Applying for a “Non-PhD” Job

As I mentioned in this post, the Economics Job Market is a very peculiar beast.  Right now, I am in the thick of “application season”, as most of the applications are due sometime in November.  I’m applying to a few dozen places and only one of them is in San Diego.  This is just par for the course when you get a PhD – your job is so specialized that you’re likely to have to move to get the job you want.  I get the sense that this is largely unknown outside of the PhD world. (Dare I say the “normal” world?)  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation similar to the one I had yesterday with my son’s babysitter.  It went approximately like this:

Me: I just applied to a job in Minnesota.

Sitter: What? But what about your husband’s job? What about your kids?

Me: Well, I’d love to stay here, but there just aren’t many jobs here, unfortunately.

Sitter: What about UCSD?

Me: Sigh.

Here’s the thing.  I could apply to UCSD.  But it would be a waste of time, and frankly, my own advisor probably wouldn’t sign off on it.  Economics is a very hierarchical field, and I’m getting my PhD from a school that is not ranked nearly as well as UCSD so there’s approximately zero chance of me getting hired there. There are a few other schools here, but the chances of getting an academic job at one particular school are slim.

Now, I really truly would love to stay here.  I don’t want to have to move my kids again.  They’re very happy here and that means so incredibly much to me.  That’s why I am also working on an application to a local job that doesn’t require a PhD (but still looks like an interesting job).  I’ve been hesitating on this one though (read, I started the app 3 weeks ago!!) for one reason: If I were to get that job, they would probably want me to start right away. But I also really want to finish my PhD* and try for a “PhD job”.  (I almost want to say “academic job,” but I’m also looking at think tanks and government organizations, so academic isn’t quite the right word.)

To me, going to the AEA meeting (the big job market meeting that happens every January) feels like going to try-outs for the U.S. Olympic team.  I have been training for years, and I just want to get a spot on the team — any spot.  But getting that spot would mean moving my family and starting a high-intensity job that would leave me less time with my kids. And here these lovely economists are always telling us that more choice is better!

*In theory people can work full-time and finish their PhDs on the side.  But let’s face it, these people don’t have kids.

Law-mom’s response: Econ-mom (EM), I love the asterisk. I am a bit tired today, because daylight savings has completely messed with my schedule. So, my brain is not working well-enough right now to respond further. I wish you luck!

EM’s response: Ah yes, the lovely time change.  Peanut is now waking up at 5am.  *sad face*

The Inequities of Income Tax…and Fashion

I think about income taxes a lot, because I have been self-employed for the majority of the last 10 years. (And I also just wrote a nice fat check to our friendly, efficient government.) That means of every paycheck that comes into my hands, I have to set aside a certain amount for taxes and not spend it on necessities like our mortgage, property taxes**, food, utility bills and childcare — or anything remotely fun. (Yes, I know this is obvious, but please bear with me.)

As a self-employed person, the amount I have to set aside each month is 25% after accounting for deductions and exemptions, because of self-employment tax. This is a lot harder to swallow when you have to write those checks yourself, rather than have your employer just take them out for you. (I know, because I also receive checks from an employer, and it is nice.) So, really, I have to tell myself that each paycheck is really just 75% of what I bill for. A quarter of my labor is owned by the government. (This is true for everyone; but, again, it is just a lot easier when your employer takes it out for you. Out of sight, out of mind. Kinda like how they say it is harder to spend cash than use a credit card. It is more tangible, and, therefore, feels more real.)

So, if 100% of my work is really only worth 75% of my work, how much do I have to work in order to actually make 100%? Sounds like some easy math, right?

Let’s talk about the billable hour. As any billing lawyer will tell you: You cannot bill for 100% of your time. If you do, I venture to say you are being dishonest. You cannot be 100% efficient with all your time. It is impossible, unless you are a robot. You have to eat. You have to take breaks. Your co-workers come into your office and talk your ear off. You have meetings. I would say, on a good day, you are working at least 10 hours to bill 8, which is a 25% extra effort, just to meet an 8 hour day minimum. (The bare minimum requirement of most firms.)  Also, many clients (insurance companies) use third-party vendors to cut 10% of a lawyer’s bill (another rant for another time). So now, to make 100% of your goal, you need to bill even more. You have to bill 10% more than the 125% you were already working. 125 x 1.1 = 137.5%. So, I have to work 37.5% harder than someone who can go into the office and work for 8 hours straight and go home.

Okay, now the government comes along and takes 25% of that. So, if you want to actually pocket your full 8 hours of billing, you have to work 25% harder than the 37.5% harder than you were already working. 137.5 x 1.25 = 171.985%. Just to earn 8 hours of labor. Therefore your average billing attorney, if they actually want to pocket all their labor and hard earned income, has to work 72 (rounding) percent more than an 8 hour work day. Now you know why attorneys work as long of hours as they do: 40 x 1.72 = 68.8 hours, minimum. And now you know why I have two jobs.

Someone reading this is going to be like: “Yea, but you bill like $350 to $500 an hour. So stop your sob story.”

Not, my friends, if you are a solo practitioner barely hanging on by the skin of your teeth.  As one Facebook commentator I read recently noted (and I paraphrase): “The difference between what a Big Firm lawyer earns, and Small Firm lawyer earns is STAGGERING.” (Her caps, not mine.) Yep. Staggering, peeps. Like, there are days I wish was a teacher, because then I’d at least  get my summers off and not have to pay for summer childcare. (I do not, by the way, charge nor earn $500/hour, or even $350/hour, just for the record.)

The big firms have all the big corporate clients that can afford the impressive fees. If your client cannot afford to pay $500/hour, you are not charging $500/hour. And if you do plaintiff’s work, you are not bringing in any money at all on a monthly basis. Also, if you don’t have the work, even if you are charging $500/hour, if you only bill a couple hours for that client all month, you are not faring too well. If you are a good lawyer, you might even suffer more: Getting a client’s case dismissed means no more work for you. And if you are honest, you are not over-billing, or over-working a file for no reason.

The realities of self-employment are true for any job or profession: You have to put in a lot of (free) time and labor just to get the work and keep the income coming in, as well as (free) administrative time and labor. When I was full-time self-employed, I often explained to people that I was having a good day, if I billed 6 hours. At least two hours of my day were administrative work. My husband had a short stint as a self-employed contractor, and he was putting in 60 hour weeks, minimum, to stay afloat.

Being self-employed is not for the faint of heart. You don’t have a regular income stream.  You don’t get benefits without paying for them yourself. You don’t get overtime pay.  You don’t get sick days. You don’t get paid vacation time. A day off of work is a day without making any money for oneself. The list goes on.

What is my point? The point is: Why are we taxing hard-working, honest people who work their butts off to put food on the table and keep a roof over their family’s head? Why am I paying the government for all my hard labor? Seriously? What is up with that? Why are we being taxed on our productivity?  Every time I write a check to the government, it honestly feels like robbery. I personally think people should just be taxed on passive income. Or, at least, only after $50,000. Everyone needs at least $50,000 just to live in this country. Or to live in Illinois, anyway.***

But here’s where I really feel the punch in the gut due to income taxes and what causes me to gripe and complain the most:

  1. I get taxed above The Hub’s salary. So, rather than get to pay graduated income tax on my salary, I’m hit from the get-go at 25% on every single dollar I earn. On every single minute of my time. (Some call this the “marriage penalty.”)
  2. Then there is childcare. Given our reasonably good income tax bracket (believe me, I am very grateful for what we have; I do not take it for granted), we don’t get much of a deduction on childcare. And because we live in an affluent area, childcare is even more expensive than in most states. (Everything is more expensive.) When both girls were still in daycare, I paid over $2000/month for daycare. Since starting school, camp is, at a minimum, $6000/summer. (And I have spent more in the past, in order to get the “best of the best” care for my food allergic child who couldn’t swim when she first started camp.) All told, between after care programs, etc. I have to budget at least $12,000/year in child care expenses. And on average, I get about a 10% deduction on those expenses. In other words: A drop in the bucket.
  3. I cannot work, if I have to take care of my kids. Why can’t I deduct the full amount of childcare (used for working) as a business expense? Have you ever tried to write a complex brief with kids interrupting you every five minutes? Employers can deduct for childcare provided to employees. Why can’t I just deduct for the childcare I pay for to run my business!?

One last issue about taxes and the tax code:

As a litigator, I have to dress a certain way for court.  Also, I have to walk a lot on horrible sidewalks to get to court. In my 20s, I was frivolous enough and vain enough that I could afford to replace my stilettos every three months. Now, not so much. (Remember my childcare expenses? There goes my shoe budget. And my clothing budget. And all the vacations I took in my 20s.) So, I try to find specific shoes just for work that can withstand grates and gaps in sidewalks and not hurt my feet, but still look dressy enough for work. But not too frumpy. (Okay, they are super frumpy.)

But the tax code says that my pantsuits are not tax deductible, because I can wear my work attire to weddings. (Yea, right.) And I supposedly can wear my frumpy work shoes to other events, as well. (Only if I want the “worst dressed” award.) I call balderdash on all of this. Have you ever shown up to a wedding in a pantsuit and frumpy chunky heels? In this respect, I think the tax code is sexist. I don’t love throwing the word “sexist” around liberally. But, in this case, I think it applies. Men can wear suits to court and weddings. Women can, but they don’t, because we don’t want to be cited by the fashion police. We still want to look nice, even if we have lost all our sex-appeal after baby number two.

In this respect, the tax code has a “disparate impact” (i.e., a disparate discriminatory impact) on women by making assumptions about professional work attire based on men’s, rather than women’s fashion. I should be allowed to deduct for attire I deem only explicitly suitable as work attire — i.e., courtroom attire. A woman should not wear a “little black dress” to stand before a judge or jury. (You also should not wear a black Lycra bodysuit. I’m talkin’ to you, lady I once saw at the Daley Center!) And a woman “should not” wear a frumpy pantsuit to a wedding. IMHO.

**Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the nation. And our county has the most expensive property taxes in the State. So, I am not exaggerating when I tell you we pay some of the highest property taxes in the country.

***I’m sure $50,000 goes a lot further in other parts of the country than here. So, wouldn’t it make sense to have some sort of graduated tax code structured around cost-of-living?

Econ-mom (EM) Three things – first of all, HEAR, HEAR for more childcare deductions! The amount of money we have spent on childcare over the past six years is OBSCENE.  I’m sure when we had two kids in full-time care we would have been eligible for the earned income tax credit if we had been able to deduct that entire expense.

Second, I have long been jealous of men’s fashion.  Need to dress up for work or a wedding? Wear a suit. Business casual? Khakis and a button down shirt.  As my kids would say, easy peasy.  I recently saw a man on Twitter complaining about needing to pack a jacket for business trips since he didn’t know how formal various events would be.  I almost popped a blood vessel.  I mean… gosh.  That must be SO HARD not knowing what to wear at an event!! I have NO SYMPATHY for this.  And bringing a whole jacket?  Please. Try extra shoes, skirt vs. pants, etc etc.

Finally, as an economist I of course have some opinions on taxes, but I will save most of it for another post and just say that I’m generally fine with everything Law-mom (LM) is saying here.  Economists consider income taxes to be distortionary (i.e. in theory they discourage people from working more) so there would be a lot of better ways to raise revenue while still lowering income taxes for many people in the middle class.

LMHey, EM, it could always be worse. I think we need an entire post some time dedicated to women’s fashion woes. What do you think?

A Short Rant on Forms

Econ-mom (EM), I feel a rant about forms bubbling up inside of me.

You mentioned forms in a prior post. I have just spent the past hour of my Saturday afternoon (and I am still not done) filling out forms for an after school program my girls are joining mid-way into this semester. (The reasons for this late transition are numerous. It is a very long story for some other rant on finding suitable after school care and the law).

Here is my rant:

WHY DO I HAVE TO KEEP FILLING OUT THE SAME FORMS OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN!?!?

She still has allergies. She still has asthma. THIS IS NOT CHANGING. Same program. Same child. Can’t last year’s paperwork carryover? Can’t you hand it to me with an addendum or something for me to sign? I’ll initial every page. “Yep. Still applies. Yep, this applies, too. Yep, she still carries around 3 different medications with her.” Initial. Initial. Initial. Done. Thank you.

Yes, I authorize you to administer whatever medication is needed and necessary to KEEP MY CHILD ALIVE. You don’t need 25 sheets of paper with my signature on it to tell you to do so. You just need common sense.

Does this sound petty and whiny? Keep in mind that the vast majority of these forms require a physician’s signature. Do I still sound petty and whiny?

(For the purposes of completing this last batch of forms, I found her summer school forms that were signed by my daughter’s physician. I attached them as an addendum to the new forms they wanted me to sign, indicating that the documents apply across the board to any and all programs my daughter is involved in, and then signed and initialed the life out of that paperwork until it could not breathe its last breath. And if anyone gives me any iota of a complaint about the sufficiency of that paperwork, I will first try to calmly explain that, as a legal document, what I did was 100% perfectly acceptable. And if that doesn’t work, I guess I will just have to smile, grit my teeth, and very nicely ask our saint of an allergist to sign some more forms for me…again.)

Okay. Rant over.

P.S. It took 10 minutes to fill out SC2’s forms. So, there you have it. It takes about six times longer for parents of special needs children to fill-out paperwork for activities and programs their children participate in.

EM’s comments:

There’s something ironic about an attorney complaining about too many forms – ha! (Sorry Courtney, I’m sure this is playing into some lawyer stereotypes that you don’t appreciate.) Then again, perhaps you have the power to fix this!  Please add to your to-do list “start a non-profit dedicated to reducing the number of forms parents have to fill out.”

[Law-mom (LM): Actually, it’s funny you mention this, because I initially had a paragraph about this being the fault of attorneys. But then I scrapped it, because it got so tangential that I needed a legal disclaimer that I wasn’t providing any legal advice or opinions on the subject. Ha!]

Let me just state that I can’t believe you have to get a physician’s signatures for all these forms.  That’s right up there with going to the post office for me.  I need to get a TB test done so that I can volunteer at Tuffy’s school, and I have been now putting this off for about 10 months.  I almost got it done last time I took Tuffy in for an evaluation, but after doing a 1.5 hour eval I stopped by the nurse’s clinic where they administer the TB test and there was a HUGE line.  And we already needed to go wait in another line to get flu shots.  And this was taking place on a weekday morning so Tuffy was missing school.  Of course, had Tuffy and I decided to wait in that line, I would have had to drive back to the clinic 48 hours later to have someone read the test.

[LM: As Jen Hatmaker would say: FOR. THE. LOVE!]

A Mom on the Job Market

This year is my seventh(?!?!) and final year of my economics PhD.  During our final year, many of us go on the job market, which is a centralized market of sorts through which most PhD economists are hired. For the uninitiated, Noah Smith has a great post describing this process.

This process is very efficient, but (as it would be with any job search I suppose) I don’t exactly feel like I’m being myself.  First of all, I had to take a picture while wearing a suit.  Scratch that.  First, I had to go buy a suit.  That was fun….I took Peanut (my 3-year-old) to the mall a couple weekends ago.  I spent about 10 minutes trying on clothes and about 90 minutes buying food, taking multiple trips to the bathroom, and purchasing a toy in the toy store.  (Yes, I had to bribe my child to get through 10 minutes of clothes shopping.  I’m on track to win several parenting awards this year.)

Then I had to write a “Statement of Teaching Philosophy.”  In this document, I am supposed to make it sound like I’ve been teaching for years, during which time I have been honing my craft and now have strongly held opinions on pedagogy.  This is a little bit hard to do, given that I’ve independently taught a grand total of TWO classes. (And my teaching evaluations are…well… reflective of the fact that I had a 9 month old baby at that time.)  But I was thinking the teaching statement could be better, if I was able to incorporate my mom experience by adding something like this —

Extensive experience lecturing young minds on a variety of topics including:

  • making a decision before opening the fridge
  • choosing weather-appropriate clothing
  • when one should jump off a bridge
  • correct discount rates as applied to teeth brushing
  • why strong priors are not sufficient to justify rejection of a new food
  • when to come crying to me if you’ve hurt yourself
  • the relationship between money and photosynthesis (hint: there isn’t one)

 

It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of the Year!

No, not Christmas.

It’s time to “fall back” on our clocks tonight, thereby gaining one full hour of sleep!

Wonderful, right?

Parents of the nation, can I get a “Hell no!”

Every parent I have ever talked to will bemoan the arrival of the time change – both in the fall and in the spring for different reasons. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule. But in my house, as an early bird with early bird children, it just makes long days longer.

Lemme tell you about my particular problem: On Sunday morning, I will very likely be up at 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning. Heck, I might even be awake at  2:30 in the morning. This is because I have been waking up between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning for weeks* now. Okay, years. I have only “slept in” (sleeping in = sleeping past 6:00 am) two times in the past decade. (You keep track when it is so momentous, it feels like a special holiday when it happens.)

For a little while there, prior to this fall, I was actually regularly waking up between 5 and 5:30, and it was heaven. I could stay awake until 9 or 10 like an normal adult! It was so exciting! Then The Hub started setting his alarm every day at 4:30 (for his own reasons; good reasons), and soon my circadian rhythm was back to waking up at 4:30. And then it started creeping back even earlier to 4. Then 3:45. Then 3:30. (Groan.)

Here’s the problem with this: It’s a vicious cycle. You start waking up that early all the time, and then you have no choice but to fall asleep as soon as you get your children to bed. I (usually) get my 8 hours of sleep, people. I just go to bed really, really early. I can do this, because I have no social life anymore. It’s awesome.

Go to bed later, you say? I have tried. This doesn’t help. I still wake up early. I just get less sleep, and I am more tired.

Also, my early morning hours are how I exercise, blog, and perform my side hustle (a/k/a my second job). I also use the early morning hours to read the news, email, write cards, and clean the kitchen. This is no different from those of you who wake up at 7 and go to bed at 11 or later. You are just using your late night hours to get stuff done, and I’m doing the opposite. I will gladly leave a sink full of dishes in the evening so I can go to bed and then quickly put them in the dishwasher in the morning while the coffee is brewing. This is because, most days, my body gives out and my brain freezes after 8 o’clock. The Hub says I fall asleep faster than any person he has ever seen. My head hits the pillow, and I start sawing logs.

You may think this is a crazy schedule. And it can be. If you ever see me eating lunch at 10:30, it’s likely because I have already been up 6 hours. That would be like eating lunch at noon or 1 for most people. Also, you know when you invite me to your house for a 7:30 or 8 dinner or party? That’s like me inviting you over to my house at 10:30 or 11 at night. I will be there, but I will not be fully there, because I would otherwise be getting my first REM cycle.

So, enjoy that extra hour of sleep Sunday morning, peeps, if you can.** I’ll probably be getting my side hustle work done. Or I’ll start doing my CLE (Continuing Legal Education) while I’m on the elliptical. (One of my many “busy mom life hacks.”)

*This seems to happen every fall when the days get shorter. I think the shorter, darker days are what throw me off. If it’s dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, then surely, my brain says, it should be light out 12 hours later. Right? That’s my theory, anyway.

**If you can, it’s because you no longer have super young kids who will also be waking you up at 3 or 4 in the morning.

Food Allergies, Speech Delay & Autism – Oh My!

Let’s talk food allergies.

Now, I will be the first to admit that not all special needs are alike, and some special needs are much harder than others. I fully get that.

But having a child with food allergies is very hard. Multiply the allergies and you multiply the magnitude of the problem. When my eldest (lets call her SC1 for Sweet Child 1; my youngest will be SC2) was little, she had seven food allergies, two of which she has (gratefully) outgrown. But that means she still has five life-threatening allergies, which she will very likely live with for the rest of her life. (Trust me on this one. We have this opinion on good medical authority.)

I think this video does a pretty decent job of explaining what it is like to have a child with food allergies. Especially young children, who put everything in their mouths and cannot manage their allergies at all on their own. I definitely lived with high levels of anxiety about my daughter’s food allergies when she was very young. It made everything from preschool to playdates a challenge. Having one child with, and one without, food allergies, I can tell you how much easier it is to drop off the child who does not have allergies to a birthday party, or any other event that involves food. And they all involve food. For us, food is an omnipresent and ubiquitous danger.

Until SC1 was 4 or 5, she was allergic to sunflower. I invite you to go into your pantry and check out all the foods that contain sunflower. Especially if you are trying to eat organic (which we do), nearly every pre-packaged food will contain sunflower. Even raisins.

SC1 also has Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) Many people have OAS. This is when you eat a raw fruit or vegetable, and your mouth and/or throat starts to itch. This is a result of cross-pollination issues (thereby likely affecting those who are also allergic to the pollen in question) and is not life-threatening. It is not a real food allergy. But many people do not understand this and confuse the two. I personally believe this is why many people do not take true food allergies seriously.

When SC1 was little, any number of fresh fruits would give her OAS. Her reactions would mimic her true food allergy reactions. So, basically, when I dropped her off at preschool and playdates, I had to say: “Just give her water.”  The unhealthier the snack — Oreos or Ritz Crackers — the more likely she could eat it, because it didn’t contain sunflower and it wasn’t a fresh fruit tricking her caretaker into thinking she was having a real food allergy reaction.

Think about what this would have been like trying to manage if I had been working full time. (Back then, I worked part-time from home.)

SC1 was also in speech therapy three times a week through her preschool years. And then SC2 joined her a couple years later. So, at one point, I as driving them to speech therapy six times a week.

(A moment of silence to let that sink in.)

My point about the speech therapy circles back to parenting special needs children and trying to work a full-time job. (Econ-mom, I know you get this.)

Before our school district implemented a food-allergy friendly policy (no food in classrooms), I had to take a day off of work every time SC1’s Kindergarten class had a class party. Because you can’t expect four room parents (room moms, really; let’s get real), and the teacher who has 22+ other charges, to understand all the ins-and-outs of your child’s very complicated food allergy issues. (“No, she can’t eat raisins, because they might have sunflower. She can have apples, but don’t freak out when she complains that her throat is itching. No, she really can’t have most chocolate, because it might contain nuts. Watch out for pea protein. It sneaks into anything that is gluten free.”)

Last point about managing food allergies: Just because we (food allergy moms) are reading every label, or staying at your child’s birthday party when all the other parents are just dropping off their child, does not mean we are a helicopter parent. In fact, we really, really hate having to act like a helicopter parent. (That linked article is one of my favorites. Just read that. I didn’t need to write this post.) We are just trying to protect our child’s life, is all. You know, basic stuff. We are also trying to save you the headache of figuring out what to do when our kid breaks out in hives and starts vomiting.

SC1 has had two very severe allergic reactions thus far where the epipen probably should have been used. [I am going to find and link a blog post I once read by a very sympathetic mom who also failed to use the epipen when she probably should have — if I can find it. Also, a post for another day: How much epipens cost, the fact that ambulances are not even required to carry them, and how much they fail.]  I can think of six other incidents that were thankfully less severe (two of which were her “first time” reactions to sesame and eggs that sent us to the allergist in the first place).

The point is: Even I have made mistakes, and I am all too familiar with how allergens can sneak into foods that you would not expect. (Did you know fish sticks can contain pea protein? Candy corn has sesame?) So, please do not judge me when you see me reading the label on the fake cheese sauce. Even if she has eaten it before, ingredients can change over time. Sesame oil is cheap, which is why it is used in so many foods.

I guess my overall point here is: Working full-time and parenting kids with special needs is hard. For some, it is impossible. What is the solution? Is there one?

[I didn’t even talk about the implications of food allergies on Halloween – my least favorite holiday that we just survived! Also a blog post for another day!]

Econ-Mom’s Comments:

This is a timely post from Law-mom (LM), because I was just thinking about how nice it would be if “autism leave” was a thing.  I’m not sure how helpful this would be for food allergies since, as LM points out, that is a problem that requires constant vigilance.  Autism, on the other hand, does get easier over time in some ways.  There is a huge learning curve that you have to deal with post-diagnosis. You have to get various therapies set up (which involves reams of paperwork, scheduling an evaluation, and then often hanging out on a waiting list).  You have to find a way to work these into your schedule (Ha!), because even if you could afford a nanny you will want to attend most of the sessions, so you can learn how to work on the various skills in your “free time.”  It’s no wonder many moms scale back or quit working altogether if they have an autistic child. [This is true for speech therapy, too, Econ-mom (EM). Our private speech therapist wanted me to attend all the sessions.]

I was 3 years into my PhD when we got Tuffy’s (my 6 year old’s) diagnosis. I was told he would need 20+ hours of therapy per week. I thought very hard about quitting school, but to make a long story short, I hung on by the skin of my teeth. One way I was able to do this was by lining up Tuffy’s speech, occupational therapy, and ABA (applied behavioral analysis) sessions on Wednesdays. (He also had ABA on Fridays, but often DH would attend that session). He also attended developmental preschool 4 days a week, but the school district was able to bus him from preschool to his daycare. This way, I was able to work 4 days a week, but it took almost 6 months to get this schedule nailed down. Initially we didn’t have busing, so I had to drop him off at preschool, run to a coffee shop nearby and work for about 1.5 hours, and then run back and pick him up. As LM said about driving to speech therapy, there’s no way I could have done this if I had had a “real” job. I suppose I could have hired a driver/nanny if I had had a real job, i.e. one where I actually earned more than the cost of daycare. Then again, if I had had a real job prior to Tuffy’s diagnosis, I’m sure I would have lost it already due to his frequent illness. (There is some recent research linking autism and the immune system and I for one am inclined to believe it.)

Anyway, having some kind of standard 6-month autism leave after getting a new diagnosis wouldn’t solve everything. For example, my heart goes out to this mom who decided to quit work when her son was 8 (so presumably had the diagnosis for a while). However, at the very least, it would send a message that we as a society want to support these parents and make them feel welcome in the work place if they choose/are able to stay in.

And one last comment about helicopter parenting – it’s funny how Courtney and I have both found ourselves in that situation, but for very different reasons. Autism parents end up being helicopter parents all the time, due to our children’s limited ability to communicate. It’s not a role most of us relish, but it is what it is.  For me anyway, it took some time to get used to that role, but nowadays I’m pretty comfortable inserting myself into my children’s play on the playground, and I am just grateful that the kids are still young enough that I’m not getting the “Why is your mom here?” type of comments, yet.

Is a “Mom on 11” and a “Default Parent” the Same Thing?

Dear Friends:

Yes, you, too, might be a “Mom on 11.” How do you know if you are one?

You do too d*** much.

Now, one might argue that all mothers are, by their very nature, “Moms on 11.” (Although, I’m sure we can all think of some people who do not win this excellent award/title.) But, if you are the default parent, have a Type A personality, and/or are a WAH-Pinterest Mom, then you very likely may be a Mom on 11, too.

I acquired the Mom on 11 title from my beloved husband (The Hub, who loves “Spinal Tap”). He thinks that I try to be and do too much for my kids. I have fought him for a long time on this irritating label, because, I actually like to consider myself the opposite of a Mom on 11, who has taught her kids how to pack their lunches and do their homework without prompting – by not doing it for them.

But, I suppose, if I am forced to be honest with myself, I deserve the “Mom on 11” title by virtue of what my days look like. I mean, if you’re working at your computer from 5:30 am to 6:30 pm with nary a break, you work hard. You work a lot. And when you are not working, you are usually toiling away at unpaid domestic labor. We all know the drill: laundry, dishes, dinner. Laundry, dishes, dinner. Laundry, dishes, dinner. It’s an exhausting hamster wheel of thanklessness.

A lot has been written about a woman’s (usually mothers’) mental load, or emotional labor.

I can’t say this mental load imbalance looks a lot different in our home, but I have a few points:

(1) I have two daughters. So, I cannot raise boys who will not repeat the well-worn-out cycle of male-domestic-cluelessness. Moms of boys (Econ-mom): You need to do this for the sake of my daughters. I thank you in advance for your service.

(2) Some of it is my fault. From the get-go, I was so determined to be the “best mom ever” (ergo, “Mom on 11” title) that I took on a lot of the mental load tasks myself. And I wanted to. I mean, what mom doesn’t want to have fun shopping for girls’ clothes? Also, I “leaned away” for the first five years of parenting and only worked from home on a part-time basis, so I had time to attend to all the “default parent” tasks. [Topic for another day: Why moms, and not dads, quit their jobs to be at home with their kids. Biological? Cultural? Economic? Discuss.]

(3) The Hub is an amazing hub, who does more than the average male around the house. So, I am not complaining. But I do manage many, many tasks that I don’t think ever cross his mind. But am I wrong about that? And should I just be delegating more?

I have linked a lot of articles to respond to here, Econ-mom. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Econ-mom’s response:

Well, there is a lot to discuss here!  First of all, on the topic of raising boys to break this cycle – I have a lot to say about raising boys in general, because this topic has been in the news a lot lately.  Just yesterday I read this article in which Michelle Obama says: “The problem is we love our boys and we raise our girls.”  I am a big fan of Michelle Obama, and I’m sure there is some truth in this statement, but I, of course, take issue with it on a personal level. However I think this is a topic for another post.  For now I will say this – IF I am lucky enough to get a job soon (I am in the process of submitting job applications now, wish me luck!) then our family will soon undergo a role reversal, and my boys will grow up in a house where their father is in charge of the morning routine, shopping, cleaning, you name it. (By the way, I am terrified at the mere idea of this change, but I do think that living this example for the boys would be one of the best ways to break that cycle.)

In our house, I – of course – became the default parent. This is largely because I’m not the one earning money, but it also had a lot to do with the very early differences in the amount of time we each spent parenting.  Interestingly, I do feel like DH (dear husband) and I started out on very equal footing.  Which is to say we were both completely clueless when it came to parenting.  I swear to you, when we brought our son home from the hospital we did not own a package of wipes.  (Trust me, I remember this accurately.  If you have ever tried to clean up meconium without wipes, you would remember too.)  We laughed and cried and tried to learn everything together, as an equal partnership.  That lasted for about 10 days, and then DH left for a work trip for over three weeks.  Needless to say by the time he returned, I was the parenting ‘expert’.  And the difference in skill level only continued to snowball from there.  Once one person is better at changing diapers, for example, it’s easier for that person to just do it, rather than force the weaker parent to catch up, so to speak.

Now, our case was a bit extreme, and it was 100% our fault, since we made the decision to try for a baby knowing what DH’s work schedule would be.  However, part of why we were foolish enough to have a baby so close to his work trip was because of the message sent to us by society.  How much paternity leave do most men take? According to this article, the median amount is ONE WEEK. Clearly this is a huge part of the problem, and MEN need to be the ones pushing for this to change. Men need to be brave and trust that if they push for flexible work policies, as their female counterparts have been doing for DECADES, they will not get fired. Okay, I can’t actually promise that they won’t get fired, but I can promise that this fight is worth fighting. Men should want this. It’s baffling to me how rarely you see men come forward and say, “Actually, we’ve never ‘had it all,’ because so many of us have worked our butts off to make it to the C-suite and sacrificed our relationships with our children, and it wasn’t worth it.”

Law-mom’s response: All great points, EM! Yes, we will have to discuss some of the finer points buried in this week’s post in the future. Thank you for tackling so much here!

Mom on 11, Exhibit A: The Mom Who Wants to Make Every Second With Her Kids Count

In a series of blog posts, we will be exploring what it means to be a “Mom on 11.”  In addition to creating our own content, we will frequently link to articles that inspire – or terrify – us.

The winner of this week’s “Mom on 11 Award” goes to this blogger. The linked blog post was sent to Law-Mom by one of her dearest friends. This, however, was her reaction to it:

“O.M.G. I have to spend every single second with my kids! I have to plan big and small things! I have to afford vacation! But I can’t afford vacation if I don’t work. But if I work, I can’t spend every single second with my kids! And, [bleep!] I am never in any pictures! They will have zero memories of their mom….”

Don’t get me wrong: I understand where this woman is coming from. Yes, our children’s childhoods are short, and it is a beautiful thing to savor every moment of them – as best we can. But, this idea that we have to do all and be all for our kids is pressure, people! pressure!

“I must [the very word itself gives me high blood pressure] make every single [there is no room for error] summer count.”

Econ-mom, can we talk about how feasible this is for working moms?

I have been wanting to say this for a long time: I personally find it cruel that we tell our daughters that they can be and do anything they want in life, but, once they become mothers, they need to hang up all their degrees and focus their entire being and psyche on their children. It is also cruel that we set up institutional roadblocks that make working outside the home nearly impossible for some people. (More on that later.)

For the record, I do pretty much focus my entire being and psyche on my children. In fact, I largely work for my children. I work, because we need my income to pay the bills and any of the “extras” considered necessary and proper by today’s middle-class standards. And by extras, I mean things like gymnastics lessons and private tutoring. Not vacation or a dream kitchen. (We will be discussing and exploring more about the economics of parenting in future blog posts.)

So, with that premise out of the way: How does a working mom “make every single summer count” and work?

Well?

Honestly, it cannot be done. You can do your best, but you will not be able to.

At this point, you can hyperventilate into a paper bag, like I did briefly after reading that blog. Or, you can just accept reality and pat yourself on the back for packing the kids’ lunches today and move on.

But that blog post illustrates the sort of pressure on parents that “Mom on 11” culture creates.

Do you agree?

Econ-Mom’s response:

Oh my gosh, I have so much to say about this.  First, Law-mom, be glad that you are at least earning money for your family!  Throughout the past six years that I have been in graduate school, I have rarely brought home more money than we spent on child care.  (I know it’s an investment, yadda yadda, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty when I’m writing those daycare checks!)

Second, I’m going to coin a term for this particular form of guilt – how about Extreme Savoring Syndrome (ESS) – for shorthand. I have felt the pressure of ESS often.  For example the old lady at the park who says, “I remember when my kids were that age! Treasure these moments!”  I mean, I get where these people (including the mom blogger you linked to) are coming from.  ALL of life is ephemeral, but for many reasons that transience is right in your face when you have young children.  Just when you get used to your little one saying “break-stist” instead of breakfast, he stops saying it.  And don’t even get me started on those families you only see once a year!  Their kids are completely different every time you see them and you’re like “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!”  So, I get it.  BUT… it is guilt-inducing! It used to be that anytime I worked on a weekend this little voice in my head would be going “They’re only young for such a short time… “

Nowadays ESS doesn’t rear its ugly head for me as often as it used to.  But I used to worry about this a lot, and I finally started telling myself “you know what?  If you spend 16 waking hours per day with your kids instead of 8 waking hours per day, you’ll still miss their chubby little cheeks when they’re grown. But at least this way you will (hopefully!) have a career that you love in addition to some lovely grown-up offspring.”   Or as my dad says, “You can’t bottle it up, that’s for sure.”

Finally, I would like to add that, like many things, ESS can be especially difficult for special needs moms.  We’re not only trying to strike a balance between therapy sessions and letting our kids be kids, but we also often go through extremely rough patches with our children.  Many autistic children have major sleep problems and frequent intense melt-downs, which are emotionally draining for any parent or caregiver.  As special needs parents we also have to go through a period where we adjust our expectations for how we thought our child’s life was going to go (and trust me, if you thought you went into parenthood with “zero expectations” you would likely be surprised by how many subconscious expectations you had when forced to confront them).  We love our kids so fiercely, and there are always sweet and happy moments scattered through the darkest times, but frankly there are some times in my children’s lives that I did not savor.

In conclusion, I have no idea how to make each summer count!  Courtney, to respond to your point about vacation, trust me that is not the answer.  We went on a “vacation” to attend our family reunion this summer, and guess what?  I spent the whole time dealing with a bored 3-year-old and feeling extremely irritated that we bought four plane tickets just for me to not be able to talk to anybody! I think my official answer will be “when it’s really hot out let your kids eat a popsicle” and leave it at that.