Many people make the choice to work from home or leave work altogether to stay at home and raise their children. This choice may be made out of convenience, necessity or conviction, but one thing that is not often considered by people who are choosing to stay at home is how much they will miss the everyday water cooler conversation. I am an at-home dad and blogger. My interactions with adults are usually limited to my wife, my church, my softball team and the moms attending story time at my local library. I didn’t realize how much I would miss shooting the breeze with other adults. Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter, and now that she is talking more fluently we have some great conversations about race, gender and disability representation on Sesame Street. I thought I wouldn’t miss the corporate environment, and the truth is I do miss part of it: the human part. I miss my coworkers, customers and vendors and the conversations we would have during the course of our regular interactions. When I worked in advertising, I would usually take my coffee break around the same time every morning. I always ran into the same people in the lunch room. We’d end up talking for a few minutes about mindless drivel – politics, sports, the latest headlines (I worked for a newspaper), or the explosions that shook our entire building (we weren’t that far from the local quarry). When I became a retail store manager, my last job before deciding to stay at home, I would usually end up seeing the same lady behind the counter at the bank. She would ask how my kid was doing. I would ask if she had been kayaking last weekend. My UPS delivery guy would always talk about his new dog and how the new food we sold him was working to control her weight. The bottom line is that there was always interaction with other adults, and over time you end up caring about these people. You get invested in their stories. When my wife and I decided that I would stay at home to care for our daughter, I knew I was finally going to get some peace and quiet without customers bugging me for discounts and asking me where the restrooms were located even though there was a giant sign hanging from the ceiling. I just didn’t know that it would be so lonely. I began to look for another outlet for conversation, and I found the answer in Twitter. When I first joined Twitter, I had no idea what I was doing. Did anyone care if I just ate a donut? No. But there were real conversations going on all around me. After getting the hang of how to use the site, I could see when two people who I followed were having a conversation, and I could jump right in. This was just like entering the break room when two people were discussing last night’s big game. YES! I found my water cooler! What I soon discovered is that there are regular chat sessions on Twitter that are followed with hash tags (#). Everyone who wants to be in the conversation uses the designated hash tag during the scheduled time of the chat. One of the chats that I first joined was #DadChat (every Thursday at 9 PM EST – and you don’t have to be a dad to join in). This chat was easy to follow in the beginning because there were not a lot of people involved. Maybe a dozen or so people would participate at any given time. Over the last year, this chat has exploded in popularity and now has several dozen people participating every week. When a chat grows to this size, it’s time to check out my favorite site that is now my primary source when I want a water cooler conversation – TweetChat.com. TweetChat allows you to turn your Twitter conversation into a full on chat room. When you are involved in a large conversation with multiple users, TweetChat keeps you organized. It will refresh as often as you want (the maximum setting is every five seconds), you can highlight certain users (like the moderator, for example), you can also block certain users as well as retweets (this allows you to focus on the fresh content that you want to see, not everyone’s RTs), and you can toggle between large and small fonts. You simply log in with your Twitter account and enter the hash tag you want to follow. TweetChat will find the latest tweets that contain your hash tag. If nobody is actively chatting with that tag right now, you can click on “Share Link” and TweetChat will craft an invite for you to send so others can join in your conversation. Obviously, this site works best during a planned chat (like #DadChat on Thursdays at 9 PM EST) but you can also use it to discover new conversations as well. For example, I am a fan of the Baltimore Orioles (this statement is not as embarrassing this year as it has been in years past). If I search for the hash tag #orioles I will see everyone who is currently talking about my team. I can then jump into the conversation. Any time I feel like taking a break from my “work” as an at-home dad, I can just jump on Twitter or TweetChat and see what’s happening in the world outside my home. I’m so glad I now I have an outlet for water cooler conversation. My kid has no real opinion on the sociological representations on Sesame Street anyway. She just laughs at Elmo. Benchmark FTW Don\'t miss your chance to win a Kindle Fire. Each comment, Tweet and ReTweet of a Benchmark FTW post gives you a shot at winning. Check out the full details on the Benchmark FTW series and contest.
What do you get for a working mother on Mother’s Day? The answer to this question has baffled husbands for… well, at least a decade or two. There was a time when dad could pick up flowers on his way home from work or buy a piece of jewelry to make momma happy on Mother’s Day. Now that more and more women are working, and a larger percentage than ever have become their household’s primary breadwinner, dads can’t rely on the same old conventional wisdom when it comes to Mother’s Day gifts. Since becoming a father, I have developed a growing appreciation for moms and everything that they do for their kids. The process of carrying a child and giving birth is totally amazing. The physical strength alone is beyond my capability. Since becoming an at-home dad, I have grown to appreciate what it takes to raise a child. It is mentally exhausting to try to reason with a toddler about why nap time is a good idea. It is intellectually frustrating to comment on the state of the economy during the news at noon and only hear your daughter asking for more Cheerios. I also have a whole new appreciation for working moms. Working mothers are incredibly brave. It’s not easy to face the criticism that they face for not staying at home. It is difficult to balance work demands and the demands of home life. It is impossible to be super-employee and super-mommy, but thousands of women do it every day. These women are amazing, and I am lucky enough to be married to one of them. The love that I have for my wife is incredibly strong, and that love has grown exponentially since we decided to reverse roles and have me stay at home while she went back to work. I appreciate that she was brave enough to tell me about her desire to return to work. I appreciate her flexibility to let me be at home with our child. I appreciate the effort that she makes to be great at her job and be a great mother to our daughter. She is a super-hero to our family, and she doesn’t need flowers or jewelry to know that she is appreciated. What she needs is a break. That’s right, give the working mother in your life some time off. What she tries to do for your family every day is nearly impossible, and yet she does it. Make sure she knows how much you really appreciate her. Send her to the spa for the weekend. Let her take the day to go to the beach. Make her breakfast in bed and then take the kids out of the house for a few hours after you’ve cleaned up. Do something that says, “Mom, you work really hard to keep this family going. You deserve a break. You deserve a chance to take care of yourself. Thank you for all you do. Enjoy your day.” I guarantee it will go over well.