Nancy Davis Kho is a freelance writer and consultant in the Bay Area, with two daughters, age 13 and 10. Since her first child was born, she has tried just about every possible work schedule, from full time to part time to no time, and some other stuff in between. Today she gives us a guided tour of the trade offs she’s found with each new attempt at the perfect balance.
From Nancy Davis Kho:
One of the first things I did after having my first child was to get my infant daughter’s passport picture taken. On maternity leave from a full-time job as an international product manager for a software company, I had the blithe confidence that comes only from total ignorance that I would pick up where I left off in traveling the globe to visit customers. Perhaps I could tuck the baby under my arm like a squirmy, poopy briefcase?
In the five years before Maddy’s passport expired, (having never once been stamped), I went from full-time work in an office, to full-time but working from home two days a week, to part-time working in an office, to laid off, and then back again to part-time, but working entirely from home for my employer. Another few years later and I landed in the situation in which I find myself now: working part time from home, and for myself, as a freelance writer and consultant.
I’ll precede my next observations with a caveat: I consider myself exceptionally fortunate that, in our family, having both parents work has been a choice. There would be significant lifestyle changes and probably a move away from the Bay Area were one of us to opt of the workforce completely, but we would still be OK, at least for awhile. For many families, there is no choice, not if they want to keep a roof over their children’s heads and food on the table.
When I worked full time, most of my income went to paying for childcare. I considered it an inevitable trade for holding my place on my particular rung of the career ladder. In those early days of mothering, I had a vague idea that by the time Maddy started kindergarten, I’d be back to climbing it. I missed being with her day-in and day-out for that first year, but let’s face it: some of that first year is face-numbingly boring, and I got to skip that, too.
As our family grew, I found it harder to miss out on the small stuff. A close friend, a successful corporate recruiter, once called me from an airport where she was watching a laptop video of one of her three kids at his first soccer game, which she’d missed due to business travel. To me, it epitomized the unfair trade offs made by full time working moms. But I also admire her professional success and the long term financial security she’s ensured for her children, a significant gift to her family’s well being.
When I didn’t work at all, I discovered the shadowy underground world of Mom Volunteers—the women who, because they “don’t work,” take on the tasks of organizing the school auctions and church spaghetti fundraisers and Girl Scout camping trips. Frankly, women without paying jobs may have the least attractive work/life balance of all—many of them contribute the hours and expertise demanded by a professional job, albeit for a worthy cause. A December 1, 2010 New York Times story talked about these frazzled volunteers fighting back to reclaim their time; I fought back by returning to work.
As a part timer (in theory I work while the kids are in school for a total of 30 hours per week), I have a foot in both worlds. It’s had the effect of making me feel, at times, inadequate at two full-time jobs. I’m the go-to parent for dentist appointments, ballet rehearsal chauffeuring, sick day nursing, and dry cleaning pick up and I rarely say no since isn’t that the whole point of being part time? But there are many days when I bring the kids home from school and instead of helping with homework or making them a snack, ignore them for two more hours while I finish an assignment. Forty hours: the new part time.
Because I love my work, and want my clients to keep hiring me, I never turn assignments down, and I strive for meticulousness with the results, even if I’m writing on a laptop while waiting for ballet to let out, or in the pre-dawn hours before the kids wake up. My income is a pale shadow of my breadwinner husband’s, but it makes me feel ever so slightly more employable were something to happen to him, a scenario brought home recently in a chilling essay on Salon.com by Katy Read.
Still, it’s my choice, and it works for us, for now. Having sampled so many flavors of working parenthood, the one thing I can say with authority is though all have their virtues, none of them is perfect. Any energy put into judging someone for the choices they’ve made with regard to work/life balance would be much better directed at shoring up the vulnerable and delicate systems—early childhood education, healthcare, quality public schools—that could do so much more to support American working families.
Nancy Davis Kho’s essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Adirondack Life, and Skirt! magazine. She blogs about the blessings and absurdities of everyday life at Normalarkey (www.normalarkey.com.) She’s a writer, a reader, a bike wife, a mom, and a music fan. And they don’t call her Aunt Blabby for nothing.
What about you? Have you found the perfect schedule?
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