Work vs. Family

Laura at 11D points to a slate article about the “mommy-track,” which suggests that it’s not as stigmatized as it once was and that, in fact, it’s not always just moms or even just parents that seek flexible work.  The discussion at Laura’s centers around how much of choice the mommy track really is and about the financial stability of the family and the non-working parent.  I titled this work “vs.” family because I think that’s really what happens most of the time.  They’re in competition with each other for time and attention.  And work almost always wins, for a lot of reasons.  We need money to live off of.  In this economic climate, many people fear that taking time for family is a red flag that will get them fired.  And work, not family, is generally what’s valued by society.  So we’re drawn to more time into work for its financial and cultural rewards and out of fear of losing financial stability.

But the family needs time, too.  And it needs time in lots of different ways.  I laughed at one commenter who mentioned a woman taking off during the early years of her children’s lives and finding herself with not much to do once they’re in school, especially middle and high school.  Every new mom I talk to, I tell to work through those early years when there are more public services for kids–good daycare, afterschool programs, even care for the times when school randomly closes for in-service days.  In middle school all that ends, and the bigger fears begin: drugs, sex, the kinds of things that aren’t just worrisome but could literally ruin a kid’s life. Someone needs to be there to not only make sure kids avoid those things, but to help them navigate the broader social sphere of middle and high school, sometimes to just be a positive force in their lives.  I don’t think I’m being a helicopter parent here, just acknowledging that kids need guidance during these years and sometimes the best guidance comes from a parent.

And then there’s the other things that can happen.  A parent or other family member can get ill or die.   Family members might need other kinds of help–financial or emotional support, for example.  It’s just a good thing to be able to be there for a family member in need without having to worry about your job being taken away. In my own case, I’m the only child of divorced, aging parents.  And though I think it will be many years before I’m having to worry seriously about their health, anything could happen.

Mr. Geeky wants me to return to work within the next year or so to shore up our financial situation for the kids’ college education.  And I do want to work, but I need work to be flexible and it makes it hard to consider certain types of jobs.  Geeky Girl hits middle school next year and we’re headed into some major parts of high school life–driving and dating are soon to be a regular part of our lives.  We both need to be able to juggle the needs of our family and our work lives.  Mr. Geeky tries, but he has, as one commenter called it, a job that is a calling.  Literally, the work almost never ends for him.  Before I quit, I was on a similar track, but it was impossible for both of us to have our heads that much in our work and have our kids not suffering.  Maybe certain families can make that work, but we couldn’t.

There are certain careers I’d pursue–teaching in either high school or college, continuing technology consulting work, writing–that I think would be fun and interesting careers and could potentially offer me the flexibility I need, without, in most cases, my needing to even ask for it.  When I return, I plan to get more serious about generating an income.  But I need to find a way to do it without pitting work against family.

7 Replies to “Work vs. Family”

  1. I love your attitude toward work! It should be the case that work and home responsibilities can be accomplished without sacrifice of either.

    Some larger companies (Best Buy headquarters comes to mind), are changing the way they evaluate employees. Instead of looking at hours in the office, they look at meeting deadlines — so, if an employee needs to use some 9-5 time for their kids, it doesn’t matter when they get their work done. Of course, there are some jobs that require office time (receptionist, phone customer service), but most jobs could be more flexible. The problem is getting managers to change their ways.

    In my ideal world, folks like you would start small companies when their kids are in middle school, and — once the kids get into college their small companies would be able to hire parents who need flexibility — and give it to them. IMHO, that’s the only way I can see the work world changing enough.

  2. On kids needing more “facetime” when they are in middle school and above – a good friend actually quit her job as an executive director of a large non-profit in order to spend more time with their 12 year old son. She is working part-time now and wanted to be available to know what was happening after school, who he was hanging out with, etc.

    Another friend teaches at a private boys school here in Toronto. She has said that the homes with both parents working that are near the school are the places that they all go to hang out and smoke up at lunch and after school. And this is quite the posh boys school.

    I just think that with the lack of judgement with the frontal lobe not 100% developed til the early 20’s, more rather than less facetime might be a good idea when, as you say, the “mistakes” and missteps can be lifechanging when you are in middle school/high school.

    Caveat being, of course, that it’s a huge luxury to have the choice…

  3. My management team all work from home. They love it. Their ‘work days’ are longer, sometimes lasting until 7 or 8pm, but they block out time during the day to hang with their families, run errands, pick the kids up form school, etc. They tell me that in the long run it feels like they see their families much, much more even though they are working well into the evenings. A friend of mine also works from home and relates similar stories. He says this makes the 5-10 days of travel each month more pallatable because he sees his wife and kids a lot more when he’s home. His wife is a stay-at-home mom so they really do spend a lot of time together.

  4. Hi Laura:

    I actually commented on this phenomenon (thinking your kids don’t need you when they’re 15) at 11D, without having read your entry first.

    Yup, I can see what you’re talking about coming — my kids are now both in school, and it’s harder, rather than easier to balance their demands and needs than it was when they were small. Mind you, I had lots of help when they were small, family and good daycare. The problem is that now, they’re people with special demands who need me (just like work did) rather than children who just need an adult.

  5. There’s a reason why teaching and nursing have traditionally been female-dominated fields, you know? Sure, the pay is lower, but I know where my kids will be all summer, and I know who their friends are, and when they are in middle school, they could very possibly at students at my school, so I will definitely be able to keep an eye on their friends and after school hours. I love my job and feel like it is a calling, but I am also very, very grateful that my calling also happens to be a flexible, family-friendly job.

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