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Working it out before you fumble it all
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Back on the school run schedule. Which means pulling yourself onto the bars again for another round of logistics gymnastics.
It’s about getting them to school on time. Making sure all the right things are packed for that day—their uniforms are all present and correct, the PE and swimming kits are ready, and all the flotsam and jetsam needed for a successful day are securely zipped up in their backpacks. Extra clothes for the little ones, should any unforeseen (and often entirely predictable) issues arise. Don’t forget to pack water. In the cup they like. No, not that one. Daaaaaaaaaad! And snacks. Don’t mess up and pack a snack they’re not allowed. Then it’s onto the after-school clubs, the extra-curriculars, the kid’s parties—back with a vengeance, two years of pent-up excitment and sugar-fueled hyperactivity, screaming for an outlet.
That’s just this week. You do what you can. For those co-parenting from the same place, you’re tag-teaming: divide and conquer, or be conquered. Communication is key, even more so for those co-parenting from different houses, as you try to align a patchwork quilt of calendars in an attempt to make it all work, like an astrologer awaiting the fateful aligning of the planets.
The schools don’t make life any easier. We’re expected to stay on top of the fifteen new things that popped up this week, across three different apps, none of them working as promised. This week our school told us they’ve created a new Google Site to “share some of the activities happening in the school”, another digital destination filled with a completely independent knowledge base. Of course it comes with its own login and password, some version of “the first two letters from your child’s surname, the last four letters from their first name, four random digits from their date of birth, a capitalised first letter from the city they were born in, their favourite colour from two years ago, and three characters from Shruggy McShruggerson ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”
And that small window, when you almost feel like you’re winning? That’s when your phone will ping with another email about another outbreak of hair lice.
Can someone please teach these schools how to use Notion? Or, at the very least, how to make a public calendar I can subscribe to, with all the holidays and important dates, rather than searching every few weeks for that one page, hidden three layers deep on their site. Wouldn’t it be great to prevent the pain of hundreds of parents manually (and annually) inputting all those dates into our own calendar? Here’s the definition of productivity pain—when your choice of software actively breaks my workflow. I’ve turned down more than one job offer because I’d have been required to use a PC. But I might be pushing it if I suggest changing schools because they use an app I don’t like.
But I can’t help it. They’re royally fucking up my shit. For the first year at our daughter’s current school, my wife and I could both login to her updates using our own email addresses. But when one person changed their password, that was connected to the child, so the password was updated for both parents. Cue dozens of logins and password resets until we finally realised what was going on.
It should be taken as an affront when we’re forced to use those terrible apps for our kids. The pain is real. Our 2020 lockdown was spent wrestling with Seesaw—an app that unfathomably has 4.8 stars with almost 100,000 ratings—which gave our daughter daily tasks, like being asked to do science experiments with soil and rocks in her back garden. We live in an apartment and our kids weren’t allowed to leave the house for 42 days. Maybe the school was the problem, the app simply a vehicle to convey agony.
Here’s your gun. Here’s your badge.
From time immemorial, when you start a new job, you are given the tools to do it. Back then it might have been a hammer, a spade, or a pen. But today’s tools are different. For many you’ll have been given a laptop (probably Space Grey, maybe IBM black) pre-installed with whatever your company has decided is “the right tool suite” to do your job effectively. Depending on the age of your company (and of the folks in charge) these machines will be in various states of mission readiness. Ever start at a job and they’re using a different email client? Hurts, don’t it. Shout out here to my friend Sam, who took a new role in of London’s leading ad agencies in 2011 and was horrified to learn he’d now be spending the bulk of his day battling with Lotus Notes.
We’re entirely dependent on these apps at work—Excel, Figma, Photoshop, Final Cut, Keynote, Sublime Text—and we’re becoming increasingly dependent on them at home too. We’re hacking tools created for the workplace—to help folks communicate, collaborate and change minds—and pushing their round pegs through square holes marked “family.”
Things are simple in our house. A shared Google family calendar reduces 90% of appointment-based stress. “If it isn’t in the calendar, it doesn’t exist” has become my mantra (and I’m not alone, as others informed me last weekend.) Another friend runs a tight ship via their shared Google famcal (is famcal a thing? It is now.) but his daughters have taken to planning their week on a paper calendar on the fridge. Sync issues, rearing their head in real life.
Some take it further. Another friend told me about the two separate Slack instances he runs with his wife—one for their business, another for their family life—15 channels in total, and an Asana board to go with it. They’re thinking of streamlining it, as Slack gets pushier on paid upgrades, and the Asana board starts gathering digital cobwebs.
Is it odd to think about “collaborating” with your significant other, or with older children? That language is the oxygen supply of these apps. “Where great teamwork starts” promises Slack. Asana tells of a place where you can “manage projects, focus on what’s important, and organize for seamless collaboration.” Only with Jira can you “move fast, and stay aligned.” Exactly the skills required to keep the family running on time.
Collaboration could only be the beginning of working styles encroaching on home life. Soon we’ll be scheduling daily stand-ups over breakfast, defining SMART parenting goals, and working through annual budgets. I’m not looking forward to the quarterly performance reviews. I’ve been pushing for a promotion for a while. The signs aren’t great.
There seem to be a plethora of apps marketing themselves to families. I’ve heard rumblings about Maple, which seems to be US only at the moment, and Picniic, which doesn’t seem to be available anywhere. “It feels like these things are just an iCloud calendar, and they’re charging a tenner a month for the privilege,” a friend griped recently. Google and Apple are baking a lot of this functionality into their OSes, knowing that if they get a kid to use their digital ecosystem from an early age they’ll have a chance of keeping them locked in for life.
Sometimes these apps can help. But others can feel like a noose around our necks. For a while I was logging my youngest’s sleeping patterns on Huckleberry, but it quickly became a source of anxiety, rather than a balm for it. And there was something icky about the constant upsell to talk to a sleep expert, subtly implying that “you’re doing OK, not great, just OK, but all can be better if you click this in-app purchase.”
You can do none of this, of course. A fair few folks in the thread were relying upon on paper calendars, attached to the fridge, with few problems. But I’ve always found life more stressful that way. What if you need to see it when you’re out of the house? When I had the opportunity to work with a coach in 2016 (a truly life-changing experience), one of the three goals we focused on was “a less stressful 5-9,” inverting Dolly Parton’s calendar block in an attempt to streamline tension-raising flashpoints at home. Part of the fix was putting the right tools and techniques in place. The bigger part came from eventually leaving those jobs (and the city) that contributed to the compound-interest levels of stress.
Our calendar provides structure around the week, allowing each of us time to breathe, and clarity on when the need to parent takes priority. I’m in charge of the kids two days a week, my wife takes another two, and Fridays are up for grabs. The parent-in-charge is on the hook for drop-off, pickup, dinner, bath, bed and beyond for that day. When life gets busy for one of us, the other picks up the slack. The tools help. But the people matter most. You find a way. You make it work. What else are you going to do?
3 things to read this week
“The Male Standups Using Jokes to Cope with Miscarriage” by Rachael Healy in The Guardian. One drum I’ll keep beating here is on the topics dads don’t talk about as dads. This article interviews two comedians who took their miscarriage experiences and used them to connect with other men who’d been through something similar. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after the show, but especially guys […] They really relate to what I’m talking about: initially being frightened of becoming a parent, then miscarriage, and then suddenly being in a situation where you go: ‘That thing that I thought I didn’t want has been taken away.’”
“An Apple Watch for Your 5-Year-Old? More Parents Say Yes.” by Kalley Huang and Brian X. Chen in The New York Times. A topic likely to rile up many (and yes, 5 is too young) but a compelling proposition—kids are wanting smartphones earlier and earlier, and the Apple Watch can be a way to provide some of the independence and freedom that a phone brings, without having to worry about time spent on social apps and online gaming. “We wanted to give [our daughter] a way to communicate, without giving her Pandora’s box at the age of 10.”
“You’re Not A Bad Mom if You Want to Sleep” by Claire Zulkey in the Evil Witches Newsletter. I’ve grown very fond of the Evil Witches Newsletter, a publication for “people who happen to be mothers.” This essay should be required reading for anyone, male or female, who has a baby, or will soon. Begin to become comfortable knowing things will be hard, and sometimes you have to put yourself first. It’s all brilliant, but this paragraph was so perfect that I’ll share it in full:
“Your child will not grow up faster, you will not miss anything, if you have them sleep on their own, or let someone else take care of them for part of the day or week. Your child is not going to grow up unattached to you because you spent seven hours with them a day instead of 24. It is true that eventually the newborn phase will pass, like every phase, but that’s not a tragedy. You’ll look at your ten year old and marvel how those newborn days were so potent at the time and dragged on so long yet now you can barely remember them but you also remember how hard they were and also it would be weird to wish that your funny smart dorky kid who can make his own breakfast and go play baseball at the park and send you sweet funny emoji text messages was suddenly a newborn again that can’t focus its eyes and shits its pants and has gross skinny little legs and throws up half its food and doesn’t know day from night and has gross newborn baby skin. That wish is weird!”
Damn. The days are long, but the years are short.
One thing to watch WITHOUT the kids this week
This week we got our first peek at “The Last of Us,” coming in 2023 to HBO, with The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal playing Joel, and Game of Thrones’ Lady Lyanna Mormont playing
not Ellen Page Ellie. The source material was a watershed moment in video games, when they finally grew up and started telling deeper, richer stories about fundamental human truths. I played it before I had a kid and it was a wild ride. The second time around, post-kids, and that opening sequence was a complete gut-punch. Uncomfortably excited for this one.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
I teed up this week’s essay by asking what tools and techniques you used to keep your parenting life organised. There was a nice split between the old school pen and paper methods, others using apps, and many with small kids not needing anything right now, but making notes for the future.
“Wow. Glad to start thinking about this. Mama has been our coordinator for years, long before baby. She makes it a point to buy a paper calendar every year, hangs it in a visible place and writes in it, but I don't orient around it. I imagine a shared calendar will be the way to go when it's time for it, but as of this moment, I have never used google calendar in my life.” Sean
“Gabriel is only 5 weeks old so I’m keen to know what other people do for the future. We’ve started with a shared family email address so that anything we sign up for for him (any classes, nursery etc) will be in a common place and won’t get lost by only going to one busy parent. We were tracking breastfeeding and nappies in a nice app called Nara, but we’ve all but stopped that now. I think it gave us a sense of control and organisation in those crazy first few days. But it feels overkill now.” Nick
“We used babytime in the early days to track feeds/nappies/sleep etc. But we had some medical issues to deal with at the time which made everything really hard - I think we used it for 6 months. Nowadays we don't really use anything - we have a family iCloud calendar but looking for an alternative. My partner isn't a fan of additional apps if we can avoid it - but also doesn't like seeing a tonne of stuff in the calendar. Apart from anything it makes it hard to determine when you are actually busy and when you are not!” Alex
“Pretty much a calendar, a wing, and a prayer here.” Neil
Hard same, Neil.
Branding by Selman Design. Illustration by Tony Johnson. Thanks to those who shared in last week’s open thread for your input. Like this newsletter? Subscribe and receive my eternal gratitude (and a free pin badge.)
How does even writing that word make my scalp itch?