Dear Mr. Dad: My first baby is due in a few months, but I’m going to miss the birth. I’ve been out of work for more than a year and just landed a great job. The problem is that I need to go to across the country for a six-week training that starts on my baby’s due date. The company is very family friendly, but this session is mandatory. We burned through our savings while I was unemployed, and I’m afraid that if I pass up this job, it could take months or longer to get another one. Of course, I’m sad to miss my baby’s birth, but I’m especially worried about my wife. She’s very supportive, but I know this is going to be hard on her. I’m feeling really guilty. Is there anything I can do?
A: In the grand scheme of things, six weeks away from your wife and family isn’t all that long. But that’s no way to start your fatherhood experience. No question, it’s going to be hard on everyone. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to be involved despite the distance and time away.
For the baby, record yourself reading some bedtime stories. It doesn’t really matter what it is—the goal here is to help your child recognize your voice—but try to find something simple, with easy rhymes and rhythm. Skip the Shakespeare for now, and go with “The Cat in the Hat” or “Goodnight Moon” or a favorite book from when you were a child. Ask your wife to play the recordings for the rest of the pregnancy and then every day after the baby comes. When you finally meet your baby in person and start reciting the books you read, you won’t be as much of a stranger.
As far as your wife goes, well, that’s a little harder. She’ll definitely appreciate regular calls, texts, and emails. Flowers and other special reminders that you love her will help too (hide some little love notes around the house for her to find after you’ve left). But what she’s really going to need in those first days and weeks is actual hands-on help, including some time off. After you’ve explained to your friends and relatives why you can’t be there, I’m sure they’ll be happy to lend a hand. You may also want to look into hiring a nanny or mother’s helper for a few hours a day to give your wife a break.
Now, what about you? First, you may not have to miss the actual birth. I’ve heard from several deployed military dads who used Skype or other video chat to “be” there for the big event. Second, ask your wife to send you pics and video clips of the baby so you can keep current on what he or she is doing (fortunately, there’s not a whole lot to see in the first few weeks so you won’t miss as much as you think). Third, pick up a copy of my book, “The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year,” which will give you a lot of information on what’s going on with your baby while you’re gone and on what you can do to hit the ground running when you get home.
Finally, don’t torture yourself. Yes, you’re missing your baby’s birth and the first few weeks. But if you were to turn down this job, you’d be physically home, but you’d be spending your time worrying about money instead of being fully present for your wife and baby. In the long run, this job will enable you to better provide for your family. And that will greatly reduce the stress in your lives.
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