Deadlines and new fatherhood go together like marmalade and meconium—but it is possible. Here’s our eight-point guide to newfound WFH efficiency.
Working from home with a baby is difficult in the same way that driving is trickier when there’s a bee in your car. It’s not impossible, or really even scary, once you get past the initial shock. But it is tense and distracting, and in a worst-case scenario, it’s pretty easy to freak out and crash your management Zoom meeting into a traffic island.
It’s also true that many people find working from home difficult, even when doing so is at an all-time high. According to ABS surveys, in a post-pandemic world more than 40% of toil away remotely at least once a week—almost double the previous rate.
Challenges abound when you’re trying to do so with a baby in the house, and they’re all multipliers: exhaustion, guilt, stress, background bedlam. But it’s not insurmountable. Working from home with a child can be hard, sure. But is the extra time you have with them worth the effort? Absolutely.
Here’s how to make it work.
1. Get a room
Are you trying to bash out a spreadsheet at the dining room table? If you’ve any option, avoid this. Trying to work while surrounded by breast pumps and mashed teething rusks and a banshee-wailing bub is doable, but it’s deeply inefficient.
If you can find you own space, and preferably set periods when you’re to be left alone to work, things can begin to fall into a natural rhythm. This may require negotiation—the stress of looking after baby shouldn’t be underestimated, and the primary carer can be mentally hanging out for those 10 minutes in the hour when you’ve said you’ll emerge to give them a break. But make a plan and try to stick to it.
2. Nail down your duties
So you need space to work, and your partner needs a light at the end of the daily tunnel of nappy changes and pram wrangling and feeding. Help yourselves out by deciding on how you will split duties on workdays versus weekends, as well as agreeing on some new routines and/or rosters.
Committing and sticking to scheduled, non-worktime chores such as giving your bub their evening bath, before bed, or their midday feed at your lunchtime, or the first wake-up bottle and nappy change. Your partner will appreciate the consistency.
Speak through this at the outset and decide how you’ll manage these times. You’ll break, repeatedly (guilt!), and that’s okay. But when you do get the chance to go hammer and tongs at your actual job, don’t let up.
3. How flexible is your employer? Find out.
Scheduling is usually the biggest pain point when you’re organising your WFH life. While it’s fine and well to plan to organise meetings during your child’s regular sleep breaks, for example, it often only takes one delay or rescheduling to knock everything out pf whack. If you can speak with your boss around adding more flexibility to your hours, jump at the chance. Beginning early to finish early, for example, or logging in at more suitable times, or taking on a larger share of non-time specific jobs, can be a game changer in terms of day-to-day stress.
4. Dress the part.
The ‘business from the waist up’ dress code commonly adopted for Covid’s daily series of Zoom calls is fun, sort of. But to really get your head into a work mindset, it can help to change into work attire when your WFH work day begins, and to change back again once you clock off. This can also help to remind anyone else in the house—your partner, visitors, etc—that you’re on the clock when you occasionally emerge from your office, blinking in the light like an owl in an arc lamp.
5. Baby brain for men is real. Anticipate its arrival.
It’s a thing.
Studies show that a father’s brain structure literally changes when junior comes knocking, and continues to after baby arrives. These changes directly impact the growth of grey matter in your lateral pre-frontal cortex, a section that’s involved in decision making and memory. You’ll also drop testosterone, which perhaps aids in the formation of nurturing bonds.
In essence, you’ll feel less inclined to devote time to your own pressing personal requirements (like that deadline you need to meet), and more to caring for your new little lodger. There’s not much you can do about this but be aware of it—and try to give yourself a little extra mental leeway over those first few months, at least, and schedule regular breaks to recalibrate. If nothing else, a short walk, or even five-minutes of pushups or other static exercise, can help clear the fog. And it will help with…
6. Dad bod: also real. Fight it.
Studies show that fathers weigh, on average, over 6kg more than childless men. One theory is that your paternal ancestors’ bods naturally got bulkier to help them fight off sabretooths while mum breastfed. But that’s not much help when you’re tired, hungry, have back-to-back meetings from 8am-5pm, and sabretooths went extinct 10,000 years ago.
New dads have precious little spare time even if they WFH, but think of any minutes you can put aside for fitness as an investment. If you can manage to stay on the hunkier side of chunky it’ll help your energy levels, ability to pull your weight elsewhere, and even your self-esteem.
There are scores of online resources offering free advice for time-poor fathers trying to delay succumbing to the big & tall menswear section. Find one that resonates with you. Sites such as Australia’s thefitdadlifestyle.com offer stacks of free 15-minute workouts that can suit most blokes.
“Getting fit and healthy doesn’t have to be done in a gym,” says Fit Dad founder Leroy Faure.
7. If you’re 100 percent WFH, try to organise regular non-home (and even non family) breaks.
Regardless of how much you love your newly expanded family (a lot), f you’re at home all the time it’s easy to feel like the walls are closing in. Try to factor in some genuine break time, which can be as simple as putting an hour aside once a week for a beer or coffee with a friend, or an early AM jog, surf, or trip to the gym. (And remember that if the walls felt like they were closing in on you, depending on your circumstances, that feeling may also be grimly familiar to your primary-caring partner.)
8. Tiredness is cumulative. So is resentment. Namaste.
Look, there’s only one way to say this: being a primary carer is a blessing that is also a curse. The grass seems greener from both sides of the street, and for every moment you feel like you’re missing your bub, your partner may be envious of your relative freedom.
They deserve a break, too. So, give it to them, and before you’re asked. When you’ve clocked off, perhaps take bub for a walk, or out for a drive. The gentle rocking motion of a little neighbourhood road trip can often soothe baby to sleep, and give you some podcast wind-down time to unwind. Click them into the car, check for bees, and off you go.
Reviewed by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse Feb 2023.
Last Published* April, 2023
*Please note that the published date may not be the same as the date that the content was created and that information above may have changed since.