The compatibility of parenthood and a new job
(This is #1 of 30 raw essays in 30 days. The topic was submitted by someone.)
Why do some of us wonder if becoming a parent (newly minted or an old timer) is compatible with having a new job?
Because it’s challenging! The main challenge is to juggle learning to be a parent of a new child (or being a first-time parent!) with learning to be a contributing member of a new organisation. Those are two steep learning curves.
Me, I started a new job at Shopify when my daughter was 3 months old. I was on parental leave at my previous company for all 3 months.
That meant I had 3 months of a head start to learn how to change her diapers, when and how often and what she needs to be fed, what sleep training techniques to try on her to help her sleep, etc.
Without those 3 months a head start, I probably wouldn’t have dared to start a new job. I knew then that I knew nothing about how demanding caring for a newborn is, and I know now, in hindsight, that what I knew was right. There is just a lot to learn even if you and your partner are both doing full-time onboarding to parenthood.
Before sharing my direct thoughts about the compatibility of starting a new job with having a newborn, let’s talk about the fact that I spent most of the first 2 months of parental leave searching for a new job…
The impetus for my looking for a new job was mostly that I wanted a change in the work I was doing. I didn’t like that I was doing a lot of organising and executing technical customer support because that came with a lot of talk and very little long-term impact on people’s lives. I was starting to hate work because I knew some meaningless internal discussion was likely to unfold that day that led to nowhere, and I’d have ended the day not having achieved anything I’m proud of. The secondary reason was that I knew I could be earning a higher wage if I switched to a different company doing a more central role in their product as either a developer or product manager. (I was right; my overall compensation got bumped up by 40 percent.)
I was nervous about spending so much time on the job hunt. Because I was changing roles, I knew that if I wanted to have a real chance at landing a decent new job, I’d have to put in the time and energy to prepare and practice for the interviews. Ask my wife how often I questioned myself about whether it was worth it and she’ll tell you I was unsure about almost every step of the way until I got the call from Shopify that they’d like to extend me an offer.
Alright, back to the compatibility question.
A caveat: my answer is probably most relevant to a European crowd, because welfare in Europe is typically much better than that in other parts of the world, especially when compared to Asia or the US.
So here’s my short answer: I found it largely OK to juggle starting a new job and taking care of a newborn (around 3 months old at the time).
The things that helped me were:
- a partner who at the time set aside her career ambitions to be a full-time parent
- a partner who was proud of me for having a new job and wanted to play a supportive role in helping me focus at work
- fully remote employment, which meant I worked from home every single day since day one at Shopify
- joining an established tech company that genuinely sees “gaining context” as a legitimate use of an employee’s time
- having leverage to be able to lay down clearly to the employer before accepting the new job that I intended to take another 3 months of parental leave (negotiable in duration) around 4 months after starting the job
Translated, they helped because:
- my newborn was in good hands
- I felt supported to focus on the new job
- I could pause work and help any time when things got hectic with the baby, which was mostly an assurance to my partner that she was not going to be a solo parent for 5 days a week
- I did not feel too pressured to contribute immediately at the new job but could take time to orientate myself
- I had a clear break in sight from the very beginning, which gave me something to work towards and provided relief
I was lucky. With all these forces at play that conspired to help me succeed at being a new employee and a new arent at the same time, I felt mostly okay. To be clear - it was not a breezy experience. I still lacked sleep for a while before our baby was successfully sleep-trained. I still doubted myself every week about whether I’m good for the job. I still dreamed of escaping the shackles of employment altogether while ironically simultaneously hiding in the comfort of employment benefits like paid parental leave.
So I’d say this: if you are considering getting a new job when your baby is right in front of you, looking cute but lost and needing your care, I think you’ll be OK if you got could get some support from your partner and found a decent company to work at.
But again, what do I know? You are you, and I am me. Your mileage may vary.