. Trade off based upon who is a natural morning or evening person. Take naps. Make a plan.
The number one thing I can advise based upon our personal experience: your baby needs its own room (or at least not sleep in your bed). Serenity slept in our room for her first 6 months. We were struggling with sleep, so Julie and I debated moving her to her own space starting about 2 months. After some debate, we were worried about SIDS and simply weren’t ready. So, Serenity continued to sleep between us and Julie would wake up about every 45 mins – 1.5 hours to nurse (often waking me up). The thing is, we simply could not sleep well with a baby in our bed as we had to stay aware (or you could crush the tyke if you are an active sleeper like me).
We finally managed to get the baby out of the bed when Julie started to have serious hallucinations from sleep deprivation and the doctor told her she HAD to put Serenity in her own room. Whether you cry it out, or carefully get them down without a peep is up to you, but sooner rather than later, reclaim your sleep.
Honor the calendar.
I loved the flexibility of freelancing. I worked when I wanted, ate when I was hungry, surfed when I felt like it. That had to change.
Happy babies are creatures of habit and your spouse will want you around and need your help. Giving them a specific time on which they can count on you to be 100% present will give you the freedom to be 100% focused on your business at other times. You just can’t be 50% present for long. It will get you in trouble and feeling fragmented.
While I really didn’t want to be a 8-5:30 kind of guy, it became the best plan for my family. I helped a bit in the morning, then got focused. Evenings became family time. I stopped picking up the phone, checking email. If necessary, I could do another night session, but in the early days it just wasn’t that realistic. Serenity did her best uninterrupted sleep in the first cycle (6:30 – 10/11) and I needed to capitalize on that. I was beat.
I had another challenge which the calendar solved. Julie knew and respected that I was working as I had worked from home for close to 9 years at that point. With a new baby came new challenges and new experiences and she just had to share. Often the door would open and Julie would come in to share things. It was wonderful but made it really hard to focus. We discussed it a lot and finally came up with a solution. 2-3 times a day, I opened a 15 minute window to be present with Julie so she could share things with me and so I could help a bit and give her a break. Giving her those windows allowed my office space to remain an interruption free zone.
List making will save your ass.
The more tired I became, the harder it was to multitask and the further my accountability degraded. I forgot things, got confused and my productivity simply fell apart. List making used to be an awesome substitute for my long term memory. After the baby, it became a substitute for my short term memory as well as my long term memory.
Have a list for everything that comes up. The night before you go to bed, review that list and pick the 2-5 key things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Then in the morning you can triage your communications and add a few things as needed, but ultimately focus on the 2-5 things. They will help you focus on the important as well as the urgent. The more sleep deprived you are, the harder it is to differentiate.
Clocking your time matters even more.
You work hard. We all do. When your short term memory is completely shot though, it is hard to get perspective. Sometimes you will feel like a failure and think you aren’t to keeping up. Other times you will think everything is fine (and just haven’t noticed yet that you are hip deep in quicksand).
Clocking is your lifeline. It will honestly tell you how hard you are working and if you are applying your energy in the right places. It will tell you if you working yourself to the bone on the wrong project. It will confirm that you did in fact work this week when you can’t remember it what so ever. There is brutal honesty in time. Take advantage.
We’ve worked with a few first-time freelance moms over the last 10 years. They were smart, talented and driven. It turns out, their expectations were also unrealistic. When we discussed their plan, it was to work a few hours during naps and then in the evening. It seemed sound in theory. Each time it would start off wonderfully and then they would start to miss deadlines. It became only a matter of time before we got the call that said, “I don’t think I can freelance and be the full time care provider for a baby. The schedule is just too unpredictable. I would be fine if these were small projects with no deadline, but having to operate in the absolute lack of control that is full time child care, I just can’t seem to make deadlines and stay healthy and sane.”
If you are switching off responsibilities with your partner or only have part-time care, then you need to be realistic. Don’t expect you can simply handle 50% of your load. It is probably less. Only time will tell, but if you are about to start that adventure, I would estimate your ability to kick ass lower than you might guess. Its always nicer to be succeeding than suffering.
From Brad F.
Get some headphones.
Get some good over the ear headphones (especially if you can’t afford
the solid door and weather stripping Shane advised). There is a reason
I wear those funny looking things. That $100 could be your quickest path to sanity.
Give your spouse a break.
Know that as hard as you are working being both a new dad and business owner, your wife is working harder. And often she’s sacrificing her own body in the process. So give her a break as much as you can. Change some diapers, put the baby down for naps, do the dishes, etc. And as soon as you can get your wife out of the house for some time away. As soon as it was possible (not actually that soon) we got Sarah away for a girls weekend, and that was a huge refresher for her.
This IS the Most important thing.
Sometimes it will seem like your kid/family is the most important thing in the world… that’s because they are. Don’t feel bad about putting other things on the back burner. Get your priorities right early on and you won’t have to wish things were different later.
I recently had someone give me some pretty heavy advice. He said, “It doesn’t matter how good of a job you do in your career – if you fail as a husband and a father then you fail as a person.”
Do what works for you.
Shane has good advice here, and so do I and so does Jonathan and Casey… And so does everyone else you’re going to talk to. Take it in and learn what you can. But eventually you’re going to have to pick works best for your family. Be happy with that and don’t feel inferior because you don’t or can’t or decide not to do something like another family. This can be easy to say but hard to really know sometimes. There are millions are ways to raise a kid (and work from home at the same time); know that if you are doing your best then you are doing it right.
It’s all a phase.
As a dad, the first few weeks might seem easier than you would expect. Don’t worry, it will get harder. And as things get bad, don’t worry, they’ll get easier again. But it’s all okay because the main thing to remember is this: IT’S ALL A PHASE.
No matter what kind of hilarious antic your kid is doing or impossible sleep schedule they’re on or weird eating patterns are happening it will surely change. Remember that to help you get through the rough parts and to remind you to pay attention to the good things.
Sunny screamed and cried a ton (especially when we were trying to put her down to sleep) from weeks 6-10. At the time it was insanely difficult and it seemed like it would never end (we had visions of an 18-year-old crying for an hour every night before bed). But looking back it was just another phase in our little kid’s life.
Advice from Jonathan B.
Schedule with intention, not just blocks.
My most productive weeks are the weeks when I’ve taken the time to make the most detailed schedules. Not just “I’m working 9-5:30, and I’m with the family at other times”. Take some time at the beginning of each week to specify when you’re working on which projects (it sometimes even helps to plan out which tasks you’re working on). With no short-term memory and no long-term memory, things are easily missed. The more your calendar can remind you of, the better.
This also extends beyond your work schedule. If you want to commit to helping with child-care, schedule that, too. Schedule the nights you’ll give the kids baths; schedule the nights you’re going to stay up with the screaming baby; schedule some time each week for your wife to be kid-free (and some time for yourself); schedule meals you’re going to cook and meals she’s going to cook. For that matter, schedule a time to sit down with your wife and schedule the coming week. It sometimes seems like overkill, scheduling life to that extent, but we’ve found it to be remarkably helpful. You get things done without wondering if there’s something more important you’re supposed to be doing. You have time–just a bit, anyway–to relax without guilt. You free up your mind to focus on “right now”, because you’ve already taken care of worrying about “later”.
You can multitask (somewhat).
Get a Boppy pillow. For the first 2-3 months, it lets you code and hold a baby at the same time (put the baby’s head on your left arm).
Advice from Casey
TOTALLY agree on the headphones. I’ve also found it extremely helpful to get some headphones with a built-in mic and quick mute button for when on Skype/conference calls. (I use these headphones and they work great)
Be a servant leader.
A wise man once told me about a statement that has guided his life as a father and husband: “Die to Live.” In other words, put your family’s needs before your own, and you’ll experience a richer family life than you ever imagined. It’s not easy to do (and I screw up often!), but it’s worth it.
Create a family mission statement.
Shortly after our first son, Caleb, was born, Mary Beth and I created a Mission Statement for our family after reading the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.” We’ve since hung this on our fridge and periodically review it to see how we’re doing as a family in regards to this mission. It’s been helpful for us to correct our course when we’re off track. I would highly recommend that book and creating some kind of Mission Statement for your family.
Advice from Nick C.
Schedule date nights.
Or they won’t happen. Babies are hard on relationships, you need to stay connected or you’ll disconnect. [shane: Also, if you don't have a support network, spend the money on the babysitter, they are cheaper by the hour than a marriage counselor.]
Don’t do anything outside the house for the first 2 weeks (3-4 if possible).
And I mean anything (besides Dr. visits of course). Don’t go out as a family. Don’t have tons of visitors. Just hang out with your new little miracle and learn the ropes. Overdoing it will wipe out you, and especially your wife. If she gets wiped out, bad things can happen (exhaustion, dehydration, mastitis if nursing, etc). The more you take it easy at first, the better you’ll all do later (and when you head back to work). We overdid it with our first, and were hermits with our second. While everyone wanted to see our baby, invite us to things, etc. We treasured that time with her and my wife recovered much more quickly with the extra rest. Having moms/friends around to help around is great, but they are there to help, not be waited on. Their reward is the precious commodity of baby time
I had to stop working at home, eventually.
Focus was impossible once my daughter hit a certain age, so I got an office 5 min away. I go home for lunch, but have time to work. But do what works for you
Take parenting advice with a big grain of salt. [Shane: irony noted]
Everyone (and I mean everyone — even complete strangers) will start giving you parenting advice. Take it with a grain of salt, and do what works for your family. Even if something is sold as a ‘sure fire’ solution that worked for them, all babies and families are different. Do what works, even if it seems odd/weird/whatever.
Go with your gut.
You (and your wife) possess the most intimate connection with your child. If your gut says something listen to it, it’s usually right, even if you’re doctor/whoever doesn’t believe you. Corrolary: find a doctor who listens to and trusts you as the parent.
Get some sleep.
My wife has bed shared with both our kids, and she/they were better rested for it. I did not bed share (aka I got kicked out) — which was good because I got better sleep as well. It’s just for a season — and at a certain point, you don’t care what’s normal/what should be, just that everyone is rested and happy.
You’re stronger than you think.
You’ll be amazed what you can accomplish on so little sleep (but get as much as you can).
The kids run the roost (for now).
I was a night owl. My kids are not. Things go a lot smoother when I don’t fight that.
Get a carrier.
Mobi wraps and Ergos are easier on your back than the Bjorns (and similar). At some point you’ll need that arm back, and babies love to be carried.
Hold your baby.
It won’t be long until he/she wants to squirm out of your arms — treasure this time.
Teach your baby to sign.
It does wonders in avoiding tantrums over inability to communicate (start around 6 months).
Advice from John G.
I’m a pretty new dad (my daughter is 9 months old), so definitely still in the learning curve Not sure I have any advice, but here’s some thoughts.
Find your own patterns.
Like some of the other guys have said I’ve found that you have to do what works for your family. Sleep is obviously very important for the parents when the baby is waking up all the time. In our case, however, everyone kept telling my wife that she had to sleep when the baby was napping, and that ended up stressing her out so much that she couldn’t get to sleep to nap because she had herself so psyched out that she had to sleep. Eventually she found ways to get her sleep by getting to bed earlier and sleeping in longer, but my point is that we had to find something that worked for us.
Being home is worth the distractions.
Another thing for me is to enjoy the time as much as possible even when it can be really hard at the beginning because it flies by so fast. I’m only 9 months in but it seems like we just had our daughter yesterday. We’re in a great position that we can see our families during the day and be flexible with out schedules, so I’d just say take advantage of that. I’m really thankful that I can be home to see a lot of firsts (starting crawling, starting waving, etc).
Also, take lots of pictures
Advice from Dan C.
Nick went as far as moving to an office but I’ve found a room with a shut door and headphones works to a degree and Sara taking the kids out all the time during the day is wonderful.
Day trip Vacations.
Take advantage of being a freelancer. We took (and are trying to take) our kids to Disneyland a lot, at least once a month one year; it’s a great day of quality time with the entire family and I found it helping my work a little since I was forced to step back and re-coup.
Sometimes we get caught up with work and find ourselves rolling at high speed. As a freelancer, we often feels great at first, after all you are earning good money and providing for your family. It is easy for our success can get out of control. It’s your responsibility to monitor your work load and habits. It’s not fair to burden your spouse and sacrifice the time with your kids. It’s all about priorities and knowing money (from working hard) doesn’t raise your kids to be successful and good people in 20 years.
Schedules for everyone!
I was going to bring up the importance of putting your kid on a schedule (feeding, sleeping, etc.) and the importance of not co-sleeping because of the importance self-soothing. Self-soothing isn’t some trick, there’s purpose: problem solving independence, self-awareness, respect, etc..
Sounds bad but don’t let the child control you, I strongly believe if you do it will take a lot of discipline when they’re older. …
Anyway, as you can tell it’s heavily debatable and there’s a ton of exceptions and detail that isn’t good for an email format. While what I said is utilitarian it’s unlikely useful for every child, for example if your baby is sick there’s no way to have a strict schedule…the list goes on and on.
We know some of what is ahead. But your’s will be different. The great thing is that you are not alone. We are here to help, to listen without judgment (and sometimes to poke fun without listening), to give random advice and mostly, to celebrate the journey.
Congratulations you guys and good luck.
[This post will self destruct in 5 second…4…3…2…1]