Working Parents   //   March 28, 2024

‘It’s a myth that men don’t do night feeds’: Confessions of a stressed out working dad

This article is part of a series examining the various ways that the overhaul of organizations’ working models around the world, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, is affecting working parents with desk-based jobs, and how their relationships between their kids and jobs have changed since the pandemic years. More from the series →

Sleep deprivation is a serious challenge for working parents, along with rocketing childcare costs.

For this latest instalment of WorkLife’s Confessions, in which we exchange anonymity for candor, we spoke to a working dad who is a senior executive at a global retailer, about his daily challenges. His core message to any working parent, or soon-to-be parent: find an employer that supports you, fast. 

How would you say you start each work day? 

Sleep deprived.

I have a child that doesn’t sleep through the night. It’s a myth that people think men don’t do night feeds. I do all the night feeds. I’m dead. Any colleague will tell you I look tired. Sometimes I’m sitting on a call for a brief that’s come in, and I’ve told someone to do something, and they’re telling me what they’ve done, but I’ve no idea what they’re talking about. Because I just haven’t slept in so long. I have to be very ‘on’ in my job, I have calls coming at me all the time – it might be that there’s been some disaster in another market and I need to get on a plane in three weeks to go fix it. There’s a lot of that. I love my job, I love the work, but when you haven’t had any sleep…

So you know, you’ve got family life and all the things around that – bills to pay, balancing child care, balancing logistics. Right now I’m in a cab rushing home [from the office] in the middle of the day because my kid is sick. For some people, they simply can’t, for all kinds of reasons. 

How does it feel when you have to pull yourself out of that work headspace, to go take care of that? 

It’s very hard to switch in and out of things. At work there are different emotional states that you’re in. You could be cranking out something on Excel and you need to be very focused and not really talking to anyone and you can’t be distracted. Or you could be doing a strategic piece of work and using a lot more of your brain or I might have come out of having a nice conversation with a partner – you’re in a different emotional state and your brain has been working in a different way, depending on what kind of work you’ve been doing. And then you’ve got to switch to something that’s very, very important, which is your family. Especially if you’ve got young children.

Do you ever feel judged by colleagues for leaving? 

No, zero judgment.

So what’s your biggest frustration when it comes to work-parent juggling? 

I think the expectations of parents are too high. I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t think it helps that in the media there’s all this expectation around being a super parent – that you can make the breakfast, get them ready, get them out the door, run a high-powered job, all the rest of it. I just don’t think it’s realistic. I see a lot of people who are parents – men and women – who take a hit on their careers.

Or if their careers flourish it’s because they’ve got one parent doing more of the childcare burden, and it’s usually the woman, or a lot of it’s got to be outsourced – which means very expensive childcare and you as the parent spend less time with your children. But even people on very modest incomes have to outsource quite a lot because they’ve got to go to work. Because people have bills to pay and mortgages. The other thing that’s very difficult now is people are having children later in life. And that’s coinciding with the time that people’s careers are taking off. So their income is growing and maybe they’re on the right promotion track, but then they also want to have a family, which is completely fine. People should be allowed to do both, it’s their choice. 

Do you think there is judgment from other parents?

Absolutely 100% yes. There is way too much judgment.

You mentioned childcare costs are an issue. 

It’s outrageous. For one child you’re looking at anything between £1,200 ($1,511) – £1,800 ($2,266) a month, for two children it’s closer to £4,000 ($5,036) a month, in the U.K. 

That gets a little easier once they’re older, right? In the U.K., you can get 15 hours of government-funded childcare once they’re 2 years old, and that rises to 30 hours when they turn 3 years old if you earn below £100,000 ($126,000). It’s similar in the U.S. So that may sound like a privilege to some if you earn over that threshold (although it only covers term time, not school vacations.)

Yeah, so people may quite rightly say if you can pay that, you’re earning a certain amount. But if you think about paying that [childcare fee] a month, you’re not able to pay for other things – like fixing things in your home, you don’t have any savings, you’re not even having a basic holiday. And even if you can manage a holiday, the prices are higher during the school holidays. Then there is just the cost of everything that’s gone up to feed and clothe them. The cost of formula has shot up since Covid. I’m not talking about anything fancy. People are going to work and stressed because they’ve got childcare costs which are bigger than a mortgage, or the equivalent of a very nice mortgage. It’s very very difficult.

How supportive is your employer? 

I thank my lucky stars every day that I have a very supportive employer.

Everyone I’ve worked with will tell you parenting is not easy – we all know the lovely things [about having kids] but as a society, we need to make it OK for people to talk openly about the problems we’re running into. And then talk about, ‘how do I overcome this? What do I need to know?’ 

What are your thoughts on return to office mandates? 

RTO mandates only apply in my eyes if you’ve got less than five years in your career. I would say if you’re a junior to mid-level, I think they need to come to the office. If you’re more senior, by that point, you should have a certain level of competence so the flex is easier. I think if you’re managing teams though, you need to be in frequently. It’s the language though like ‘return to office,’ – I did some jobs where I would come to the office just to collect my laptop and then I would be at a client site all day. So was I in the office or out of the office? 

What advice would you give to other working parents struggling with work-life balance? 

Anyone who is thinking about having kids or in the process of planning that – if you’re not with an employer that gives generous paternity leave, or where people aren’t positive or supportive of working parents, find a new employer. It’s just that simple. When you’re young and single, climbing the ladder and you need to earn your stripes and all that kind of stuff I can understand where it’s just about work, it’s different. But when you’re parents, someone else absolutely needs you and you need to be with an employer that, by default, has a culture that’s designed around that. But I realize when I say that I am blessed with all of the luck and privilege in the world and it’s easier said than done.