I just watched my three year old “graduate” from her first year of preschool. It was a cute ceremony, and the room was filled with parents that sat in long rows with their cameras trained on the kids up front. But it's also 11am on a Friday, and that means I was one of the only dads in the room.
There were several moms who couldn’t make it, too. Most parents have to do what their jobs demand. But seven years ago my wife and I began to arrange our careers in a way that would let us both be present for the important moments in our (future) kids lives. When we decided to start our photography business, a lot of people asked why we didn't want to wait a few years for us to be more established financially. In part, the answer was that I wouldn't let myself take such a big risk while having kids to feed. I wanted the business itself to be more established by the time we did have kids, because one of the main reasons we started the business in the first place was to be able to parent on our own terms.
Several times a day one or both of the kids will come walking — or stumbling, or jumping — into my home office. They dig through my desk drawers and “help” me work from their own little desk and keyboard. These are the best moments of the day, and I wouldn't trade them for anything. The advantages of being a self-employed father are too numerous to count. I can take the morning off and go to the playground with them. When my wife was pregnant, I was able to go to nearly every prenatal appointment with her, and several of the kids’ first monthly check ups. Maybe best of all I can simply hug them anytime I want.
But it's not always easy. Some of the obstacles are common to any business — cash flow keeps me awake at night during the slower seasons. But others are more specific to our situation as a small family supported by a small business.
When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we were both able to be there and focus only on the kids when he came home. But it wasn’t because of paid family leave. Instead, having that time together was a result of planning the pregnancy a year in advance to coincide with our slow season as much as possible. It also meant turning away quite a bit of client work which would have interfered with that time...but which also would have helped pay for it.
We’ve also gone through several health insurance policies trying to find one that would be a good fit for our family. At one point, our monthly premium cost nearly as much as our mortgage payment, even without including co-pays and other out-of-pocket medical expenses.
With unemployment rates for twenty-somethings in the double digits for years on end, more and more young adults are turning to self-employment and entrepreneurship. They'll encounter plenty of difficulties as they try to build a business and a family, and learning to overcome those difficulties is as much a part of the American Dream as their eventual success will be. But if we do want them to become successful, contributing members of our society (and economy), we need to support policies that will clear away some of the unnecessary road blocks our economy has put in place.
As for my wife and me, we’re grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to raise our children together day in and day out. And with luck, maybe more dads (and moms) can be in the room for preschool graduation in the future.
This post is part of the Fathers on Family Leave Blog Carnival.