Sliding Along the Work-Home Spectrum

One of my first discoveries while writing Mommy Wars was that American women do not fall into clear-cut "working mom" and "at-home mom" categories. Far more moms work part-time than I ever imagined. And today's full-time working mom might take a year or five off once she's gotten a key promotion or hit a certain savings goal or plain old burned out. Ditto for the most devout stay-at-home moms -- I've been stunned more than once by a mom's sudden transformation from paint-splattered T-shirt and jeans to suit and pantyhose when the right job comes along (note to prospective employers: Convincing elements always seem to be flexible hours, good pay, challenging work). Real-life moms slide back and forth on a spectrum from Full-Time Work to Full-Time-At-Home-With-Kids, depending on their kids' ages, families' financial needs and moms' desires.

Over the 10 years I've been a mom, I've worked full-time, part-time and not at all. Contrary to the doom-and-gloom about the mommy track, I don't feel my career has suffered over the long run (although there have been short stints where I wanted to work and simply couldn't find the right job at the right time). And sliding along the work-home spectrum has allowed me to recharge, refocus and bring fresh energy to motherhood and paid work.

What's your experience along the spectrum? Has combining work and parenthood been easier or harder than you imagined?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  September 1, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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My experience - 30 years working full time. Time off for vacations and 4-month maternity leave for each of 2 kids. Government job (not a high paying/power position) providing needed public services so I wasn't even off in the late 90's during the govenment shut-down/furlough.

No periods of part-time or non-work. Would love to be part-time or stay-at-home, but work fulltime because my family needs it financially. At may agency, thousands of women in my position. Alternative work schedules are still only for those who can afford it.

Posted by: workingmom | September 1, 2006 7:12 AM

Working part-time from home after becoming a mother has definitely been the hardest, and I had some demanding jobs (I was a journalist and lawyer for two decades) before "Mommy" got added to the repertoire. It's harder because of the juggling/balancing I need to do (I don't have any outside help for child care), as well as drumming up my own business as a freelancer and trying to meet deadlines.

But the most annoying aspect is the seeming motherhood competition -- are you full-time or SAH? The full-time office moms view me as one of the stay-at-homes. And many of the stay-at-homes think I'm still "career gal." Instead of all of us trying to empathize with each other's individual situations, I still get the feeling that we're trying to one-up each other on who's made the "better" choice -- and part-timers are caught in the middle with the best and worst of both worlds.

Fresh energy? I have none!

Posted by: PunditMom | September 1, 2006 7:55 AM

I work part time from home and am loving it. I despised my job, as it was not challenging and I was bored most of the time, and was basically paid to be available 40 hours/week even if I only had about 5-10 hours of work to do. Situations change, and here I am at home, typing while my daughter naps, and loving it. This job I hated becomes a lot less annoying when you cut out the coworkers and the long periods of downtime that left me thinking of all the things I could be doing at home...It doesn't matter to me that I'm doing the same ammount of work for half the pay now, as I felt overpaid before. My quality of life is so much better, my outlook is greatly improved, so it's a win-win situation for all. On top of my better mood, my employer getts a worker who is still doing everything she did before, but is in a better frame of mind about it.

Posted by: nat | September 1, 2006 8:35 AM

My wife, a nurse, works parttime evenings and on the weekends, also picks up extra hours on holidays. She complains about her job, but with 4 kids, we need the money.

With school approaching next week, I have a nightmare schedule: Off to the bus at 6:05 am, get home at 5:45 pm. then I get about an hour with my wife before she goes off to work. I'm left with 4 kids and when football practice, tae Kwon Do, soccer, girl scouts, mounds of homework are thrown into the evening activities, it looks like I'm going back to the days when I was working myself through college and waking up at 4:30 in the morning realizing that I was so tired the night before that I fell asleep before I took the other shoe off my foot.

Then I get to do it all over again. And again and again and again...

I cook this stuff, with lack of a better name, called slop in a big cast iron skillet. Basically its a bunch of vegetables, cut up skinned animals (pork, chicken, beef), peppers and spices. When it's done, I give my kids a fork, then we thank God for all we have, and the kids gather around the stove and pick out their favorite vegetables and chunks of meat. Nobody cares about sharing germs. In fact, I think it keeps our family healthier. I eat whatever is left over.

then its off to whatever..., then the bedtime routine. My wife tells me what I need to do before she leaves for work because I can't keep it all in my head.

My wife keeps hinting for another baby. I guess I might be doing something right if she thinks we have the time or money for another one, but my boss just left for a promotion, so maybe I can get my sleep at the office...

I'm looking forward to next year when my 4 year old will be going to kindergarten. I'm going to insist that my wife works while the kids are at school and maybe, just maybe, I'll get a little more help taking care of all these kids in the weekends and evenings.

What a life!

Posted by: Father of 4 | September 1, 2006 8:43 AM

I work full-time as a college professor and have a fourteen-year-old daughter. My schedule is flexible, which has been fortunate in terms of keeping an eye on her and keeping things (somewhat) organized at home. Since my husband's hours are less flexible--he's a lawyer who frequently needs to work according to his clients' schedules--it's been lucky for us that one of us is more available. I appreciate my job's intellectual satisfactions and I know that a full time job that doesn't require full-time presence is a thing lots of working mothers look for and never find. It's not the life for everyone, but academia can offer a lot to women--or men, for that matter--who want to be available for their families while they're pursuing their own careers.

Posted by: mamie | September 1, 2006 9:04 AM

I'm going back to work part-time on Tuesday. Left academia (you gotta be kidding that academia leaves you time for your family - maybe, just maybe if you have kids after tenure), going to teach part-time at a local private high-school. I might have waited to go back to work, as my 2nd is 7 months old, but this job is 6 minutes from my house, 2 minutes from my oldest's preschool and may work out for a many-many-year part-time gig with family-friendly hours.

Posted by: inBoston | September 1, 2006 9:19 AM

I think some careers are easier to take time off to be a SAHP. I work in the technology sector and if you stop working you fall behind on your tech skills, then it is impossible to get back in with dated skills. But on the bright side, I have found the high tech. sector to be very flexible about work hours and I can telecommute 2 days a week.

Posted by: Alexandria Mom | September 1, 2006 9:21 AM

I know this is totally off topic for today, but for all of you participating in the very heated breast feeding discussion a couple of days ago, there is a new article on work, socio-economic level and breast feeding mothers....

Posted by: off topic moment | September 1, 2006 9:25 AM

My wife works part-time (one day in the office--Mondays and the rest of the week from home), as well as running her own business part-time (mostly from home, but occasionally on-site with clients). We are incredibly fortunate that one of us is always home with our 4-yr. old son (courtesy of telework and flex options at my job and her working part-time and being able to do most work via the computer from home). Most days I'm home by 4:15. We have an incredibly close-knit family and get to share a lot of life's joys together. The flipside is that the line between work and personal life grows ever fuzzier--frequently, we're both sitting at the computers before bedtime catching up on projects or e-mail. But all-in-all, there's a good balance. It wasn't always this way, though--it took our son getting a bit older and each of us finding a way to make things work to get here. My wife took 6 months off after our son was born, then tried 3 days a week in an office, but we weren't happy with any of the childcare providers we tried, so we ended up patching together an arrangement amongst herself, my father-in-law, and me each week to make it work and for 2 years the schedule changed about every 2 weeks. It would not have worked but for an incredibly flexible work schedule for me and my father-in-law (both of us work for Uncle Sam, though at different agencies). For us, the additional income was less a factor than keeping mom stimulated and active professionally--we've always kind of gone by the rule that while parenthood requires compromises and changes, a deeply unhappy parent is gonna make for a deeply unhappy household. I can't even imagine trying to pull this off if both of us had shift work or jobs requiring rigid on-site attendance.

Posted by: marc | September 1, 2006 9:26 AM

"Has combining work and parenthood been easier or harder than you imagined? "

It was definitely harder for me. I went sort of backwards from most people - I went back to work fulltime when each of my first two children were 6 weeks old. When they were 3 & 5, I started working on my MBA while continue to work full time. That was by far the "hardest" period of my life as far as finding balance and having any time to do anything outside the absolute necessities.

When my 3rd child was born (the older two were 5 & 8), I put graduate school and full-time work on hold. I identified myself as a SAHM, but in truth I worked part-time from home for my old company. This wasn't hard for me to balance - caring for an infant/young child while working in my home was inifintely easier than taking my child to the office (which I had done with both older children.) I think it ultimately helped me to learn that I can "work" (whether it be paid work, volunteer work, or just personal work) with my children with me successfully.

For the last four years, I haven't had any paid work. Balance has been easiest to achieve during that period, because I have so few outside-the-family demands put on me. I can choose which volunteer work I want to do, I can choose which housework I want to do, I can choose whether or not to help friends and family, etc. Nobody is going to fire me if I decide to just not do anything one day and spend it entirely with my children instead. :o)

Posted by: momof4 | September 1, 2006 9:38 AM

I feel like I lucked out on the work-life balance scale - I got a kid with training wheels to start with! (She's 13, and we have joint custody shared 50/50 so I am childfree one week of every two). I came into her life at a good age - potty training and manners firmly established, but still moldable enough to teach her that gangsta rap and misogynist lyrics aren't OK and how to properly pull her hair into a ponytail without a mirror. How cool is that? I know it'll get infinitely harder when I get pregnant (and we had an offer of a fresh sperm donor yesterday, so it's looking more and more possible) but I think having had some experience juggling one child half time already, we'll be fine. Besides, I'm the one with the full time job - my partner can take the baby to her part time gig and we'll all be happy!

Posted by: RebeccainAR | September 1, 2006 9:51 AM

I too have had all three experiences in my seven years of motherhood. I've worked part time (three days a week, two in Manhattan and one at home in New Jersey), full time, and not at all. My stint as a SAHM ended when I got divorced and had to go back full time. I don't think my career has suffered (I am an ex-journalist who is now more of an editorial/web content consultant), because I had long-ago mommytracked myself after the birth of my first child, when I quit a very demanding position at a major consumer financial magazine (also in NYC, where I have worked my entire career) to work as a freelancer. I already knew when I was poised to go back after two years completely out of the workforce that I wouldn't be able to get nor would want one of those jobs again. Instead, I deliberately took a rather boring job that allowed me to scoot out the door promptly at 5 every day so I could get home to my two kids. Adjusting to being a single parent was the main impetus behind that, not to mention my commute back to New Jersey. That was two years ago. My career has now sufficiently "recovered" to the point that I have moved on from that boring job to a more lucrative, interesting position that lets me work from home one day a week and still leave at 5 every day. Best of all, I have been able to reshape my career from journalism -- which I liked well enough but as a single mom was never going to support my family as well as we wanted, plus I'd had my fill of it after 16 years. I am now considering that my next career move, whenever that is, will be in the marketing communications realm, which opens up many new possibilities to me, maybe even of someday working in New Jersey instead of Manhattan and also of making more money. I am also considering the possibility that I may remarry and some day be able to go back to working three days a week at a freelance or part-time gig, which would be great as my kids get older and their after-school activities increase.

Posted by: jday | September 1, 2006 10:09 AM

Combining parenthood and a career was made relatively painless for me by the Department of Defense. I had my first two children while on active duty as an attorney in the Army -- as close to a "9 to 5" job as you can get as a military officer. DoD provided a six week maternity leave for each child, free medical care, great subsidized daycare, and none of my superiors ever gave me a hard time about staying home with a sick child. Of course, I was careful not to abuse their trust and made sure I stayed focused on my job while I was at the office.

Fast forward ten years, I am now a civilian attorney working for the DoD in Chicago, working 40 hours per week, taking advantage of the great subsidized daycare (for my 3rd child) and the family-friendly leave policies that allow me to stay home with sick children and take time off to attend parent-teacher conferences and other school activities guilt free. Perhaps the world is different for us feds who live far, far away from the Beltway, but by and large people at my agency do not routinely work more than 40 hours per week.

The only time balancing motherhood with career was difficult was when, between stints with DoD, I took a job with a Chicago law firm. Despite assuring me that they were a "family friendly firm," in reality the firm was very hostile toward parents. The firm did not offer maternity leave, which should have been my first clue that mothers weren't valued. I was harassed for actually leaving work at 5:00, and staying home with a sick child simply was not an option (thank goodness grandma lived nearby.) I lasted less than six months.

Posted by: MP | September 1, 2006 10:16 AM

My older child was born right after my first year of graduate school. After maternity leave, I went back to work part-time and went to grad school part-time, had full-time daycare. After a semester of that, I quit my job, went to grad school full-time, and had part-time daycare. After getting my master's and a job, I went back to full-time work and full-time daycare. Have stayed with full-time with the addition of my second child and will probably stay with full-time with the addition of #3 (in a month or so). But probably the best balance time was when I had graduate classes 3 days a week and 2 days a week with the kid. But for working full-time, I've got a pretty good set up. 15 minute commute, fairly flexible schedule, no required overtime, daycare close by. Work being close to home is a major time saver and it helps with now having one kid in school in a different place from the one in daycare.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | September 1, 2006 10:34 AM

I just wanted to ask for advice for anyone out there with tips on working from home and being a parent. My hubby and I are thinking of having a baby soon, it'll be our first. And we're trying to figure out how we would make the career thing work out. I know it's different for everyone,but I would love any tips that anyone could give. I am a reporter at a local paper and he runs his own business so I would most likely be the one working part time. For those of you who have done this, is it possible to be a reporter and work from home or only come into the office one or two days a week? Or did you find that it was too difficult to balance both? Thanks!

Posted by: Melissa | September 1, 2006 10:44 AM

I've worked as a fed for 15+ years. (Trained as an attorney but not working as one.) DD#1 started kindergarten this past Monday. I had hoped to quit work when she started school, but finances won't allow. Then, I hoped to reduce my hours to 6.5-7 hours per day (instead of 8), 5 days/week... so that I could be her "after care." My management said no. So now, I leave work every day at 3 to pick up DD, drive her to her after care, and return to work, tacking the extra time that school-aftercare loop takes me onto the end of my workday. (I found it incredibly ironic that my boss (who has been at this agency for eons) told me point blank "Even though I worked very part time hours when my kids were little, we can't allow you to do so."

Posted by: Shepherd Park Mom | September 1, 2006 10:56 AM

I work from home as an editor. For anyone considering working (full or part-time) from home and watching children at the same time, I don't think it can work. You will have to have someone else available to watch your child. I have tried to both watch my son and work, and it is extremely difficult and stressful (both my son and work suffer). My solution has been to hire a sitter to come in during my work hours. I can hear my son and walk out to hug and kiss him periodically. I can hear if he is crying, etc., but now trust my sitters to handle everything (they are wonderful).

One side comment after reading the live transcript above today's topic. During my maternity leave (12 weeks at 1/3 pay), my company asked me to come back after about a month and a half, for 2 hours a day, working from home. My maternity leave would then be extended by a certain number of weeks with me working part-time. I agreed, and while it was difficult in some ways, I didn't mind it, thinking it was a good way to ease back into work. And it was. They were extremely grateful.

Caveat -- my husband was home full-time during this period, as he was about to start a new business. He watched my son while I worked, but if my son cried, etc., would bring him to me rather than keep trying to comfort him (this was a little frustrating). He's a great dad today, though -- I try to keep hands-off and promote their bond.

I think a good topic to address might be "unofficial" or non-corporate job arrangements for working moms. My husband just arranged bookkeeping for his business with a stay-at-home mom of 2 who used to work full-time as an accountant. She will work at home on her laptop, and bring/pickup his info weekly. She brought her 4-month-old to a meeting, which my husband didn't mind at all. All he cares about is that the work be done accurately and in a timely manner.

Posted by: Rebecca | September 1, 2006 10:58 AM

Melissa, I can't comment on the reporter aspect, but I would say that your ability to work at home while watching the baby will depend a lot on your baby's personality, and will probably be difficult in the early years.

My son (now almost 2) was the type of child who was just never content to be plunked down in a play mat, in a swing, or basically anywhere other than with a real live person - other babies I've known have been much more content to entertain themselves with toys and mobiles and stuff. So in the early days, I couldn't get anything done when I was home with him. Now, it would probably almost be possible to work and have him home with me, as he's a lot more self-entertaining and self sufficient, but it would still be tough. Another six months, I bet I could do it. So anyway, I would just caution that I wouldn't count on being able to work and have your baby with you at the same time right away.

I don't mean to sound so negative - there are lots of other benefits from working at home. I work from home now, but my son is either at day care or with my husband. But it means that I have no commute time to lengthen my days, I can come and have lunch with him, nurse him down for his nap, and when he's sick or having a tough day, I can come spend some time with him and give my husband a break. I make up the lost time at night if I need to. It can be a great way to add flexibility and balance. Good luck!

Posted by: Megan | September 1, 2006 11:04 AM

I had my daughter almost 15 years ago, while in my 3rd year of college. After she was born, I went back to school and to work, both pretty much full time. Since then, I've worked full time because, as a single mom, I had no other choice. In 2003, I picked up a part-time job as a 'Romance Enhancement Consultant' (kind of like a Mary Kay Lady, but a lot more exciting!). This has now become my sole source of income, and has allowed me to become the SAH Mom that I always regretted not being. Of course this is bad timing as far as my daughter is concerned...she's going to be at that age soon, where Mom is the LAST person she wants to spend time with! But until then, I'm just going to enjoy every minute!

Posted by: | September 1, 2006 11:07 AM

"For anyone considering working (full or part-time) from home and watching children at the same time, I don't think it can work. You will have to have someone else available to watch your child. I have tried to both watch my son and work, and it is extremely difficult and stressful (both my son and work suffer)."

It works just fine for many people - myself included. I think it depends on the type of work being done and the personality of the child(ren) and the parent.

"For those of you who have done this, is it possible to be a reporter and work from home or only come into the office one or two days a week?"

Melissa - I'm not a reporter, but I do know a mother of 2 who has successfully worked part-time as a reporter for a local newspaper for 6 or 7 years. So yes, I think it is more than possible. :o)

Posted by: momof4 | September 1, 2006 11:08 AM

off topic-

Father of 4:

Happy belated birthday to your daughter. I am reading the last couple days blogs now that I have a little time on my hands.

Posted by: lulu | September 1, 2006 11:10 AM

Though your teenage daughter may not be hanging with you the same as if she was a little girl your prescence still serves a purpose. You are available for driving places which will make both your lives easier, your prescence can help her stay out of trouble when the friends (especially the boyfriend) are over, and if she gets sick it is still nice to have mom around to baby you.

Posted by: to slumberpartiesbykolby | September 1, 2006 11:13 AM

I've stopped taking people's descriptions of SAHM and "working mom" at face value. When you dig a little deeper, you will often find those labels don't accurately reflect what those parents are doing in practice. I've met "SAHMs" who work more than I do at my FT "career" job. They often do it by cobbling together multiple PT jobs or freelance projects. (Which is fine, until they lecture me about how I can't possibly be a good mom and still work "all those hours.")I've met "working moms" who set their schedules so they are home all week. It seems to be a crapshoot whether mothers who have their own businesses describe themselves as "working" or "stay at home." Dads who have their own businesses or do consulting/freelance work, however, seem to always say they are "working."

It's seems there is a question of identity that goes deeper than the actual number of hours worked.

Posted by: Brookland | September 1, 2006 11:25 AM

"Left academia (you gotta be kidding that academia leaves you time for your family - maybe, just maybe if you have kids after tenure)"

It depends on the field. Liberal Arts professors have a much more flexible schedule than Engineering and Sciences, who must bring in money as well as publish and teach.

Posted by: to inBoston | September 1, 2006 11:25 AM

Fo4-Does your name happen to be Gerry?

Posted by: Lou | September 1, 2006 11:41 AM

I have always worked full-time, in no small part because the part-time parents around me seemed to be getting the worst of both worlds. They would take a pay cut to go down in hours, but then would end up working the same amount. Their job descriptions were not really rewritten, and they were constantly being asked to call in to meetings during their off hours, etc. On the home front they seemed to be expected to pick up more of the slack than was appropriate.

It seems to work better if the job is designed for a part-timer from the jump; it seems that many people on this board are making it work.

Posted by: jen | September 1, 2006 11:47 AM

One more note on the flexibility of academia: my kid came along before tenure, but in addition to my having the blessing of not having to be physically at the office for eight (or nine or ten) hours a day every day, we also happen to live in my hometown. My daughter and her cousins spent many hours of baby- and toddlerhood with their grandparents, aunts and uncles. (We paid my mother for her time, although her loving care was free.) Our extended family is an extraordinarily lucky circumstance not available to many in modern society. So inBoston is also right: flexible hours matter, but there are a lot of other circumstances surrounding child care (starting with number of kids?) that determine how easy it's going to be to even begin balancing outside work and family.

Posted by: mamie | September 1, 2006 11:49 AM

I am a full time working mother of two children under 5 who has been working non-stop since they were born (with exception of two generous by US standards maternity leaves of 3 months). My experience has been very disappointing and I am constantly torn between being with the kids and being at work. Part of it is related to my personality (like that woman who spoke up about being bored by kid's activities, I am SOO bored at playdates, playgrounds, and story times. On the other hand, as my kids are getting older, I want to be there for them after school to supervize homework, to read, to introduce them to music, foreign language, sports. These are activities that I want to participate in but I can't because, although I am a FED, there is no flexibility in my office other than working longer hours for one day off during the pay period. A lot of it has to do with my chosen profession and field which requires sitting in a lot of meetings and writing policy papers (you would think that this can be done via teleworking but my bosses think otherwise). Some professions have a lot more flexibility and those parents can have the luxury of sliding between SAHP and WOHP. I have been on a lookout for meaningful well-paid, intellectually stimulating part-time work forever but there is no private sector equivalent of what I do. I do know a woman who is a part time lobbyist but she is an exception rather than the rule. I think it's telling that our female secretaries of state are either unmarried without children or with grown children.

Posted by: ISO flexibility | September 1, 2006 11:50 AM

I've done it all. Full-time - no kids, part-time - one kid, full-time - two kids, work from home -- two kids, SAH - two kids.

The only role that did not work for me was full-time - two kids. As much as I felt that I was doing my best for everyone involved, there were the folks at work who resented my being late to early morning meetings. My energy was sapped from getting up at 4 am to debug programs that I couldn't get to during regular working hours because of the stupid meetings. I yelled at my kids a bunch trying to get them to move to my schedule.

Part-time with kids was satisfying to me personally but eventually I had to admit that the amount of money wasn't worth the time away from my family.

Working from home is lovely but I found an unusual number of knives in my back as a convenient scape goat. My husband had a traveling job with the same problem. When that would happen I knew to tell him travel to his office for face-to-face time with his colleagues.

I thought I'd hate being a SAH. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love having control of my own life. I'm there to get the kids from school and carted off to various activities and they are thriving. And they don't get yelled at nearly so much.

Posted by: dog lover | September 1, 2006 12:05 PM

I second (or third) the notion that working at home with a child (or more than one) depends a lot on the work and the personality of the child. It worked for us because we could depend almost like clockwork on two 2-hour naps a day (so phone calls and things like that could be more easily scheduled), but when our baby was awake there was no getting any work done. Now that he's 4 and seeking more independence, it's a little easier to get work done from home. There's just no way of knowing how your child will be and what kind of schedule/dynamics you'll shape or adapt to.

Posted by: marc | September 1, 2006 12:06 PM

Father of 4 -- Did you guys plan your life? Sounds like a mess to me, but I applaud your humor. And, you still have time to write all the time. Go figure. Maybe this is your therapy.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 1, 2006 12:14 PM

I've always worked full-time, save for maternity leave (a little over two months for my first -- actually I was unemployed during the last part of my pregnancy -- and nearly four months for my second. I also teach part-time. I make a point of choosing flexible jobs that don't require over 40 hours a week most of the time. Most of the women I know work or have worked full-time with kids. My mom stayed at home, but eventually felt too dependent on my military dad and tired of debt, so she eventually began working to help with the bills. They eventually divorced, so she had no choice -- she worked and went to school part-time.

Balancing is more difficult than I imagined, because my sister and mother made it look simple. Perhaps if I had the little ones a little earlier in life (I had them in my mid to late 30s) I'd have more energy!

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | September 1, 2006 12:56 PM

So many of us older boomer moms tried all the various combos of work/home while raising our kids. At the time, it just seemed exhausting and confusing. I think that was mostly because we didn't feel it was a valid choice to be so "flexible". It seemed unprofessional at work and never enough at home. We were trying to "have it all" and that is possible - just not all at the same time.

Now that even MEN do not count on staying in the same job/field/lifestyle forever, I think we are all more tuned-in to "choices". It's gonna work.

Posted by: granny | September 1, 2006 1:10 PM

Re: work balance and academia: I agree that academia is flexible, and even if you are tenure track (I am), more and more institutions (like mine) are allowing faculty to "stop the tenure clock" to have children (I'll be hitting that snooze button for #3 in March). My position is non-teaching and more 9-5 than most professors, but I can still easily take work home, whether it's a project related to my core job duties or an article I'm working on for tenure. I can see how it would be harder in the sciences, though, where you have obligations to lab time. Even so, I'm glad to see that more and more places are stopping the tenure clock. I hope this continues to be adopted at instutions across the country and will made available for new fathers as well.

Posted by: niner | September 1, 2006 1:42 PM

I took a 9 month maternity leave and have been back at work FT for a year. I would prefer to be part time, but we cannot swing it right now. I plan to be PT when our daughter is in school, working while she is in school for the day.

Some of the circumstances described where parents alternate hours so that they can cover all childcare themselves actually sound a lot more stressful to me than me and my husband both working FT. It is interesting to hear about this, because PT work sounds as if it should be easier on the family life than full-time work but it clearly can be equally or more stressful.

I am lucky, I work at a family friendly federal agency, and have regular hours and the ability to take time off for sickness and other events as needed. No one batted an eye at my extended maternity leave and 5-6 months is pretty much the norm around here with taking off up to a year not being that unusual. Everyone I work with is very understanding of family obligations. My husband has a similar job situation, so neither of us are overly work stressed from a time perspective. But truly, and this goes back to the daycare discussion, we can only do this because we love (and can afford) our excellent daycare.

Posted by: AU Park Mom | September 1, 2006 2:54 PM

To Melissa, seeking to be a reporter/work at home mom. I have been doing exactly that for 10 years.
Recent technology has made it such that if you have a phone, a computer and the internet, you can absolutely do your job.
However, it all depends on what you cover. Can you cover the Supreme Court or a car crash with a baby? No. Can you write features or business stories? Sure.
You'll still need some childcare, though. I was lucky my husband worked a flexible schedule and I only have a weekly deadline to meet.
Also, not every newsroom has embraced this. Some editors think it is weird to have no one in the office, so most people who have come on board more recently are not able to have such an arrangement. Your best bet is to stay where you are and try to work something out with them, rather then to go to a new job and expect a work-at-home perk.

Posted by: Virginia | September 1, 2006 3:57 PM

I work full time and have 2 children under the age of 2. I took 14 weeks off after the birth of my first child and 12 weeks off after the birth of my second. Luckily, I've recently escaped the D.C. Churn & Burn legal market for the Hampton Roads area. My new firm is very family friendly, with several attorneys working part time. No one bats an eye if I have to stay home with a sick child, but I have to admit I find it difficult to get anything done at home unless both kids cooperate and nap at the same time. I would love to switch to part time for the next few years, so today's posts have been informative!

Posted by: Lawyer Mama | September 1, 2006 4:46 PM

I quit full time work 7 years ago when I was 5 months pregnant with my first child. My plan was to do freelance work (editorial, writing, publication mgmt) because a couple of very promising opportunities had come up at that time. For the remainder of my pregnancy, I worked MORE hours than I had as a FT employee, and at a significantly higher hourly rate.

It was really helpful to get my new clients used to me as a freelancer before I had to factor in babysitters and child-related needs (not to mention the mind-numbing tiredness that accompanies new motherhood). I made a bundle and was able to take a few months off (the birth just happened to coincide with the end of both projects). I then returned to freelancing on a PT basis.

BTW, I found it ESSENTIAL to have childcare in order to do paid work. And I really preferred to have the child out of the house so I could work from home without interruption. It embarrasses me enormously to try to carry on a converation with a client while a child is screaming/whining/shrieking/laughing in the background.

I plan to do enough contract/freelance work to approximate a FT income once the youngest starts kindergarten next fall.

Posted by: Chausti | September 1, 2006 4:56 PM

For the one curious about working from home with a young child:

Some seem to do ok, but I found you can't focus on both work and a wakeful infant and do well by either. It doesn't just depend on the child you get, but the nature of the job you have.

Will you have deadlines? Will you have to keep appointments? How well do you handle interruptions? When writing - reporter, right?

Will the baby's latest ear infection respect your need to focus?

Can you move in and out of the intense focus you need to write at the drop of a hat? Can you do this when sleep deprived?

Will you always be trying to work when holding the baby and never think quite deeply enough in case the baby should wake?

If the baby is colicky, you can kiss work goodby.

(What did work for us was never seeing eachother since someone was always working while the other attended to the baby - this gave the baby excellent care for his first year - but you can only do that for so long before the marriage suffers)

Posted by: me | September 1, 2006 6:25 PM

"Over the 10 years I've been a mom, I've worked full-time, part-time and not at all. Contrary to the doom-and-gloom about the mommy track, I don't feel my career has suffered over the long run (although there have been short stints where I wanted to work and simply couldn't find the right job at the right time). And sliding along the work-home spectrum has allowed me to recharge, refocus and bring fresh energy to motherhood and paid work. " Just great, Leslie. You don't feel that your career has suffered over the long run by trying to be a working mother. Excellent!

I'm sure that you wouldn't have tried to be a mother if you had thought that it would be a serious risk to your career ;)

And, seriously, now I'm sure that you've cheered up some woman, somewhere, who was agonizing over the conundrum between the promotion offer or the positive pregnancy test. No more worries! Ladies, you *can* succeed at both, and "bring energy" from one to the other!

Now back to more self-infatuated navel-gazing, with Leslie Morgan Steiner :)

Posted by: cc | September 1, 2006 8:09 PM

...why don't you stop worrying about succeeding, so much, and just go live your life...I mean, good grief, have you done everything that you can do to be a success, today?

Posted by: cc | September 1, 2006 8:13 PM

ps to all of you: you're not available for your family when you *are* working. No matter what time of day it is that you work...regardless of how "flexible" your schedule is. If you are working, if you have to work, you are not available to do things other than work. If you have to travel, you are not availble to be with your family unless your family can travel with you.

Ah, such silliness. If you don't like your life, change it. If you won't change it, please stop complaining. Ok that's the end of my complaining :)

Posted by: cc | September 1, 2006 8:21 PM

Interesting comments. As a single mother, I have always been a full-timer, but as a teacher, I get summers off and enjoy that as well. I'd probably choose SAHM if I had the choice, but based on other choices I made (to adopt two children as a single person), that isn't a choice at this time.

I second what someone else said about the line between SAHM and working. My cousin had the kidneys to call me up and invite me to become a Mary Kay lady (I think--or some other consulting thing), so that I could quit my job and "love my children the way I was supposed to." ?!?!?!? I was very polite when I explained to her that in fact, starting such a job would be counterproductive to my strategy of spending time with my children. After all, one doesn't build up a sufficient client base to cover all expenses right a way, and most of these parties are at night. So I'd finally develop the business enough not to teach, but by then, my girls would be in school, and needing me at night, not during the day. But she gets to work while still preserving the illusion of being a stay at home mom (clearly expected in the conservative circles she runs in). Her way works for her, my way works for me. We're both happy, as long as she never again suggests that I don't love my children.

Posted by: single mother by choice | September 1, 2006 9:06 PM

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Lou, glad to see you back. I remember a few weeks ago, you got pounded on this blog for mentioning that men were different than women; hence different aptitudes. Your responses were so elegant. My name is not Gerry.

I promised I would send Leslie my attempt at writing a guest blog in September. the day has arrived. I don't know if I should try to make it funny, dramatic, heroic, simple, or if shee will even publish it. Under 300 words, that's gonna be tough.

Lulu, thanks for the birthday salutation for my daughter. In the spirit of presenting a more friendly atmosphere on this blog, I'll share a few things about the birthday girl of 15.

My daughter's birthday, once again, was not a very special day for her. We took off on our family vacation to the beach, and that means a lot of work; packing, long road trip, unpacking, child supervision of 3 siblings and 6 other cousins who share the same beachhouse for a week. My wife and I didn't even buy her a birthday present. We just gave her $100 out of the vacation money and dinner from her choice of restaurant. She will also get a cherished letter from me that exposes my innermost feelings, emotions and events that occurred over the past year. My wife will read it too, and print it out for the family archives.

I'm raising my oldest daughter from the strategy of what I call the "Benevolent Friend". It has its benifits. Yesterday, she asked me to walk along the beach and as we were strolling she told me that I'm one of the coolest dads on the planet. She can tell me anything or everything, and I never get upset. Here is a small snipet of our conversation:

Her: Daddy, Let's hug. We never hug.
Me: I just hugged you this morning.
Her: I mean a real, big hug.
Me: OK
* Hug, pat, pat, pat!* I can hear the seagulls "tweet, tweet, tweet", literally, on the beach.
Her: Daddy, you're blushing.
Me: Well, this is a, like, umm, a public beach.
Her: Yeah, and you just hugged a 15 year old girl with pretty big boobs... in front of everyone!

Looks like she inherited my sense of humor!

Posted by: Father of 4 | September 2, 2006 5:55 AM

Leslie, your observations here are exactly what Miriam Peskowitz found in researching her book,"The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars" -- a book which I very highly recommend to anyone sick of the whole contrived "mommy wars" media construction.

Interestingly, the media has not been interested in covering Miriam's findings, which are much more reflective of actually lived experiences of parents, both at home and go-to-work, than the hyped mommy wars.

Posted by: chip | September 2, 2006 6:57 PM

...women are really great at complaining about anything that makes their life harder, no matter how trivial the issue or how unjustified their complaints, and they constantly need praise for everything they do, no matter how insignificant.

Their problem is they get so "me"-centric and attention-needy that to deal with them in the workplace, in public situations, is like walking around with a 5-ton anchor around your neck. Things just can't be done quickly or easily. First, the egos must be stroked, second, all possible effort must be taken off their hands. Anything that either directly or indirectly prevents them from accomplishing their immediate goals is a huge problem.

Of course not all women are like this, many are not, but more than enough to be a real problem because you don't know which woman is going to jump, when or how high. It is a measure of how much of an impression the truly problematic can make. Certainly men can make trouble, be a problem, too. But with women there is no upper limit to how much trouble they can "rightfully" make. With a man, you can put a lid on it...tell him to suck it up, stop being a whining wussy, and just get the job done...act like a man. Because there are a lot of things that men just don't do, at least, they're not supposed to do it, being men. Try that with a woman and see how far you get. You "ignore their needs" at your own risk. Ultimately the main problem is that women play by different rules, rules that are much different than the rules that men play by. They play by two sets of rules, switching between them as it benefits them. And men, foolishly, not only allow them to do it, they *encourage* it. Partially because they think they are "making an impression" with women, by doing so. The day that sex is no longer part of the equation, men and women might be able to find common ground and mutual understanding in a lot of areas in life. But, until then, we have what we have. And what we have is just as tilted towards women in some ways as it is tilted towards men in others.

Posted by: cc | September 3, 2006 7:12 PM

"Her: Daddy, Let's hug. We never hug.
Me: I just hugged you this morning.
Her: I mean a real, big hug.
Me: OK
* Hug, pat, pat, pat!* I can hear the seagulls "tweet, tweet, tweet", literally, on the beach.
Her: Daddy, you're blushing.
Me: Well, this is a, like, umm, a public beach."

seek help, guy. If hugging your daughter in public makes you blush, you've got issues.

Posted by: cc | September 6, 2006 9:12 PM

I have a generous employer who allows me basically to set my own hours as long as I can be in the office 3 days a week. I leave at 4 to be able to be home to spend time with my 2 kids (ages 5 and 1) before bed, but in exchange I get no benefits -- no paid health care, no IRA/pension plan -- and I pay my own taxes.

My experience is that none of this would be humanly possible without our childcare provider, who also gets no benefits, with the exception of having her taxes paid. We wish we could pay her more but paying her more would make it not worth my working, financially speaking, although working is priceless for my mental health.

I also think that combining working and parenting needs to be something both parents do, and not just moms. I see lots of women trying to be in 2 places at once, while their husbands are able to focus on work and not have to waste mental energy figuring out how to get home at a certain hour, how to squeeze in a pediatrician appointment, or how to get fun time with the kids before dinner, bath, and bed.

Posted by: stephanie | September 8, 2006 12:07 PM

Father of 4-

My father is much the same. My sister and I asked him once why he doesn't hug us as much now that we're older, and he informed us we were 'shaped differently' now and it 'made him uncomfortable'.

Pft, I say to you both.

As for this article, I've often thought the most important thing was How one spent one's time. I spent/spend more quality time with my Mother when she's working full-time. She once took off work for a good three years, and for the life of me I cannot recall talking to her for more than half an hour a day.

Quality over quantity.

Posted by: Morgan | September 18, 2006 10:20 AM

Great work! |

Posted by: Dawn | September 27, 2006 8:14 PM

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