How Becoming A Dad Has Changed How I Work

I became a father for the first time in 2017, took 3 months paternity leave alone with my eldest in 2018 (thanks to GitHub for 5 months paid paternity leave). I had another child two weeks ago so I’m on paternity leave (again) right now and expect to take more in 2020. This has given me time to reflect on how becoming a father has changed the way I do my paid (currently a “Senior Engineer” at GitHub) and unpaid (open source, currently primarily as the “Homebrew Project Leader”) work and how this differs from my previous schedule and ways of getting things done. This may be of interest to you if you’re currently, planning or debating becoming a parent in future.

Less work time

Where previously I had a fairly relaxed morning getting started at work I now take my eldest to nursery most work days. Similarly, I have dinner with my wife and kids every weekday (bar one where it clashes with a meeting with west coast USA folks) and then spend time with my eldest until they go to bed. I also go to the gym most work days during the day (a bonus of getting up early). What was a general principle about not working in the evenings and weekends has turned into a hard rule for my family and to recharge.

This does not give me much time in which to procrastinate, mess around or work on things (professionally or open source) that are not important. What’s important is now defined by things at work that meet OKRs, help lots of other engineers or make my manager look good and things in Homebrew and other open source that can (or will) only be done by me.

More separation

I previously took work email and Slack off my phone but I’ve now done the same for my Homebrew email and Slack too. It was good to be able respond to an urgent Homebrew issue (when awake) within minutes but now that I can’t do anything about it for hours the notifications cause unnecessary stress. Sometimes this means I’ll go all weekend without checking email or Slack which means other Homebrew maintainers need to step up (and have done well, nicely increasing the bus factor). Several other Homebrew maintainers are parents but all of them have been very understanding about my delayed responses to urgent issues.

I tend to now do more of my open source work during working hours when I have downtime or am blocked on other tasks. This might have felt in the past like taking time from my employer but now that I have less time in general (see above) it feels like I’ve got more time “for free” by focusing more and spending less work time on things that don’t matter.

Less travel

I’ve lost my British Airways silver status due to less long distance business travel and almost no holiday travel. This pained me but was a nice sign that I’m spending more time with my family (which I enjoy). The travel I do do is much harder because of how much I miss my family and knowing it’s harder for my wife while away (even with the help she gets from my lovely in-laws).

More love of remote work

I’ve moved my home office from a room in my house into a (separate building) garage conversion and now have the benefits of a separate office while being less than a minute’s walk from any part of my house. This setup plus the flexibility of being able to start work after dropping my eldest at nursery, go to the gym during the day, be home for dinner almost every night means I’m even more attached to remote working than I ever have been (in the 10 years I’ve been doing it). I doubt I will ever go back to another office job (even in Edinburgh, where I live) unless I’m somehow able to maintain the (extreme) levels of flexibility I have now. Relatedly, any new team or company I join I need to be confident that when I take time off to look after an ill child sent home from nursery (as my wife works we share this responsibility) that this will not be received negatively.

Less obligation

I’ve written previously about how open source maintainers owe you nothing but this has become far more engrained for me. I’m far quicker to block people being unpleasant and resolve interpersonal issues amongst Homebrew maintainers because my open source time is more precious and focused. Additionally, previous upsets with people in open source that I’ve just tolerated have made me irritable and detached from my family when we’re spending time together. I’m not willing to put up with that any more.

More joy

Many people may read the above and think “wow, that sounds like big transition, I hope it was worth it”. In short: it is. Moments spending hugging a child before they go to sleep are so lovely I literally lie awake at night thinking about them. I’m incredibly lucky and privileged to have the opportunity to have a setup where I’m able to do that when friends and peers are still stuck at (or commuting to/from) work. I regret nothing and will treasure these moments forever.

Caveats

In no particular order:

  • My wife also works (slightly reduced hours) and I have a child in nursery. I’d imagine some of these experiences would be different with a partner who doesn’t work and dramatically different (and harder) for single parents.
  • I’m lucky enough to not have an employer that requires me to work specific or long hours but instead judges me on how much work I get done (in short: lots).
  • I’m lucky enough to have an employer that values my open source work so doesn’t begrudge me spending (some) work time on it when blocked, pays me enough to afford nursery fees and allows me to work from home.
  • Being a man I mostly just get congratulated for any time I spend with my kids and not asked “how I balance things as a working mother father”. I kinda wish I (and other fathers) would get asked questions like that more often and mothers get asked them less (or not at all). I’m debating a podcast on this topic: contact me if that sounds interesting.