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A Mom Work-Life Balance Smackdown

A Parent Work-Life Balance Smackdown

By Amalah

Hi, Amy!

I am in need of a SERIOUS SMACKDOWN! I need my tush whooped. I am a physician who currently works at a hospital 75% time, or roughly 9-3:30 five days per week. The hospital requires five days per week, and I chose my current schedule so that I can pick up my 4 and 6 year olds from school and take them to after school activities: gym, dance, and swimming, that currently start at 4pm. However, I am finding that “something always happens” at this hospital, and I nearly always feel very rushed and on a timeline getting out of the hospital, to the school pick up line, and to the activity…to get dressed and ready for the activity by 4pm creates rushing, anxiety, and stress, and nearly always we are late getting into the room where the activity is. I would try to get to work earlier, but really cannot given the drop off time for my 4 year old.

I have the opportunity now to work in an outpatient practice 3 full days per week, aka 8:30-6:30, with about one hour of admin work on the 2 days I am off…or roughly the same number of hours per week. This would allow me 1) breathing room for myself so I don’t feel I am a rushing robot until 10pm each night 2) take care of household chores/calls that are normally rushed during the weekend, forgotten altogether, or calls taken care of while I am driving, 3) would allow me to volunteer at their school two hours per week, and see them in the process, 4) allow me to pick up my soon to be first grader right at 3pm, when her new public school will be out, the two days I am not working…something I would never be able to do now, 5) perhaps most important, would allow me to be home with them during every Christmas break, spring break, and school holidays, days I commonly have to work now, 6) be home two days of the week over the summer when they are not in school.

I worked out the hours (in total, doing the outpatient practice would give me 32 hours less with my kids per year) and the finances (I would need to hire a babysitter to be with them 3-6:30pm three days per week, to transport them to activities, etc), but even after accounting for paying for a babysitter, I would still bring home more money with the outpatient practice option.

However, I am hesitant to make the move to the outpatient practice, because three days a week my kids will be with a babysitter all afternoon, and I will miss out on the time with them, even though currently the time is very rushed, and not exactly quality time as I am watching them in a practice or lesson. Yet, I feel like this type of childcare is what parenting is about…not always about cuddling and reading stories, but about the hands on transportation, tying ballet tap shoes, comforting when they swallow water in the pool, and being there at the practices when they master a new skill and say, “Watch me mommy!” I won’t be there. I will be there more in the summer, and on breaks, and volunteering in the classroom.

HELP!!!!! Need a smackdown!!!

So I’ll just get right down to it: Take the outpatient job. Hire a great, fun and enthusiastic babysitter. Focus on your work when you’re at work. Focus on your kids when you are with your kids. Embrace your inability as a human to be two places at once, and forgive yourself for your general lack of superpowers.

Look, I admit I probably have one of the most flexible work schedules out there, AND YET. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that even a flexible schedule and work-from-home environment have limitations. I am not a full-time employee, I am not a full-time parent. Even if you manage to find that “work-life balance” (gargggghhhh) the majority of the time, there WILL be times when the scale tips heavily to one side or the other.

I promise you, any choice that’s the best choice “for you” is also usually the best choice for your family

I’ve missed field trips and band concerts. I’ve also missed writing deadlines and skipped out on work conferences. I’ve spun around in my office chair to give a small child the look of angry death because I am on a conference call, get out get out be quiet. I’ve had a part-time nanny and used aftercare programs and been embarrassingly late for school drop-offs and pick-ups. I’ve never volunteered in a classroom and definitely don’t take advantage of my son’s math teacher’s parents-welcome-anytime-to-learn-Common-Core policy as much as I’d like. Right now I am facing weeks of summer and not nearly enough hours of summer camp or childcare between all three of them and I have NO IDEA WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO DO.

And so actually, I have to disagree with you that the day-to-day grind of playing taxi service and being at every swim practice is “what parenting is about.” Parenting is a much, much bigger picture than that.

I used to bristle when people said asinine things about “other people raising your child” when it came to daycare or nannies or whatever arrangement working parents opt for. No, asshat, I am raising my child. As if a few hours in the capable hands of another person negates the insane amount of work and care and love that goes into nurturing a child into adulthood. Especially when I’m spending those hours earning that little life necessity called “money,” the vast majority of which goes right into funding those great afterschool activities and gas money and new ballet shoes and replacing lost swim goggles and you know…FOOD AND SHELTER.

So look, you’re feeling guilty because you’re worried you’re making this choice “for you.” But I promise you, any choice that’s the best choice “for you” is also usually the best choice for your family, barring obscene levels of selfishness that I can already tell you simply do not possess, at least in this scenario. A stressed-out, perpetually flying-by-the-seat-of-her-pants mom isn’t any fun. (Trust me, I’ve been that mom.) The list of pros you give here absolutely outweigh the cons, which…honestly don’t strike me as cons at all. Babysitters are fun! My kids LOVE their time with babysitters. A few hours of outsourcing the activity calendar is not dooming you to miss a million important milestones or erase your presence from your children’s memories.

And honestly, I don’t remember who sat in the bleachers at my swim lessons, or why my mom wasn’t always able to chaperone every field trip. She was there when I needed her, though, and while the day-to-day memories of every car ride home from school didn’t stick (plus I always preferred the bus), I do remember the times when she (and my dad, who worked full-time) was able to be fully “there” for special things. The flowers my dad gave me at a ballet recital. The weekday mornings when my mom would wake me up early so we could get pancakes at a restaurant before school.

That’s the sort of thing I aim for as a mother now, although I know I can’t control at ALL whether my oldest will remember the giant Lego set we got him after his first karate belt test…or the times I lost my temper and yelled at him for misplacing his uniform or putting his shoes on too slowly and making us late for class.

It sounds like your new schedule will greatly increase your chances of that first kind of memory…while decreasing the times when you’re rushing and stressed and late and just trying to survive getting from Point A to B to C. That’s a win, for everybody involved.

Photo source: Depositphotos/LangstrupDK

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Katiebeth124

    Lawyer here with 3 young kids–and I also say absolutely, do the outpatient gig. I switched to a three day schedule a few years ago, and love it, mostly because my home days I get to be a 100% mom, and not be stressed about the constantly shifting roles. When I’m home, I can do laundry, grocery shop, schedule appointments guilt free–which usually means on my work days, I can concentrate on work, and know my kids are in capable hands, and I’ll get to spend the whole next day with them…without totally losing my sh*t over the stress of getting us all out the door.

  • Happy Outsourcing Mama

    OP, I strongly recommend reading this amazing Ask Moxie post: http://askmoxie.org/blog/2012/09/free-but-not-cheap.html. And the follow up: http://askmoxie.org/blog/2012/09/more-on-free-but-not-cheap.html?rq=free%20but%20not%20cheap. You can have a life-changing, wonderful relationship with your kids–without doing ALL the jobs related to child-rearing.

    • Myriam

      Thank you for the recommendations. There blog post are awesome!

    • Jeanne

      Oh those were excellent Thank you for sharing them.

    • Michelle Boehm

      Thanks for sharing, these were excellent!

  • Trish Schreiber

    I’d take it. 10 or so hours a week with a babysitter really isn’t bad.

  • Myriam

    You don’t mention “dad”? Are you together? Do you have a significant other? That person might be able to also tweak their schedule, in response to your own. But, besides that, I really agree that 2 days “off” is wonderful. You can clean and grocery-shop by yourself, so you can spend that “quality time” with your kids on the week-ends and 2 nights a week. It might even benefit your kids to have other adults involved. I know my oldest tends to be more assertive and outgoing when I’m not around, and she’s not trying to “please me”. That’s sound bad, but I hope you understand my meaning… And at a certain age, parents are sometimes not even “allowed” to stay for kids’ activities (it’s less distracting when parents are not there and kids can’t yell “loot at me mom!”)

  • Myriam

    Did you consider limiting their after-school activities to a more manageable number? With schools and work, it’s juste too much for use to do more than one thing… So we try to rotate… spring or summer is swimming, fall is gymnastics, and winter is skating, kind of thing…

    • Meg Murry-ish

      Yes, do you have a 4 pm activity every day? That’s a lot for any kid, but especially a 4 year old and 6 year old. Especially since homework will start to pick up in 1st grade, if your school district is anything like mine. Could you alternate dance and gym seasons, and/or switch to Saturday morning swimming lessons? And a 4 pm start time after getting off work theoretically at 3:30 but having to drive, do pickup, and change clothes seems kind of optimistic to me and sounds super stressful. Whether or not you take the new job, I think you should evaluate scaling back some of the activities in the fall.

      Also, I get that you like to be there for the kids’ activities, but honestly, how present are you able to be if you are trying to multi-task phone calls while driving to these activities? And yes, you might miss the occasional moment of tying a ballet shoe or having that “watch me mommy!” moment – but you’ll have 2 days a week off to devote to giving them attention from a more relaxed mom that is focused on them. And as others have said, in a few years they will want the parents out of the room so the kids are focused on the teacher, not the parents.

      I think the new job sounds like a great opportunity – but if you don’t wind up taking it and you have the option to flex your schedule a little, you could also look into getting a babysitter to do morning dropoff so you could get into work a little earlier – chances are that morning time with the kids isn’t really “quality time” either, so that might make it easier for you to get out of work on time at 3:30. Or maybe you need to acknowledge that leaving at 3:30 for a 4:00 class isn’t realistic and you either need to look for 4:30 activities or hire a college student or babysitter or trade off with another parent for pickup and activity shuttling.

      Either way, you sound like a great and devoted mom, but I think focusing on high quality time with your kids should be priority over just a set number of “hours per week physically with the kids”. Good luck in whatever you choose!

  • Bri

    I had the same concerns when I was pregnant with my first child, knowing I would need to continue to work full time after she was born. The best advice anyone ever gave me in regards to being a working parent was this: It isn’t the quantity of time that matters, but the quality of time your give them.

    So, now I don’t worry so much about the limited amount of time I have with my kids, I just focus on giving them as much attention and quality of time as I can during the time we do have together.

  • Michelle Boehm

    Amy, this is the best piece of advice you’ve ever given. Seriously, this is the best.

  • Tiffany Bridge

    PREACH, Amy, PREACH. I just got out of spending two years at a job where I was the constantly stressed, rushed, cranky mom. It is the WORST. A little extra time with a great babysitter in exchange for a happier, less-stressed, more-present mom doesn’t even qualify as a trade-off. It’s a win-win.

  • Eloo

    I work in hydropower operations, and my group staffs three positions: 12 hour day shift, 12 hour night shift, and an 8 hour M-F typical office hours shift. We rotate through all of them. I definitely feel that I get more time with my toddler working three or four 12 hour shifts in a week than I do working all five 8 hour days. I totally understand the guilt feelings; my son is going through some separation anxiety, which means he takes hours of fussing to go to sleep if I’m not home for bedtime. (Even though my husband is a SAHD and has been in charge of bedtime ever since our son weaned.) But shift work means I have way more whole days at home to play, and go fun places, and eventually I’ll be able to do some school stuff too. And I’m not worn as thin. I need some quiet time to recharge, and so going straight from working to parenting to sleeping to working again is exhausting. I’m much less patient when I’m working 5 days a week, because by Friday I’m running on empty. I’d rather my son remember a fun morning of living room dance parties and that I missed bedtime occasionally than my being home every night but sitting on the couch telling him I’m too tired to dance right now.

  • Ash Stevens

    That’s right! It’s all about quality. I’d take a relaxed mom over stressed out “gotta do activities” mom anyday. And I personally call bullshit on activities. I don’t think life is about running around. I have my kids trying different things at different times rather than doing multiple things at once. I want them to learn new things and discover their interests, but we need time together outside of the car. I never do more than one extracurricular thing at a time. I’d rather hang myself! For real! 😀