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It’s not easy being Mr. Mom.
LEANING OUT

Dads around the world: We can’t have it all either

Men might talk less about balancing the pressures of work and family—but that doesn’t mean they care less about it. This year, former Pimco CEO Mohamed El-Erian left the company, citing his daughter’s 22-point list of events he had missed in her life. Former MongoDB CEO Max Schireson wrote in his blog that no one ever asks him how he balances being a dad and a CEO. Quartz asked this very question of fathers, CEOs, and journalists. Below is an edited excerpt of the conversation: 

On having kids

John McDuling, Australian, Reporter at Quartz, newborn

So, I am pretty new to fatherhood, my wife had our first daughter six weeks ago. And I am new to the concept of having to balance work with family. I found it harder than I thought getting back into the swing of things at work, did everyone have this experience?

Nathan Hegedus, American (lived in Sweden), Strategic Editor, 5- and 8-year-old

Absolutely. Your whole world changes—whether you’re recognizing yet or not—so it’s tough to keep up the old patterns.

Sidin Vadukut, Indian (lives in London), Journalist, 10.5 month-old

We had our daughter 10.5 months ago, but because I work from home the disruption to my work “scene” began well before she was born.

Nathan

I have to say, though, that because I was in Sweden, that first leave isn’t as memorable actually. Was off for six and then nine months with each kid when they were toddlers. And coming back after that was like a new job.

Sidin

For me it started off as a pure discipline problem. And then that problem got worse and worse. I love working in solitude and for a few months my house was just full of people. And then the baby came along…

Nathan

It really does require so much focus at the start. You’re sidelined but have to be very present. Those first months are unique. I worked from home a bit when my second child was little.  I don’t have any idea how anything got done. I miss that.  At this point, I’m forced to wrestle regularly when my kids are home.

Paternity leave and childcare

Sidin 

I have an arrangement with my wife. She works from home on Thursdays and Fridays. Those two days I work at a cafe or library from 10am to 7pm. I do all my writing on those days—my output days—and do all my reading and research Monday-Wednesday—my input days. I take care of the child all day from Monday to Wednesday.

John 

At the moment my wife is still on leave and we she has not decided yet about when to go back.

Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, American, 3- and 5-year-old

What’s hard about my position is that my wife is a research oncologist who works more hours than I do.

Nathan 

Glenn, that is tough. I had the benefit of Swedish labor law—probably initially meant for women—that allowed me to work only 80%.  So I did a lot of the picking up and dropping off.

John 

So, Nathan, there is a very strong economic case for paternity leave, do fathers need to be more vocal about it?

Nathan 

Absolutely. I totally recognize how tough it is to speak up here. I was a journalist in America before moving to Sweden, so I know all about the culture of sleeping in the newsroom and having the scanner on all night, but at some point, you have to step up. I mean “you” collectively.  I still work for my Swedish company, so no “stepping up” to American bosses yet here.

Sidin 

In India, I’ve seen less demand for paternity leave, largely because joint families pitch in when a child is born. (Also data indicate that Indian men are some of the least helpful in the world when it comes to house work. So there is that too.)

Nathan 

I don’t think Swedish CEOs take much leave. But there is a sense of flexibility, and I’ve had very high executives bow out of meetings because everyone else [at home] is sick. And if your wife is at a similarly high level, you need that.

Glenn 

We had a friend from Denmark who was fairly driven. She wanted to work after about six months home with a baby, but discovered there are no childcare services for kids less than a year old just because the country has such strong support for parents who want to stay home.

Nathan 

Of course, in Sweden, with taxes, most people would not have nannies.  So you need the flexibility. There is a very strict box in Sweden too. No child care before 12 months. But you also can’t really stay away longer than two years. You run out of leave, can’t afford to live on one income, and there are absolutely no other kids to play with.  Huge culture pressure to get back to work.

Sidin 

My wife went back to work after eight months and she felt a little judged by her colleagues, who all felt she should have stayed back for 12 months.

Glenn 

Well that raises an interesting question. I used to think that elites would be the most progressive, here in the states and elsewhere. But in fact, working families are the ones who can’t afford to stay at home, whereas wealthier families tend to be the most traditional, with one parent, usually a mother, at home.

Nathan 

Exactly. There is no middle class solution. And a lot of the burden falls on women, but that has a cascading effect on men too—who they can hire, family dynamics, etc. I can’t quite figure out why the US lags so much.  Even in the UK, they are instituting parental leave. Just part of the larger culture, I guess.

Productivity

Glenn 

The US is one of the hardest-working cultures in the world.

Nathan 

Yet it’s not all that productive. There is a lot of research that crazy hours don’t translate.  And while I know this provokes people, European productivity is quite good, even with all their time off. Europe’s problems are not related to long vacations and maternity and paternity leaves.

Glenn 

But Europe has productivity problems, as compared to Asia or the US.

Nathan 

No, staying home long term is tough in this economy. I didn’t like the Swedish box—thought my kids would have done well to stay home until they were three, not two—but I was happy to take what I could get.  And the society functioned and my company was strong enough to survive, etc.

The CEO father

Glenn 

What changed the most about me at work was that I become much more family-friendly in management of other folks. I had thought I was before. And rejected the essentialist argument that you can’t understand until you have a child yourself.

I’m in a curious position, because I am a working parent who is very involved with the kids. But I’m also the CEO of a company where we are just now re-visiting our parental leave policy. The costs of a more generous policy are serious. The policy is a number of weeks for fathers, not months. It is a hold-over from when we were a pure startup. As soon as I saw it, I knew we needed to change it. I noticed the policy because I was asked about it, so it’s safe to assume folks want more. People always want more, though. In this case, it was a very long overdue request. And even though I committed to changing it on the spot, I also asked an analyst to weigh the costs of different leave lengths. We let people take it whenever they want.

John 

Glenn, is the (shorter term) cost of parental leave outweighed by the cost of losing talented people and having to replace them?

Glenn 

I don’t think there’s any economic analysis that would rationalize a longer leave. The reason to do it is that it’s the right thing to do. Redfin is in a unique position because we’re a technology company like Google. But we’re also a real estate brokerage like Century 21. That we offer benefits to engineers is a given. That we also offer them to real estate agents is a surprise.

I think the issue is much broader than how much time you take off when a child is born. Sooner or later, you have to go back to work. If you want to work outside the home at all. And then you have to make that work.

Nathan 

In Sweden, there is a culture of temporary contracts. Plus, the leave is picked up by the state. So the only pressure is organizational, not financial. In fact, many companies save money during a leave by not replacing the person.

Sidin 

I am wondering if you can show child development in Sweden shows clear benefits from these policies as opposed to child development in the US.

Nathan 

Sidin, that would be interesting. Most of the stats are on women’s participation in the workforce and the benefits of that.

Glenn 

My sons need me much more now than when they were little blobs who slept 18 hours a day.

Nathan

The US is so scattered while Sweden has this uniform experience. It’s hard to compare. But I’d love to see that. Sweden vs. stay at home kids vs. kids who are in child care at six weeks.

Advice for men who aren’t yet fathers

Glenn 

My advice for men who aren’t yet parents is to make sure you’re a happy person before having a baby.

Sidin 

1. Get fit.
2. Get disciplined at work.
3. Prepare your work ecosystem for delays and disruption.
4. Do whatever it takes to reduce baby-related turbulence to a minimum.

For instance we found this woman who cooks a week’s worth of food once a week at my flat. She is a little expensive. But she took away SOOOO much pain.

Nathan 

Absolutely. It’s such a cliche to say you can’t understand how big a deal it is until you have a baby. But you can’t understand how big a deal it is. So good to be sorted out …

Glenn 

Well, a lot of people have unfinished business, unfulfilled longings, which have to be deferred further when a child arrives.

Nathan 

Sidin, great practical advice. I think it goes to both that this is a time to focus your mind. There won’t be a whole lot of space for a while, which is scary but also worth it, at least for me.

Glenn 

I have been encouraged to pay people to do everything that isn’t my job or taking care of my kids. My brother says, you have a gardener? And it’s the lawn guy, who comes twice a month.

Nathan 

They’ve actually changed tax rules in Sweden to encourage people to hire cleaners. For this very reason.

On balance

Glenn 

If there were someone who was more ambitious for Redfin than I am, she would probably be a better CEO than I am. What does Coco Chanel say? “There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.”

Sidin

Truth Glenn. In a sense guys are supposed to be alpha about work.

Glenn 

Guys and gals. If they’re an executive.

Sidin 

Also does it impact your CV if, as a dad, you take a break for family and come back?

Glenn 

You can leave for a year, maybe two.

Nathan 

Yep. That’s a challenge. And maybe one reason I focused on content and not management.

Glenn

But if you’re in a field that changes quickly, such as tech, it’s hard to be gone longer than that. The truth is, that I love working. I love my kids. But I don’t view one as evil, and the other as good. I need to work to be a happy person, to be a good parent.

Nathan 

It is all about balance, isn’t it?

Glenn 

I’m not a balanced person. But yes, something like that. I think the most radical change in my life is that I’ve stopped doing almost everything that isn’t time with my kids or time on the job.

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