Where I grew up 30 years ago in small-town Germany, there was no separation between children and the adult world like we’re all used to today. I grew up as my dad’s sidekick. I remember walking through the vineyards of his winery with him, my little fingers firmly hooked into the buttonhole on the side of his overalls. When the buttonhole finally ripped, I’d sit in the tractor at the side of the field reading comic books, waiting for my dad to come back. Once work in the vineyard was done, we’d move on to the office to invoice customers and balance the books. Now that I’m a parent myself, I take my son to the office, too.
My dad and his brother run a winery they took over from their parents. About 20 years ago, they converted their grape-growing business to organic farming. They do this not for a hobby but as their livelihood: growing their own grapes, making the wine, and delivering it to thousands of customers four times a year. Receiving incoming orders and writing invoices is always a never-ending job; there’s no clocking out when you’re self-employed. Naturally, then, when my dad picked me up from my mom’s every other weekend, I was part of the operation from grape to invoice.
Sitting at the office alongside my dad was like having the run of a craft store. I learned valuable life lessons there: clean up the mess you make; be quiet when the adults are talking on the phone; ask me if you can use those papers or draw on the walls, the windows. The rules were clear and for us, it just worked. So years later when my firstborn was 7 months old and I had the chance to start working with him in tow, I jumped at the opportunity. My father-in-law needed an a temporary office manager to step in immediately to service his existing accounts (he’s a Registered Financial Planner) and manage applications and transfers for all new retirement accounts he was setting up.
I had no experience in this field, and although I wasn’t looking for a job, this one would allow me to bring my son.
At the time, this wasn’t what my husband and I had planned. Even before conceiving, we'd agreed that I'd stay home with the kids. But as it turns out, I love being productive, and I love making money. (Monetary compensation for household chores is paltry around here, folks.) So I went for it — and the best part was that I could bring my son along.
I was incredibly fortunate to have a job because I wanted one, and to be able to work for a family member who understood and responded to my family's needs. However, I had no experience in this field, and although I wasn’t looking for a job, this one would allow me to bring my son. I don’t think I ever applied myself as hard in college as I did those first few weeks. As a new mom my mind was still adjusting to the new division of attention, and now I had to balance motherhood while also simultaneously learning a whole new industry and helping customers in a professional and friendly manner, both on the phone and in person. To top it all off, I had to do all of that with a baby within arm’s reach.
I had to be a mother, a coworker, a caregiver, and an employee all in the same beat. If I made a mistake, we'd need to meet with the client again, get new signatures, and/or deal with delays while the official documents and mistakes were sorted out, — if we were lucky. If not, the whole process had to start all over again.
My father-in-law has been in the business for 30-plus years and has built up a roster of more than 500 clients. He mostly works by appointment, but the office is open to walk-ins. While I was afforded some flexibility in my hours, every day still began between 8 and 9 a.m. The door had to be open for customers, but we also work with institutions on the east coast who were always going to be up and working hours before me. Servicing existing and setting up new client accounts required spending my morning hours on the phone until my day ended around lunch. Once the lunchtime hour hit, I was off to get the baby home in time for his nap. On the occasions I tried to get more done and stay longer, my son would take a short nap in my arms (which made working much more difficult), but then, of course, not fall asleep for a second nap later at home.
Remaining polite and professional during phone calls was of course non-negotiable, and having a babbling baby in the background oddly enough made that easier for me. When people heard my son, they'd start telling me about their own kids or grandkids, and it created a rapport that otherwise would’ve been hard to establish because we weren’t face-to-face. Suddenly, we all had something in common.
Even though I wasn’t scared to bring my kid to the office, it was more challenging than I had anticipated — mostly because I knew nothing about the field of annuities and life insurance, and the job demands fastidious attention to detail. I had to be a mother, a coworker, a caregiver, and an employee all in the same beat. If I made a mistake, we'd need to meet with the client again, get new signatures, and/or deal with delays while the official documents and mistakes were sorted out, — if we were lucky. If not, the whole process had to start all over again.
Keeping the baby quiet and happy worked about 90 percent of the time (something, which, I also realize, I was very lucky for). A couple of times the person on the other end of the phone line heard my son's wails or was privy to me trying to coo or shush him into silence, and thankfully, no one ever made a huge fuss about it. Remaining polite and professional during phone calls was of course non-negotiable, and having a babbling baby in the background oddly enough made that easier for me. When people heard my son, they'd start telling me about their own kids or grandkids, and it created a rapport that otherwise would’ve been hard to establish because we weren’t face-to-face. Suddenly, we all had something in common.
Because everything had gone so well for the first few months, I planned to visit a payroll tax seminar with my then-almost 2-year-old son in tow. I'd initially planned for my husband to stay home with our him, but work came up for him, too — and I really wanted to go to that seminar. It was only a few minutes away from home, so into the car we went: toddler and toys, snacks and drinks for both of us. By then, I was eight months pregnant with my second child. But I was determined to see how long we could stay.
Going to work with my dad taught me the value of hard work. I cleaned old farm equipment to earn money to pay for the neon-orange corduroy pants I wanted at the mall. When I wanted to go to the beach and had to wait for my dad to finish working, I learned patience. And I bring my son to the office in hopes that he’ll one day learn similar lessons.
Once I found the room, I set us up in the far back with a table of our own and lots of space. We ended up staying for four hours and left during the lunch break — but not before the organizer of the class stopped to tell me that we were very welcome to stay until the end.
Looking back, I realize how lucky I was that I was never met with a hostile reaction, by phone or in person, for having the baby in the office with me. I’m sure it helped that he was the boss’ grandson. But it also felt natural to me to have my kid there — no doubt because I'd toddled alongside my dad ever since I could walk. I learned how to change a tire (although my brain was unable to retain the oil-changing lesson), install bathrooms (I come from a stubbornly DIY family), write invoices, and lay out effective wine delivery routes according to how customers’ addresses line up on a map. I learned how to pack custom selections of the 40+ wines on offer for shipping (cardboard boxes) or delivery (wooden crates) and load them into the transporter according to the route mapped. I learned how to read any map and take off at 5 a.m. on my own to deliver wine all day, driving a few hundred miles in the process, carrying the wine into customers’ homes and taking payment.
Going to work with my dad taught me the value of hard work. I cleaned old farm equipment to earn money to pay for the neon-orange corduroy pants I wanted at the mall. When I wanted to go to the beach and had to wait for my dad to finish working, I learned patience. And I bring my son to the office in hopes that he’ll one day learn similar lessons. Young (and needy) as he is, I love having him there. If that slows me down three percent in productivity, I can accept that, but I bring my kid to work with me so that he can learn that adults sometimes need to talk and kids need to wait until the conversation is over. This is not easily learned, but I commend every effort he makes in that internalizing it. And I have daily opportunities to practice being ever more patient as he figures this out. I bring my son to the office so he can learn about money. We don't go to a restaurant for lunch because it's cheaper if we bring our own snacks. And where do we get our snacks? At the store. And how do we pay at the store? With the money Mama and Papa make by working.
I bring my son to the office because I take him everywhere I go. It's a sweet habit from our breastfeeding days. He’s my sidekick, much like I once was my dad’s, and I love that.