Updated: Mar 3, 2020
My son Matteo came to work with me at least one or two days per week during the first two years of his life. At our office he became known as the "Office Baby." When he was little, I would put him in a carrier and bounce on an exercise ball while negotiating settlements on a headset.
When he was a little older, he'd jump in his bouncer while I reviewed documents. When he was a toddler, he'd sit on my lap eating cheerios while watching Baby Shark on an iPad while I typed briefs. This turned out to be great for this full-time working Mom Attorney. I was able to keep up with my job without having to put my baby in full time care.
That does not mean it was easy. Even though some of the opposing attorneys I work with remind me of tantrumy toddlers, it still required some ingenuity to bring an actual baby to a law firm. After all, law firms are clean, quiet, and run on a strict schedule. Babies.... uhm.... are none of those things. That does not mean it can't be done. Here's some tips I've learned on the way:
Your Employer's Support
You first need to get your employer's permission. Please don't try to sneak your baby into your office. No matter how adorable your baby is, bosses don't like you bringing in a surprise baby along with their morning coffee. Babies are distracting to the work, that's just a fact. You have to acknowledge that fact when you ask for your employer's permission. Here's what you need to say:
(1) I assume all liability for the baby.
(2) If the baby is in any way too distracting, I will immediately remove him or her from the workspace.
(3) This is in your best interest because ... [ideas include: I will be more productive, I am more likely to stay at this job, it will help us attract new talent because we are family friendly, it will show your efforts in supporting working moms, I will save time on pump breaks because baby feeds are a lot faster than pump breaks...]
(4) All the work will get done.
(5) I don't expect you to do anything. It is my responsibility to ensure all my coworkers are comfortable with this plan and it is my responsibility my workstation is set up to accommodate a baby.
If you need to put this in writing, do it. That way, you'll be creating a new "baby-at-work" policy and you'll officially be a pioneer. Hell to the yeah!
Ask for a trial run. Maybe two weeks. I was the first lawyer to bring her baby to work, so I had to figure out how this worked in practice. Now there's another lawyer bringing her baby to work. We're starting a trend.
The days of separating work and family are over. Now we work while we're with our families, and we bring our families to our work.
The baby needs to get used to your workplace being a safe environment. If you bring the baby on your first day back, your baby will be like, "Excuse me, ma! But this place with the bright lights and pointy edges does not seem cozy. I also don't really like sharing your attention with anything. Now don't mind me while I scream my lungs off until we go back to warm and fuzzy land."
Starting when he was a few weeks old, I brought Matteo to my office on a weekend when no one was around so we could both "practice" working at the office. I decided to forfeit some of my time at home for the benefit of a smooth transition and extra time with him after my leave ended. By the time I brought Matteo to my office, he was as comfortable as Angelina Jolie with Brad Pitt during the Mr. and Mrs. Smith days.
Have Extra Gear
Don't shlep your stroller, play mat, diaper bag, rocker, carrier, and snacks back and forth. Between carrying a baby and a briefcase, you can't pile on contents of the BabiesRUs final sale on your back too. I borrowed extra gear from friends or I bought it.
You don't want to be in a position of forgetting baby wipes when you have a pooped up baby on your lap during a staff meeting. Talking about pooped up babies, I changed Matteo in my car. When you have privileges, don't push it. No one likes the smell of baby doo-doo on chocolate chip cookie delivery day.
You may need to use an older, less valuable computer. I was always wearing a headset and when Matteo was banging his sticky hands on my keyboard, I would turn off my keyboard and dictate my content through a headset.
Find Your Allies
I made it a point to ask each person individually at the end of the day if they were distracted by him, and to tell me honestly if they were. No one in my office complained about Matteo being a distraction. To the contrary, the feedback I got is that Matteo brought an excitement and joy to the office.
Our work is serious. He made them laugh. When he became older and more lively and loud, he sure was distracting to some extent, but by that time they all loved Matteo. From the beginning, I brought Matteo to every person's office so they could bond with him. I was like, "Ok kid, time for you to work your charm so you don't get exiled from this place."
He was in general a great office baby. He did not cry excessively and he is naturally curious. Matteo spent so much time with some of my coworkers that he asks for them when he hasn't been at the office for a while. Everyone has held Matteo at one point or another when I was pulled into an emergency.
When we received a jury verdict and I had to run down to the courthouse, Matteo was with me and my coworkers watched him while I was in the courthouse. I don't take this lightly and I was generous with my words of appreciation.
Don't Force It To Work
Some days, I was able to get a lot of work done while Matteo was sleeping next to me in a rocker. But some days, I was so busy and Matteo kept putting the original executed contracts in his mouth.
Those days were difficult because I felt like I was failing at both. I was not feeling like a good lawyer or a good mother. So I called it quits. I went home, spent some time with Matteo, put him to bed, and caught up to the work at night. If it does not work, it does not work. Don't force it.
Have a Backup Plan
If you can't leave the office, you need someone on standby to pick up the baby. Some days, you just really need to be able to sit down and do the work without any distractions. Some days there are just a lot of unexpected rush projects, and I don't suggest you stop doing your job.
You are still expected to perform your duties and you don't want to be that person who doesn't work but she's holding a baby so everyone feels awkward about addressing her performance while there's a baby staring with those big googly eyes. So have a person on-call.
Don't Give Up
This may sounds like a radical idea, but I would argue it is actually the natural way of raising children. When you visit other countries, young kids before school age go to work with their mothers. There's babies and toddlers hanging out in stores, offices, and bakeries. They all seem generally calm and well-behaved, probably because they are used to the environment.
In the west we like to separate our workplace from our kids. We drop them off at centers or with caretakers because the employers don't like the distraction, noise and chaos of kids. Sure, kids are distracting, loud and chaotic. But maybe the problem is not the kids, but that the grownups have no tolerance for distraction, noise and chaos. I've been on the receiving end of many evil stares when bringing my kid out in public spaces.
The stares convey, "Can't you keep your kid quiet, gawd!?" The answer is no, he's a child, and a pretty wild one. What do you want me to do anyway, put a mouth guard on him like a feral pitbull? My hope is that more and more employers will have a modicum of tolerance for our kids. If there is one way to make your mommy employees happy it's to tell them, "Your baby is welcome here too."
I hope you found this helpful. Let me know if you asked your boss to bring your baby. You already have a no, but you can go get a yes. Your boss may respond with, "WHAT THE HELL!?" and then you can say, "I understand this is a big ask, but hear me out... [insert reasons why this is the best idea ever]." I'd love to know how it worked out for you. Make sure to tell your friends that moms in professional jobs are doing this so they know they're not alone. Good luck and don't forget the cheerios.