My daughter was around a year old when I became a single dad. I was new to the Seattle Area and had a job selling mobile phones at the local Best Buy. I was 23.
When you’re a single dad in your early twenties, your perspective changes — fast. Everything changes. I had to work to support my daughter but, like most companies at the time, Best Buy didn’t offer any benefits that supported working parents who were dealing with an unexpected care needs. And when you’re a single dad without family nearby, an unexpected care need meant deciding between working and staying home. So, I talked to my manager and coworkers. Together, we came up with a creative solution: I would bring my daughter to work with me, and we would all watch her. As a team.
In essence, we’d created our own working-parent support benefit. We’d set my daughter up with her favorite stuffed elephant, and a Disney movie in the home entertainment section—that area with the comfy leather chairs and oversized HD TVs—so that I could continue to work while we all kept an eye on her. It wasn’t ideal. But I was desperate, and everyone understood.
My baby girl is 10 years-old now, and our lives today look a lot different than they did in 2008. A lot of things look different today than when it was just the two of us and a wall of plasma TVs.
For one thing, I have an amazing wife. For another, my daughter now has a 4-year-old sister and a new baby brother. I have a new job I love and just finished my flexible, employer-provided paternity leave. While these past few months have been a crazy (sticky, sleepless, sometimes poop-y) blur, the 23-year-old me would never believe how lucky I am.
Don’t get me wrong: I also loved working at Best Buy. It was a great place to work — they taught me about leadership development, how to manage profit and loss statement, and a bunch of transferable skills that have served me well in my career development. And, even at the age of 23, I appreciated that it was the kind of place that wouldn’t turn its back on a child in need.
Which is why it’s so heartening to see Best Buy leading the pack on extending child-care benefits — not just to executives in the C-suite, but to front-line workers like my old team, from the sales floor to the Geek Squad. Last week, Best Buy announced all of its U.S. employees — full- and part-time, at over 1,000 stores — will receive 10 days of backup child care, for which they’ll pay just $10 per day, through a partnership with Care@Work by Care.com. This is still incredibly rare: Only 5 percent of U.S. companies provide backup care as a benefit.
I can tell you from experience: Best Buy became a great place to work by investing in its employees, and now it’s an even better place for employees with children. But this is also a smart business move: As unemployment rates fall and more companies compete for talent, supports like these can turn a part-time retail job into a long-term career path for workers with families. And that gives Best Buy an advantage few of its competitors can match.
In some ways, the challenges parents face has only gotten worse since I was a 23 year old. In fact, it was a mom who convinced Best Buy to begin investigating care benefit options. A store manager named Lanette, with a 4-month-old baby boy, had a big day at work when an unexpected care challenge cropped up. With no better option, she brought her son in for what became an unofficial “bring your child to work day.” The difference between then and now? A lightbulb went off, and Lanette worked with Best Buy to figure out a solution that would allow her to bring her best self to work every day, knowing her family would have the quality care they deserve.
But another story about the Best Buy’s backup care benefits also really hit home for me. When Best Buy launched its backup care benefit just a few weeks ago, one of the first employees to use the benefit was someone like the 23-year-old me: a dad. He’s a computer-sales associate named Michael, who booked in-home backup care for his young daughter. It’s a reminder that, although many still see care as a women’s issue, these are the kinds of benefits that help whole families reach their full potential.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a working dad lately. My wife and I both work full-time and have very demanding jobs. I’ve always known that the support of my wife has been instrumental to the success I’ve had in my career. But those weeks when I was on paternity leave, as the lead parent home with the kids, it really snapped into focus just how much she does—and how important it is for dads to share the load.
I think what surprised me the most (even more than the sheer volume of diapers) was the mental load. Where do the older kids need to be and when; where’s the 4-year-old’s favorite toy, and what are we having for dinner. Meanwhile, when we ventured outside the home, it was like everyone rolled out the red carpet for me. At the park, the moms told me what a great dad I was. Returns at the store, with three kids, was no problem because the associate offered to hold the baby because “the hard-working dad could use a hand.” Rather quickly, the Dad of the Year accolades started to feel like one of those participation trophies everyone gets for showing up at T-ball because if my wife were doing the same tasks, I knew people wouldn’t have thought twice about it, and if fact probably been harder on her if the baby was crying or kids were not behaving.
For society and our economy, we need two people to work – both men and women – and a lot of these people have children. More than 90 percent of dads and about 70 percent of moms are employed, and over 60 percent of married couples with kids are dual-income. But, for so many families, balancing work and home responsibilities is almost impossibly hard and primarily falls on to the mom.
The United States is the only developed nation without a national paid parental leave policy for new moms, and one of few without paid leave for new dads. Finding reliable, affordable care is a huge challenge for families – and it’s just getting harder in many places. This isn’t going to change overnight, but business leaders and employees alike can play an active role in making Corporate America more hospitable for working families.
When companies like Best Buy introduce care benefits to their full- and part-time employees, they’re saying it should be possible to be a great parent and a great employee. When us dads take their paternity leave or take an active role in their children’s care arrangements, like Michael did, we’re rejecting a toxic culture where women are expected to sacrifice career opportunities and men are looked down upon for trading time at work for time with their families.
There’s one more cosmic twist to the story: When Lanette prompted Best Buy to find a backup care solution, the Care@Work salesperson who ushered the deal through? Well, that was me: The 23-year-old single dad who once used a Best Buy sales floor as backup care is now a married father of three who helps companies like Best Buy make sure parents never have to choose between great work and great care. The irony of selling Best Buy the benefits I could have used when I worked there a decade ago is not lost on me. But I believe the cultural inclination support families has been there all along. At the end of the day, I’m just pleased to see working moms and dads getting support whenever and however they can. It makes a difference – as long as we take it when it’s offered.