The Coffee Chat (#39)
My conversation with Nikhil Mittal - Head Of Business Management and Business Development, Letsbloom, board games lover and dad to 10 month old Amaira!
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Hi there 👋🏽
Cliche incoming… “Put On Your Oxygen Mask First”.
I have heard this a bazillion times. But for the first time this past week I understood why this is so critical.
Little T (she hates being called a baby now, after all she is 2.5 years old!) keeps bringing in different bugs to our household. Invariably I catch them.
I started my work week feeling very ill. My instinct was to just power through. But a little voice in my head told me I needed to take the time to give my body and mind the space to rest, recover and heal.
Once I asked for what I wanted it was easier for people to help me. Sometimes we just get in our own way. There is never a reason to suffer in silence. Ask for help when you need it, future you will always thank you :)
☕ Now, on to today’s coffee chat…
Meet Nikhil Mittal
Nikhil is Head Of Business Management at letsbloom, a cloud platform-as-a-service that offers pre-built bank grade security and compliance on all major public clouds, helping clients in regulated industries like banking, insurance, healthcare etc. to improve speed of product development and reduce total cost of ownership.
I first learnt about Nikhil when I came across a few of his LinkedIn posts talking about how the leave part in maternity leave is a misnomer and the active role men should play when it comes to parenting.
So we got talking!
Below is my conversation with Nikhil…
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family
Hi, my name is Nikhil. I am 30 years old and based out of Singapore since 2016, living here with my wife, Siddhi and our lovely daughter Amaira (born December 2021). We are a dual career couple, busy 9-7 every weekday! But post office hours, we love playing cards, playing board games, going for walks and exploring new restaurants!
For you what was the hardest part of becoming a new parent?
Before becoming parents, we were living the most blessed and relaxed life. We have a full time helper in Singapore since several years, so she takes care of the full house. Our typical weekday was work – eat – play – sleep. Repeat. Weekends were travel, get-togethers, more board games and sleep. We were carefree and had time for everything. Gone are those days!
The hardest part of becoming a new parent will be different for every couple, but more importantly, will be different for the father and the mother. For me, the hardest part was to strike a balance between caring for my wife, managing the household, managing work and getting enough sleep.. Let me elaborate why it was tough!
We switched to bottle feed quite early because Amaira was very aggressive while feeding directly. My wife, like most new mothers was already dealing with several changes in body and emotions and the move to bottle made her feel worse because she felt it will impact the bond between the baby and her. So I had to by her side to make her feel better
On the other hand, other house work also goes up tremendously with the baby. Right from food (different diet for the mother) to level of cleaning to taking care of child – it is at least 2x. Work was as intense as ever, but my line manager was very supportive.
I was in middle of all this. So, obviously, sleep suffered. I didn’t want to compromise on anything and hence it was difficult to strike and maintain that balance.
We were incredibly lucky to have my parents here to help during the early months, with my mom staying for 2.5 months. Plus our helper really stepped up. They shared lot of work related to the baby or day to day chores in the house.
After becoming a parent did you adopt any new beliefs, behaviors, or habits that have most improved your life?
In 2017, I was given a tip by one of my seniors at workplace. He said, “In life, there are 3 wheels: career (work) , family (wife and kids), your personal time (for fitness, reading, sports etc.). Its very difficult to balance all 3 at the same time. Choose 2, and do justice to them. Every few months, change one of them. That way, over a period of time, you will strike a balance across all 3.” I did not understand it then. However, now, I not only understand it, I follow it to the T.
I have dropped the wheel of my personal time for now. Walks, tennis, movies, TV series went down drastically (by over 80%). Whatever extra time I have, I spend with family, and I don’t regret it one bit.
Other tip was to make sure that me and my wife get time for each other. Every week, typically a Thursday, we go out for a meal without Amaira.. Rule is simple – no baby and no baby related discussion. We look forward to Thursday evenings!
Lastly, we started sleep training Amaira since second week. Since her 4th week, she goes to bed by 9 or 9.30pm. That gives us 2 hours every evening to unwind, play cards, play board games, watch television, or catch-up on sleep. It keeps us sane!
Did you take any form of paternity leave? If yes, how was the transition back to work?
I get 2 weeks of paternity leave. When Amaira was born, took a week and half off so that I am at home for 10 days. First 5 days we were in hospital. Next 5 days to settle at home. It was a combination of paternity leave and annual leaves.
Transitioning back to work was very difficult. It needed lot of discipline as so many things were happening at home. Efficiency suffered and had to put in more hours initially to get the work done. It took almost a month to get back into the same rhythm.
Eventually, few things helped. When Amaira was roughly two and half months old, we went to India we had my wife’s parents, her sister and brother-in-law, who are Doctors, and even more support at home. That allowed me to rest more (sleep more!). Work efficiency went up!
I learnt about your story through a LinkedIn post that you wrote which went viral. In the post you mentioned that “maternity leave is a misnomer” - I agree! I would love to know how you came to this realization?
My wife had 16 weeks of maternity leave to which she was adding her annual leavesto make it a total of 20 weeks, approximately 5months. This was to be her first career break in 13 years! She was looking forward to it and we had planned few things – wellness, exercise routines, professional courses and more – activities which are perfect for a normal leave!
We couldn’t have been more wrong. Leave is when one has time to recharge or recreate. These 5 months were all but that. First month went into figuring what was happening. Second was understanding and accepting it while trying to put a process to the madness. Third and fourth months were in India and were spent in allowing body and mind to recover. Fifth was better, where it was to mentally prepare to transition back to work. She was never more tired physically or emotionally than these 5 months. Hence, definitely, the word ‘leave’ is a misnomer.
I also loved this message you had shared on LinkedIn - “encourage your wife to get back to work soon. They will be hesitant. They will be worried. Rightly so – baby has been more dependent on them. So commit to responsibilities and prove that you will be an #equalpartner. Sleep less, skip social commitments, take some time off work or a sabbatical if you have to. Do everything to support and encourage your partner to join back. There will never be an ideal time. Do not hamper her career for yours. Modern day dual career couples take pride in their equal roles. After a baby, the balance will get disturbed. Bring balance back as soon as possible!” Would love to know what prompted you to write this? What was the general response like? Have you nudged someone in your own network to do this?
Very good question. For that, let’s get into a mother’s head during the month 3 when she has to make a decision to extend maternity break by taking a sabbatical, or by quitting the job.
Baby has started demanding more time. Emotionally, everything is still messed up. Trauma of first 2 months is very fresh. Physically, body has not fully recovered. Husband is becoming busier in the job. More than half of my break is over and I am nowhere near settled. I definitely need more time to take care of myself and of the baby.
Things become easier after the first 3 months but it is difficult to see that. It’s very easy to get sucked into the mentioned chain of thoughts and get carried away by the ‘new responsibilities of the baby’. It is a vicious cycle that should be stopped. It is partner’s duty to stop it.
We, as fathers need to prove that we are there and we will give more time and take more responsibility in the house and of the baby. And we need to prove it not by words but by our actions. Mothers should feel comfortable and confident about the home situation to consider joining back work-force.
Babies need time and attention and man and woman, collectively, will need to give that time. There are only 3 ways to make it work – share responsibility almost equally, don’t share it equally, put the baby in an infant care. Third one might be tricky during first 6-9 months because of feeding and logistics. Second one, unfortunately (sub-conscious gender bias), will demand sacrifice from the mother and will impact her career. Hence, I recommend the first one. This will make sure she can get back to the workforce and not pay pregnancy tax.
Men around me have set the bar very high. I know quite a few who took their paternity after their wife’s maternity to make sure child is getting full attention for the longest period of time. I know few more who requested for work from home for couple of months so that they can help more in the house. I also know a few who put their child in infant care (it is very expensive in Singapore) because they knew it is very difficult to manage a new born and work at the same time. General response on this line has been very positive, especially from my female colleagues and friends. They want to hear this. They want to see this happening.
Given that you are part of a dual career household what choices have you and your partner made that have helped you become a dual career household with a child?
We are a dual career household and are as equal as it might get professionally. We are at similar seniority and draw similar pay checks too. It is only imperative that we share responsibilities at home equally.
We have made few choices and have accepted few things.
1. Decision to remain a dual career couple. It is so that that we, individually, remain true to ourselves and like what we do. Money is bonus.
2. Actively discuss upcoming professional work-load so that the other person can plan accordingly. From independent career to interdependent career.
3. To share baby responsibilities equally. Be it feeding Amaira, changing her, playing with her, putting her to bed or taking her for walk
4. Decision to have the baby in Singapore, and not in India
5. We know that we will not be able to spend as much time with the baby, and hence will start full day infant care / playschool early.
6. Stay put in Singapore, especially because it is possible to have a full time helper
7. Accepting that its ok to leave the child with the helper and go out.
The biggest challenge that working parents with young kids have is limited time for themselves. How have you managed this? What are you doing to manage your energy?
Feed and sleep are the 2 variables with a baby and lack of predictability can be very frustrating especially when we are working. Hence, we consciously put effort on that from the second week itself.
On the feed side, bottle feeding was a blessing in disguise because we could size Amaira’s feed and then predict her next feed. It was to the extent that we were able to manipulate the timings as well (ex. give 30ml extra, to delay next feed by 30- 45mins). This was particularly helpful if we were to go out.
Sleep, slightly more difficult to manage, but we consciously tried to sleep train her. We used darkness and feed as 2 levers for that. We didn’t bring her out in light after 7.30pm (one of us had to be in the dark room from 7.30 to 9pm often). From second month onwards, she had started taking long nap from 8pm. Day naps were bordered by feed on one of the sides. She either woke up hungry (exactly 3 hours after her previous feed), or we fed her so that she sleeps. Her sleep cycle was predictable from second month which was great for us!
We have been very lucky that one of our parents have been with us most of the time (right now, we are by ourselves), and have taken care of the baby. Yes, we did our bit to be strict with the schedule, were on receiving end from their side sometimes, but outcome is exactly what we had desired.
Since we took the unpredictability out, all of us at home got more time. We were confidently free after 9pm 3rd month onwards. We went out every Thursday for dinner. Our parents could plan their morning walk or evening swims and we started evening walks with Amaira. Everything became a routine. Yes, there are minor changes every month, but we eventually mould them to suit our schedule.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investment you have made after becoming a parent?
Investment of time (with patience) to set a routine and few habits has been the best and the most worthwhile investment that we have made after becoming a parent. It was tough. There were moments when we didn’t know if it is worth it, especially because schedule used to naturally change every 4 weeks. But we were stubborn and thankfully it is paying off. Amaira’s feed time, nap time, play time etc. are within a 15minute range almost every single day.
In terms of products, there are a few must haves:
1. High chair (we have one from Prego) – thanks to this, she learnt how to sit within 2 weeks. Also, this chair easy to move around the house.
2. Fisher Price standing toy – she loves being in it, playing with the attached toys. She has started to stand before she turned 8 months!
3. Parklon mat – her play area won’t exist without this. She is on this mat at least 8 hours a day playing with various toys, trying to crawl
4. Swinging cradle – it became easier for everyone in the house to put her to sleep because of this. More importantly, if she woke up, just give a small nudge, cradle will swing again and she will doze off.
What advice would you give others who are on the cusp of becoming parents? What advice should they ignore?
Few advices for soon-to-be parents:
1. Most important advice – pregnancy is the easiest part, followed by delivery, followed by first 2-3 months. Just be ready to embrace it!
2. Get help. Either move to your parents’ house, or ask them to come over. You will need it more than you can think.
3. Be open to bottle feed. It is extra work, but life can become very predictable
4. Divide responsibilities and don’t be involved in same work (ex. Only one parent should sleep with the baby so that other one is fresh in the morning).
5. Do not think of giving up your career, especially if you are equal dual-career couple. There are ways to manage it all.
Since Siddhi was going through an emotional roller coaster, we had a pact between us. She can say anything to me, shout at me etc. but I will not feel bad and react. However, all final decisions will be taken by me.
Advices to ignore:
1. Do not fret over type of delivery. You cannot control it. Don’t start new exercises.
2. Latching and direct feed is a must – it doesn’t matter!
Ultimately remember, each personality, each career, each relationship and each child is different and demands different things. Be cognizant of what is needed and try to solve it practically taking into account interests of everyone. Money is one of the factor, but in the first few months, it will be about mental and emotional well-being more than anything else.
What’s the best thing you have watched recently?
What’s the best thing you have read recently?
Conversation between a scientist and LaMDA (Google bot)
What’s the best thing you have listened to recently?
Auidobook - Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
📖 My private thoughts from my very public diary…
🤓 Open tabs…
(I have modeled this section after those “open tabs” that we all have with a few (okay 30-40) interesting links that we promise we will eventually get to one day. These are the links that I had open for sometime that I finally got to …)
⭐ The Locus of Entertainment…Or why I might give my daughter an iPad
The problem isn’t the screens, it’s what's behind them. What screens have enabled is a gradual shifting of our locus of entertainment from internal to external. From entertainment being something we generate to something generated for us. And as a consequence, we’re losing the ability to entertain ourselves, relying on increasingly stimulating sources as our entertainment muscles continue to atrophy.
⭐ Rethinking the Effects of Screen Time on Youth
For years, pediatricians warned parents that too much screen time would lead to “cyberbullying, “Facebook depression,” and sexting,” and psychologists warned that it was linked to heightened levels of anxiety or depression.
But in the past few years, researchers have quietly concluded that screen time does not appear to be the culprit that it was made out to be.
⭐ Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome
“Imposter syndrome,” or doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud at work, is a diagnosis often given to women, but the fact that it’s considered a diagnosis at all is problematic.
I would love to hear from you, feedback is always welcome!
And if you happen to know an inspiring working parent who should be featured in a future edition (or if you yourself are one) - please do get in touch
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