MONEY First-Time Dad

The One Benefit All Millennials Should Consider Before Accepting a Job

Father and son sharing a meal.

Whether or not kids are on your radar right now, you'd be wise to understand any potential employer's family leave policy, says first-time dad Taylor Tepper.

Just a few weeks after our son was born, my wife was already dreading the prospect of returning to work.

A teacher, Mrs. Tepper received around two months of paid leave from her employer. Her original plan had been to extend that leave for another four weeks unpaid, then return to the classroom for the last couple of months of the school year. But that was before Luke came along.

When he arrived, she couldn’t bear leaving him so soon. Thankfully, her school allowed her to stay a home those extra few months and held her position for the following year. Mrs. Tepper could then nurture our son without fearing for her job.

Most families don’t have this choice.

When Mrs. Tepper accepted her position, neither she nor I considered how much time she would be given if she became pregnant. We weren’t planning on starting a family (best laid plans), and so were more concerned with wages. While we were fortunate to land in companies that support families—I happened to receive two weeks of paid paternity leave—we could have just as easily ended up working for ones that didn’t.

Just 12% of businesses offer paid maternity or paternity leave, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Another study found that the average maternity leave among U.S. companies that offer it is less than one month and pays the worker 31% of her original salary, as MONEY’s Kara Brandeisky recently noted. Comparatively, mothers in France are guaranteed 16 weeks of fully paid leave.

Millennials may not be overly concerned with President Obama’s recent announcement that he will extend six weeks of paid parental leave to federal workers, but they should be. Let me tell you why…

Why You Should Care

It’s understandable if those who graduated into the Great Recession with a ton of debt care more about salary than anything else, especially considering that this generation has generally been postponing bourgeois life events like marriage and procreation. But with the top end of Gen Y approaching 35 this year, more will likely start building families soon. And if you stay at your job a few years in this crucial span of settling-down time, who knows? You could be making babies.

Heck, some of them—ahem, Luke—arrive unexpectedly.

As Mrs. Tepper and I realized, the option of paid parental leave takes on a lot more importance when you are responsible for the care of an infant.

Without paid leave, you end up with two not-so-great options after giving birth. One: Squirrel up all your vacation time to use and then go back to work when your kid is a mere three or four weeks old. Or two: Add on unpaid time (most Americans, moms and dads alike, are guaranteed 12 weeks through the Family Medical Leave Act) and find other means (savings? credit cards? spouse’s income and living lean?) to replace the income lost that you need to pay the bills.

While taking unpaid time has some big financial implications for you, going back to work too soon has serious drawbacks too. “That initial time to bond with your child, you don’t get that back,” says St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman, who recently expanded paid leave to city employees. Plus, he notes, “In those first few weeks, you are so sleep deprived. How do you function at work? Do your job normally? Give it your attention and not make mistakes? That’s asking a lot of new parents.”

Paid leave helps families avoid this kind of tough decision. It also has other benefits, illuminated here by the Center for American Progress. For instance, one study by two Cornell University professors demonstrates that paid maternity leave is an important factor in keeping women in the labor market “since it reduces the likelihood that women will quit their jobs in order to take time off from from work.”

Working parents also tend to be happier, more productive, and more loyal at companies that have paid leave policies. Also, paid leave is also associated with better health results for both mothers and newborns—reducing depressive symptoms in moms, increasing the odds that children are immunized, and making it more likely that moms are better able to breastfeed their child for an extended period of time.

What You Should Do

Figuring out a company’s leave policy isn’t always easy. Ask the hiring manager and you risk looking like you’re one foot out the door before you’re one foot in.

Lenny Sanicola, senior practice leader at HR association WorldatWork, says it’s not wrong to pose the question, “but wait until at least the second interview.”

Other options if you’re not comfortable with the straightforward route: Go to the careers section of the company’s website to see if its leave policy is detailed there, suggests Sara Sutton Fell, chief executive of FlexJobs. Check out the company’s review on sites like Glassdoor.com (but keep in mind that what people post there is not necessarily gospel). Better yet, try to find someone in your network on LinkedIn who already works at the company and can do some detective work for you.

As for what’s a generous leave policy, obviously the more paid time you can spend with your kid, the better. But the range varies.

“Because paid leave isn’t required by law in the U.S., any amount offered by an employer is generally a good thing because the bar is so low,” says Fell. “In general the most common range for paid maternity or paternity leave that I’ve heard is anywhere from one week to 16.” Sanicola says six to eight weeks is likely.

Google, the search behemoth with a market capitalization of $350 billion, offers expecting moms a European-like 22 weeks of paid leave; that’s pretty sweet.

Dads are lucky to get any paid time leave at all.

As much as Mrs. Tepper and I like our jobs, chances are we won’t be in them forever. And Luke likely won’t be an only child forever.

That means when it comes time to take on a new challenge, how our new bosses treat expecting and new parents will carry as much weight as the biweekly paycheck. While it might be hard for young childless professionals to appreciate that mindset, they’d be well advised to do so.

More From the First-Time Dad:

MONEY First-Time Dad

Read This Before Taking a Road Trip With a Baby

Luke Tepper

A few holiday travel tips from the battle-tested Taylor Tepper, MONEY’s first-time dad.

Many new parents are about to hit the road for the holidays, on drives and flights, short and long, with infant children in tow. Which means you’ll be moving at high speeds with a ticking time bomb.

If this thought terrifies you, good. The prospect of trying to reconcile your desire to relax on a rare vacation with soothing an inconsolable 20-pound tyrant should terrify you. It terrified me the last time we tried it, on Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving Day, Mrs. Tepper and I drove with our son Luke up to Rhode Island to visit friends for the holiday. Willfully trapping oneself in a 3,000-pound metal cage with an infant captured us at our most masochistic.

Still, we survived. Sorta. And if you’re hitting the road this Christmas, you can too. By giving yourself ample time before departure to ready the ship and dividing up chores and other domestic responsibilities between you and your spouse, a true vacation can be attained.

The key is communication. So I’m sharing my travel diary below. May my successes fortify your spirit and my failures illuminate. Godspeed and happy holidays.

4:33 am: Luke wakes up screaming. Rising before sunrise is, sadly, nothing new for Luke. But the screaming is. Foreshadowing. Anyway, he eventually falls back asleep, and so do we. But it’s that kind of half-sleep where consciousness exists just below the surface.

5:58 am: Luke wakes up again—this time hungry instead of angry—and Mrs. Tepper feeds him briefly, while I fumble around assembling his bottle. Our bottles, by the way, have five pieces and require measuring one scoop per two ounces of water, which is much more complicated than it sounds when it’s 6 o’clock in the morning and you can’t remember how to use your hands.

6:34 am: After feeding, Luke plays for a half-hour. I read him Shel Silverstein’s poem “Point of View,” a kind of vegetarian morality play, which pinged my own guilty conscience for all of the meat I was going to scarf down in nine hours. So it goes.

6:40 am: Mom has just reawakened and exits the bedroom to find her son’s hands gouging the eyes of her prostrate husband. She walks to the bathroom and brushes her teeth.

6:53 am: Chloe, our ancient dachshund and now somewhat marginalized pet, needs to be let outside. Chloe won’t be joining us for Thanksgiving. Luke, meanwhile, walks into the bathroom, fixes himself between my wife’s feet and rages at the baby-proofed cabinet with pounding fists and fierce yawps.

6:55 am: While I’m outside with Cujo, Mrs. Tepper turns on the water for a shower. Before she can hop in, Luke belly-flops over the side of the tub. He’s now in love with water. Panic shoots through Mrs. Tepper’s limbs.

6:58 am: Chloe leads me into the apartment, where we see my relieved wife holding my damp, nonplussed son aloft.

7:10 am: Mom packs up Luke’s things for our two-night, three-day stay. I laid them out for her an hour earlier. Brownie points for me. His wardrobe included three onesies, three pairs of pants, three full-body pajamas, a couple of shirts, a sweater, hoodie, bear suit, jacket, hats, gloves, and three pairs of socks. Meanwhile Luke sits besides me, very interested in my glass of water. He eventually puts the rim of the glass to his mouth and spills the water down the front of his shirt.

7:15 am: Mom rushes over and extricates Luke from his soaked outfit. In doing so, she also removes his wet diaper. By the time she lifts Luke to the changing table, he pees on the floor and howls maniacally at his achievement.

7:26 am: Dry, diapered, and clothed, Luke crawls around the apartment, eventually sidling up to Chloe, who barks at her new master because he tried to swat her flappy ear. She also gets nervous around suitcases. Sanity starts to wear thin at the Teppers’.

7:34 am: Mrs. Tepper packs up Chloe’s food, puppy pads, organic calming medicine (she has separation anxiety), down jacket, and leash and I drop it, along with the dog, at the home of a friend who miraculously loves the dog as much as my wife does.

7:42 am: I’m now outside pulling old coffee cups and pizza boxes out of our car. At some point, we’ll be the type of adults who keep a spotless vehicle, but that day isn’t today.

7:51 am: I am outside again, but this time with the first wave of bags. (It will take me three trips.) Nestled in among our large suitcase and Luke’s stroller are three hampers’ worth of dirty laundry. If nothing else, we’re getting our damn laundry done this weekend.

7:58 am: While I’m acting out Tetris in our car’s trunk, my wife cleans the kitchen. Luke meanwhile grabs the railings on the baby gate, swinging it wildly, as if he’s a freedom-starved prisoner of war.

8:00 am: Luke attempts another sip of water, but Mom captures the cup from his hand midpour. She gives him a Baby Mum Mum—a rice biscuit—instead.

8:04 am: I schlep the last bit of luggage (mostly shoes and electronic equipment) outside, while my wife crawls on hands and knees in search of Luke’s Elmo toy cell phone. Luke watches the domestic choreography with glee.

8:10 am: With Luke in arms, we give the house one last look around. Little do we know we’ll be back the next day.

8:20 am: We fasten Luke into his car seat. He immediately squirms.

8:30 am: Mrs. Tepper runs into a neighborhood organic grocery store to pick up a food pouch, and then jets into Starbucks for coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

8:50 am: Mom returns to the car to sounds of Luke crying and me praying behind the wheel.

8:55 am: Only 55 minutes behind schedule we are finally on the road, and there’s no traffic.We give thanks.

8:59 am: Mom gives Luke a fresh bottle.

9:08 am: Thanks to the car’s heating system and his bottle, Luke enters a trance and falls asleep a mere three hours after he woke up. Mom fights the urge to clean a spot of milk from his chin, lest the baby open his eyes.

9:10 am: Parents happy.

Epilogue: We arrived in Rhode Island in record time and had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. All marveled at Luke’s development. Trouble, though, ensued at 1 am Friday morning, when Luke awoke screaming in his crib. Over the next 9 hours, Mrs. Tepper and I slept a combined 300 minutes as the little guy tossed and turned and yelled and fought against sleep’s embrace. I eventually took him for a drive at four in the morning in hopes of calming him down. We decided to return home the next night, so he’d hopefully sleep in the car for the ride back to Brooklyn. All went according to plan until our car ran out of coolant in Westbrook, Conn., and would have cooked the engine if not for the generous help of a standup Mobil employee. Thanks and praise unto him. After that 45-minute pit stop, we were back on our way and returned home an hour before midnight.

Which is all to say that new parents may want to mentally ready themselves for Murphy’s Law. By preparing for the worst, you can be delightfully surprised when your car doesn’t billow smoke hundreds of miles from home or you don’t return to work on Monday desperately more exhausted than before.

More From the First-Time Dad:

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why You Should Spend $0 on Baby’s First Christmas

141223_FF_TEPPERBLOG

...And why my wife and I will ignore this advice.

The act of parenting often requires accepting the absurd.

For instance, my son Luke hates lying on his back. He squirms and rotates and flops around like a fish on dry land whenever he’s forced into prostration. All of which puts me in the ridiculous position of begging/bribing my child to remain still while I clean his rear-end.

Mrs. Tepper and I have found ourselves willing to sacrifice anything to make our guy happy. Sometimes that sacrifice is our integrity: To mollify instances of restlessness or crankiness when we’re out, for example, we find ourselves surprisingly okay with giving him whatever he wants (including—gasp!—our smartphones) so long as the show of good faith shuts him up.

Sometimes the sacrifice is also financial—like ordering no less than three outfits and one homeopathic amber bead anklet from Amazon in hopes of improving his sleep. For the record, nothing will make you feel sillier faster than lassoing your child’s leg with a homeopathic anklet.

The end of December presents my wife and I with another seemingly absurd proposition: Should we buy our 10-and-a-half-month old son a Christmas present?

I Say: Call Off Santa

When you reflect on the question, you soon realize that your answer reveals quite a bit about your sense of value and, perhaps, your morality. This is a deep philosophical, maybe ontological, quandary that new parents who give presents on Christmas cannot avoid.

Knowing that parenting dilemmas are often most easily solved by asking those more veteran than ourselves, I tapped blogger Elissha Park, founder of the blog The Broke Mom’s Guide to Everything, for her thoughts.

“I didn’t get anything for my son his first Christmas,” she told me. “We had tons of stuff for him from the grandparents, and we were as usual, financially strapped.”

She added that she wouldn’t recommend we get Luke anything major.

Music to my ears! We too are financially strapped, and meanwhile our son has grandparents who have already told us they plan to buy shelves and shelves worth of new clothes and toys for the little guy.

Parks made another point that rang true. Her son wouldn’t have known who the presents were from anyway, and he certainly “had no idea about Santa.”

He’d probably enjoy simply opening the boxes more anyway.

Also, it occurred to me that any funds we save from not buying presents could go toward paying our nanny’s Christmas bonus—or even, gasp, to us having a rare date night. Happy parents equal a happy kid, and it wasn’t like ours would be deprived with the grandparents were already in spoiling mode.

My Wife Says: Cue the Elves!

Going giftless sounds great to me, except the part where I’d have to convince my wife.

Mrs. Tepper derives great joy from buying Luke things—whether that’s a toggled sweater vest she knows he can’t yet say no to or a big loud plastic red firetruck.

It doesn’t matter to her that Luke won’t know who these are from. She’ll know.

And to be fair to Mrs. Tepper, there’s ample research to support the belief that spending money improves the spenders happiness, even more so than if that same person spent the money on him or herself.

Take this one experiment by Harvard researchers from 2008: They went up to random people in the morning in public places and gave them either $5 or $20 and told them they could either spend the money on themselves or on others by day’s end. The researchers took the participants’ baseline happiness levels, and then in the evening registered the change in happiness for each of the four groups.

Their findings reinforced the spirit of Christmas: Those asked to spend their windfall on others were happier at the end of the day than those who bought for themselves.

And I do so like when Mrs. Tepper is happy…

We Say: Open the Flue Partway

So, what does this mean for Luke?

I think my wife and I will strike something of a happy medium.

To satisfy Mrs. Tepper’s gift-giving instinct, we’ve decided to start saving up for him to get a Kindle Fire Kids Edition ($149).

Still, even I would be really forlorn if Luke didn’t have anything to open from us on Christmas. We’re a family now, and families give each other gifts.

But I’m thinking the boxes we’ll give him will be filled with…tissue paper. The crinkling noise when he pulls it out of the box will give Luke undeniable pleasure.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

MONEY First-Time Dad

The One Book All New Parents Really Need to Read

Luke and The Giving Tree

Fifty years from its first publication date, The Giving Tree remains a relevant allegory for modern parenting, says first-time dad and MONEY reporter Taylor Tepper.

I try to read one book a day to my son, Luke—which works slightly better in theory than practice.

Luke’s a restless infant, who is as eager to sit still in my lap for 10 minutes as he is to fall asleep. So I spend as much time reading as I do extending the pages beyond his grasp. Often he simply bores of the exercise, and I’m left talking out loud to no one in particular.

One of my favorite stories to read on these occasions is The Giving Tree.

The tiny book—which turned 50 this year—is perhaps the most important book in my life. I’ve loved it ever since I was a boy.

I recently discovered, though, that my adoration of Shel Silverstein’s classic is not universally shared.

What the Book Is About

For those unfamiliar, The Giving Tree is the story of a relationship between a tree and a boy the tree loves. At first, the boy and the tree engage in what everyone would consider to be a healthy relationship. He plays on her limbs, eats her apples, and sleeps in her shade—all of which makes the tree happy.

Nothing stays perfect forever, though, and as “time went by,” their encounters changed. The boy started to grow up and wanted new things.

Rather than playing in her branches, he wanted money and a house and a boat to escape his life. The tree gives up her apples and branches and trunk for the boy’s sake, rendering herself nothing but a stump.

Through it all, the tree is forever happy when the boy returns for his next request and willing to give anything she has. In the end, the boy uses her stump to sit on “and the tree was happy.”

Why It’s So Hated

When I told friends of my affection for the book, they were incredulous: How could I find meaning in a story where one character repeatedly and unrepentantly takes and takes from the other? Was I some kind of martyr?

My friends were not alone in their hatred for the book. In doing a bit of research for this column, I found that many academics and authors, liberals and conservatives alike, find its supposed commentary on parenting distasteful, amoral and depressing.

Dr. Lisa Rowe Fraustino of Eastern Connecticut State University is among the haters. In an essay titled “The Rights and Wrongs of Anthropomorphism in Picture Books,” she writes:

“Representing the symbolic mother as a literal tree may be what makes so many readers blind to the conceptual metaphor staring us in the face: GIVING TREE IS WOMAN. Even if it’s true that patriarchal culture has traditionally cut woman down and used her up, assigning her to the role of mother with her only happiness being with her son, is that an underlying moral we want to keep imparting to young children? Is it ethical?”

A post in The American Conservative says:

“Human love simply doesn’t leave its subjects ‘spent’ in this way; there is death, to be sure, but that’s not a consequence of love in the way that the tree’s destruction follows upon the boy’s exploitation of it.”

An entry in the New York Times’s Motherlode blog writes,

“Parenting should not strip and denude, but rather jointly fulfill. The parasitic part is supposed to end with pregnancy. After that the point is to teach a child to make his own way in the world.”

In The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel.com, wrote,

“Of course, maybe we’re just projecting, but to those who would say that Silverstein’s book is a moving, sentimental depiction of the unyielding love of a parent for a child, I’d say, learn better parenting skills.

Others claim that the book teaches kids to become narcissists—that the world is built for their taking, that they’ll never have to grow up.

Shel himself simplified the book to its essence, but warned readers from thinking the book has a happy ending.

“It’s just a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes,” he’s quoted as having said.

In any case, apparently you’re a naive sentimentalist if you enjoy the thing.

Why It Should be Loved

Like most times in life, I think I’m right and those that disagree with me are wrong. Those critics that see a dark tale are misunderstanding something fundamental to the nature of parenting.

The infantilization of “emerging adults” is a hot topic these days, as more Millennials decide to return home after college due to a difficult job market, historic levels of student loans and soaring housing prices.

MONEY recently published a long feature on the stress parents face supporting their kids into their mid-20’s and on: Nearly three quarters of parents aged 40 to 59 said they’d helped support an adult son or daughter in the prior year. Half said they provided their child’s primary means of support.

No parent wants to be a stump.

But with all due respect to the critics who say this is a book about kids taking advantage, I think they are missing the point. At the same time, those who say The Giving Tree exemplifies unconditional love undersell its depth.

When Luke was first born, my wife and I were scared. We weren’t scared because we were now charged with caring for a human life (an alien experience to both of us), nor were we terrified that our lives would change forever (though they have.)

The scary thing was that we, of our own will, introduced something into the world that we loved so much. And that newborn would soon be an infant, then a boy, then a teenager and on and on.

Just as we’ve struggled to find ourselves, to carve out our own little piece of happiness in our nearly 30 years, so he would too.

When you consider the weight of that decision, when you realize that you’ve suddenly foisted the world’s beauty and ugliness onto this tiny thing, that he’ll have to reconcile it just as you did, you become scared. (And then he has a dirty diaper, and you move on.)

To me, the Tree does not represent mom or dad, so much as it symbolizes an aspect of parenthood. Parents are obviously more than stumps for their children: We have lives, hopes, dreams, disappointments completely separate and apart from the goings-on of our progeny.

But when it comes to them, when they must grow up and face the world head on as adults, we want to be there to give them apples and branches and anything else we have to make their struggle a little easier.

“The Giving Tree” is beautiful because it lets kids know they’re never alone. I think that’s why I loved it so much as a child.

And that’s why I think all new parents should read the book. It will help you put the task before you in perspective.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

 

MONEY

How to Cook a Real Dinner for Your Family…and Finish Before 9 p.m.

Luke Tepper

First-time dad Taylor Tepper asks parents and cooking experts for advice on feeding a family while maintaining your sanity. What he learns: Focus on formats.

Last week, I stood in the first aisle of my local grocery store for a few minutes blinking at a bin of scallions.

I had a cart in one hand, a shopping list in the other, and a podcast playing in my ear. I needed to grab a bunch of groceries, get home and make dinner.

But at some point in the produce section, I fell victim to a momentary lapse of cognitive function, as if I was a computer that had overheated. For a moment, I wished I had simply ordered in Chinese.

A parent’s day is long. Ours starts at 5:30 a.m. with a groggy baby and two sleep-deprived parents, and I don’t return home with dinner’s ingredients in tow until 7 p.m.

To be clear, I genuinely relish the responsibility of providing my family with sustenance. Plus I know there are real benefits to eating real food prepared at home: We can eat more healthfully and save a few bucks in the process.

But my problem is that I’m terrible at planning. I’ll look up a recipe before I head home from work, buy everything on the ingredient list (often forgetting that I have a quarter of the stuff at home), walk home and make the meal. On that day last week when I paused in front of the scallions, for instance, I ended up preparing a baked chicken dish with Kalamata olives, dates, tomatoes with an herb jus and mashed potatoes.

Delicious. Only, my wife and I finished eating close to 9 p.m.—at which point I devolved into a coma.

I know I’m wasting time and money. I need help. I need a plan.

So I turned to a few experts: KJ Dell’Antonia, who as the lead writer at the New York Times Motherlode blog has written on her successes and failures of cooking for a family, my friend Cara Eisenpress whose cookbook and blog BigGirlsSmallKitchen.com document dinner prep in a diminutive Brooklyn apartment, and Phyllis Grant, a former pastry chef whose blog DashandBella.com chronicles meals made with her kids.

The Game Plan

“Obviously I’m a big fan of planning,” says Dell’Antonia. “There’s nothing like realizing that it’s 4 pm and you’ll have to make dinner again tonight—but not only do you know what it is already, but you’ve got all the ingredients and maybe some prep work done. Saves my life every time.”

But what type of plan is best for a busy working parent like me?

Cara told me to forget about specific recipes and think more broadly.

“When planning, think in terms of formats,” she says. “Pasta, hearty soups, stir fries, roasted cut-up chicken, and eggs are all classes of weeknight dinner that are so simple to vary.”

In other words, rather than shopping for a pasta dish on Monday (like Lemon Fettuccine with Bacon and Chives) and then returning to the store on Tuesday in search of ingredients for for another (say Orecchiette Carbonara with Scallions and Sun-dried Tomatoes), plan on whipping up two pasta dishes and a chicken entrée over the next few days and then map out recipes from there. That way you’ll buy overlapping ingredients.

At the same time, though, be mindful of planning too far ahead, says Cara.

“Don’t shop for the seven nights’ worth of formats—you’ll waste food and money if something comes up,” she advised. “Better to plan out fewer and then grab a few miscellaneous staples that could turn into dinner as needed, like extra onions (caramelized onion grilled cheese), a box of spinach (lentil soup with spinach), or some bacon (breakfast for dinner).”

Grant even suggests preparing more than one night’s worth of a neutral protein like chicken, which she notes “can be a life saver, You won’t get sick of it because you can dress it up with some many different flavors and techniques.”

Most importantly, Cara said, make sure you have a stocked pantry—including olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, rice, pasta and cheddar, among others—to augment whatever recipes you’ve chosen.

The Defense Formation

After you’ve figured out the formats and recipes you’re interested in for the next couple of days, it’s time to actually buy the food.

But the grocery store is like a casino: The thing is designed to have you spend more time shuffling along the aisles so that you look at more food. They even mess with the music (see #19 here).

If you’re not careful, you’ll arrive home with a beautiful jar of jam that will sit in your fridge for the next six months. (Guilty!)

That’s why Dell’Antonia recommends shopping with a list, “and not buying anything that’s not on it,” says. “Ridiculously, I save money by sending my babysitter to the grocery store when I can. Her time costs me less than I’d spend in ‘Oh, look! Halloween Oreos!'”

Also, look for items that will make your cooking life easier, says Cara. “Don’t shy away from shortcut ingredients. Find brands of tomato sauce, salsa, stock, pre-washed spinach, ravioli, etc. that you like: each of those gets you a third of the way to dinner. There are some vegetables I think of as shortcuts too because they require so little prep: a potato you can rinse and then bake, and my go-to, fennel, where you just remove the outer skin, quarter what’s left, and roast to get a super simple serving of vegetables.”

Kickoff!

Time to practice my new strategy.

I replenished up my pantry—I was a little low on olive oil and pepper—and decided to prepare Chicken with Figs and Grapes from Grant’s blog. I even bought a little extra chicken and stock for some soup later in the week (guess I was in a chicken format mood.)

Her recipe calls for about a dozen different ingredients, but since my pantry is already full, I only need to pick up the chicken, anchovies, figs and grapes.

I’m in and out of my local grocery store in five minutes (without jam!) and before long my kitchen is humming right along.

The dish is relatively easy to prepare and after a little less than 30 minutes in the oven, my wife and I have a meal for tonight and tomorrow. I arrived home by 7:15pm and we finished eating around an hour later, about 45 minutes quicker than normal and nearly a Tepper weekday record.

Our stomachs were full, the kitchen relatively clean and my brain didn’t wither like a raisin during the process.

A sense of peace had been restored in my life.

Adulthood can be difficult—after a long day of work, it often just feels easier to order a delicious Korean BBQ kimchi burrito than expending the time and effort to put together a meal. So sometimes the Teppers do just that.

But as Cara says, “Cooking at home is one of the best parts of being a grown-up. You get to eat exactly what you want when you want it. So, if you like to eat, you like not spending all your money, and you like putting relatively healthful food in your body, you should probably learn to cook.”

And if you’re going to do it, plan ahead.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why You’re Better Off With a Hard-Working Child than a Smart One

Luke Tepper
Luke's drive is more important than his intellect. And look at him drive!

I wanted my son to be born a genius. Turns out I should have been hoping for something else.

My son took his first steps the other day.

Not yet nine months old, Luke stumbled forward two paces as Mrs. Tepper prepared his evening bath. The next day, like a revved up toy racecar, the tyke zoomed five strides after I relocated him from the Jumperoo to the floor.

This achievement is a great source of pride in the Tepper household.

According to Babycenter.com, babies usually begin walking between 9 and 12 months. Luke was only 8 1/2 months—so he’s obviously smarter than the average bear and destined for riches and glory.

Ever since, my wife and I have indulged in a series of daydreams featuring Luke passing milestones well before other tiny mortals. Reading by age 2, dunking a basketball by 10 and garnering a Nobel Prize before he’s legally allowed to consume alcohol.

Of course we know we’re being ridiculous, but that’s part of the fun of parenting an infant—widely projecting all the things that he might accomplish that you never will. In so doing, we imagine a super-smart older version of Luke wowing the world with his intellect.

It turns out, though, we have it all wrong. Intelligence is valuable, obviously, but the more powerful skill parents should be instilling in their children doesn’t have anything to do with brainpower.

If we want him to maximize his earnings—and we do—studies show that we’re much better off emphasizing hard work and gumption.

What the Research Says

The Brookings Institute recently came out with a report that summarizes the research into the debate of character versus intelligence. Therein lay a panoply of statistics that illuminate importance of grit and drive.

For instance, high school grade point average is a better predictor of whether a student will complete college in six years than SAT/ACT scores. Grade point averages are all about grit: You have to come to class every day, turn in your homework, and perform well on tests and papers in order to earn a high grade. A standardized exam, like the SAT, mostly measures your cognitive abilities.

Another study Brookings referenced followed 1,000 children starting at ages 3 to 11 in New Zealand and found that later in life those who possessed more self control “were healthier, richer, less likely to be single parents, and less likely to be convicted of a crime as adults, controlling for childhood social class and IQ.”

Accurate, real-time salaries for thousands of careers.

I asked Jessica Lahey, a teacher who writes a biweekly parenting column for the New York Times, for her perspective.

She said the research jibes with her experience. “Kids who are raised by parents with good impulse control—the ability to plan for long-term goals and stick to those goals—are more successful than kids raised by parents who model impulsive, disorganized, chaotic thinking and actions,” she says.

And what about smarts?

“A kid who has no ability to delay gratification, has no patience with momentary confusion or frustration, or simply never develops the frontal lobe function he needs in order to organize and plan his behavior is never going to be as successful as one who can,” she says. “I don’t care how brilliant or talented he is.”

Why That Terrifies Me

For a parent, this is a little bit scary.

The idea that my son would be born with a particular IQ took the pressure off of me. However he comes out was how he was meant to come out; I couldn’t really mess him up.

But now, I need to instill a work ethic and character in him that I’m sure I don’t always live up to. My wife and I are only 28 years old and we’ve only just begun our careers; how are we supposed to have the authority to mold Luke into driven student and worker?

These are the things that keep me up at night.

But then I remember how far we’ve come since we found out Mrs. Tepper was pregnant.

We comparison shopped hospitals and doctors, and coordinated with health insurers and human resource departments. We’re following a kind of food progression chart so that he takes in as many different kinds of tastes as possible. We nurse him when he’s sick and hold him when he cries, and we do it every day no matter how little sleep we had the night before.

The act of raising a child (and we’re only in year one) absolutely filled us with fear before we had one. But like a frog in a slowly warming pot of water, we’ve adapted. We’ve found a way to weave Luke into our life.

Teaching him stick-to-itiveness, then, will just be another challenge we’ll (hopefully) slowly overcome with our infinite small decisions.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

Read next: Injuries. Stress. Divided Attention. Are Coaches Damaging Our Kids?

MONEY First-Time Dad

How to Cook a Real Dinner for Your Family…and Finish Before 9 p.m.

Luke Tepper

First-time dad Taylor Tepper asks parents and cooking experts for advice on feeding a family while maintaining your sanity. What he learns: Focus on formats.

Last week, I stood in the first aisle of my local grocery store for a few minutes blinking at a bin of scallions.

I had a cart in one hand, a shopping list in the other, and a podcast playing in my ear. I needed to grab a bunch of groceries, get home and make dinner.

But at some point in the produce section, I fell victim to a momentary lapse of cognitive function, as if I was a computer that had overheated. For a moment, I wished I had simply ordered in Chinese.

A parent’s day is long. Ours starts at 5:30 a.m. with a groggy baby and two sleep-deprived parents, and I don’t return home with dinner’s ingredients in tow until 7 p.m.

To be clear, I genuinely relish the responsibility of providing my family with sustenance. Plus I know there are real benefits to eating real food prepared at home: We can eat more healthfully and save a few bucks in the process.

But my problem is that I’m terrible at planning. I’ll look up a recipe before I head home from work, buy everything on the ingredient list (often forgetting that I have a quarter of the stuff at home), walk home and make the meal. On that day last week when I paused in front of the scallions, for instance, I ended up preparing a baked chicken dish with Kalamata olives, dates, tomatoes with an herb jus and mashed potatoes.

Delicious. Only, my wife and I finished eating close to 9 p.m.—at which point I devolved into a coma.

I know I’m wasting time and money. I need help. I need a plan.

So I turned to a few experts: KJ Dell’Antonia, who as the lead writer at the New York Times Motherlode blog has written on her successes and failures of cooking for a family, my friend Cara Eisenpress whose cookbook and blog BigGirlsSmallKitchen.com document dinner prep in a diminutive Brooklyn apartment, and Phyllis Grant, a former pastry chef whose blog DashandBella.com chronicles meals made with her kids.

The Game Plan

“Obviously I’m a big fan of planning,” says Dell’Antonia. “There’s nothing like realizing that it’s 4 pm and you’ll have to make dinner again tonight—but not only do you know what it is already, but you’ve got all the ingredients and maybe some prep work done. Saves my life every time.”

But what type of plan is best for a busy working parent like me?

Cara told me to forget about specific recipes and think more broadly.

“When planning, think in terms of formats,” she says. “Pasta, hearty soups, stir fries, roasted cut-up chicken, and eggs are all classes of weeknight dinner that are so simple to vary.”

In other words, rather than shopping for a pasta dish on Monday (like Lemon Fettuccine with Bacon and Chives) and then returning to the store on Tuesday in search of ingredients for for another (say Orecchiette Carbonara with Scallions and Sun-dried Tomatoes), plan on whipping up two pasta dishes and a chicken entrée over the next few days and then map out recipes from there. That way you’ll buy overlapping ingredients.

At the same time, though, be mindful of planning too far ahead, says Cara.

“Don’t shop for the seven nights’ worth of formats—you’ll waste food and money if something comes up,” she advised. “Better to plan out fewer and then grab a few miscellaneous staples that could turn into dinner as needed, like extra onions (caramelized onion grilled cheese), a box of spinach (lentil soup with spinach), or some bacon (breakfast for dinner).”

Grant even suggests preparing more than one night’s worth of a neutral protein like chicken, which she notes “can be a life saver, You won’t get sick of it because you can dress it up with some many different flavors and techniques.”

Most importantly, Cara said, make sure you have a stocked pantry—including olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, rice, pasta and cheddar, among others—to augment whatever recipes you’ve chosen.

The Defense Formation

After you’ve figured out the formats and recipes you’re interested in for the next couple of days, it’s time to actually buy the food.

But the grocery store is like a casino: The thing is designed to have you spend more time shuffling along the aisles so that you look at more food. They even mess with the music (see #19 here).

If you’re not careful, you’ll arrive home with a beautiful jar of jam that will sit in your fridge for the next six months. (Guilty!)

That’s why Dell’Antonia recommends shopping with a list, “and not buying anything that’s not on it,” says. “Ridiculously, I save money by sending my babysitter to the grocery store when I can. Her time costs me less than I’d spend in ‘Oh, look! Halloween Oreos!'”

Also, look for items that will make your cooking life easier, says Cara. “Don’t shy away from shortcut ingredients. Find brands of tomato sauce, salsa, stock, pre-washed spinach, ravioli, etc. that you like: each of those gets you a third of the way to dinner. There are some vegetables I think of as shortcuts too because they require so little prep: a potato you can rinse and then bake, and my go-to, fennel, where you just remove the outer skin, quarter what’s left, and roast to get a super simple serving of vegetables.”

Kickoff!

Time to practice my new strategy.

I replenished up my pantry—I was a little low on olive oil and pepper—and decided to prepare Chicken with Figs and Grapes from Grant’s blog. I even bought a little extra chicken and stock for some soup later in the week (guess I was in a chicken format mood.)

Her recipe calls for about a dozen different ingredients, but since my pantry is already full, I only need to pick up the chicken, anchovies, figs and grapes.

I’m in and out of my local grocery store in five minutes (without jam!) and before long my kitchen is humming right along.

The dish is relatively easy to prepare and after a little less than 30 minutes in the oven, my wife and I have a meal for tonight and tomorrow. I arrived home by 7:15pm and we finished eating around an hour later, about 45 minutes quicker than normal and nearly a Tepper weekday record.

Our stomachs were full, the kitchen relatively clean and my brain didn’t wither like a raisin during the process.

A sense of peace had been restored in my life.

Adulthood can be difficult—after a long day of work, it often just feels easier to order a delicious Korean BBQ kimchi burrito than expending the time and effort to put together a meal. So sometimes the Teppers do just that.

But as Cara says, “Cooking at home is one of the best parts of being a grown-up. You get to eat exactly what you want when you want it. So, if you like to eat, you like not spending all your money, and you like putting relatively healthful food in your body, you should probably learn to cook.”

And if you’re going to do it, plan ahead.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why Work-Life Balance Is Just As Impossible for Dads

141014_FF_TEPPERBLOG
This mug is what I'm missing out on when I'm working late.

We're struggling with the same issues working moms face, says MONEY reporter and first-time dad Taylor Tepper.

Sometimes I feel like a bad dad.

Doubts over my parental savvy often correlate with how long I’m at the office. When I call to tell Mrs. Tepper that I’ll be here until 7:30 p.m. working on a magazine feature—and won’t be home to put our son Luke to bed—the soft disappointment in her voice stays with me like a faint ember.

The same guilty feelings apply to my job, too.

I’m 28 and now is the time to work long hours, take on more responsibility and show my bosses just how willing I am to immolate myself for the greater good. Every time I leave the building at 5:30 p.m., a part of me thinks I’m sacrificing future promotions, raises and glory.

What it means to be an American father, and the responsibilities therein, have changed radically in the last few decades. In 1975, 45% of families consisted of a male breadwinner and a stay-at-home mom; today 31% do. And now, men are taking on more chores and spending more time with their children than their dads spent with them.

But this blending of gender roles has done much to confuse the male mind. We want to spend more time with the kids and earn accolades on the job; we want to attend the soccer game and become senior management; we want to be Bill Cosby and Steve Jobs.

Many of us feel—just as working moms do—that we’re succeeding at neither.

The Research Backs Me Up on This

According Boston College’s Center for Work & Family, 86% of dads agreed or strongly agreed that “my children are the number one priority in my life.”

That’s well and good.

At the same time, though, more than three in four fathers wished to advance to a position with greater responsibilities and three in five demonstrated a strong desire to reach senior management.

Half of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance the responsibilities of work and family, according to Pew.

And on the whole, we don’t feel like we’re living up to the dad role either. Almost eight in 10 dads want to spend more time with their children on an average workday, and one in two say they spend too little time with their kids. (Only 23% of mothers feel that way.) From first-hand experience, there is nothing quite as enervating as coming home from work to an already-sleeping son.

In Boston College’s research, you also see dads grappling with perceptions of what they want and the reality of how things are.

While today’s fathers also recognize that parenting is a two-person job—65% say they believe that partners should take care of a child evenly—only one in three say that they actually split the work in half. Women typically spend more than three times as many hours per week solely looking after the child than men.

Even on weekends, men fail to live up to their ideal. On Saturdays and Sundays, moms spend 1.2 more hours on housework and childcare than dads do. When it comes to time spent on leisure activities, dads out-loaf moms by an hour.

While Mrs. Tepper and I have something of a modern marriage—split chores, female breadwinner—she almost certainly watches Luke more on the weekends, especially when sports are on.

In spite of my few hours more on the couch, however, I’d still argue that achieving and maintaining true work-life balance is impossible. You can’t achieve these competing goals—working at the top of my game, being the best dad and husband ever, and getting in a few NBA games to recharge my own engine—within a finite number of hours in the day.

So, What Is a Modern Dad to Do?

I put that question to Sara Sutton Fell, the CEO of FlexJobs.com, a job search site focusing on companies that allow for flexible schedules and telecommuting. Her advice: to think of work-life balance as more of a journey than a destination.

“As a working parent with two young sons, I believe that work-life balance is often mistaken as an end-point that we reach eventually,” she says. “In my experience, it’s more of a balancing act—shifting your weight back and forth between your various responsibilities.”

Some days you’re going have to work long hours at the office to close out a project or meet a deadline, in other words; and some days you’re going to work from home to take your kid to the doctor.

Try to find an employer that will embrace that flexibility, Fell says.

This makes sense.

But we’ve also got to try to overcome our own guilt. That means accepting our limitations as parents and workers and people, and setting realistic expectations for ourselves.

It’s difficult to remember, but today’s dads spend more time with their kids than their fathers spent with them by a factor of three. Today’s fathers are by and large more engaged in their kids’ lives than previous generations. So we’re definitely doing better, if not up to the standards we’d hold for ourselves.

When I’m stuck in the office until dark, maintaining that perspective is difficult. But I try to remember that the next morning I’ll be there when Luke wakes up, and with any luck, arrive home in time to help his mom put him to sleep.

And if not, there’s always tomorrow.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why I’m a Millennial Parenting Cliché

140919_FF_DadBlog_LukeTepper
Luke Tepper

More proof that I’m just like everyone else my age — and you probably are too.

Mrs. Tepper and I like to play a game from time to time that I imagine captivates most new parents. It’s called, “What Will My Child Be Like?”

Our clairvoyant visions alter slightly whenever we play, but recent examples include: a painter, a guitarist, and an astrophysicist (in the Neil deGrasse Tyson mold.)

In short: a creative type. That seven-month-old Luke currently has an imagination consumed by putting any and all things (especially wires and stroller wheels) as far into his mouth as possible doesn’t really matter. Right now, in these glorious months when he can’t tell us what he wants, we are free to speculate on what kind of person he might become. Of course our projections say more about ourselves than him.

Parents everywhere — no matter race, religion, education or age — place greater importance on teaching responsibility and hard work to their children than any other values, per a recent Pew Research Center survey. But when you peer into the data and look at less obviously appealing characteristics, you see just how similar your values are to other people like you.

Take creativity. As shown above, my wife and I care about creativity. Well so do most millennials, per Pew. In fact 78% of parents aged 18-to-29 believe creativity is an important characteristic to instill, six percentage points higher than parents aged 30-to-64. More than one-in-six of people in my age bracket view creativity as one of the most important traits to teach their child.

Religious faith also highlights how similar the Teppers are to other millennials. We spend our Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays immersed in all sorts of activities – from laundry to playtime at the park to consuming Korean barbeque. Of all the locales in Brooklyn that you might find us on a weekend, a church, synagogue, or mosque doesn’t make the list. Only four-in-10 millennials believe religious faith is a value especially important to teach children, 15 percentage points lower than parents between 30-to-64, and 25 points below parents older than 65.

The survey also distinguishes respondents by education – from college graduates to those who have some college education to people who have a high school diploma or less. Everyone values responsibility, independence, hard work, and good manners. College graduates, though, de-emphasize obedience and prioritize curiosity, persistence, and empathy. (Although all three groups rate helping others as important.)

I don’t know why parents of a certain race, age, educational achievement, or religion view one character trait as more important than another. Everyone, it seems, values good ol’ fashioned American hard work and responsibility. Why a secular, college-educated millennial, though, weighs persistence more heavily than obedience is better answered by social scientists.

What I do know is that the value I assign to these traits illuminates some parental wish fulfillment. Often I yearn for the ability to play Chopin or explain black holes with dexterity and wit. I think I’d be a better person if I were only a bit more curious or empathetic for my neighbors. I can, sort-of, right that wrong with Luke.

But this is a fool’s errand. I know I haven’t been in charge for long, but how do you teach your kid creativity? What does that even mean? What would that look like?

Parents simply have less control over the people our children become than we like to think as Judith Harris argued in her book, The Nurture Assumption.

As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in a New Yorker review of Harris in 1998:

If adolescents didn’t want to be like adults, it was because they wanted to be like other adolescents. Children were identifying with and learning from other children, and Harris realized that once you granted that fact all the conventional wisdom about parents and family and child-rearing started to unravel.

I think parents often fail to remember how little influence their parents actually had on their development. And so as soon as we become parents we imagine all the great things our child will become with only a slight nudge or word of encouragement from mom and dad. If we “teach” creativity, then he will become creative.

There’s a reason that I chose to believe the fantasy. This indulgence in harmless fan fiction shields me from the terrifying reality that before long my seven-month-old infant will be 17 and too big for my arms.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why Millennials Should Have Kids—and Soon

Luke Tepper
Yes, he costs a ton, but he's worth it.

There are plenty of financial and lifestyle reasons to not have a child, but there are also costs to delaying or forgoing, notes MONEY reporter and first-time dad Taylor Tepper.

I finally realized that I’m no longer in charge of my own life a few of weeks ago.

It was a Tuesday at 9:45 p.m. I had arrived home from work at 7:30, just as my wife was putting our son to sleep.

I cooked dinner for the two of us. We ate together on our small dining room table and then spent the rest of the night preparing for tomorrow. Mrs. Tepper collected Luke’s toys and straightened up around the house while I programmed the coffee maker and started to load the dishwasher… only to discover that we were out of soap. Sigh.

I jabbed my feet into my slippers. The dishes needed to be washed, so I found myself headed outside in my pajamas.

As I plodded to my neighborhood grocery store, it dawned on me that I wasn’t running this chore because I wanted to, but because our delicate family ecosystem demanded that the dishes get washed at night. Otherwise, the milk bottles and containers wouldn’t be ready by the morning, meaning my wife wouldn’t be able to pump at work and my son wouldn’t be able to eat.

This two-hour spell of cleaning, organizing, and readying felt like the actualization of a Millennial nightmare.

I had handed over the keys to my liberty to an infant. Before Luke was born, I could sleep all morning, grab a pint whenever I wanted or fly around the country to visit friends. I could quit my job, write a novel, start an artisanal pickled beet company or simply toss a Frisbee in the park all day.

Those days are over. Full stop. But the real question is: Would I ever want them back?

The opportunity cost of having kids

Most people of my generation aren’t like me. In fact, just over one-in-four Millennials tied the knot between the ages of 18 to 32, according to Pew Research Center. That’s 10 percentage points lower than Gen Xers at a similar point in their lives in 1997 and more than 20 points below Baby Boomers in 1980.

Further, research by Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania’s Stewart Friedman seems to indicate that the majority of my peers aren’t interested in kids. Friedman’s study looked at the views Generation Xers had toward bearing children as they graduated college in 1992 and Millennials in 2012. Almost eight in 10 Gen Xers said they planned to reproduce, Friedman found, compared to only 42% of Millennials.

Parenthood comes with a price that Millennials may not be eager to pay. According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it will cost middle-income moms and dads an average $245,340 to raise one child up to age 18—a stunningly large figure for those who are already burdened by student debt and who graduated into a nasty Recession.

It doesn’t help that America is one of two countries without any kind of paid maternity leave and childcare is very expensive.

Another factor that might dissuade Y women: Mothers who alter their career paths to care for their children can lose out on a lot of potential income. Economist Bryan Caplan pegs the opportunity cost as high as $1 million.

And, of course, there are the non-financial opportunity costs of bearing children: less freedom, less time, and less sanity.

The payoff of having kids early

I understand all of this. I’m living it. My wife and I spend the vast amount of our weekends doing the laundry, sweeping, mopping, shopping and organizing. We schlep and push and haul all day long. Not to mention the $1,600 a month we’re giving to someone else to care for our child. We could have put that money toward a dream vacation, a starter home… or alcohol.

But conceiving a family in your 20s comes with certain advantages. For instance when Luke leaves the nest, my wife and I will be in our mid-40’s and just entering our peak earning years. That means while he’s off at college, we can power save to boost our retirement portfolio.

Plus, you’re more likely to have flexibility at work in your 20s, since you probably have a more junior position with less responsibility. The higher up you get on the food chain, the tougher it is to leave early to go to a parent-teacher conference or soccer game (or so my older colleagues tell me).

There’s also the fact that your ability to actually conceive children decreases as you age, per the Mayo Clinic, while the risks of complication—from C-sections to pregnancy loss—increase in your mid-to-late 30’s. And complications typically mean more money for health expenses.

Look, there are many reasons not to have a child. You may simply not want one—and that’s fine.

But to dismiss the idea of raising a child, or raising him now as opposed to ten years in the future, because you haven’t yet traveled the world or written that magnum opus slightly misses the point of it all. When you raise a child, especially with someone you’ve committed your life to, your self-interest becomes tied up in theirs.

To put it another way, what a lot of people don’t think about is that there’s an opportunity cost to deciding not to have a child: You don’t get to experience the sublime joy of yielding your wants and desires for the happiness of the people you love.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser