Friday, September 25, 2009

Back to work--How we do it.

A few weeks ago, Lyn and I went back to work in a serious way. In August we both fiddled around with work, doing some and getting used to our schedules, but in September we started back in earnest. It's not easy. Everything that was hard about our lives pre-baby is now just a little bit harder.

We both work. Lyn has gone back to full-time work. I am almost full time (I am teaching one less course this semester than I normally would do). Yet one of us is home with the baby all of the time. How do we do that? Why do we do that?

How we do it

Before Ira's arrival, we each worked four days a week, fitting our full-time jobs into those four days and each staying home with Leigh one day a week, sometimes working nights or Sundays when deadlines loomed or finals struck. Leigh was in daycare three days a week. Now that we are back to work with Ira, Leigh is in daycare four days a week (and loving her new daycare, by the way). On Mondays and Fridays, I'm home with Ira alone, getting work done while he naps during the day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Lyn is home alone with Ira doing the same work & baby routine. We already knew combining work and baby would be feasible for us, because we did something similar when Leigh was a baby (combining work and a toddler? Not so much). On Wednesdays I am home with both kids and just trying to survive the day. That means I'm at work for two long days (8am to 7pm on Tuesday, 8am to 5:30 on Thursday). Lyn similarly works three fairly long days but is usually home by dinner time (about 6 or 6:30 in our house). Since we both have somewhat cyclical work (Gail's work turns over on a semester schedule, I have frequent grant and conference deadlines) there are times when one or the other of us is swamped, and needs to find more work hours, at night or on Sunday. It is nice to know that each of us is capable of stepping up the house and care duties when the other is doing more outside work, and to know that the tables will probably turn shortly.

I am currently doing more time at home than Lyn. When we were thinking through this scheme last year, this seemed like a good idea -- a way for me to get lots of time with Ira and to counteract the way that responsibility for baby-care can tip toward the parent that gave birth. But we've now realized that it also has the unfortunate side effect of giving me more experience handling both kids at once, which might leave Lyn feeling less confident as a parent of two. Lyn does get to have evening time on Tuesdays (and was the first parent to successfully navigate bedtime for two solo), but we have also made plans for her to take a weekend solo parenting while I go away for a weekend on my own, something I'm very very excited about.

Why we do it

We could put both Leigh and Ira in daycare full-time. But that's expensive, especially where we live, and would obliterate one of our take-home salaries completely. But more importantly, we both want to have a chance to experience and enjoy parenting during infancy and early childhood. On the other end of the spectrum, one of us could choose to stay home with both kids. Lyn did a couple of chunks of time as primarily a stay-at-home mom with Leigh (and I once did a month solo parenting, with Leigh in outside care only three days during that time), and we really didn't like what started to happen in our relationship during those times. When Lyn was at home full time with Leigh, she became the more experienced parent and more of the parenting fell to her even when I was home. We noticed that I was gradually gaining power in the relationship, in subtle but real ways. After all, I had work and that took precedence over things that Lyn might want or need to do, because I made money and Lyn did not. When I was parenting on my own for that month, it was challenging to find our way back to parenting as a team once Lyn was back. We decided after those brief experiments that we both wanted and needed to stay in the work force, but that we also wanted to prioritize time with kids and time as a family.

So here we are. Most days seem a little crazy. One parent gets up early (after a night "off" with no baby-feeding responsibilities) and gets into work for the day. The other parent gets up, perhaps a little later, feeds Ira, and gets Leigh to daycare. That parent then goes home and alternates caring for Ira and working. Any chores that need to be done are fit into times that Ira is awake so that precious nap times can be saved for working. At the end of the day, that parent heads back to daycare to pick up Leigh, and then back home to make dinner. A little later the out-of-the-house working parent for that day comes home and we all have dinner, kids bedtime, followed by a round of nightly chores, and any catch-up work if needed. During the week we feel stretched pretty thin. But on the weekends we take Shabbat for rest (NO computers!). Leigh goes to grandma's house on Saturday night (Thanks Grandma!), while Lyn and I have a "date" while the baby sleeps (usually including a movie and some wine, and a luxurious neglect of any looming chores). Every other Sunday morning someone goes grocery shopping and then we get ready to do it all over again. Hmm. Now that I put it that way, it doesn't seem quite so hard.


Jean said...

Interesting how you noticed a power shift when one of you was at home full time and the other was working full time. How did you get your groove back after these times? Did you find a similar shift when there was overlap in grad school careers?

Lex said...

You guys are like a well-oiled machine! It's really amazing how it all works out so perfectly. In our family, I have always been the SAHM while my wife worked full-time outside the home (at times I was also working for money at home, doing childcare for other people's babies alongside my own). Our current experience is the first time "sharing" both the childcare and the work experience. We haven't really started full-swing yet (my wife goes back to work next week), but we have gotten some practice. I work 10 hours a week (2 5 hours shifts) outside the home and can bring the baby with me. Our routine is that I leave the house with all four kids at 8:20 a.m. I drop off our six-year-olds at elementary school, our two-year-old at preschool, and then take the baby with me to work. My wife comes at 12:00 and picks up the baby on her way to pick up the toddler at preschool (he gets out at 12:30). I get off work at 2:30, just in time to pick up the big kids, who get out at 2:45. On the days when I don't work outside the home, I will be "in charge" of the baby for the most part, although my wife will be working from home 80% of the time, so she can still nurse him every couple of hours. I think the plan will work out well. I do find that I really appreciate this new balance in our lives. My wife is more involved with the kids' schools than she ever was before because she never used to be able to do pick-up/drop-off at all. She gets special time with our toddler the two afternoons I'm at work, and we both get lots of time with the baby.

At the moment we are moving, though, and find that nothing is manageable! It seems like a system that only works without any additional responsibilities thrown in.