Snaps and Buttons are for Chumps: Working Parents’ Practical Advice to Manage Baby-Raising

I pride myself on being coachable. I try to listen carefully to smart people around me and put their wisdom to work in my life. This MO has served me well… until I sought parenting advice.

Suddenly, the people upon whom I rely for practical advice offered me a litany of contradictions and vaguery.

“Parenting is the best and worst thing I have ever done.”

“The days are long and the years are short.”

“You cannot possibly have any idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

“You will never experience so much joy or go through anything so difficult.”

“Your career will suffer, and you can never have it all.”

This was… not helpful. And I get it: not everything is easily taught. I decided I might be asking the wrong questions.

Asking The Right Question of Working Parents

Instead, I asked the 1,001 B2B tech workers in the ALL IN Slack community Brendan Hufford started for practical advice about how professionals navigate newfound parenthood in ways that minimize suffering.

A note on privilege: Though I don’t know them in person, these folks as a group come from an especially privileged corner of the continent. By their answers, I assume they are mostly in two-parent households, many with well-paying, relatively flexible jobs in tech marketing. Their advice makes assumptions about me being from the same group, and they’d be right! I share their advice in the spirit it was meant, but, of course — your mileage may vary.

I found this feedback much more practical and applicable to set my expectations and prepare for my next chapter, so I will share them in the same spirit with you.

The Working Parents Weigh In

Here’s what they said, broken down by theme.

Sharing Responsibilities and Teamwork

  • I found it helpful to share as much of the tiny human care tasks with my partner as humanly possible, especially early on. (We were able to bottle feed, which really helped there. I got so much more sleep than I would have).
  • As the non-birthing partner, I’ve done as much as I can to do the small stuff (and big) as possible. I’m in a very different place now as my wife stays home with our 9-month-old, and our two older kids are in school, so I can be focused more on work during work. Still, I help during the day when I can to cover during naps, take a break to watch while she takes a rest, etc. I feel those small things add up to give me the time and ability to be part of his life now while he’s young, and also help give breaks to my wife while still working hard to do a good job at work.
  • We traded off who “slept in” vs got up with our daughter. We still do it to this day. We formula fed (I exclusively pumped so I guess we did both, but I didn’t produce enough so we topped up with formula) which also meant that we could alternate who got up in the night to feed.
    Sharing responsibilities between partners is essential.
  • This sounds counterintuitive, but though I have a partner, we were advised to sometimes parent like single parents. As in, this is a “dad day/time” where he’s in charge of all the things so I get latitude to take care of myself, see friends, work extra, etc, and then vice versa. (He likes to work out early and start the day early, so for us, this worked out for me to be the morning person who is solo parenting til drop off, and then he is the sole parent from pickup to dinner, so I can work later when my energy is better.)
  • I want to +1 the “single parent” advice. We did this during the pandemic when our first child was about 2 years old. One of us would be solo with the kid all day, while the other took a break. Life was obviously hard, but this helped a lot. Plus, this helps to ensure BOTH parents are competent. (That way, in general, Mom isn’t stuck always preparing meals, or Dad isn’t stuck always doing bathtime or whatnot.)
  • The amount of domestic labor is about to exponentially grow (laundry, dishes, shopping, cleaning, researching, doctor appointments, organizing family visits, etc.) so there should be an explicit convo about that ahead of time. Otherwise, any small inequities now will be magnified, right at a time when you may not have enough sleep, patience, or calories to navigate the convo calmly and kindly. (Lots of folks use Fair Play Book for this, worth checking out.)
  • Especially if you are breastfeeding, Dad needs to be on solo diaper duty, and Dad should be in charge of your meals/snacks. You’ll be feeding the baby about 12 times per day. So Dad ought to be doing all the diaper changes and making sure you’re nourished. It helps to decide this upfront so y’all can own your roles.
  • Tag out when you need to tag out. If your partner isn’t there and you need to tag out, call someone to come over.
  • This will change your marriage. That’s okay.

Childcare Solutions

  • I found a daycare we really liked and tried to focus on how important the social skills my kiddo was building there were, and that helped assuage some of the mom guilt 🙃
  • When my partner and I had our first child, we were both working and did daycare. I’d drop off and she’d pick up. We’d share all duties around the house (cooking, cleaning, etc) and I’d try to take on as much “baby duty” as I could. It worked out well at the time.
  • My mom came twice a week for the first year that I was off (Canadian mat leave) then moved to once a week.
  • My wife and I also found a daycare that we (and our daughter) really love. That has allowed us both to keep working.
  • Childcare, childcare, childcare. You cannot watch your baby at work full-time (I see it all the time). Find reliable childcare that you like, and send your child full-time.
  • Nanny share helped us keep our kiddo mostly healthy and limited exposure while not completely breaking the bank since we split it with another family
  • If you can afford a night nurse for the first month or so, do it. But it’s also ok if you don’t. I so wish I had a night nurse the first time around. The second time around, I tried to hire somebody but I couldn’t find anyone. But because I was already used to parent life, it honestly wasn’t that bad. (Because I slept when the baby slept!)
  • Get childcare/help as much as you can. Maybe a grandparent, aunt, or uncle can come over even one hour a day to hold the baby while you shower, nap, or just hide in your room.

Work-Life Balance

  • Having a kid helped me to set better work/life boundaries, which honestly I should have been doing anyway. 😅
  • We definitely both had to set hard boundaries around work after having the kiddo. Before I’d work super late but now I’m pretty much done and signed off at 4 p.m. every day to pick up the kid, make dinner, and then family time before bed.
  • You really won’t have much time with your kid if they’re in daycare from 8-4 pm. You get a couple hours each side of that to spend time with the child so you really need to set firm boundaries and set weekends aside for family time.
  • People say, “Omg you don’t have any time with your kid,” but I find that totally untrue. 1 hour in the AM when getting ready, 2 hours in the PM so that’s 3 hours during the week =15 hours. Now add in the weekend, let’s assume 10 hours, 2x. That’s 20. So 20 +15 = 35 hours. Literally your second full-time job is spending time with them. I do not feel like I don’t get to see my children enough.
  • Sometimes I choose my work over my kid. I like to travel for work. I like to work full days. I sometimes even like to work after my kid goes to bed. This works for my family. My kid sees me as a powerful, working mother who loves him and is still there to hold his hand when he’s scared of the dark. I don’t feel bad about this. I don’t feel like I’m failing in either area. Give up the idea of “balancing” work and family and instead focus on “here’s what feels good for me — does this also work for my family? does this also work for my career?”

Health, Wellbeing, and Sleep

  • Sleep: You cannot function without sleep. You must get it. So figure out ways to get good sleep once you’re out of the newborn stage. Every family has different things that work for them. You will be a better parent and human for it.
  • I had severe PPD/PPA. Seek out resources about these before you might need them.
  • PPD/PPA is huge and such an underserved thing. They all say having a baby is fun and easy, but it’s such a life shift. It’s easy to feel like you can manage (even though you’re crumbling on the inside). I dealt with this myself after our last one was born; went to get help and was able to work through it.
  • DON’T, under any circumstances, guilt yourself about doing any of it “wrong.” There’s no right way to parent and there’s especially no right way to be a working parent.
  • Sleep when the baby sleeps. A lot of people hate this advice, and I hated it too when I was a first-time parent. But… it is really good advice. Do it. For the first month, nothing will make sense and you will be awake every 1-2 hours around the clock. It’s nuts. So yes, sleep when the baby sleeps. Also, for about the first year or so, you can’t really decide on your baby’s bedtime. Babies generally like to sleep early. So most likely, bedtime is going to be 6 pm-6 am or 7 pm-7 am, and this starts pretty early on. This means that when your baby “goes to bed” at 6 pm, that’s going to be their longest stretch of sleep (which can start happening as early as 4 weeks). That also means ideally, you’ll go to sleep then too — so that you can get that long stretch of sleep. This might sound obvious. It’s not. I can’t tell you how many new parents I talk to who are GOBSMACKED that they can’t be out and about at 9 pm with their baby. TL;DR: I am sorry to tell you that bedtime is quite early and at first, and there’s not much you can do about it. The sooner you accept that, the more you will sleep.
  • Read the book “Precious Little Sleep” when you’re about 2 months postpartum. You can’t spoil a newborn. So however the baby gets to sleep those first few months, it’s all completely ok. Don’t worry. You can worry about good sleep habits later.
  • There is a high chance that your insurance will cover several sessions with a private lactation consultant. If you are breastfeeding, do this!! The LC will likely even come to your home to help you with feeding positions. Hospital lactation consultants are good too, but their job is mainly to troubleshoot. They look for tongue ties and teach you how to latch. A private LC is more likely to be better able to help you strategize feeding sessions, figure out a pumping schedule, etc.

Emotional Support and Mindset

  • We learned we needed to become flexible with our lives, our schedules, etc. Kids don’t care if you’ve got a big meeting that a fever/vomit will derail.
  • Give yourself lots of grace. If you don’t feel what you’re “supposed” to feel, you’re still doing great. You’ve totally got this. Some parents wish they could be with their tiny human at all times and some enjoy the break work gives them, and both (and everything in between) are valid and okay.
  • Relax: It’s all good. Your child who is they are and you can’t actually influence it THAT much (scary, but true). Just love them and nudge them in the right direction
  • Know that a lot is going to change. Schedules really do go out the window for a while and you don’t have a lot of control over things you’re used to having control over. The first year is pretty rough hormonally, sleep-wise, teething, etc but IT WILL GET BETTER. Not easy but differently hard and more manageable. Your priorities will shift and that’s okay/even good.
  • Every night before you go to bed, congratulate yourself, and forgive yourself. Start every morning fresh.
  • When you can, be there for your kids and put your phone away ALWAYS. They need to see that a stupid device is not more important than them.

Planning and Preparation

  • Get one of those closet shoe organizers. When you go to put laundry away, stuff an outfit for every day of the week in there so you don’t have to pick something to wear in the morning while getting them ready. (You could do this for yourself as well).
  • Meal train so we didn’t have to think too much about food (and people can do gift cards if they live far away)
  • We hired someone to help us with housecleaning. We automated all of our bills. We subscribed to grocery pickup/drop off. We used Amazon Prime so we didn’t forget to buy things we use every month.
  • Plan now to try and limit anything stressful or brainpower requiring around the 4-month mark. It was by far the hardest sleep regression.
  • Zipper and magnet clothing. Snaps and buttons are for chumps. Nothing is worse than trying to snap up a sleeper pajama while half asleep in a dimly lit room after a blow-out diaper change while trying not to wake your partner up.
  • Make a list now of ways you might fathomably want help. Make a list of your usual fridge and pantry essentials. Send that list to whoever asks you, “Can I do your grocery shopping for you?” Accept all the free meals, Doordash gift cards, etc.

Navigating Social and Cultural Expectations

  • Don’t be afraid to set expectations for visitors. If they want to come see the baby, they can bring food or do dishes or something.
  • Check in with yourself, as well as your partner, to make sure you’re both doing okay. Be honest and don’t let pride get in the way. Nothing worse than slowly imploding and eroding on yourself.
  • My husband and I developed a habit of using the phrase “tag in” or “tag out” as a sort of code for when you need more urgent help. It helps distinguish between, “I’d love if you’d come to the park with us,” and, “Can you tag in and take this screaming meatball to the park while I nap, or I’m gonna cry.” This helps us avoid burnout because we each get time to reset, recharge, etc., and can openly communicate our limits.
  • For work, my old team had a saying, “We’re not performing surgeries on babies,” and it’s so true. No one is dying if we miss a deadline because kids are ALWAYS sick and life just happens.
  • No one cares if their outfit is matching as long as that baby is smiling. Don’t sweat the little stuff and guilt yourself for not living up to social media standards. Those “moms” are influencers. It’s their job to look so put together. This also applies to breastfeeding. There’s a lot of shame and guilt in the new mom world around breastfeeding and it can be really toxic, especially for new moms who struggle with it for any reason. I also didn’t produce enough and my boy was 100% formula-fed at two weeks old. It wasn’t what I wanted, but he was fed. And that’s what matters. Fed babies with smiles on their faces in mismatched socks.
  • I would caution any new parent against learning baby stuff through social media (particularly IG and TikTok). My opinion is that this isn’t a healthy or helpful way to learn things like sleep training and feeding, and instead, you’ll feel in a constant reactive state of “Oh shit, I don’t know what’s wrong! I don’t know how to do that!” Instead, I highly recommend you read books as needed. Worried about sleep? Read “Precious Little Sleep” and don’t worry about what any IG influencer is talking about. I just became so much mentally healthier when I decided to stop consuming “educational” parenting content on social media.
  • My son is ✨ very ✨ autistic so I double down on ignoring “educational” parenting content on social media. He didn’t hit a single “milestone.” His sleep is still not regulated (and may never be 😅 ). He exhibits “bad” behaviors daily. And he thrives on a diet of pizza rolls and chicken nuggets. He’s also vibrant, silly, mischievous, growing like a weed, brilliant, and kind. And he loves fruit! YOUR kid’s milestones are YOUR kid’s milestones. Celebrate them whenever they happen. And no, you can’t spoil babies!
  • It’s too easy to get caught up in the comparison game. And it’s just not healthy.
  • As a father I found some changes to be very difficult. Society has changed a lot since our parents had kids. What is expected from each gender has changed and the cost of living has caught up with that as well. This brings added or different pressures. But some things haven’t changed that much. It is still the societal norm for women to be pigeonholed as the main caregiver and men as the main breadwinner. This leads to the levels of expectancy from jobs. My wife has been told that her career path is predefined as a mother and I have been told that I have to choose between my job and my family on a number of occasions. How you deal with these as a team will forge the path of how easy it is. I have closed my laptop and quit on statements like that, and supported my wife to start her own architecture firm when she was told she was “only” a mother.

Sharing Credit and Gratitude

Thanks to Brendan Hufford for curating and inviting me into the ALL IN group. Thanks to Aerin Paulo, Lindsay Adams, Amanda Natividad, Kyle, Brendan Hufford, and Cynthia Bell McGillis for sharing their advice with me and for all the others from whom I didn’t get explicit permission to credit them.


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