Lately, many of our weeks have ended the same way — sitting together with our laptops/iPads late at night, negotiating the coming weeks’ schedule. Who’s doing drop-off and pick-up each day, who has work stuff that runs past normal work hours, who’s responsible for making dinner which nights, what social activities the family can do, what nights we need babysitter coverage. Romantic? Nope. Essential to keeping the romance alive? Absolutely.
Before kids, professional opportunities drove our schedules. We happily chased grad school and jobs around the country. We fit in socializing at the end of long work days, often starting around 9 or 10pm (our bedtime these days). We stayed late at work and accepted frequent work trips with little thought to the impact on each other or the rest of our lives. We combined vacations with work trips, and worked on our vacations.
Becoming parents changed all that. We both still have demanding careers we enjoy – B in social impact, D in tech start-ups. But we also both love being parents. We relish being present with our kids, being part of the fabric of our daughters’ daily lives, even on the tough days. Parenthood also renewed our appreciation for time alone with each other. And, much to our surprise, it reawakened our desire to do more of what makes each of us who we are – performing violin, cross-training, and community organizing/volunteering for D; ultimate Frisbee, writing, and entrepreneurial ventures for B.
And yet… knowing what we want to be doing is so much easier than doing it.
Our two kids — a pre-kindergartener and a first-grader — are in two different schools with two different schedules, and will be for at least the next two years. Our full-time jobs require our presence at frequent early morning and late evening events, plus occasional weekends. All of our extended family lives a plane ride away. And paying for a nanny — not in our budget! We get by only by making significant sacrifices to our careers and our pocketbook.
Since becoming parents, we’ve both specifically sought jobs that would afford us flexibility in our schedules while still allowing us to do work we find meaningful. It took a lot of effort, several false starts, and a few stretches of unemployment, but we’re now both in roles where performance matters more than face-time. The downside: we both earn significantly less than in prior jobs. But many days we have the luxury of time-shifting work hours, timing otherwise dreadful commutes around traffic, or working from home. This frees us to attend the kids’ school events, take them to the doctor, or simply spend that extra half-hour focusing on them during a rough morning. You can’t put a price on that.
We also invest heavily in our lives. We spend hard-earned money on after-school childcare so we can work and on babysitting so we can maintain weekly date nights and attend the occasional overlapping evening work event. We outsource the routine maintenance of homeownership — e.g. cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, handyman tasks — so we can spend our non-work hours being present with the family. Our savings have taken a huge hit, and we fret constantly about finances, but that’s a trade-off we can live with for now.
Finally, we squeeze our hobbies into odd hours, or multitask them. For example, B plays Ultimate in a late-night league. D combines music and volunteering on his lunch hour, performing at local senior centers.
The key to making it all work: compulsive scheduling. In addition to our weekly calendar dates, we share Google calendars, and check them obsessively. Still, any little thing — a meeting rescheduled last-minute, someone getting sick — can completely throw off weeks of carefully orchestrated plans. It shouldn’t be this hard, should it?
We know we’re the lucky ones – we have the luxury to make these choices and we have each other. Still, we’re just barely able to manage, constantly holding our breaths that nothing upsets our precarious balance. And scrambling to keep our heads above water when something inevitably does.
In many ways a traditional path would be easier. One of us owning the home sphere, the other prioritizing work and earning. We’d definitely spend less time scheduling. But our days wouldn’t be as meaningful, our lives as rich, our relationships with our kids as deep. So for now, we’ll live by our Google calendars, try and find some fun in our weekly scheduling dates, and hope that, because of efforts like National Work and Family Month, by the time our kids are in our shoes, the simple act of a couple both being people, parents, partners, and professionals at the same time won’t be so crazy hard.
Got kids and careers? How do you and your partner manage?
This piece was originally published on HuffPost Parents as part of World at Work’s National Work and Family Month blog series. You can see our other HuffPost Parent pieces at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bethany-daniel-henderson/