Work-Family Expert on Balancing

Stew Friedman is a renowned expert on integrating work and family. A management professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania since 1984, he's the author of Work and Family -- Allies or Enemies? and Integrating Work and Life: The Wharton Resource Guide. In 1997, Working Mother magazine chose him as one of America's 25 most influential men in having made things better for working parents. Naturally, I thought he'd be a good interviewee for this blog.

What changes have you seen in the last 20 years in terms of challenges facing working moms, within corporate America, academia and entrepreneurial fields?

SF: It's somewhat easier for women to feel accepted in positions of power and, very slowly, men are taking up a bit more responsibility on the home front.

What are your suggestions for companies trying to attract and retain talented working mothers? Are the suggestions different for attracting working fathers?

SF: Flexibility and investment in the whole person -- both moms and dads need it!

What is the biggest challenge facing working mothers today? What is the most common mistake you see women making?

SF: Biggest challenge? Not feeling guilty about finding ways of taking care of yourself. Most common mistake? Forsaking personal life.

What is your advice to women who are not yet moms in terms of finding work/life balance?

SF: Start now to clarify what matters most -- don't wait because it only gets more complex over time.

Now -- what are your answers to these questions?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  May 8, 2006; 6:50 AM ET  | Category:  Tips
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What changes have you seen in the last 20 years in terms of challenges facing working moms, within corporate America, academia and entrepreneurial fields?

MY ANSWER: It used to be that going back to work and geting outside the home was the coveted thing to do. And now the tide has turned and the stay at home mom has become the more coveted place to be. Ideal would be professional part-time work, but those positions are few and far between--and when you can find them, they're often not long lasting because companies find they need a full time person in that role.

What are your suggestions for companies trying to attract and retain talented working mothers? Are the suggestions different for attracting working fathers?

MY ANSWER: More part-time positions--and ones that aren't on the fringe of the office, but integral to the structure of the company.

What is the biggest challenge facing working mothers today? What is the most common mistake you see women making?

MY ANSWER: Biggest challenge? Finding time to do everything. Most common mistake? Not being able to prioritize what's important.

What is your advice to women who are not yet moms in terms of finding work/life balance?

MY ANSWER: ;) Marrying someone who makes a good living--so you have more options--to stay at home, work part time, or work full time--but to have the CHOICE to decide what you want to do.

Posted by: onlymom | May 8, 2006 9:33 AM


I had to smile at this:

suggestions for companies trying to attract and retain talented mothers?

based on what I have seen, and a friend's recent experience (in attempting to work out an extra week's maternity leave during which she would work p/t from home,she was told the co really did not need anyone who was not 100% committed to the job, in the office) companies care about the work getting done, not attracting or keeping 'talented' mothers (or fathers). If one talented employee leaves, they reason, hundreds more are available to fill the slot. Sad but true in my experience.

Posted by: Rita | May 8, 2006 9:47 AM

What is your advice to women who are not yet moms in terms of finding work/life balance?

MY ANSWER: Only partner with someone who will be an equal partner with you for housekeeping reasponsibilities AND child raising. Only partner with someone who is worthy of you.

Posted by: lsmith | May 8, 2006 9:53 AM

To lsmith:

The advice you give should be the #1 lesson we impart to our daughters and sons.

Even with parents who divorced, I never learned this lesson, and now struggle daily with a partner who does not choose equal partnership and resents me for asking it of him. This influences every aspect of one's life.

To me, there is no more important decision.

Posted by: cb | May 8, 2006 10:58 AM

What are the red flags of a potential partner who will not willingly share responsibilites of marriage and family?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2006 11:05 AM

I think onlymom was tongue-in-cheek when she said to marry someone who makes enough money to let you decide, but it still prompts me to make two observations:

1)The choice about staying home vs working is rarely just about money, its about balancing your material wealth against other things, and there's not some set amount that will allow you to stay home. So I would say finding someone who shares your values as far as what you want materially and in other areas is far more important.

2) I don't think it's ever just one person's choice as to whether one parent stays home. If you don't make that decision truly as a couple, I think resentment is bound to creep in on someone's part. I think if you don't view these choices as being about what each person does to support the family unit, it can too quickly become a situation where one or the other feels frustrated and taken advantage of.

And for the person who asked about red flags, I would guess that it's all about the quality of your general relationship. Do you communicate well, do you feel like you can raise concerns without him/her without s/he getting defensive, do you feel valued and appreciated in your relationship, all that stuff. My observation is that for most of my friends/family who have struggled with sharing parental responsibility, the issues are not new ones, it's all stuff that was problematic before, but now it's much more pronouned. Too many people think having kids will save their marriage, and it just doesn't seem to work that way.

Posted by: mew | May 8, 2006 11:30 AM

"What are the red flags of a potential partner who will not willingly share responsibilites of marriage and family?"

Good question. Even in hindsight, it's difficult to answer. Before we married, we discussed having kids. There was a reluctance on his part and, when I said that the issue of kids would be a dealbreaker, he said, "of course we'll have kids." After we married, there was an admission of dishonesty that he ever wanted them. He loves our two now, of course, but somehow, when they came along, he stopped sharing in household tasks (laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, cleaning) and seemed to want our relationship to devolve into "traditional" roles. I understand that there is often a natural assignment of chores, but following "traditional" lines, that means about 80% (or more) of household and childraising work goes to the woman. E.g. I asked him yesterday why he takes his casual shirts to the cleaners. His response "well, you don't iron, so..." By itself, this is a trivial issue, but the attitude permeates everything.

Other red flags? It's hard to say. I would just recommend that one not overlook things that may seem trivial at first (slightly sexist, racist, etc., remarks), but can be indicative of underlying attitudes that will have large impacts down the road. Also, an unwillingness to examine attitudes and opinions ("I don't have to explain/justify my opinion, it is what it is!" - not good).

Posted by: cb | May 8, 2006 11:30 AM

I think it is sad that a man was used as an authority on working women. How about we practice what we preach, and actually ask a WOMAN expert that question. It seems this column has done what it accuses employers of doing: deferring to men.

My advice is that if you are working your butt of now, while your kids are young, to retire in your fifties when they will be busy with their own lives, then you might want to reconsider. Many of my friends, MBAs ,doctors, lawyers, etc. are taking the time off now.

Posted by: Karen | May 8, 2006 11:34 AM

I'm sure that onlymom was just kidding. If you are "only" a mom and don't take care of yourself and your interests. And, you marry a man just for his income, then when the kids grow up and leave the house, you won't be too far behind.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2006 12:52 PM

What is your advice to women who are not yet moms in terms of finding work/life balance?

How about: try to work hard before you have kids so that you 1) have a reputation and can demand more flexibility or re-enter the work force later; or 2) can earn enough money so that even if you can't stay home, your husband has the choice to do so.

Posted by: Ms L | May 8, 2006 1:04 PM

What are your suggestions for companies trying to attract and retain talented working mothers? Are the suggestions different for attracting working fathers?

I let a potential employer know that I am a single mother. I ask about flex time, telecommuting and leave. I took a position that had these benefits. I passed on other better paying jobs that required a good amount of travel. After my divorce, I left WDC because there is so much pressure to work beyond the normal 40-hour work week. I think both parties--the employer and the employee--need to have realistic expectations and goals. There are some jobs that are not conducive to family life, and there are some places of employment that are family friendly.

What is the biggest challenge facing working mothers today? What is the most common mistake you see women making?

I agree that not taking care of myself and forsaking a personal life is a challenge. This is particularly true as a single mom (my closest family is 2500 miles away). I used the same approach to finding a boyfriend that I did finding a job: I stated up front that my daughter is the primary focus in my life. As such, I need flexibility from a lover. I have a wonderful boyfriend who completely understands. He, too, has a busy life and is happy to have a girlfriend who is not needy and clingy.

For moms to be: I hope you do a better job choosing a mate than I did, but I always planned for the possibility of raising my child alone (divorce and death are always possibilities). Also, try to figure out ahead of time whether you want to be a SAHM or WOTH mom and plan for those goals (including choosing a similar-minded mate). I believe most middle class families can achieve the SAHM goal if they sacrifice some material goods, at least until the child starts school. And if you plan to be a WOTH mom, also plan your career goals accordingly. Do you really want to work 12-hour days plus commute time and pay domestic help to raise your child? So many in WDC do that. Look at careers that have set hours, look at employers that are family friendly, look for benefits such as generous leave, flex tiem and telecommuting.

One more thing: limit your family size. Raising one or two children on your own is manageable...for a woman to raise three or more children on her own is not so manageable. And again...we go into marriage with the best intentions, but we can only control our own actions, not our spouse's.

Posted by: western single mom | May 8, 2006 1:19 PM

My answer on preparing:

1. Don't wait for personal growth moments to sneak up on you.
2. Instead, while in junior high and high school and college, learn from the actions (including mistakes and successes) of others.
3. Choose your partner wisely (see point 2 above).
4. Before you have children, spend some time figuring out WHY you want to have children. Answers can range from trivial to deep, from emotional to social to biological, but whatever the answer, you should have some sense of why you are doing what you're proposing.
5. Arrange you and your partner's life so that you can start having children early -- especially if you want more than one child.

Posted by: Skepticality | May 8, 2006 1:28 PM

Wow - amazing comments.

I would add to this my advice: make smart financial choices, because if you're carrying large amounts of debt it makes everything harder. We drive used cars that are fuel efficient, settled in a less prestigious neighbourhood (in a city where real estate is far and away the highest expense going), and never carry a balance on our credit card. We also have a home where we could rent out the basement if we needed to.

The money that's then available can go to quality daycare, or towards one or both parents staying home part time, or any number of things.

Posted by: Shandra | May 8, 2006 2:07 PM

Regarding Skepticality's last peice of advice, there was an interesting article a while ago in Slate about a study that found that the earlier a woman has children, the lower her overall earning potential. I don't remember if the author made any conclusions about why that was, but I remember that she found it to be true regardless of whether the woman planned to have children early or not. Anyway, depending on your career goals, having children early may not be best for you.

I definitely found, as someone else already noted, that having established a reputation and built up my resume a bit before having kids has made it much easier to negotiate for flexibility and salary that allow us to have the lifestyle we want. However, we do plan to only have one, so waiting wasn't a concern.

Posted by: Megan | May 8, 2006 2:09 PM

"Arrange you and your partner's life so that you can start having children early -- especially if you want more than one child."

So, what age is early? And most professional people I know wait until they are in their 30s to have kids.

Posted by: scarry | May 8, 2006 2:09 PM

I agree with starting earlier with kids. We had our child in our mid thirties. I wish we had started a year or two earlier. We thought we only wanted one but things change...it is always a leap of faith to have a kid. I think we agonized about it too much.

Posted by: LB | May 8, 2006 2:18 PM

Ok, so after my last post I got curious and looked up the article - here's a link in case anyone else is interested:

http://www.slate.com/id/2131645/

It finds that women who have children later earn more and work longer hours, so I guess it's sort of a toss up...But it's an interesting read.

Posted by: Megan | May 8, 2006 2:19 PM

"How about: try to work hard before you have kids so that you 1) have a reputation and can demand more flexibility or re-enter the work force later; or 2) can earn enough money so that even if you can't stay home, your husband has the choice to do so."


The counter-argument to this is that it is very difficult for some to go from being available to their employer literally all the time to having work limitations and firm outside committments that make it seem as though you are no longer accessible.

The counter argument I have heard to that is setting your boundaries from day one regardless of whether you have kids. (Easy to say, much harder to execute).

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2006 2:21 PM

Western single mom writes:
"I hope you do a better job choosing a mate than I did, but I always planned for the possibility of raising my child alone (divorce and death are always possibilities)."

Ugh. I don't know where to begin to respond to this. In the same sentence you admit you could have done a better job choosing a mate, and you concede that you planned to raise your child alone all along.

Are you sure you wanted a committed partner for life as a mate? Did you did you spend even half as much time and effort choosing an appropriate mate as you did in preparing to be a single parent?

"limit your family size. Raising one or two children on your own is manageable...for a woman to raise three or more children on her own is not so manageable. And again...we go into marriage with the best intentions, but we can only control our own actions, not our spouse's."

Translation: Have just one or two kids, so that you can just fall back on your preparations to be a single parent, which is what you secretly wanted anyway, and then you can conveniently blame everything else on your ex-spouse, who isn't around to give his perspective on any of this.

"I need flexibility from a lover. I have a wonderful boyfriend who completely understands. He, too, has a busy life and is happy to have a girlfriend who is not needy and clingy."
Hmm, so you have a nice boyfriend whom you see whenever your mutual schedules allow. After you get together, you're not all "needy and clingy", and he's free to leave for whatever's next in his appointment book. He's happy. You're happy. What a cozy arrangement for both of you.

How well does this arrangement work for your child and your ex-spouse? Did you consider that your child might want, or even need, their father in their life? Or is it good enough that their only exposure to a father figure a man who zips in and out whenever it's convenient for you and him?

Look, obviously, I don't know you, your ex-spouse, your child, or your boyfriend. So I don't really know what's going on in your life or your family. But based on what your comments in this blog, you chose a mate in a less-than-ideal way, you had a secret plan to raise kids on your own anyway, right now you can't be bothered to commit to a man in a full life partnership, and your child doesn't appear to have a father or father figure in their life. Seems like there's plenty of issues on your own, even without your ex to blame it on...
k

Posted by: Skepticality | May 8, 2006 2:23 PM

Skepticality ,

A lot of women have a back up plan for raising their children. I know I do, it's called a college education and a savings plan. I don't think that Western Single mom's comments reflect the fact that she just used her ex as a sperm donor. IF she wanted to do that, there are places where she could have went.

you also failed to leave out the most important thing she wrote, but don't worry, I have it right here.

"I stated up front that my daughter is the primary focus in my life."

The above comment is all that matters in my opinion.

Posted by: scarry | May 8, 2006 2:34 PM

skepticality: I think you maybe reading too much into western single mom words. Her post makes perfectly good sense to me. I can definitely related to her contingency plan of making sure you can support a child on your own. That's why I am still working (well one of the reasons anyway).

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2006 2:38 PM

Scarry writes:

"So, what age is early?"

That's entirely for you and your partner to decide. What's late for you might be too early for someone else, and vice versa.

"So, what age is early? And most professional people I know wait until they are in their 30s to have kids."

Well, in the 1950s most professional people were in their 20s when they had children. The husband typically worked outside the home, and the wife stayed at home and reared the children.

Neither situation is fundamentally wrong or right.

The point, rather, is to learn from the accomplishments and mistakes of others who walked the path before you.

Don't slip on the same banana peels other people did.
Don't let other people's accomplishments define or constrain your own.
Try your best to understand what you and your partner want, plan for what you hope, and make the choices that are most likely to help you and your partner arrive where you both want to go.

Posted by: Skepticality | May 8, 2006 2:40 PM

Skepticality, WSM said that she always planned for the POSSIBILITY that she might have to raise her daughter by herself. There's a huge difference between deliberately setting out to be a single parent and planning for the possibility that your spouse might run off with a cocktail waitress or get hit by a bus.

Posted by: Lizzie | May 8, 2006 2:42 PM

I was amused that the expert used in Leslie's blog today and the one who appeared on the chat last week are both men, commenting expertly on women, work and wages. Are there no women who could weigh in, perhaps with a bit more precise perspective?

Posted by: Rita | May 8, 2006 2:49 PM

Skepticality,

Saying have kids early means that you have a specific timeframe in mind. That's why I ask you that. If it's up to the person, yoiu could have just said when you are ready.

Posted by: scarry | May 8, 2006 2:54 PM

To the person who asked about red flags: i cannot agree more strongly with the advice given by ??-
"I would just recommend that one not overlook things that may seem trivial at first." That is just so wise. It's difficult to do when you're first falling in love but sometimes those "trivial" comments show the true colors that will be exposed after the vows are exchanged.

I also think it's important to look at your parents marriage and your potential spouse's parents marriage and compare. Sometimes we expect to do what our parents did and sometimes we vow not to do what our parents did - but in either circumstances it's the biggest influence on most people's expectations going into marriage.

Any difference can work out. My husband and I had months worth of conversation regarding work load/children/role expectations before marrying. As we came from two families that couldn't be more different (traditional vs. broken plus huge cultural differences), we started far apart in our communication. But we moved closer together until we were both content. I couldn't be happier with our marriage and the way our roles and work loads are arranged.

Posted by: jhab | May 8, 2006 3:01 PM

Scarry writes:
"Saying have kids early means that you have a specific timeframe in mind. That's why I ask you that. If it's up to the person, yoiu could have just said when you are ready."

Um, no. What I am saying is that given a choice between having kids earlier, or having kids later, you and your partner would be well advised to have the kids earlier -- especially if you want more than one child.

Now, precisely what age is early, how late is late -- that is obviously for each couple to decide, and of course both partners should be ready for it...

My apologies for not being clearer earlier.

Posted by: Skepticality | May 8, 2006 3:10 PM

- Don't decide to have children until/unless you are in a position where there will never be conflict with work/kids. You should know beforehand what choices you will make in what circumstances.

- Don't accept a job from any place that does not allow or encourage you to be the best parent possible.

Not sure why so many people feel they should procreate- especially when it obviously causes more stress and problems for EVERYONE, including the child.

I think if everyone started following those two rules, we'd have a lot better world situation to deal with.

Posted by: Liz | May 8, 2006 3:48 PM

Liz, you are right on. I got married very young and had a son, at 22. It has been a struggle. I have managed to get a B.A. and work full time, but it has been so hard. Anyway, my ex-husband sued for divorce years later and I re-married soon after that. People are always asking me when I'll have a baby with my new husband, which I am not planning to do. It drives me nuts when people ask me these things. Apparently people assume that because you get married, you'll have kids and that having children is inherently a good thing.

Posted by: MLH | May 8, 2006 3:55 PM

- Don't decide to have children until/unless you are in a position where there will never be conflict with work/kids. You should know beforehand what choices you will make in what circumstances.

Well, that doesn't seem reality based. Might be nice and one can certainly make decisions that may make the conflicts less frequent but to say don't have kids at all unless you can guarantee there will be no work/kid conflicts. Not likely. That's kind of like saying don't have kids until you have "enough" money. Nobody ever has "enough" money.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | May 8, 2006 4:08 PM

As a law student preparing for a high-stress, very full-time career but still looking ahead to marriage and a family, I really appreciate the insight people have offered today. Usually this blog is so full of venom that it makes me more scared to become a working mom than anything else, but the planning tips submitted today have given me new hope. Thanks.

Posted by: scr | May 8, 2006 4:08 PM

Right on, Rockville Mom. It's impossible to have everything "right" before having kids. And even if you do, it can change in a heartbeat in a way you have no control over. Yes, you should plan as best as you can, but it's just unrealistic to wait until everything is perfect.

And SCR, I had my son while finishing law school and have been lucky enough to find an excellent position that is challenging, well-paid and flexible. A lot of big firms are starting to be more supportive of women, if you want to go that route, but I also really recommend staying open to other options, like small firms, plaintiff firms, non-traditional legal work etc that will let you have more freedom. A lot of law schools don't provide much support for students looking for those types of jobs, but with a little hustle you'll be surprised what you can find out there. Good luck!

Posted by: Megan | May 8, 2006 4:16 PM

Q: What are your suggestions for companies trying to attract and retain talented working mothers? Are the suggestions different for attracting working fathers?


I read in Working Mother a few months ago an interview with a CEO who stated that he didn't view alternative work arrangements as something needed by working mothers, or even parents specifically. Rather that ALL employees have unique needs and may have unique working arrangements that allow them to have exemplary performance while still meeting their individual needs. This company is a $24 billion revenue ($66 billion market cap) business. Yet I have worked with them for some time and know firsthand that virtual offices, teleconferencing, telecommuting, alternative work arrangements, flex time, part time, etc. are the norm there, not the exception. I have been on many conference calls where you hear someone's children in the background on occasion. Yet amazingly enough, this company makes MONEY. It can be done.

How are they doing it? I can only guess that, among other things, it is the attitude of this CEO that permeates the ranks. This company has its issues and is by no means perfect. But if companies want to attract and retain talented people, they may want to emulate the companies listed in WM 100 that already do.

Posted by: FS Mom | May 8, 2006 4:31 PM

As a SAHM of 4 years who's about to re-enter the workforce, I am a bit pessimistic about what I'm going to find -- especially after reading this blog! The last time I worked, I was a highly paid and appreciated director of training. Now, I'm not even sure what I want to do with myself, but I am flexible and eager to try new things, even though I know for certain I won't be making anywhere near what I used to. (Any tips would be greatly appreciated.)

And for the previous posters, I completely agree about a choice of mate being the most important decision you can make. My mother once told me that you can have a rotten job, be short on cash with collectors calling every day, but if you've got a good marriage, you're going to be okay. If you've got a great job with loads of money coming in, somehow it doesn't much matter if your marriage is on the rocks. That's not to say that you have to be married or in a couple to be happy -- you don't. But if you choose to marry, choose wisely. A few years ago, I went to lunch with a high school friend of mine who included in her list of desired characteristics for a husband a "40-inch or greater jacket size". Needless to say, she is still single! Stop looking for Mr. Perfect and settle for a good guy with integrity and character who'll stand by you no matter what. That's my 2 cents.

Posted by: Kate | May 8, 2006 4:32 PM

FS Mom, what company are you referring to? I want to get a job there!!

Posted by: MomNC | May 8, 2006 4:33 PM

Early for me meant first child at 27 second at 30. We had no money with the first and struggled financially through number two, but had lots of the energy that is needed to raise young children, now with a teen and a tween we are in a good financial place and still have alot of energy! It all worked out.

Posted by: SSB | May 8, 2006 4:57 PM

I also work for a company that just recently has committed to telecommuting. Before we had this new policy, we had people working all over the country, but no people in DC were allowed a telecommute schedule.

On numerous occasions I would hear people's children, spouses, dogs, mothers, etc on con calls. I have to say that it was very annoying because it wasn't fair. To be honest I used to get pissed, I paid for clothes, commuting costs, day care, and I sat in an hour of traffic everyday.

I'll tell you that it's much easier to grin at the babbling baby or the chatty wife when you too can have your kid at your feet a few days a week.

It's determined by your manager, but most are agreeable to the policy and it's not based on whether you have kids are not. Which I think is totally fair and a great idea.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2006 5:06 PM

In response: I did not plan that my husband would run off with someone he met on the Internet...we lived togetehr for eight years before we married, and our marriage lasted six years. Again, I could only control my own actions, not his. I am not the only person who has been abandoned by his/her spouse and left to raise a child alone. Yeah, you would think I would have known him better after living with him for eight years...

Posted by: western single mom | May 8, 2006 6:58 PM

MomNC - sorry I can't list the company, but the CEO featured in WM was Ken Chenault ;-)

Posted by: FS Mom | May 8, 2006 9:21 PM

There are many good suggestions here, but life has a way of not fitting exactly into our plans. My advice is to be flexible and roll with the punches. Realize that both of you may have different ideas of what is equal.

"E.g. I asked him yesterday why he takes his casual shirts to the cleaners. His response "well, you don't iron, so..." By itself, this is a trivial issue, but the attitude permeates everything." - He's getting the shirts ironed and not asking you to iron or take them to the cleaners. It may not be your way of doing things, but that doesn't make it wrong.

Decide what you can and can't live with and don't sweat the small stuff.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2006 10:05 PM

Probably too late to respond to the last post, but it wasn't that he takes his casual shirts to the cleaners that bothers me - because it doesn't. Whatever works, and I was just curious since I didn't know he did that. It was the sexist explanation that I took issue with. He could just as easily have said "Well, neither of us likes to iron, so..." The example was meant to illustrate that sexism, when one strives for an equal partnership, is a major stumbling block.

Posted by: cb | May 9, 2006 9:43 AM

A couple of thoughts. One way to know if you have the right guy with whom to have kids: is he an equal partner before the kids come along? My husband always shared chores with me before the kids since we both worked. We each took responsability for things we were better at and when children came along, we continued with that. Neither one of us had ever changed a diaper, fed a child, etc.so we both learned at the same time. Before we got married, we both thought we would not want children and agreed that we would have them only if we both changed our mind, which we both did after falling in love with our nephew.
With regard to being able to afford for one spouse to stay home if you are middle class, I strongly disagree, especially in this area. Or different people have different definition of "middle class". When we had our first child,our compbined income was less then $100,000, almost equally divided. We had one car and had just bought a small townhouse inside the beltway. Even factoring the day care expense, there was no way either one of us could stop working and pay all our bills on $50,000even though we had no debt except our mortgage and small car note. Fast forward to last spring when my husband was laid off due to a merger. It took him about 10 months to find a comparable job. Without my salary and medical benefits, we would have been bankrupt.
Meanwhile, I have changed jobs twice and have always been upfront about needing a certain amount of flexibility to take care of my children. I'd rather be turned down by an employer right away then face problems with expectations later. I have turned down higher paying jobs that would have required a lot of travel and 50 hour weeks. I need to work but work is and will never be at the center of my life.

Posted by: working mom of 2 | May 9, 2006 1:40 PM

In an ideal world I would have liked to match my working hours to my children's growth: up to 2 years of age I would be primarily home with them, working from home and using occational babysitters; then at 2 I would have put them in a preschool until noon and worked only those hours when they are in school. Starting from kindergarten and up until they go to college I would work only those hours they are at school. Back to reality -- I also live in DC region and 100% agree with the working mother of 2 on what it takes to live here. Plus, no company in its right mind would want to hire an employee with these requirements. It's really a catch 22.

Posted by: another working mother of 2 | May 9, 2006 2:53 PM

I totally agree with both of you. Most other places in the country me and my husband could live quite nicely off his salary. Even though I would still work part time or when my child was in school, but here you just can't do it.

I also don;t think I can live with the anxiety of worrying about my husband lising his job.

Posted by: scarry | May 9, 2006 3:06 PM

My husband and I are currently exploring the possibility/probability of a SAH parent. Combined we make just over $100K, almost evenly divided. It IS very difficult in this area and I think it takes an extreme amount of planning and sometimes just plain luck with timing for it to be realistic. We bought our house in Montgomery County (basic modest ranch style) in 1998 before real estate got totally ridiculous. The same type of houses in our neighborhood are currently going for about 2 1/2 times what we paid. Since before we bought our house, we've stuck fairly strictly to a budget which included how much we should save each month. As our salaries have increased, we've increased our savings with only minor adjustments to the rest of our budget. We've tried to be very frugal and we live well within our means. We bought our house several years before having our first child so that gave us some financial recovery time. We have no debt other than the mortgage and one car payment (although we have two cars we've managed not to be in car debt for two at the same time). Even with all that, we're just getting to the point that I can see us being able to deal on one income and that's going to be close. Some evening part-time may still be necessary. Someone asked us if it was still worth it to work with two kids in daycare. It was. However, we're going to have a third and the daycare/salary differential would pretty much disappear. So we'll see how it goes.

Posted by: Yet another working mother of 2 | May 9, 2006 3:32 PM

I would say the biggest challenge is trying to get decent part time work. It's just anecdotal, of course, but nearly all moms that I know, either SAHM or working full time, would prefer to work part time. Part time might be 5 hrs. a week or it might be 30, but it seems that most women need to both do something intellectually stimulating part of the time, and be a mommy part of the time. It is hard not seeing your kids from breakfast to dinner, and it is hard cleaning up cheerios and changing diapers all day too; so how can we make it so that we're at least doing different kinds of hard work, is my challenge. PT work is hard to arrange even with flexible and understanding employers, and there are almost never prorated benefits, which I think is a real shame.

Even though I have a great husband and daddy to my kids who I believe truly tries to be an equal partner, I am not sure very many men exist who actually are equal partners. I am sure you will let me know if there are! But with my girlfriends, when we get the chance to talk, we have similar complaints. Yes, they will do what you ask them to do. Yes, they will play with the kids and be good daddies and not run off to hang out at the bar. They will take out the trash and cut the lawn. But they are largely blind to the hundreds of little things we do every day and if we should stop doing them they WOULD NOT get done. If I didn't sweep floors, run the dishwasher, do the laundry, match up all the little socks and put them in the sock drawer, keep tabs on what's going on at preschool, keep the fridge stocked with milk, try to make healthy meals, and on and on and on no one would do it. Daddy would just think, huh, the sock fairy quit coming, that's strange.
Sometimes I think the sexiest and most marriage-enhancing thing my husband could ever do would be to either mop the floor or hire a maid.
Wow, was that off topic or what?

Posted by: JenB | May 11, 2006 12:07 PM

I planned out my life very carefully -- or so I thought. Chose the right guy, finished the education, racked up marketable skills so I could work from home, etc. etc. etc.

Funny how it never occured to me that I'd have two autistic kids. Funny how that never figured into the calculations.

It's like when you go to kindergarten orientation with your child and the principal says "Does anybody have any questions?" and every hand in the room shoots up and everybody wants to know "What are you going to do for my special/gifted/highly intelligent little boy/girl?" Nobody ever asks, "How are you going to handle it when my child has dyslexia and he's eleven and he's still not reading?"

Even the best laid plans -- We all make certain assumptions, that our children will be brilliant, we won't lose our jobs, we won't have elderly parents with Alzheimer's moving into our dens so we can take care of them full-time.

I think it's great that some of you planned everything out and it happened exactly according to your schedules. That's great for you! But I'd caution any young person against assuming that you can do that. No one expects to get cancer, or have a special needs child or lose their job. The question is, do you have a partner who will still love you, stick with you and adapt -- no matter what life hands you?

Posted by: Another View | May 12, 2006 9:44 AM

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