A Parent Work-Life Balance Smackdown
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/LangstrupDKPublished June 1, 2016. Last updated June 1, 2016.