MONEY First-Time Dad

Why You Should Bring Your Baby to a Bar

Luke Tepper

And other tips for new parents who are eager to re-enter the adult world.

My wife and I had returned from the hospital 10 days earlier with our new son, Luke, in tow. While every moment of parenting a newborn combines equal parts fear for his safety and surpassing love, those first couple of weeks test your capacity as a human being.

There are bound to be growing pains when you incorporate a helpless thing into an ecosystem calibrated to childless adult behavior. Despite the hours we spent decorating his room, organizing his dresser, positioning his changing table, and the like, caring for our new son overwhelmed us.

So we hunkered down. Our two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment became a green zone in an otherwise hostile terrain. Except for quick trips to the neighborhood doctor, Luke did not leave his new home those first 10 days. We escaped only for the occasional quick jaunt to the grocery store.

Since everything is so new when you have a baby, you instinctively try to pare down your world to give yourself a sense of control. You don’t want outside influences to make an impression on your child until you’ve had the chance to know him first. You’re scared that the second you introduce something new, the whole façade will crumble.

After 10 days burrowed on the 8th floor, we felt he (and we) were ready. Perhaps Mrs. Tepper and I were just tired of being confined. Either way, we layered jackets, hats, and blankets over Luke and went to the park. My wife fed him and I held him and we returned home proud of our achievement.

Fast-forward six months and all that’s changed. Luke has transformed from a delicate six-pound newborn into a crawling, climbing, rolling, hair-pulling maniac. He used to sleep soundly in my forearm. Now he wants to bite my arm and clasp onto my lower jaw with his indomitable grip. Agoraphobia is no longer an option.

Plus, receiving approbation from friends and onlookers on your baby’s cute outfits compensates for sleepless nights.

So, where does one take a baby? Of course parks, sing-a-longs, and grandma’s house are all viable options—Luke loves pulling up grass by the root. They can also become stale. We are both more than a year from entering our thirties and would like to have a taste of our pre-baby lives.

After six months of careful research and experimentation, I have discovered three ironclad rules for new parents when it comes to bringing children into the world.

#1: Bars Are Better Than Restaurants

Restaurant patrons often forget that they themselves were once babies. Despite their infant origins, your fellow diners will not display patience and bonhomie if your toddler cries. They will instead sneer and glare and otherwise signal passive-aggressive frustration.

And really, you won’t have fun either. Restaurants are expensive and best enjoyed leisurely. There’s nothing leisurely about eating with a baby. You’ll order fast, eat faster, and hope to escape the trattoria before an episode unfolds.

You are better off eating at home and then going out for a pint or two. Bars are louder than restaurants, and the ambient noise will muffle your baby’s sobs. Also, beer is less expensive than dinner, which means you’ll minimize your sunk costs if you have to leave in a hurry.

#2: Show Up Early

If friends invite the whole family over for dinner, arrive as close to the proposed time as possible. People without children have the luxury to treat their time casually. Those with children should know better. A baby’s placid demeanor has a short shelf life, and if you want to maximize your time amongst adults, you’d better take advantage of it.

We recently brought Luke to a lunch our friends were hosting. They told us to arrive around 2 p.m., so we did. Four hours later, when it was time to return home and put Luke to bed, we reflected on a rather full afternoon of fun.

#3: The More the Merrier

Barbecues are heaven—especially ones full of friends and family. You may tire quickly of Uncle Joe’s jokes, or struggle to swallow your pal’s new berry-infused home-brewed beer, but you’ll love it when they snatch your little tyke from your enervated hands and (temporarily) release you from the yoke of parenting.

For 20, even 30, minutes at a time you’ll be able to enjoy your hamburger in peace. Whenever someone new comes by and requests to hold the baby, be magnanimous. Your car ride back to the land of “No Time or Will to Do Anything” is closer than you realize.

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:

 

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These Are the Countries with the Best Maternity Leaves

Luke Tepper
Mrs. Tepper took off four months to take care of this guy—and was paid dearly in smiles and dirty diapers. Ken Christensen

New dad Taylor Tepper argues that America needs to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of providing paid time off to new moms.

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Tepper returned to her full-time job—almost six months after giving birth to our son Luke.

She wasn’t altogether excited about the idea of leaving Luke in the hands of someone else while she relived paler experiences like commuting. Nevertheless, Mrs. Tepper soldiered on, and we ended our four-month experiment of living in an expensive city with a new child and without the income of the chief wage earner.

Right up there with “Is it a boy or a girl?” and “What name are you going with?” is another question every new mother should be prepared to answer: “How much paid time off do get from work?” If your answer is anything longer than a few weeks, you can pretty much guarantee kind words and jealous eyes in response.

We were fortunate. Mrs. Tepper, who works as a teacher, received around two months of paid maternity leave and was allowed to take the rest of the school year off unpaid. I got two weeks paid.

Most Americans are not so lucky. The land of the free and the home of the brave is one of two of the 185 countries or territories in the world surveyed by the United Nation’s International Labor Organization that does not mandate some form of paid maternity leave for its citizens. Many are familiar with the generosity of Scandinavian nations when it comes to parents bringing new children into the world, but who would believe that we trail Iran in our support of new families?

Iran mandates that new mothers receive two-thirds of their previous earnings for 12 weeks from public funds, according to a the ILO report. In America, mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave—but only if they work for a company that has more than 50 employees, per the Family and Medical Leave Act. And, for some context, more than 21 million Americans work for businesses that employ 20 people or fewer, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

The ILO report is full of unflattering comparisons that will leave American workers feeling woozy. Georgia—the country—allows its mothers to receive 18 weeks of paid time off at 100% of what they made before. Mongolia gives its new moms 17 weeks of paid time off at 70% of previous earnings. (Mongolia’s GDP is $11.5 billion, or about a third of Vermont’s.)

Lest you think paid time off for moms is a poor-nation phenomenon, Germany’s mothers receive 14 weeks of fully paid time off, while Canadian mothers can look forward to 15 weeks of 55% of their salary.

There are pockets of help stateside. Five U.S. states provide paid maternity leave: New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, California and Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, for example, mothers receive four weeks of paid leave—ranging from $72 to $752, depending on your earnings.

Meanwhile, however, the ILO’s maternity leave standard states that all mothers across the board should be entitled to two-thirds of their previous salary for at least 14 weeks.

Look, I’m not really saying that American women should defect to Iran or Mongolia or Georgia to push out their progeny. But it defies logic that we are the only developed nation not to have a national system in place that helps new families adjust to their new lives.

The benefits of implementing some compulsory system of continuing to pay women for a defined period of time after they give birth are known. Based on California’s family leave policy, which was instituted in 2004, economists found that employment prospects for a mother nine to twelve months after childbirth improved (meaning: more moms at that stage were employed after the bill than before it). Additionally, other research has found that mothers who return later to work are less likely to be depressed.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro (both Democrats) introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act last year which, among other things, would provide new mothers with 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of their previous salary up to a cap. But the Act is not yet a law.

A few years ago, Mrs. Tepper was in graduate school, and I waited tables. We made much much less than we do now and enjoyed no financial security. Often when I’m playing with Luke I find myself thinking, “What would we have done if he was born then?”

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:

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Why Millennials Aren’t Lazy, Spoiled or Entitled…

Luke Tepper

...At least not any more than other generations are.

Mrs. Tepper and I spent the better part of the past week trying to induce our six-month old son Luke to sleep through the night. After a parade of co-sleepers, swings, night feedings and magic sleeping suits, it was time — our doctor told us — to go medieval and let the little guy cry in his room until he woke up the next morning.

The (seemingly) endless sobbing was difficult to endure, but within a few nights, Luke slept all night. He did it! And so did we.

Luke’s accomplishment not only put our minds at ease, it helped stroke our parenting egos. Now when other parents ask us how he’s sleeping, we’ll be able to look them dead in the eyes and with not a small amount of satisfaction say, “We got him to sleep like a log.”

Parenting, much like sports and everything else, is competitive. If you think your kid is cuter than mine, well, we might just have a problem. Of course, this is silly. Whether a kid sleeps through the night, rolls over, or cries incessantly is largely a matter of luck and circumstance. Some parents happen to have a newborn that sleeps well, while others don’t and there are millions in between.

The mistaking of luck for skill, the conflation of happenstance for personal achievement, is pervasive in our society. You even see this play out in the management of mutual funds. In fact, I think this natural phenomenon is one reason that older generations think mine is narcissistic, instead of simply unlucky.

More than a few readers have responded to my articles with a common refrain that kids today are given much more than older generations — and thus are much more willing to spend and less principled in saving. And that this deficit accounts for Millennials’ current economic struggles.

Fine, though older generations complaining about the lives lead by their children and their children’s children is just as much a cliché. Nevertheless, a few facts and figures may help to enlighten the perception of today’s young adults and help align the views of those from different ages.

We Grew Up During the Great Recession

Millennials graduated college in the teeth of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. While people of all ages felt its impact, Millennials were a little more vulnerable — if not economically, then psychologically — than other groups.

In a recent speech, the chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers highlighted just how rough the Great Recession was on Millennials. “While the unemployment rate for those over 34 peaked at about 8%, the unemployment rate among those between the ages of 18 and 34 peaked at 14% in 2010 and remains elevated, despite substantial improvement,” Furman said.

Graduating into a recession leads to lower wages, which has been especially true for those who had the misfortune of turning 22 in 2008. In fact, per a recent Pew Research Center survey, “Millennials are the first in in the modern era to have higher levels of debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations had at the same time.”

We Pay More to Raise Our Kids Than You Did

If you had kids in 1985, and the mother of those kids worked, you paid on average $87 (in 2013 dollars) a week in child-care expenses, according to Pew. In 2010, the figure grew to $148. That means, on average, working mothers today pay over $3,000 more a year on child care than their mothers paid for them.

Of course, child-care expenses, like real estate, differ zip code to zip code. We live in Brooklyn and teamed up with another family to hire a nanny. The total cost to us? Almost $400 a week.

And it doesn’t look like families like ours well get help anytime soon. A few months ago, the International Labor Organization put out a report which found that the U.S. and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries in the world that have “no general legal provision of maternity leave cash benefits.”

Not only is it more expensive to raise your kids now, but we live in one of the two countries in the entire world that doesn’t offer any help.

You Are More Entitled Than We Are

Despite the fact that some think that seniors have earned their Social Security and Medicare benefits, entitlements have always been a transfer of wealth from the working to the elderly. Ida May Fuller was a legal secretary who retired in the end of 1939 having paid $24.75 in social security taxes. A couple of months later, she received the first retirement check and would go on to accumulate almost $23,000 in Social Security benefits.

Ida is not alone. According to the Urban Institute, a couple that earned $71,700 (in 2013 dollars) a year from 22, and retired in 2015, will receive more than $1 million in lifetime benefits (including Social Security and Medicare.) This despite paying nearly $650,000 in lifetime entitlement taxes.

Now, I’m fine paying taxes to fund a social program that has so effectively reduced elderly poverty and improved the lives of millions of people. I just don’t want those recipients of public funds to think of my generation as entitled.

Look, so much of our success is defined by luck.

If you graduated college during the Carter or Reagan presidencies, you entered an economy that was adding between 150,000 and 250,000 jobs a month. Over the past 14 years? Not so much.

Of course, you can’t do much to control your macroeconomic environment. The only thing non-policy makers can do is hope — hope that in 28 years your son is luckier than you were.

So when you think about Millennials in terms of living at home and deifying self-aggrandizing behavior, remember the economic hardships that we endured and you didn’t. Remember that others who receive Social Security and Medicare may not have really earned those funds. Remember “there but for…” and appreciate the luck you have in this world.

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:

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Why New Parents Deserve to Splurge on Themselves Sometimes

Illustration of parents eating at elevated table above baby toys
Leif Parsons

Living in an apartment stuffed with all kinds of toys for his son, this reporter found that spending $350 to create an oasis for himself and his wife was totally worth it.

Part of the joy of raising an infant is accumulating his toys and books and play mats and teethers and clothes and pacifiers and chairs and bottles and strollers and carriers and … well, you get the idea. Clutter is a part of life, and the fact that Luke, our 6-month-old son, is gathering enough junk to take over our apartment means he’s becoming a person. I own, therefore I am.

Still, there is one tiny section of our tiny Brooklyn home that’s off-limits to Luke’s stuff. It’s an alcove just big enough to hold a circular marble table and two tall cushioned chairs. If the rest of our home is a Gymboree, this patch of paradise is the Four Seasons.

We carved out this island of adulthood a few weeks ago, buying the $200 marble table secondhand and plucking the marked-down chairs off the Internet for $150.

Spending $350 on ourselves might not sound like a big deal, but Luke’s goodies aren’t cheap, so most of our discretionary spending is earmarked for the little guy. My wife is a teacher and I’m a journalist. We’re in the early stages of our careers and must make rent while still chipping away at our student loans. In our world of limited sleep and vanishing funds, a vacation, dinner out, or even a night at the movies is a rare treat.

Yes, we could have used the dining set we already owned. But our old furniture felt as though it belonged to cohabitating grad students, not a married couple. My wife and I tied the knot a few months before Luke’s birth, so our friends and family look at us more as new parents than as newlyweds. That’s usually the way we see ourselves too. Marriage, though, requires as much attention and devotion as parenting. You can easily get lost in the wonder of watching your son explore the world around him and forget that less than a year ago you stood in front of the people you love and pledged to be with each other forever.

Now, after Luke falls asleep, Ali and I sit down in our new cream-colored chairs. We rest our glasses of wine on the table and talk about our day. And for a moment, it’s only us.

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:

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10 Things Millennial Parents Want Their Parents to Buy for Them

Luke Tepper
"Buy me things," Luke said to the world.

At least according to this new (and pretty broke) millennial dad.

For one hour, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., our house runs as efficiently as a Swiss train.

Here’s how it works: Luke, the Mrs., and I return home after a brisk two-hour walk in Prospect Park. As soon as we uncork Luke from his stroller, my wife starts his bath while I heat his bottle. After the bottle warmer beeps (our lives are governed by beeping machines), I place his dinner beside the feeding chair, collect his bear-themed towel, and together Mrs. Tepper and I extract Luke from the bathtub. We dry him off, fasten a new diaper, and I give Luke the bottle. Five ounces later, Luke, now safely ensconced in his swing/chair/bed, softly cries for ten minutes and slips into blissful unconsciousness. My wife and I praise all that’s sacred and pure and holy and collapse onto the couch.

Weekdays are more difficult (there’s only one of us), and sometimes I’ll make the bottle too hot or cold, and occasionally he’ll sob hard more than he cries soft. Still, most days, most of the time, run smoothly. And after he’s sleeping, after the Mrs. and I have put our feet up, we often look at each other and think the same thing: How the hell did our parents do this?

Not how were our parents capable of caring for us when we were infants, but rather how did they do it without 21st century conveniences? How did they put us to sleep without such miracles of engineering as a sound machine that emits an oscillating bird call.

Modern millennial parents, especially city-bound ones, have battled one economic hardship (high student loans, soaring rents, the freaking Great Recession) after another. Child care has never been more expensive, and we both work 50 hours a week in order to pay for our life.

Boomer parents fortunate enough to have the means to help their kids (and grandchildren) often don’t know how to most efficiently allocate their funds. Well, your eternally grateful millennial children will be over the moon if you bequeath us one (or 10) of these items that could make our lives as parents easier.

Hardware:

1. Upscale Stroller (Cost: $730)

It may seem ridiculous for your grandchild to be chauffeured in a jumble of plastic and rubber that costs about the same as a couple of Bruce Springsteen tickets. But this stroller feels like it can withstand a tornado (or at least the next Sandy) and lets you face the toddler toward you or out into the world.

2. A Mechanical Swing ($140)

This electric-powered swing has five speeds and almost saved our lives. Luke does not fall asleep on his own in his crib, but he will in his swing. Eventually we’ll have to move him to more stationary ground, but that day is not soon.

3. Portable Dishwasher ($219)

We live in Brooklyn, our apartment costs $2,000 a month, and we don’t have a dishwasher. While dishwashing is a personal source of pride, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the onslaught of bottles and baby milk containers teeming inside our sink every night when I return from work.

4. Video Monitor ($102)

Since we live in a two-bedroom apartment with not terribly thick walls, you may wonder why we need a video monitor. Isn’t this a perfect distillation of helicopter parenting? That’s a reasonable question. But I would point out that we are first-time parents. And so were you. Are you telling me that you never woke up at 4 a.m. worried that kidnappers stole your son or that he somehow fell out of whatever he was sleeping in? At the very least the video monitor gives us a sense of control in a universe of chaos.

5. Portable Crib ($100)

If you want us to visit, then Junior needs a place to sleep.

Services:

6. HBO Go (Free with HBO subscription)

New parents, obviously, can’t go to the movies without hiring someone to watch the little one. Since all of our funds as new parents go toward buying stuff for Luke, there isn’t a lot left over for sitters and movie tickets. So, grandparents, pass along your HBO Go account to your heirs to ease their boredom.

7. More Leg Room (Depends on flight)

Last month Mrs. Tepper and I visited her family in Florida. Flying with a baby is terrifying, but was made better by the fact that my father-in-law purchased an Even More Space seat for our JetBlue flight home. It cost $50 per person, but we were able to board quickly, stretch out our legs, and cut through the security line.

8. Takeout (Depends on meal)

Cooking is time consuming, especially after the enervating experience of putting your baby down for the night. Want to make sure your kid’s family is eating well? Let them mooch dinner off your Seamless account.

9. Baby Yoga (Depends on class)

It is surprisingly difficult to exercise when you’re charged with safeguarding an infant. That quick jog of a couples of miles or bike ride through the park is now close to impossible. One easy solution, though, is baby yoga. There’s a yoga studio around the block from our apartment that offers an hour-long “Baby and Me” yoga class for $11 (or about $10 cheaper than a sitter). (But your parental judgement is free.)

10. Everything else (Depends on your net worth)

Or, well, whatever you can afford. Your child, and her child, really appreciate it.

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:

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The One Thing Prince George Won’t Get for His Birthday

Britain's Prince George is seen ahead of his first birthday
At just 1 year old, Britain's Prince George is still too young to know just how different he is from other tykes. John Stillwell—Reuters

Despite limitless funds, castles, and loving parents, Prince George will never own this one thing.

Today Prince George, the first son of Prince William and Kate Middleton, turns 1 year old. By all accounts his first birthday party will be tasteful and reserved for a select group of friends and family. The pomp quotient will be at a minimum.

Of course, when your great grandmother is the Queen of England, your dad is a prince, and you are third in line to become the king, the term “friends and family” takes on new meaning. Likewise, a small get-together at the house is something else altogether when that house is a 20-room apartment.

My son, whom I write about in this space most Mondays, is not the third in line to become the King of England, and isn’t currently the prince of anything. (Don’t tell his mother.) While Luke is only narrowing in on the second half of his first year, it is difficult not to feel a touch of parental inadequacy when you compare yourself to royalty.

For instance, we don’t have $41 million to bestow upon Luke. Nor can the Family Tepper abscond from muggy New York City to New Zealand and Australia for a summer vacation—although we did trek down to St. Petersburg, Fla. Luke will never be named the “World’s Most Eligible Infant,” despite his killer combination of Byronic looks and joie de vivre (at least in this journalist’s unbiased opinion). And that’s because he’s the child of relatively ordinary parents.

Yes, there is a whole stratum of experiences forever beyond Luke’s grasp because he wasn’t born into higher stock.

At the same time, though, there is one thing that we can give Luke that no royals can give their offspring. He will, by and large, live a normal life. And Prince George will not. Which is unfortunate.

With the castles and private jets and rapacious attention of an unrelenting populace comes a responsibility to become a symbol of, well, something. (I’m American and don’t understand the particular psychology of fetishizing kings and queens and princes.) When every move is studied and photographed and judged and written about, I imagine it would be hard to have a childhood.

The other day Luke and I went to the park. We were surrounded by lots of other families, and we took our place in an open spot in the shade. Luke spent the half hour seated upright, pulling up blades of grass and then toppling over. Our dachshund sat nearby, so when Luke was done with the grass he pet our dog for the first time. I took a picture of the scene and sent it to my wife.

That is where the picture stayed (unless, of course, I chose to use it for this column). The only people who will care that Luke has taken his first steps are his family, not the entire English-speaking world.

While we will never be able to give Luke a palace, we can at least give him that.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly.

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What Millennials Want That Their Boomer Parents Hate

Luke Tepper
Luke looks around for the inflation that has yet to come Taylor Tepper

It is nine letters long, (not legal weed), and causes investors' blood to boil.

Inflation. We really want some inflation. Now, if possible.

Macroeconomic forces are not top of my mind all the time. A couple of weekends ago, for instance, my wife and I played poker and drank beer on our friend’s rooftop patio. Our son Luke, clad in his new miniature gondolier outfit, crawled between our legs as one person after another told us how cute he was. That night Luke held onto one of my fingers while I gave him his midnight feeding. Later my wife and I slipped into his room for a few moments to watch him sleep.

I can tell you that at no point during our perfect summer day did the word inflation pop into our heads. We went to sleep thinking just how lucky we were to have such a beautiful son, rather than dwelling on the fact that we face an inflationary climate that is hostile to the economics of our new family.

We aren’t strangers to what economists call “headwinds.” Mrs. Tepper and I graduated from the same really expensive private college in 2008, just as the nation was mired in the worst recession in 80 years. We attended college (and later graduate school) as state governments across the country drastically cut higher education spending, which meant higher costs, which meant that we incurred a combined six-figures student loan marker. And entering the job market in the teeth of negative economic growth means we’ll be playing catch-up for years and years.

Given all that we (and Americans, generally) have endured since 2008, it might seem strange that I would ask for higher inflation. When the prices of goods rise quickly, the Federal Reserve is apt to raise interest rates. Higher interest rates make it more expensive to purchase a house, or borrow for anything. Don’t I want to own a house? What’s wrong with me?

For a little bit of context, let’s back up and look at where inflation has been over the past six years. If you look at the core price index for personal consumption expenditures (or core PCE), inflation is rising at an annual rate of 1.5%. In fact ever since Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy it has barely budged over 2%.

inflation...

Even if you look at a broader inflation metric, like the consumer price index, prices have risen at 2.1% or lower for almost two years.

What does this mean?

For one thing, wage growth has stagnated at around 2% since we left school, and job growth, while picking up lately, has been relatively slow. Weak job creation and small pay increases means that people have less money to spend, which means fewer jobs and the cycle goes round and round.

So more economic growth (spurred on by more borrowing and spending) would help alleviate low wage growth, and help us ramp up our weekly paychecks. But it would also do something else. It would help us pay down our student loan debts.

Super low inflation is bad for people who have debt. Right now Americans owe more than $1.1 trillion in student loan debt. That means people our age are receiving raises that aren’t that high and have to confront a record level of debt before their careers really get going. With so much of our take-home pay earmarked for debt service, no wonder housing isn’t a priority, or affordable, for millennials (or the Teppers).

Of course, this kind of talk scares our parents (and rich people), who own bonds and other assets designed to preserve wealth instead of create it. Having already endured years of low interest rates, they really don’t want their bond portfolio to be hit by an inflation jump.

To which I say, tough. Many boomers entered the job market as the economy was expanding and college was affordable. Their children did not.

Luke has this one toy that he loves. It’s a sort-of picture book for infants consisting of a crinkly material, and he loves nothing more than smashing the thing between his hands and feet. In 17 years, he’ll want a car—and then four years of college.

I realize that the costs of these things will rise—prices always rise. It would just be nice if our salaries rose enough to pay for them.

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:

 

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What Adam Smith Taught Me About Child Care

Luke Tepper
The mental health of this child's parents depends on their division of labor.

The best parenting book you've haven't read was written by a childless British philosopher who's been dead for 200-odd years.

It’s 1 p.m. on Sunday, and a thick fog of panic begins to set in. Luke has just woken from his mid-morning nap and will need to go back down for a light snooze in three hours. If we miss that window, he’ll become too tired by bedtime and will holler for an extra hour before finally going to sleep for the night; and by the time he does, Mrs. Tepper and I will be hollowed-out shells of our normal selves.

But this afternoon is not an unscheduled pocket of time to be frittered away perambulating around Prospect Park. We have work to do.

Our mission is to retrieve a second-hand high chair (which combines a feeding seat with “a sophisticated pneumatic lift system” according to the ad), stop by the hardware store for air conditioning accessories, and buy groceries for dinner.

That’s just half the battle. Before we even get into our car, we must pack Luke’s diaper bag, collect a few of his favorite teethers and jam his apocalypse-proof $800 stroller into our trunk. This is all while entertaining the tyke so that he doesn’t cry, and detaining our dachshund behind the kitchen gate (which is intended for toddlers, oddly enough). Remember, we are just two normal humans with only four arms.

Here’s the really amazing bit: We got it accomplished. Like, all of it. Luke even passed out right after the clock struck 4 p.m. How? Well, it had a lot to do with Adam Smith.

In his masterpiece The Wealth of Nations, the economist discusses the benefits of division of labor with the example of a pin factory. Instead of each employee making a pin all by himself, each worker does one specific task, and in doing so the factory becomes much more productive.

“One man draws out the wire, another straightens it, a third cuts it, a fourth cuts it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head…”

Smith goes on to say that this system is efficient even for smaller factories with only 10 employees.

“Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of 48,000 pins, might be considered as making 4,800 pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently…they certainly could not each of them have made 20, perhaps not one pin in a day…”

Now, raising a child is not like making a pin. (For one thing, you don’t have to change a pin’s dirty diaper.) But splitting up chores, errands and responsibilities is a major reason why we still resemble functioning adults.

This wasn’t always the case. When Luke was first born, Mrs. Tepper naturally took charge. While I was absolutely terrified that one false start on my part would forever limit his boundless potentiality, Luke’s mother stepped up to the plate. She could pack his travel back while holding him in one arm faster than I could unfold his stroller.

She put him down for his nap, picked him up when he awoke and fed him. Even with the bottle, she was simply better at it than me. She was the superstar, and I was the benchwarmer.

Now, five months on, we’re more of a team. I developed my own rhythm with Luke, and now Mrs. Tepper isn’t the only one who can feed, bathe and clothe him.

Before we left that Sunday morning, Mrs. Tepper and I passed Luke between each other like a basketball. She pirouetted, diaper bag in hand, and I slid Luke gracefully into his stroller with three toys dropped onto his lap. It was an efficient, domestic dance that set the tone for a stress-free afternoon of chores.

Thank you, Adam Smith.

__________

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly.

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Luke Tepper
It takes a lot of work to keep these sheets clean—but now, it's not our work.

Hiring help can make sense for new parents—even poor-ish ones. The next installment in a series of dispatches on being a new dad, a Millennial, and (pretty) broke.

On a normal Saturday, my son Luke wakes up around 6 a.m.—which means I wake up at 6 a.m. Mrs. Tepper, half-asleep, is still recovering from our son’s late-night feeding four hours earlier. So 6 a.m. is my time.

The next hour is filled with jungle-themed activity mats, frozen teethers and a $23 French rubber giraffe named Sophie that is seemingly standard-issue in my neighborhood despite its outrageous price tag.

By 9 a.m., Luke is back asleep and my wife and I make breakfast, do the laundry, and walk the dog. If we’re lucky we’ll have the bed made, the dishes done, and Luke’s things assembled in some kind of order by the time he wakes up at 10 a.m. (Of course his cadre of stuffed animals will be strewn across the floor by 10:15 a.m.) Around 11 a.m. we dress him, assemble his diaper bag and set off on errands. (Grab the dry cleaning, pick up dog food, stop by the farmer’s market.) By 1 p.m., we’ve returned to our disheveled apartment, and Luke goes down for another nap. By 2 p.m. we can’t remember our names.

We used to love Saturdays.

After almost five months of little sleep and spending almost every waking hour —and these seem to be growing exponentially—on our kid or our household tasks, we’ve come to the conclusion that certain unintended expenses needed to be incurred if we want to save our sanity and stay on speaking terms.

In short, we decided that we needed a maid.

There’s an economic argument in favor of paying someone else to do mundane chores. With only so many hours in a day, every second you’re rinsing dishes or walking dirty clothes to the laundromat is a second you could have used to further your career, to spend more quality time with your kid, or to actually have an adult conversation with your spouse.

As Catherine Rampell wrote in The New York Times last year:

Hiring people to work essentially as servants smacks of classism or insufficient self-reliance. Scrubbing your own toilet or doing your own laundry supposedly builds character, or something to that effect. And while it’s certainly good to have these skills in a pinch, it’s probably not a wise financial decision to use them all the time if you could instead be engaging in other activities that improve your—and your family’s—well-being.

Still, I didn’t like the idea of hiring someone to clean our apartment. While the Mrs. and I make about double the U.S. median household income, we live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. We also already budgeted $400 a week for child care so Mrs. Tepper (who makes more than I do) can return to work.

Money wasn’t the only reason. I enjoy washing the dishes. The soft rhythm of a basic task is almost meditative, especially after a long day. I enjoy cooking dinner. I may be a tad sentimental, but feeding my family healthful meals is a source of pride.

I could intellectualize the rationale for hired help, but some part of me had a hard time accepting that we were that type of family. Maids seem like a lifestyle choice for richer people.

But this hang-up was just something I had to get over for my family’s sake.

So we hired a maid. She was recommended by a friend and stops by for four hours every two weeks at a cost of $120 a month. That’s $15 an hour—which is a lot cheaper than a $500 an hour divorce lawyer.

Since Mrs. Tepper and I don’t go to the movies anymore—which costs north of $12 a ticket in New York—and eat out less frequently these days, we found room for the additional expense (wistfully) in our entertainment budget.

Of course we’re still sleep-deprived most of the time, and we can’t afford a personal chef or a dog walker or wash-and-fold laundry service. But thanks to a relatively small investment, when Luke rolls over these days, it’s onto a recently mopped floor that we didn’t have to mop ourselves.

And I must say, coming home to a spotless apartment and a happy wife sure beats returning to a spotless apartment and an unhappy wife.

___________

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. This column appears weekly.

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Luke Tepper
Luke is magically sleeping, while his father is fighting to stay still

We work way too much and see our families way too little. The latest on being a new dad, a Millennial, and (pretty) broke.

A couple of days ago I was on an airplane with my son. It may be a cliché, but there are truly few combinations as destabilizing as infants and planes. While other passengers may bristle at an infant’s shrieking hysterics, that annoyance pales in comparison to the sheer terror borne by the parents of the hysterically shrieking child.

(We know that you—passengers without children—are judging us. But more importantly, our kid is upset. So back off.) Anyway, Luke had a rough go of it on his first flight, so I was on DEFCON 1 for the return trip.

But he did great. Very little muss, almost no fuss. His calm allowed me to reflect on things other than what I’d do if Luke vomited on the lovely couple to my left, and I realized something: This vacation was the first time I had hung out with my son before 7 p.m. on a weekday for as long as I could remember.

Which sucks.

I love my job, but I rarely leave the office before 6:30 p.m. My commute is a little under an hour, and I usually stop by the grocery store to pick up dinner, so I’m lucky to get home before Luke’s asleep.

Of course, I’m not alone. Americans, by and large, work too long, take too few days off, and have problems enjoying their vacation time.

For instance, about one in nine U.S. workers puts in more than 50 hours a week, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Less than 1% of Dutch employees toil that hard. In fact, citizens in only three out of 36 countries devote less time to leisure activities like sleeping and eating than Americans do.

Not surprisingly, America ranks eighth from last on the OECD’s Better Life Index.

When it comes to time off for good behavior, Americans get 14 vacation days a year on average, per Expedia’s 2013 Vacation Deprivation Study, or less than half as many as workers in France, Denmark, and Spain enjoy. But that’s not the really depressing part. The really depressing part is that while Americans receive more than two weeks of vacation, we take only 10 days.

One reason is that workers want to save vacation days for later, or convert them to cash. But 35% (the plurality) report having to cancel or postpone getaways because of work.

And once we’re actually on vacation, it’s hard to shut our minds off. Much to my embarrassment, I found myself checking emails and social media my first few days at the beach. I had to tell myself to close the browser and shut the laptop and go spend time with my loving family. It’s as if we’re paid victims of Stockholm syndrome.

I don’t want to sound cranky or ungrateful. I derive a fair amount of pride from my work, and more than eight in 10 U.S. workers say they are satisfied with their jobs. The cool thing about what I do is that I get to see a finished product after I’m done, which is affirming.

But I feel almost guilty if I’m the first to leave the office, as if I have it in my mind that I really didn’t work hard enough or suffer long enough that day. While this is an especially busy time for us here (with the launch of Money.com), I know that many of my friends feel the same pressure to stay well past closing time.

So I’m here to tell you, workers of America, that it is okay to go home when you should, and that there is nothing inherently better about working 50 hours a week than 40. Don’t feel less of a success if your friends put in more hours at the office than you do.

By repeating that mantra to myself long enough, I just might get home in time to put my kid to sleep.

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