After leaving his job as a senior executive in financial services to spend more time with his newborn son, Jesse, Dan decided to change careers and devote his time to supporting new parents in the transitional period between leaving and returning to work.
To read his full story, click here or scroll down for the transcript.
“In 2014 I made a decision that was to affect the course of my life: to quit my role as a senior executive in financial services and spend some time as a stay-at-home dad to my then six-month-old son, Jesse.
“For the first six months of his life, I hadn’t seen much of my son and felt strongly that I didn’t want to be an absent father, or that the responsibility for his care should fall almost entirely on the shoulders of my wife. Although my career was financially more rewarding, hers was no less important, and I knew that her chances of achieving her potential would be restricted if I didn’t take a more active role in the parenting of our boy.
“I asked my wife if she would tell her NCT friends that I was lonely.
“I must confess to being lucky, too. There was a lot of restructuring going on at my firm, and my employer was incredibly supportive of my request to leave. Without that support, I’m not sure I’d have been brave enough to take the plunge.
“The experience of being a stay-at-home dad was amazing, but tough as well. I knew caring for a baby was hard, but didn’t have any idea about just how demanding it was. The first few months passed in a blur and I don’t remember much about it, except that I lost weight from the five-mile pram trundles around the local park, trying to get Jesse to sleep.
“I remember too my first parent and baby class, and cautiously poking my head around the door to discover I was the only dad attending. Singing and dancing in front of a room full of women and babies isn’t something I ever imagined doing, but Jesse seemed to like it so I gritted my teeth and persevered. I’m not certain what the mothers (and grandmothers) thought about me being there as they never spoke to me, and I certainly didn’t have the courage to speak to them.
“Two months into the experience I realised I needed help. I asked my wife if she would tell her NCT friends that I was lonely. I’d met them all, and liked them, at our classes, so they weren’t complete strangers. Thankfully they responded with great warmth, and I was quickly inducted into the group. Over the months that followed Jesse and I joined their soft play dates, and walks around our local common became more than just an obsessive avoidance of the bumps and cracks in the pathways.
“Then, as spring rolled into summer, my new friends, who work in financial services, education, and engineering, started planning their return to work. In conversation with each of them, I was struck by what a difficult experience this was. Although the small details were different, the themes were strikingly similar: feelings of guilt about necessary choices, and leaving their babies in the care of others; loss of confidence in their ability to perform in their roles; and anxiety about conversations with their employer, and requests for flexible working.
“When I asked what support their employers were providing to help them through this difficult time, I was taken aback by their responses. Rather than recognising that returning to work with new responsibilities is challenging enough, their employers were putting obstacles in their way. Without any formal consideration, some had been primed that requests for flexible working were unlikely to be granted. And when one asked for a four-day week, she was told that it would damage her career and instead she should just work from home on her “day off”.
“I was struck by the very different experience I had upon leaving my employer, and their generous outplacement programme of coaching that helped me work through my choices with a coach with whom I had no professional or emotional attachment. It was counterintuitive that leavers like me should be so well looked after, but returners left to fend for themselves.
“In September 2015, my business WOMBA (Work, Me, and the Baby) was launched, to provide coaching support to new parents, and their managers, through their transition out of, and back into the workplace. We don’t try and convince people to return; we help them consider their priorities and boundaries, give them support and confidence in their decisions, and ensure that their managers are equipped to handle sensitive conversations with empathy.
“I am particularly proud that we have recently supported two women in achieving promotion during maternity leave. Hopefully, it’s a sign of a change in attitude towards working mothers.”