What I Wish I Knew About Returning to Work After Becoming a Parent

Returning to work after having a kid is, to put it lightly, challenging. Here's what other dads wish they knew about the transition.

When a new parent returns to work, the stakes are higher. There’s a new family waiting for you at home and with that comes a new schedule, lots of sleep deprivation, and a reduced capacity for bullshit (“Sorry, man, I don’t have time to listen to your 17-minute theory about last night’s Game of Thrones”; “Do we really need to have a 45-minute ‘touch base’ about tomorrow’s meet-up, Sheila?” ). As a result, you’re forced to be more efficient and less social, all while a flood of emotions hit you. It’s tough.

But we only know that from experience. Let us tell you: Everything from guilt, to exhaustion, to camaraderie is waiting at your desk when they mosey back into the office. There’s not really any sort of emotion that’s weird or out of place. They all hit you, and confuse you. But, ultimately, they’re a reminder of that special little guy or girl waiting for you at quitting time. That means sacrifices need to be made, planning needs to be done, and stress needs to be mitigated. But thats not the only thing. We asked some experienced dads to reflect on their first days back to work after welcoming a new bundle of joy in hopes of arming new parents with some advice to help them get over the hump when back to the (new) daily grind. Here’s what they said.

I Wish I’d Been More Present

“I wish I’d taken more time, both staying home from work and not working as much. Whatever I accomplished didn’t matter in the long term compared to that incredibly precious and fleeting time you have when they’re little. Shit just doesn’t matter in the end. There’s always going to be another stupid deadline or thing to deal with, but those years won’t ever come back. I was definitely present for my kids, but I wish I’d been even more present. I really think this is why grandparents spoil grandkids so much. Because they finally have the time to dote on their grandkids in a way they couldn’t for their own kids.” – Jeremy, 44, New York

I Wish I Knew How to Better Conserve My Energy

“I didn’t realize how tired I would be at work. When I went back to work after our first kid, I would walk in like a zombie, and not be able to get started until like noon. The sleep struggle is real. My son was up all night — which was expected — but the fact that he required our active attention made it so all my energy was zapped in the middle of the night. It wasn’t like just not being able to fall asleep. By the time we had our second kid, I was more prepared, and able to conserve energy more effectively. But those first few weeks of trying to balance my job and childcare? I probably got nothing done at work.” – John, 36, North Carolina

I Wish I Knew How Hard It Would Be to Not Be Home

“I struggled with the feeling of knowing I was missing out on so many little, mundane things. Even being gone for eight hours was hard because I didn’t want to miss anything. First burp. First spit-up. First roll over. All of those small, seemingly pointless things happened while I was at work. My wife would call me and say, ‘Guess what he just did?’ Sometimes I had to fight back tears because, even if whatever our son did wasn’t super important, the concept of not being there for it tore me apart.” – Marty, 39, Ohio

I Wish I Were Given More Time to Be With My Kid

“Not having paternity leave does really suck. Until I became a father, I didn’t even consider the lack of equality in that regard. I wanted to be home with my daughter, but I also needed to be there for my wife. Luckily, she was able to get significant time off after our daughter was born, and our parents helped out a lot. But, not being able to take time off without sucking up personal days – who knows what emergencies those might be needed for in the future? – just sucked. It didn’t really affect me before, but totally get it now. It’s something dads need to have.” – Carson, 42, Tennessee

I Wish I Knew How Little Slack I’d Be Given

“You get your balls busted by douchebags at work. I was exhausted my first week back after our second child, and it showed. More than a handful of coworkers — including my boss — called me a pussy on several occasions. Even if it was just ‘guys being guys’, it really irritated me. Normally I’m pretty hard to ruffle, but even the smallest jab at my struggle with balancing work and home made me wince and cringe. A lot of it came from younger guys, too, who didn’t have kids. Who the eff are you? I wanted to say, ‘You really don’t know what you’re talking about…’ but I just bit my tongue. It’s not worth the energy to acknowledge that sort of bullshit.” – Rudy, 41, Ohio

I Wish I Knew How Many Guys Would Have My Back

“There are way more at stay-at-home dads and ‘work dads’ than you think. Guys from other departments, who I’d only met once or twice, came up to me after my first son was born. It was kind of like Fight Club — like an unspoken bond between the dads who were doing, or had done, the same thing I was. Most of it was just, ‘You’ll get the hang of it.’ But it was really, really helpful in terms of just knowing I wasn’t alone in being terrified over how I was going to pull this off.” – Aaron, 37, Illinois

I Wish I’d Better Prepared for the Sacrifices I Had to Make

“I had to give up pursuing my master’s degree online at night. I was about a year into my MBA program when my wife got pregnant, and I had to drop everything once the baby got close. Of course my family was my priority, but I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to just pick right back up once the baby arrived. Work days were manageable, but the time at night was now completely devoted to my wife and son. So I had to sacrifice that part of my life. Again, totally worth it — and I hope to be able to pick things back up once our son is older — but it was a little bit disappointing to have to abandon all of that hard work.” – Darrell, 40, Colorado

I Wish I Knew That Sick Days Weren’t For Me Anymore

“Sick days aren’t your own anymore. They belong to your kids. I had to hoard my sick and personal days like doomsday rations, in case my kid got sick and I had to stay home. My wife did the same thing. That meant going to work sick way more than I would’ve liked. I actually had a fight with my boss about it. I told him he could give me more sick days, or let me use them at my discretion. I played it pretty well, too — I only took one sick day for myself the whole year, and didn’t infect anyone at work. Parenting win.” – Jason, 41, Ohio

I Wish I Had a Better Sense of Just How Much Work There’d Be After Work

“The housework is still the same, if not harder. It’s just now there’s work work, too. I don’t know why, but I thought, for some reason, that housework would be different with a job and a baby. Like, maybe because we were expending so much energy on being good parents, the universe would reward us by having laundry fold itself. Or maybe because we were spending so much time at work and with the baby there would be less clutter in the house. Nope. Definitely not. If anything, the housework become more of a burden, just less of a priority. Luckily, we both understand that there are only so many hours in the day, and we’ve gotten a little less neurotic about stuff like dishes in the sink.” – Jeff, 38, New Jersey

I Wish I Knew How Much More My Job Would Matter

“Your job will start to matter a whole lot more, because now you have to provide for your kid, too. I never worked as hard as when my daughter was born. I work in a pretty competitive field, and it’s not unusual for underperformers to be bounced out without a second thought. All of a sudden I felt this immense pressure to perform at such a high level. I was never lazy or anything, but having a new baby made me worry about job security from a new perspective. It kicked in right as I went back to work. Honestly, I don’t think anyone there even noticed. But I didn’t get canned.” – Rich, 37, Pennsylvania

I Wish I’d Realized How Much Post-Work Fun I’d Have to Miss

“I actually started to miss going to work happy hours. When our son was little, I went home after work every night to help out with everything. So I didn’t get to go ‘out for a drink’ with the people from work for a long time. When I was free, I used to avoid them like the plague. But then I started to miss them. Even the people I couldn’t stand. Don’t get me wrong, I cherished every moment raising my son. I guess the grass is just greener at work happy hours, sometimes.” – Paul, 35, Connecticut

I Wish I Knew That Guilt Would Be Natural

“This is weird, but I would sometimes feel guilty when I forgot about my kid. Like, if I was really invested in a project, or a meeting, or even a phone call, I would focus solely on that. And then, out of nowhere, a thought about my son would pop into my head. And it made me feel guilty, like I should’ve been thinking of him the whole time. That feeling went away over time, but I remember it because it was very specific, and very strange. As a new father, you feel like your kid should be on your mind all the time, which isn’t physically possible. Not if you want to continue being a functioning adult.” – Brian, 38, Ohio