Doublebooked: Her Point of View

one week of my personal & professional calendars.  and this is only scheduled appts

When D and I married 11½ years ago, we knew that we both wanted meaningful careers and both wanted to be fully engaged parents.  Still, we didn’t give much thought to how we would both do both until after our first child was born.  As we’ve been figuring out how to make things work for our growing family these last 5½ years, I’ve been asking social entrepreneurs and public policy leaders who’ve gone before me how they’ve done the work-family juggle.

Here’s what I learned.  Virtually all of the successful social entrepreneurs I’ve met were young and/or childless when they launched and grew their first ventures.  Among public policy leaders, nearly all of the men had a spouse who subordinated her professional activities to theirs.  A surprisingly large number of the (many fewer) women never had children.  The vast majority of those who did have kids either had a fast-track career first, children second or didn’t fully engage in careers until their children were grown.  Across the board, most of the leaders I spoke with were financially independent (or happily sharing a house with 10 roommates and living on macaroni) and/or had a partner willing and able to either generate the family income or shoulder the childcare burden.

The take-aways are deeply troubling.  As a professional, I worry that the lack of role models for a not-financially-independent, two-parent, two-career, more-than-two-person household is a canary in a coal mine.  I’m greatly disturbed by the norm today that being available 24/7/365 – which is completely dysfunctional for anyone who needs or wants to play a significant day-to-day role in family life – is necessary for high-level professional success.  I’ve worked in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, in direct client service, behind the scenes, and in the highest levels of government.  I’ve experienced the rush and the feeling of importance that comes with being “needed” by work at midnight.  But I’ve also observed that the always-on modality is rarely necessary, much less effective.

As a parent, I can’t help but think about the lessons our behavior teaches our children – that public service leadership and daily family involvement aren’t really compatible.   As a partner, I worry about whether I’ll be able to find a way to keep pursuing my professional passions while also allowing my husband to pursue his.  As a person, I’m appalled by the narrow range of family experience among our policy leaders and social entrepreneurs.  Where are the leaders diverse enough to effectively solve the world’s problems?

I know my family isn’t the only one struggling to find a better way.  Policy changes could help: lengthy paid parental leave; a tax structure that doesn’t disadvantage a dual-income family; affordable childcare; school schedules that aren’t based on the needs of an agrarian society.  But these won’t come about without culture change.  Without families standing up, en masse, and saying “this isn’t working for us, for our neighbors, for our society.  This isn’t the future our children deserve.”

I challenge all of us in public service to set the example.  My husband and I are taking a small step by baring our experiences trying to do things differently, and what we’re learning along the way, in this blog.  But you don’t have to blog to stand up.  Simply draw your own boundaries, and stick to them.  Don’t segment your life.  Share your daily struggles with your friends, colleagues, mentees.  Ask for what you need at work and at home to make your life work for you.  Our future – and our children’s – depends on it.

A version of this blog post originally appeared on April 23, 2014 as part of the Religious Action Center’s blog series “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century.” Double Booked deals with the many issues that affect working families, and features everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts and subscribe for updates, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.

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8 thoughts on “Doublebooked: Her Point of View

  1. Hi — my cousin Susan Oommen sent me your blog. Great Idea. I’ll be visiting often. Yes, its a complete quandary on how to juggle everything and be the best at them all. I think one has to pick and choose. I work full time, and read and write and paint/draw when I can. I also love to socialize. In the fall I will join an MFA in creative writing, while working full time. I decided to pursue my arts and my family. I decided I would rather fail as an artist than succeed as a socialite and party-giver. Its a lonely choice, and a difficult one. But it is my choice and the best one for me at this time. I have also given up a lot of activities for the kids. I regenerate when I am home, and being outside it, running to activities all the time, is not worth the trouble and anxiety it produces. So perhaps my children may not get the early start on tennis, but if I can give them a sense of wonder, arrived at for free, by digging in the backyard (though sometimes it is for rotten flesh on Minecraft!) then its an equal exchange, as far as I’m concerned. I’m also a freelance writer, so if you are open to guest blogging, I’m happy to write!

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    • thanks for reading!! We totally feel you on the picking and choosing to prioritize, and will be writing about our own similar decision processes in future posts. We also feel you on the running around like crazy, and love that you make time for your kids just to dig in the dirt at home! We’re still trying to feel our way through how to do this blog, but when we get to the point where we’re ready for guest bloggers, would be thrilled to have you contribute.

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  2. Love this. Agree completely. As you well know – not so easy to ask for ‘family time’ in the legal practice. Especially if you are in a salaried associate position. A non-salaried (eat what you kill, or a portion thereof) position has given me more (not so much more, but definitely more) flexibility with my time, but come at a financial cost. Sadly, I keep buying lotto tickets – not the best long term plan 🙂

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    • thanks for reading! the trading time flexibility for money experience is one we are also quite familiar with, and something we’ll be writing about in future posts.

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  3. I agree completely! Having two professional careers is difficult when you have children. One of the reasons I changed from a career in obstetrics and gynecology to family medicine, was because I couldn’t see how crazy hours and working 24 hour shifts fit with a family life. I looked at the doctors around me and saw a lot of unhappy people working on their 2nd or 3rd marriages. I love family medicine because I have the flexibility to take a day off in advance when I know there is a something that I can’t miss…like a mother’s day party at Paige’s school on a Friday morning. I also love that my husband is very loving and supportive. He gave up his career in real estate to focus on his career as a property manager of the apartments we own. He has been able to build his career and feels very successful while at the same time having the flexibility to take/pick up the kids at school and be there when I occasionally work an evening shift. It’s always a struggle to make everything work but it feels good that we kind of have a balance between our careers and our family life! Love the blog….so great to see that there are other people out there feeling the same way we do!

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  4. Love this! Mazel tov on starting, sharing and wanting to be your best selves possible. You have accurately hit on all things I think about constantly as I “plan” the next steps in my life – post-law school career and having kids. The struggle is how to do both in a fulfilling and worthwhile way. I look forward to reading about your journey…maybe you can leave some pebbles along the way that I can follow!

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