Advice for newborn fathers taking time off

In many ways, I am luckier than most human beings.  Owning my own busines, I knew I had the luxury of taking lots of time off after our son was born.  I worked out an arrangement at work where I had the ability to take up to a month off, and then the next month part time, and the month after that, something more involved.  This was going to be a huge luxury for me, a chance to bond with my new son that most adults don’t get a chance to do.

In the weeks leading up to the birth, I started polling other men with kids around town, mostly at meetings at the Greater Washington Board of Trade and at work.  "How long did you take off when your kids were born?"  The answers surprised me.

"Three days"

"A week"

"Two days"

The longest answer I heard was "two weeks", was an outlier.  The shortest answer, "one day" was also an exception to the responses as well, so I discounted them.  Typical answer was three days to a week.  I was somewhat shocked.  These were certainly women who had a large number of C-sections and were going to have difficulty walking, so how did they function without a caregiver at home? 

"Barbaric!" I thought.  "I’ll stay home a month solid."

Then the baby was born.  The first few days, I knew why I was there.  Sarah was still exhausted from the birth.  It tooks 24 hours for my adrenalin to wear off, then I crashed as well.  Had I not been there to do everything, Sarah would have nearly starved.  Too weak most of the time to do much, she was dealing with post-birth bleeding and learning how to  breastfeed and healing from the two stitches she had put in after the delivery.

I cooked, I cleaned, I changed diapers.  Then I did it again.  And again, and again.  Because a newborn baby is to be fed on demand for several weeks, and because we were breastfeeding (for obvious health reasons), he was never far from his mother.  Every 2-3 hours, he would want to eat, so I couldn’t stray far.

I got small pockets of time with him, but nothing significant.  Sleeping through the slow, middle innings of a Nats baseball game on TV with Moishe on my chest, or Sunday walks down to the bagel place while Sarah slept, these were the pockets of time I stole.  But I wasn’t deluded, they were small slivers of time. 

All this time, I’m still cooking, cleaning, and changing diapers.  Occasionally we fight over who gets to hold the baby when he’s neither nursing or pooping, during the Prime Time of Baby-dom. 

In the last few days, I’ve found a burst of energy for work, and a bout of crabbiness at home.  Taking it mostly out on pots, pans, and slammed doors, and occasionally on Sarah, I realized what it was. 

I am a maid.  A big, glorified, maid.  It’s not that I resent doing these chores, but there’s nothing special about me doing them.  Anyone could do them.  I’m just the maid.  What was worse is that I was coming to resent it a bit, since Sarah got to do all the fun stuff with the baby.

We’ve been postponing calling the nanny we setup, but I think it’s time now.  The work I’ve done from home in the last few days has been refreshing, and the amount of time I get with the baby could fit very neatly into an evening.   Spending all day at home cleaning is a poor way to get an hour or two of quality time with the kid.

If you’re trying to plan your time off with your newborn, I think 2-3 weeks at home is about the right amount of time to spend off, at most.  Possibly less if you have family that’s going to move in and cook and clean for you.   If I had to do it over, and I had some relatives that I could tolerate in my house for more than a few days, I’d arrange to have them in and spend the next 4-5 weeks taking time off that steadily decreases for about two months, staying home a full week or two at first, and then increasing the amount of work time every week. 

This will work differently for our next kid, of course, who will have an older brother to be taken care of at the same time.  Double the work.

I look forward to taking some more time off in the future to spend with my son, but I think I’m done for now.  This maid is hanging up his dish sponge.