Dad or Mom: Stay at home or work? Both? Career, income, and child-rearing: how do you make it work?
In planning for a family, how do you make it work with a career, income and being there for the kids? Both of us are open to being the one that stays at home, at least for a time. But how do you keep your career going at the same time? (or is that a silly question?) Once you start being a homemaker and full-time parent has your career ended? And yes, career and income are different.
Any thoughts, ideas, and contemplations related to this topic are welcome.
This idea that there are "all sorts of options" has been BS in my experience. Full time is more than full time, part time is full time, and freelancing/contracting means that you spend equal amounts of time looking for work, doing actual work, and bill collecting. Yuck.
I left a crazy full-time position, went nuts at home for two years (with two kids), did some freelancing, and now have a part-time job with a nonprofit. It offers less pay and stunts my career trajectory, but now I "only" work 40 hours a week. Thus, I found my lint-covered sanity behind the dryer, and it still works!
As a free-lancer, my job has more flexibility than my husband's. So, he works full time and I picked 2 mornings a week to take on assignments/clients We have a nanny come on those days to watch our son. The rest of the time, I take care of him. Should the need arise that I get called for an add'l assignment or want to attend a conference, we get the nanny to come on those days too if my husband isn't available.
As for what to do with the baby when I'm home, I've made sure that we have at least one outing a day be it to run errands, go to a playgroup, go to the park or the library, etc. Now that he's eating solid foods, we even go out to lunch!
[My career included lots of training and certification to get to where I am plus I really enjoy it. I'd hate to give it up. Also, once my son is in an organized program such as pre-school, I'll be able to take on more hours so it's important for me to keep my foot in the professional door, so to speak. I plan to do whatever I can to maintain that AND be a primary caregiver for my son.]
I think it really depends on the type of work you do. I'm an engineer and when I took roughly 2 years off, I personally found it difficult to stay "on top of" technology trends and the ever-changing set of tools and frameworks that are out there. This, despite contracting about 10 hours a week.
I found that a) as a contracter, and b) being part-time, I was given very small-scoped projects primarily fixing bugs or doing small enhancements. I certainly wasn't doing architecture and design nor coding large-scale systems like I normally do in my job.
So, when I decided to go back full-time, I had a very difficult time finding a job. I ended up going back to my old job.
What a great question. My husband and I were perhaps naive... we just plunged ahead, had a child, hired a nanny, and then struggled to leave work everyday at 4:30 (we alternated) so that we could get home and have some good awake fun time before the "dinner->bedtime" conveyor belt. On the one hand, it was great. When I left the office, we left it behind and the time with our son was very special. On the other hand, it was really hard to leave work that early - I had to miss meetings or call-in during my commute, leave conversations mid-sentence, and - as months went on- we both began feeling like our careers (and workplace goodwill and our reputations as well-regarded, high-value employees) were beginning to slip backwards a bit. So we moved the 4:30 pickups to 5:30 and then felt like we were only seeing a grumpy, hungry version of our child and rushing him off to bed.
And then we had a second child. I had read that 2 full-time, advancing careers are quite possible with 1 child (difficult but manageable), but that it's often 2 that breaks the camel's back. I didn't understand why - especially since my parents raised two kids while working full-time (perhaps work hours and project schedules maybe were saner back then?) - but that's in essence what happened with us... though I'd rephrase "break's the camel's back" to be something more like "causes a re-think of priorities".
I went on maternity leave (and continued the nanny for our older child - what a dream! - being able to take one or the other or both or a nap as needed) fully intending to return to work at the end of the 20 weeks just as before. As the end of my leave approached, I realized I didn't really want to return a job I was no longer growing in and didn't see prospects for, nor did I want to start with a new company in a new round-the-clock-prove-yourself position right away. I didn't want to parent full-time (was worried I'd go crazy and also I wanted to make sure I could resume a work-life and ensure that I'm able to support myself and our kids should the worst happen...) but nor - and this was a huge shift for me - did I want to work full time while the kids are so young. Somewhere between my first and second child, I'd somehow folded "mom" into my identity and wanted to balance the desire to be with them and grow as a parent with the desire to contribute directly to the outside world, grow myself career-wise, and be financially-solvent.
So, after the second, after pondering options (consulting/freelancing part-time, trying to go back part-time at my current position, getting a new job in an older, more established company that better supports work-life balance, becoming a SAHM for awhile, continuing in my former role but continuing to try and keep a tight lock on "no more than 40 hours a week, minimal travel"...), I decided to invent my own solution:
- do something I'm passionate about (but not full-time)
- spend wonderful & prosaic time with the kids during the week and on the weekend
- keep my feet wet in my field so that I'd be up on some recent technologies and have a story to tell prospective employers
- challenge myself with new things to learn, new ways to grow (aside from as a parent)
- create more hours in the day by not having a 9-6 job with OT so that we can all be a little more sane, a little less rushed.
and, here's the big compromise part:
- fail to make a salary for a pre-defined (plan is 1.5 yrs max) period of time. Luckily we can afford this for a time financially, but it's still hard psychologically, on our equal & non-traditional (we thought!) marriage, and it's still a gamble as far as future employment. I need to know when I'm going to resume my long-held expectations of myself. My husband is less anxious about it (which is amazing, and I still don't quite understand it. Could he be more traditional than me underneath? Or is he just wonderful? Both?)
- giving up working outside the home AND not being a SAHM, means you give up / have to cobble together your own social network to stay sane. My husband feels the pain of this one too, as I'm often desparate for social adult contact when he gets home ;)
Honestly, I'm happy with this solution for now. But I know it's temporary and I don't know what I'll do next. The stats show you'll likely never recoup the loss in earnings if you take time off and you'll be on a new, lower path for future earnings. We're lucky enough to be in a situation where finances are one factor but not the only factor, but still...
I think the epiphany for me was to realize that it's not just "SAHM or Full-time or Part-time at your current job". There's lots of ways to be creative, if creative is your cup of tea. It does however seem to be a decision for both of "career full steam ahead" or "not".
In any case, I'd love to see more stories. Please everyone answer this question!
Once we had our 3rd, I went down to part time which I plan to continue until he is almost 3. I've been lucky because I have very flexible hours, so even before I went to part time the kids would be in daycare/preschool from 9-3 and then I'd just work the rest of the time at night after they went to bed. I just don't think that if I stop working that I would be able to get back into it (no one would hire me, not that I wouldn't want to). So, off to work I go. In fact, financially it doesn't make sense for me to work right now, but I do it to keep my foot in the door. In my field, I only know of 1 person who stopped out for years and then was able to go back. Wish it weren't so.
Feb 14, 2010
Goodness, I was so naive...but that's how it goes, I guess :)
Our first chid was born when I was all-but-dissertation in a doctoral program. I vastly underestimated the time it would take to write a dissertation while being the stay-at-home parent. It took three-plus years, largely because it took me a year and a half to admit that I couldn't do it without some formal childcare (not to mention the second baby). Since finishing, it's been difficult for me to find a way back into my field. The gap in my work history is large. I'm in a field where people are more likely to be sympathic, but it's still significant. I'm also in a funny position where I can't get licensed without more work experience, but most employers want/need someone who is already licensed. I've found temporary work that doesn't really move me forward in terms of my personal career goals, but it gets my out of the house and keeps my brain from turning to mush.
I can relate to the idea of having to be creative -- I am realizing that my notion of what my career was supposed to be like has been turned on its head. I'm having to make a comeback of sorts, and I insist that it be on my terms: part-time, reasonable hours, etc. I actually recently had a decent job prospect on the horizon (first on in years!) that I've had to admit to myself just wouldn't work, because it would have demanded too much of my time and my kids are only going to be little once.
I have a hard time imagining my earning potential ever being spectacular, unless I make a drastic change once my kids are both several years older, but I honesly am OK with that. So for me, once I became a parent my career slowed waaaaay down, but it hasn't disappeared completely.
Mar 13, 2010