The Big Transition

Finally, after a long, stressful job search I got a job! I just started last week – and in typical crazy Econ-Mom style, I started the day after we got back from a family vacation.  My younger son, Peanut (4), doesn’t handle travel super well, so in hindsight, I should have negotiated for a little more time before I started. But I figured it’s going to be a big transition no matter what, so why not approach it like a cold pool and just jump in the deep end?

Thankfully, we had a wonderful sitter for Tuffy (7) who was able to go to full-time for the rest of the summer, and Peanut was already in daycare.  So our new routine is that DH handles the morning routine so that I can leave home by 8, and then I leave work at 5 to pick up the kids.  As far as extracurriculars, Tuffy’s sitter is able to bring him to his gymnastics class, and on Thursdays, when he has his social skills class, she’s able to bring him there and I meet them there.  (Peanut was also doing gymnastics, so we moved his class to Saturday.)
My first day of work was a Wednesday, but DH has an 8am teleconference every Wednesday. Normally I would never ask him to take the kids on a Wednesday morning, but I had to meet with HR at 8:30, so…. I just left! DH said “I’ll have the phone on mute for the teleconference and the kids can watch tv, and it’ll be fine.”  And guess what? It was actually fine.
Of course not everything was fine.  Peanut had a HUGE tantrum when he was dropped off at daycare. His teacher even told me about it after school, because she had to bring him back to the classroom early (they spend the entire morning out a a park). I have to say, I’m not *happy* that this happened, but a little part of me was happy that DH got to experience the screaming and clinging. I could hear the worry in DH’s voice when I talked to him, and I was thinking “Hi, welcome to the anxiety and stress that I have been dealing with for YEARS.” Of course, Peanut did live to tell about it, although he’s still gradually adjusting. When I picked him up after my first day he said “Mommy, is your job done now?”
Tuffy on the other hand is having a blast with his sitter.  Last Friday she sent me pictures from a playdate with two of Tuffy’s friends. I felt a little bit sad that I wasn’t there, but honestly overall I am feeling really good about my new job. The thing I am loving the most is that I don’t have to expend a bunch of mental energy to try and carve out time to work. It’s just 8:30-5 every day, period. If something is happening during that time, I won’t be there. I am realizing now how much brain space that effort took up for me, and despite spending more hours a day away from home, I’m actually more relaxed. (Of course, I’m still ramping up in the new job so we’ll see in a few months how relaxed I am!)
Law-Mom: Econ-Mom, this all sounds so strangely familiar. : ) That is how The Hub and I used to divide and conquer: He did mornings, and I did afternoons/evenings. (Now that we are both working at home, we just share everything, which is nice after single-parenting through years of home improvement projects.) Also, I 100% agree with you: I found life got so much easier (in many aspects, anyway) when I went back to work full-time. There will still be some big-time hassles and challenges (mainly related to school-related activities and childcare) but the day-to-day mental-load is easier if you like to, and are good at, compartmentalizing, which it sounds like you are. Good luck, and congratulations on the new job!!

Putting the Onus on Mothers – and Parents in General

I like to say 90% of success is just showing up. Which is a good thing, because there are some days showing up is all I can do, because my brain is somewhere else.

For example, last week was the kids’ spring break, and I arranged to work from home 4 out of the 5 days. My husband worked from home on the day our office has our weekly meeting, so I could attend. I am fortunate that I have this kind of flexibility, as this article points out. (Oh, and “yes” to everything that article says. I clearly had children in the wrong, by a lot, age window. Although, I am so thankful that I will not be suffering the same lack of sleep in my 40s.)

At the beginning of the week, I arranged a carpool. I told the other mother in advance that my husband would be home on Tuesday to share in the carpool. I gave them both each other’s cell numbers.

Nonetheless, instead on contacting him about a change in plans on the day of his carpool duties, she texted ME.

WHY!?!?!

All this did was create greater confusion, because now I had to make sure that he got the message. It put the burden on ME. It put the time and the responsibility on ME. Guess what else it did? Prevented me from doing my job for about 5 minutes while I made sure that messages were relayed and confirmed.

Yes, this was only 5 minutes. But believe me, in the life of a mother, there are so many “5-minutes” of juggling details that they can add up to a day. I love it when childless working women say things to me like, “What do stay-at-home-moms” DO all day?!?!” Oh, I could tell you! I could EASILY fill-up an entire day taking care of the non-work related details of my life. Instead, I just jam them into the early morning, evening, and weekends. My husband complains that I jam our weekends too full. But honestly: When in the world am I/are we supposed to get everything done?!

This is not the first time this has happened. Another favorite was the time my daughter’s daycare (this was at least 4 years ago) called me to retrieve my sick child from school, even though my office was further away than my husband’s. Now, one cannot expect them to know that. What annoyed me was that they repeatedly called me and never even tried calling my husband when they couldn’t get ahold me right away! I might have been on trial for all they knew.

The main point of this rant is that we all need to be more mindful of our assumptions. I am guilty of it, too. But for the love of all that is good and holy, people: If you know a woman works, and she has given you her husband’s cell number, and she has told you that he is the one in charge that day: Do that poor woman a favor and call the husband when you need to relay information pertinent to the children. For. The. Love. (Thank you, Jen Hatmaker.)

Also, Econ-Mom: I never got the chance to respond to your last post about neurotypical people’s assumptions about children and behavior and parental responsibility. As you know, I am in your camp, because, even though she tests as neurotypical, I had a child with a number of issues in her younger years that made it *feel* like I was raising a non-neurotypical child. Daily temper tantrums, speech delay, sensory processing issues and extreme introversion had both The Hub and I wondering if SC1 had autism. We asked her speech therapist regularly. We also had her evaluated more than once. While I would LOVE to take credit for the incredible 10-year old she is now, I personally do not like, nor want, to take credit for any of my child’s good or bad behavior, because I struggled in that department for so long. There is literally nothing more frustrating than to watch the same poor behavior exhibited in public – over and over and over and over again – despite best efforts to correct it. For years, I wanted to put a sign around SC1’s neck that said: “I am only 2.” or “I am only 3.” Because she looked much, much older than her years, so more was expected of her. In short, because of my experience, I am extremely understanding and compassionate towards parents whose children are acting out in public. We all need to remember that children are not tiny adults. They are LEARNING. They cannot be expected to do everything perfectly. And when you see a parent struggling, it is much kinder to let them know “this too shall pass,” than to pass judgment.

 

The Workaholic Culture of Economics

Just a few days ago, Justin Wolfers wrote an article called Why Women’s Voices are Scarce in Economics in which he summarizes (dare I say, mansplains?) the flurry of recent papers that have come out looking at why there are so few women in economics.  It’s an interesting article that touches on a lot of issues, including some possible reasons for the “leaky pipeline” which results in far fewer women than men making it all the way to tenure. For example, it turns out that women tend to get less credit than men for co-authored papers.

The issues raised here are all important, but in my personal experience, one of the biggest issues I faced was what I call the “survival of the fittest” culture in Economics.  I’m sure this is worse in places like Wall Street (or litigation, right Law-mom?) but there’s definitely a culture of “you need to work 80 hours a week to get through grad school.”  In fact, during math camp (a week-long math refresher course that we all took just before starting the PhD) our TA told us exactly that.  He said that during his first year he probably worked about 80 hours a week.  Well, needless to say I didn’t do that.  I maybe worked 35 hours a week, including the 5 hours a week I spent pumping!

Despite getting through the first year and passing my core exam, I still felt like I wasn’t working enough.  This feeling had at least one tangible effect, which was to put limitations on which professors I chose to work with. If a professor had a reputation for being a taskmaster I avoided him.  I sometimes feel like I wussed out in this situation – maybe if I had marched up to one of these guys and said: “Look, I want to work with you, but I can only do 20 hours a week on research, because I have a baby, and every time he’s sick or the daycare is closed I’m going to stay home,” they would have said: “cool, no worries.”  And maybe after my son got sick on average once a month for the first two years of his life that professor would have still been cool and never once questioned my commitment to the field, and all that worry was just in my head.  We’ll never know since, well, I wussed out. But just yesterday this tweet reminded me that the perception of that culture is definitely not just in my head:

Luckily, the reason I even saw this tweet was because a female professor responded to it by saying that she worked less than 60 hours a week and still got an assistant professor position.  (60 was still totally unattainable for me during grad school, but at least her response opened up a dialog and was a step in the right direction!)

Law-mom:

EM: You hit the nail on the head for what I’ve been saying for YEARS: The reason there are so few women in litigation is because it eats you up and chews you up and spits you back out. And not every mother wants to work that many hours!! Kudos to the women out there who do and who have done it! But it is just not my cup of tea! And the whole sick kid thing — O.M.G., don’t even get me started.

You raise an interesting question: Can you succeed without putting in those kinds of hours? I guess that depends on how you define success. If success means keeping your foot in the door and your resume reasonably fresh and up to date: Yes. (Woohoo! I’ve succeeded!) If success means making partner and earning your full potential with your degree: No. (Womp. Womp. Womp. I fail.) But maybe that is just my experience and I “wussed out” like you. Maybe we need some high-achieving Moms on 11 on here, EM, to give their perspective and tell us how they did it. I would love to know! Because I suspect that there were some serious sacrifices made along the way: Like weeks away from their children (not because they traveled, but because they got home after their children were already in bed), nannies pulling sobbing toddlers away in the morning, leaky, lactating breasts soaking dress shirts, and many a sob fest behind closed office doors. Lol, at least that’s how I imagine it would look.

A Working Mother’s Twelve Days of Christmas

I survived the holidays. They are over for me. That is because from here on out, I have no more serious obligations or demands on my schedule. “We’re leaving on a jet plane” today. Unfortunately, I know when I’ll be back again. Nonetheless, I am about to embark on my longest vacation that I have had since I went to Argentina with my BFF in 2004.

I am a survivor!

Because we are going away for Christmas, holiday deadlines got moved up (in a big way) for me this year. I had 10 fewer days than I usually do to get all the Christmas shopping and wrapping done. That is partly why my schedule has felt totally over the top insane since Thanksgiving. Here is a short list of all I have accomplished:

  1. Hosted Thanksgiving for 15 people (including myself) while my husband was out-of-town. (#singleparenting) I calculated that I spent 4 hours just grocery shopping. (Went to four different stores – one just to get the fresh turkey – and once had to go back to get canned pumpkin and eggs. #totallyforgot)
  2. Made the Thanksgiving 4-day break (which felt like a serious vacay, to me, peeps) fun by taking the kids to the Botanic Garden and a Christmas parade, while intermittently cleaning up,  putting away Thanksgiving entertainment ware and decorations, bringing out Christmas decor, and wrapping presents when the kids weren’t looking. And, even though I had missed choir and praise band practice that week (and weeks prior), I was asked Saturday evening if I could help out and sing that Sunday morning, which means I was at church practicing at 8:15 and didn’t get home until after noon (the morning after The Hub had just gotten home from his week away to visit his family). Thankfully, I had nothing else to do that weekend – what with out-of-town guests soon to be arriving – so spending almost four hours at church that morning made the rest of the day easy. (If sarcasm is a sin, then I will spend eternity repenting.)
  3. Still, I managed to get all the Christmas decorations, including the tree, up by December 1st, to host my parents and three out-of-town relatives. This involved piecemeal tree decorating at 5 am two mornings in a row: one morning lights; one morning garland. The kids put up all the ornaments one evening. At 8:30 that night, after lugging the last of the boxes back down to the basement, I looked at the clock and realized I had missed choir practice…again. #totallyforgot
  4. Helped my mom plan and throw a surprise 70th birthday party for my dad on December 2nd. This involved spending the majority of that Saturday running last minute errands, including getting the cake and twinkly lights for the palm trees. It also included setting up for the party and putting twinkly lights on the palm trees with my brother. Have you ever tried putting twinkly lights on palm trees? I don’t recommend it.
  5. It just so happened that a very large work project was also due on December 1st. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the deadline got pushed and contracts got pulled. And I and another woman completed in three days what we had contracted with another company to complete in one month. That all happened the week of Dec. 4th. One night, the kids made their own dinner while I worked at home into the evening. (SC2 made herself oatmeal, chicken nuggets, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Yes, Fresh. Squeezed. Orange. Juice. The child is so Type A, she is going to get her own page in the Type A world record books.)
  6. After surviving the work project (that added about 5 hours to my work week), I spent all of Saturday running errands. And when I mean I spent all of Saturday running errands, I mean that I spent the entire day running errands for all the things that I hadn’t had time for between hosting three parties in the previous two weeks. Most of these errands were returns for some clothes I had bought online and/or things we needed for our upcoming trip. We also squeezed in a Christmas Pageant practice (that I mercifully did not have to attend as a cue parent for the first time in 4 years) and a birthday party of a very close family friend (or I would have skipped it). Sunday was the actual pageant (why do they call it a pageant?), and the afternoon was spent stuffing business holiday cards with my mother for my father’s business (that I help him with on the side, #secondjob) and helping him e-file a notice of appeal. That evening I spent sorting clothing into piles: Keep. Donate. Move from SC1’s closet to SC2’s closet. Take on trip. Leave at home.
  7. Somewhere during this time frame, I stopped sleeping. Instead of waking up between 4 and 5, I started waking up earlier and earlier between 3 and 4. And then one day this past week, my body even had the audacity to wake up at 2:15. But that is the only reason I got everything done. Because, remember, I am still “just” trying to work full-time and feed my kids during this whole mess. In addition, The Hub started a class when he got back from his week-long trip over Thanksgiving. The class doesn’t get him home until 11 pm on Wednesdays, and he is gone from noon until 6 on Sundays. (#moresingleparenting)
  8. This past week I spent finishing up all other last minute errands and wrapping all the last of the Santa gifts that my neighbor will kindly put under the tree while we are gone to the surprise the kids when we get home on Christmas afternoon. Only, I woke up this morning (any guesses what time?) unsure if she actually has a key our house….Gotta rectify that before our early morning departure! #whatkeepsyouawake)
  9. I gave myself permission to not get out all my Christmas/Hanukkah cards before we left, but somehow I squeezed that in there, too. Although, there are still a few stragglers after “T,” so if you are at the end of the alphabet, you may not see your card until after the 26th.
  10. I enjoyed a bad cold from December 3rd to about yesterday, as well as some seriously fierce PMS that drove me to actually honk at my own children in the driveway when they couldn’t figure out how to exit our vehicle and enter our house. (It’s apparently hard.) I apologized later to my neighbor for disturbing her while she strung white lights on her evergreen bushes in the front. I apologized to my kids, too. (But, seriously!) “Happy Holidays….”
  11. I also ended up skipping (or declining invitations for) four parties I was invited to (all in the same week), due to said cold. I felt badly about this, but given that each day I also had been awake since around 3:00 in the morning, I have no idea how I would have survived that. Or made time for them!
  12. You may recall my recent holiday toast mentioned two back-to-back school concerts this past week. That was fun. (That statement is a blend of both sarcasm and truth: I do really love attending the children’s concerts and activities. The logistics of doing so, however, are always a bit much.)

That seems like a pretty well-rounded list of the Working Mom’s Twelve Days of Christmas. If I was really clever, I’d turn that into a song.

That brings me to honoring this blogger for writing one of the best blog posts about parenting I’ve read in a long time. My favorite of her paragraphs include the ones that begin:

“This is for the full time working moms…”

“This is for the mom who is home all day and loses her patience so often and so ugly…”

“This is for the mom who plans all the fun things to do and see and when the time comes is so stressed out from the planning…”

“This is for the mom who is always worried about how they will pay for things…”

“This is for the mom who feels as though she has nothing left to give her partner, her work, her passions, her creative endeavors, her friends, her family…”

“This is for the mom whose house is never clean, whose laundry is never altogether done or put away…” and

“The mental load of motherhood is heavier than laundry. There’s always more laundry and there’s always more to worry about.”

Well said, Ms. Katy Blogger. Thank you for expressing so much of what I have been feeling lately. Thank you for making me feel less alone in this whole parenting endeavor.

Yesterday, I woke up again at 3:30. I didn’t get out of bed until 3:45. I had nothing urgent that needed tending to. (Thank you, God.) I was able to sit at my computer with my coffee and blog and share with you all the things that make me tired and wake me up in the morning (or middle of the night). I thought I would sleep-in, but I’ve been waking up so early for so long now, I’m sure I’m doomed until Spring Forward when I can start waking up at my “normal” 4:30 time again. All I had to do was pack, and though there was a lot to pack, and a lot to remember, I felt relaxed and happy. I still am. I have absolutely nothing on my agenda for this trip (other than to see the Grand Canyon! #bucketlist), and I plan to savor every single minute of it.

Friday night, we watched some family videos from Christmastime 2010 and 2011. SC1 was two and then three. SC2 was a baby and then one. (I also looked skinnier than I remember myself looking. Dang!) It was a good reminder to try to live in the moment and just enjoy the now as best as we possibly can.

It can be hard. I really get that. The stress. The literally never-ending to-do lists. The constant barrage of needs and little hands grabbing at you, pulling on your clothes and hanging onto your neck, choking you. But…this holiday season, I am promising myself and my family: I am going to slow it all down. For 10 days. For 10 days, I am going to try to make time stand still and imprint the memories of this time together into my brain. And just….relax.

May you, too, Mom on 11, get a breather. May you have a blessed holiday season!

Econ-mom: Well now I feel like a slacker! 😛  Honestly we’ve been busy this year too – I am also leaving town so I tried to get everything done by today.  It’s Sunday and I’m at a coffee shop (about to work on my paper right after I write this!) because it’ll be my last day to work before I head out of town, and I have a conference deadline on Jan. 15th.  I can’t say everything has gone smoothly for me – Thursday was going to be the last day I saw my son’s nanny this year and I got some gifts for her children, but 5 minutes before I needed to leave to pick up Tuffy I realized I couldn’t find them.  (I had hidden them from Peanut, and myself apparently.)  I couldn’t remember where I put them and I thought DH might have been the one to hide them so I called him at work.  When he said he had no idea I basically said “Bleep bleepity bleep now I don’t have the gifts and I’m going to be late to school to pick up Tuffy and he’s going to wander off and get kidnapped and DIE!”  So… honking at your kids isn’t so bad Law-mom! 🙂  (PS. He didn’t die and I ran home and found the gifts while he was at chess club.)

But other than that I actually have felt pretty good this year, at least relative to the past few years. (Even though I realized the other day that I *might* have given some of the teachers inactive gift cards – I mean, I do feel badly about this but I didn’t freak out.)  I think because it’s the first year in a few years that I’m getting a semi-decent amount of sleep!  Last year I was literally in tears because my Christmas cards were going to be late.  This is what happens to your mental health when you have a child who is awake from 2-4am every night. (Oh and by the way we were in the process of moving to a new city so I think I get a pass for being a hot mess then.) This year I’m adopting Marshall’s motto (one of the dogs from Paw Patrol) – ‘Do your best and forget the rest!’ (Some poor frazzled mom probably writes this character.)

So happy holidays to all of us and don’t forget to do your best and forget the rest!!

More On “Having it All” But Not “Doing It All”

I forgot to write about a important underlying premise of my post about why one cannot “do it all” – career and parent and house-keep. I mean, you “can,” but you’re not going to excel in one or more areas. You are not going to succeed as Julia Child (cooking), Martha Stewart (decorating), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (working), and Mary Poppins (parenting). While the reason – lack of time – may seem fairly obvious, a more interesting question might be: Why do women feel the need to “do it all?”

Maybe it is just me, and this is not a cultural phenomenon. But I don’t think so. I have had to learn that I don’t need to be Julia, Martha, Ruth,and Mary. I don’t expect non-lawyers to draft and edit a solid appellate brief. So, why would anyone expect me to perfectly frost a 3-layer cake? Or look like Heidi Klum? (I probably should have also inserted Heidi above, because there is also an expectation that women look like Sex Goddesses while cooking, decorating, working, and parenting, too.)

The author and blogger, Jen Hatmaker, wrote about these expectations in her book, “For the Love,” in her opening essay, “Worst Beam Ever.” Read her full passage here. Favorite portion of the passage: “…[She] completes one million domestic chores that multiply like gremlins…” while doing everything else (working, caretaking) and still feels like a failure.

As I keep reading her “Worst Beam Ever” essay, I am realizing that Jen already wrote this post and the aforementioned one, as well. I read her book about one and a half years ago. Maybe it’s taken me all this time to fully digest it. Regardless, I agree with her 100%. And I remember now, when I read it the first time, mentally going through my own “on the beam” and “off the beam” checklist. My “on the beam” activities are pretty much all my “have tos” — working and parenting. I have tried adding singing and exercising onto my beam this fall, and it’s been really challenging. Some days/weeks, it feels like too much. But I also believe both activities to be nourishing and life-sustaining. For too many years – and I mean years – I had no outlets to keep myself in balance. Anyway, since I can barely even keep singing and exercising on my beam — two things I actually like and want to do — here are some things that I keep with absolute certainty off of it: Classroom parent? Off the beam. PTO? Off the beam. Homework? Off the beam. (If they can’t do it on their own, then it shouldn’t be assigned.) Baking? Off the beam.

By giving myself permission to “off the beam” those activities which do not fit my lifestyle or personality, I have found greater amounts of “inner peace.” (I use quotes, because it sounds so hokey.) And if you haven’t tried it, yet, I suggest you do!

Econ-mom’s response:  Law-mom, I can tell you it is NOT just you!  I also catch myself in these double comparisons – compared to work-at-home-moms, I fall short. They do everything with and for their kids. Story time at the library, play dates at the park, home-cooked all-organic meals and snacks. Not to mention that if their child needs therapy they never have to say to the therapist, “well, I’m only available after 5,” and get a raised eyebrow in return.  And compared to my fellow grad-students, I fall short. They’re in the office until 8 pm every night, getting stellar teaching evaluations and cranking out polished papers.

This topic also came up in the 7-year-postdoc blog post when Radhika said:

We (myself included) admire the obsessively dedicated. At work we hail the person for whom science and teaching is above all else, who forgets to eat and drink while working feverously on getting the right answer, who is always there to have dinner and discussion with eager undergrads. At home we admire the parent who sacrificed everything for the sake of a better life for their children, even at great personal expense. The best scientists. The best parents. Anything less is not giving it your best.

And then I had an even more depressing epiphany. That in such a world I was destined to suck at both.”

This is exactly why I wanted to work on this blog, despite not having much time to devote to it.  Instead of the superstar moms and superstar academics being my role models, I wanted to have more examples of people who do more than one thing to look to as I forged this path.  Frankly, I didn’t have many examples. Probably because those of us trying to juggle work/school and young kids just don’t have time to be spouting off about it on the internet. And I’m not saying I want to be a role model per se, just a data point. Just one person out there showing anyone out there who wants to attempt this craziness that, “Yes, it’s OK to half-a** some mom stuff AND half-a** some school stuff.”  And your kids will still love you and you will still (probably) get a job when you finally finish school.

And Law-mom, I’m with you on the singing and exercise! OK, I don’t sing (even my kids are already telling me to stop, haha.) But I started going to jazzercize twice a week, and sometimes I feel guilty about taking that time, but it has helped me feel SO much better. That being said, I have vowed to never preach self-care without acknowledging that sometimes it is almost impossible.  There was a period in my life where I’d read an article about self-care, and I wanted to crawl through the internet and grab the author by the shoulders and scream, “Why don’t you take my kids for TWO DAYS so I can SLEEP and then talk to me about self-care?” But if you have any ability to do something for yourself, it absolutely pays for itself in terms of increased energy and patience!

Law-mom: EM, I loved everything about your response and agree with all of it! Thank you! (I especially appreciated wanting to crawl through the internet….That happened to me after I read a blog (while post-partum) by a running pregnant woman who basically said: “If you don’t run while you are pregnant, you are a lazy slob who deserves the horrible body you are stuck with after you gain 55 pounds and swell to the point of bursting.” But I guess that is a blog post – or a therapy session – for another day. Ha!)

Why Would Anyone Want a Tenure-Track Job?

In 2013, a tenured professor at Harvard wrote a blog post called The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life.  I was eager to read it, given that Radhika Nagpal started her tenure-track position with two young children. At that point there were zero other mothers among the grad students in my department, so I had no one to talk to and desperately wanted advice. (I mean real advice; i.e. advice that would be helpful to a working mother.  Not like “catch up on the news while you’re eating breakfast.”  Someone literally suggested that to me once. I didn’t bother trying to explain what parents do during breakfast.)

As I started reading, I was enamored by passages like, “I feel that one of the culprits is our reluctance to openly acknowledge how we find balance. Or openly confront how we create a system that admires and rewards extreme imbalance.” (Emphasis added by me.) Preach it, sister!

But further into the post, I started to see some ways in which even the “ultra-laid-back” approach taken by Radhika was still not compatible with the reality I faced or with the mother I wanted to be.  First problem – she worked from 10pm-12am most nights.  Ummm. I think I stayed up till midnight ONCE during my first two years of graduate school to cram for a metrics exam.  Why?  Because Tuffy didn’t go to bed until well after 10pm most nights and by that time I was utterly exhausted. And, he didn’t sleep through the night until he was about 2 and a half. (Sometimes I allow myself a brief moment of silence for all the extra sleep we could have gotten had we found out about his autism and the wonders of melatonin earlier, but it’s water under the bridge now!)

Second problem – she writes some cutesy stuff about splitting the parenting 50-50.  So… I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that both parents are so extremely organized that they can seamlessly hand off information like “the daycare needs extra pants” and “the school library book is due back tomorrow” day in and day out.  There’s still the issue of travel.  Apparently she and her husband never had work travel, but unfortunately my husband did, and he would sometimes be gone for weeks at a time!  Clearly there is no 50-50 parenting going on in this situation.

But the deal breaker for me, the moment that I knew with certainty that I did not want a tenure track job, was when I read the line – “a sick kid whose fever I tried to mask with Tylenol and send to school.” This is such an absolute NO with a side of NO sauce in my book.  First of all, both of my sons got sick a ZILLION times when they were young. (By the way, sharing this unique, miserable experience is something that bonds Law-mom and I together for life.) Frankly, it’s likely that at least a few of these sicknesses were a direct result of parents pulling that crap. But I’m not trying to rag on Radhika – tons of parents do this, and it’s because we’re all in such desperate situations. I’m sure if I had had a “real” job, there would have been a greater temptation to try the ol’ Tylenol Mask just to avoid getting fired. But honestly this is just one of those places where I drew the line in terms of parenting. I always felt some amount of guilt for putting my son in daycare, but at least I was never going to leave him with anyone other than myself or his dad when he was truly sick. So when Tuffy would get a fever, I’d miss class (which was fun because graduate classes move at lightening speed), and as soon as he was fever-free for 24 hours I’d bring him back and try to somehow catch up while still putting in less than 40 hours a week on class/studying/pumping. And even then I’d still often feel terrible because Tuffy would still have a cough or just not be fully back to himself.

So that was that – and this was even before Tuffy’s autism diagnosis and the onslaught of doctor appointments, paperwork, and therapy sessions. Clearly if working until midnight and taking a sick kid to daycare is the bare minimum it takes to get tenure it’s industry jobs only for this mama!

But here’s the crazy part – back in June I saw a couple classmates who now have tenure-track jobs and as we were chatting I started thinking hey, maybe I could do this too. I guess with Peanut now fiiiiiinally sleeping through the night (usually) and the kids getting sick way less often, it is starting to feel like more things are possible. And working on your own research really is fun.  I published a paper a couple years ago, and it was exciting to collect brand new data and attempt to answer a question that had never been answered before.

Ever since then I’ve been back and forth, sometimes on a daily basis.  It’s like that thing in the movies where someone has the angel and devil on each shoulder. Not that I’m trying to compare tenure-track jobs to the devil, but it does sort of seem like the bad choice in a way.  It’s so high stress, with teaching and research demands, being asked to serve on committees, etc.  Let’s face it, even Radhika who has tenure at Harvard admits to occasionally crying in her office. So the angel was winning for a while, whispering in my ear “Your kids need you. Who would take them on playdates? Also you can’t stay up until midnight.”  Then in September I present my paper and an actual professor comes up to me afterwards and tells me that he likes my work and is interested in co-authoring a paper with me.  And the devil whispers “see how exciting this can be?”

Now, here I am on the job market; and yes, I have applied for some tenure-track jobs. Ultimately I felt like I had to try. Part of me thinks I would crumble under the pressure, but part of me thinks, “hey, I made it this far with so many things working against me. I just want to see what I can do when DH takes over as lead parent, and I can truly focus on my work.”  And, of course, I might not get any offers for teaching jobs and the decision will be made for me. So, we’ll see what happens.

Law-mom’s response:

Yes, Econ-mom (EM), you and I are bonded for life commiserating over how sick both our children were for the first five years (for me) of parenting. Well, first seven years, actually. If you, too, dear reader, are going through this phase, as I am sure others have told you: It does get better! I know that is not helpful when you are going through it. But it does give you hope — I hope. For years I toiled without seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I know that sounds melodramatic, but it’s true. It’s how I felt. I always had hope. But sometimes that hope felt like a lifetime away in a distant future I would never reach. Yet…here I am.

As a bit of a tangent, the other day, as I was walking home from the train, I saw a toddler walking with her mom or caretaker, and I suddenly had a flashback to when SC1 was 13 months old, holding my hand along the sidewalk and walking, and I nearly broke down in tears. (Instead, I just got misty-eyed and had a few good sniffs.) So, apparently, I will still look back fondly and nostalgically at those younger years — even though they broke me. But, there is a silver-lining to being broken: You have empathy and compassion for others who are breaking! And I would never give you advice like, “Just catch up on the news during breakfast!” LOL. That’s a good one! (Though, EM, with older kids who are more self-sufficient, it will be possible.)

The two main points I took away from your post, EM:

  1. The only way to juggle job and family is for all moving pieces to be in perfect order/synchronicity at all times. And, unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. I could be a drill sergeant, I am so good at keeping a ship running on schedule in tip top shape. (Everyone in my family loves this about me, by the way.) But when kids get sick (or you get sick) the whole fragile balance is thrown off, and it’s never easy to recover. The good Lord above only knows how I EVER would have kept my full-time job when the kids were little. I would have been like that lady crying in my office. I also would have had to move to a much higher paying (even more demanding) firm to afford a nanny. I’ve already talked about a litigator’s hours in a previous post.
  2.  I feel your pain re: the struggle between your ambition versus your familial demands. My familial demands drove me to take (what feels like) a “backseat” job. In other words, I took a pay cut and less stress for more time. I went through a period of time where I had a minor identity crisis after changing my career path. I wondered, frequently, if I was making a huge mistake. The other day, however, I had a “Eureka!” moment. It sounds so simple, but it is what finally slapped me out of my self-pity: Time is the most valuable commodity we have. And I now have the (minimum) amount I personally need to try to keep a decent balance between my work and family life. Therefore, even though I took a pay cut, I gained something so much more valuable. It is by focusing on that priceless time that I am able to see my glass half-full — maybe even more than half-full — while I continue to navigate this parenting journey. That is not advice. It is just one perspective. Good luck on the decision-making! Remember that, no matter what you choose, it won’t be easy. That is not pessimism. It is just reality.

 

This Thanksgiving, I am Thankful for My Village

How many people does it take to get to get two kids to school, to tutoring, and back home on a regular work day? Four. It takes four people: Their mom (myself) and three neighbors who helped me out on Monday before and after school. Thank you, friends! I also need to thank my aunt who came to “Special Someone Day” at my children’s school on Friday. (That is another blog post about the incompatibility of school schedules and demands and work schedules and demands.)

The struggle is real, as they say. So is the guilt. “What if ALL women worked?” I ask myself, daily.** Then what? What would happen to the PTOs? The church youth group run by faithful volunteers? Who could help me out in a pinch like yesterday when my train was running 15 minutes late? A 15 minute delay may not sound like a lot of time, but it is when it takes you 15 minutes to walk home from the train in order to jump in the car to drive another 15 minutes to pick up your child on time from tutoring. It’s also a huge delay when you are then supposed to drive another 15 minutes back to get to a 20 minute parent-teacher conference on time. (That was some awesome scheduling on my part. #mentalload.)

The world needs caretakers. It is an undervalued role in our society, which usually falls on the backs of women. I am very grateful for the caretakers in my community, who make it possible for me to work and, therefore, live in the same community with them. It is a privilege to know and live among them. They are a blessing to our family and our community as a whole.

I loved Econ-mom’s comment in our last post that the only way she “does it all” is by living in abject filth. The only way I “do it all” is with the help of my friends and family. Thank you to my village! This Thanksgiving, I give effusive thanks for your support.

 

**If all men and women had to work, maybe there would be a change in how we structure the school calendar.

How Does She Do it All? Answer: She Doesn’t

In a recent post, I attempted to determine the minimum budget for a family of four to live in a modest home in the (north/northwest) Chicago suburbs. I did not succeed in reaching a firm number, but I placed that number somewhere between $68K and $85K, depending on the age of your children and the cost of childcare. What is scary to me about those numbers, is that they are considered middle-class salaries, but they will only allow you to squeak by without an ounce of fun or two pennies to rub together for savings. My budget also forgot to include gas money in order to drive those two cars to work. It also left out student loan debt. Just adding in another $300/month for student loan repayment (per adult) and $200/month for gas for two cars, those base salaries need to go up another $11,520 (remember, you are paying tax to net that $9,600), and you still don’t have a savings account. So, now your minimums are looking closer to $80K and $96K, depending on the age of your kids. The average salary in America is about $59,000. Not enough.

Looking at these numbers honestly is explaining why The Hub and I have felt the squeeze ever since we had SC1 almost 10 years ago. As a litigator, I knew it would be next to impossible for me to keep my full-time job and be the mother I wanted to be, which is why I cut back to a part-time schedule. For starters: Being a litigator requires a functioning brain. I don’t know about you, but my brain doesn’t function well on 5.5 hours of chopped up sleep per night. Maybe for a day or two I can get away with it. But not for years on end. It’s rather hard to keep up billing/working at 172% per day to make billing minimums on that little sleep while also taking care of a newborn and a non-verbal toddler. Even men get burnout from a litigator’s demanding work schedule, and they aren’t breastfeeding while doing it.

Which brings me to the main point of this blog post about time.

You may be surprised to learn that there are 24 hours in a day. That’s all you get. I need to budget 8 hours for sleep, for the sake of my mental and physical health. I can get away with 6 or 7 now and then, but those are some long days fueled by massive amounts of coffee. That leaves one with 16 hours to get stuff done.

The “normal” work day is 8 hours long. (Remember, if you are litigating, or working in another demanding profession, you are putting in at least 10 hour days. At least. I am sure we all know someone who puts in 15 hour days.) Next, you have to commute. If you are blessed, you live and work in the same community, or closeby. If you live in the burbs and work in the city, you are commuting much longer. My total commute time per day is 2.5 hours. So, let’s pretend that you are litigating full-time on an “easy” 10 hour day and a 2.5 hour commute. That leaves you 3.5 hours every day to get stuff done. Yep, that sounds about right.** So, in 3.5 hours, you need to:

Pack lunches (or repeatedly remind the children to pack their lunches) (10 minutes)

Shower and get ready for work – 45 minutes

Laundry (if you don’t keep up with it during the week, you’re in for a real treat on the weekend — 20 minutes, sorting, putting in washing machine, dryer and folding; but you need to be home for this whole process, and you do NOT want to time it perfectly so that the dryer goes off at the exact same time your dinner timer is beeping.)

Fix dinner – 30 minutes

Eat dinner – 20 minutes

Clean up the kitchen at least twice – 20 minutes

Take kids to and from their extracurricular activities – 1.5 hours

Read the news and check email – 15 minutes

Exercise at the gym – 1.5 (with driving time)

Spend time with kids – talking, playing a game, or helping with homework – 30 minutes

Let’s see, what does that add up to?….Whoops! We’re over-budget, peeps! That adds up to over 6 hours. So, I guess you are not exercising today, or reading any news. You probably are skipping that nagging load of laundry, and there might be some dishes still piled up in your sink when you go to bed. Don’t worry, you can go to the gym on a day the kids don’t have any activities after school, right? Oh no, that’s not gonna work, because you’re EXHAUSTED by the time you get home.

The reality is there is not enough time in the day to do everything that needs to get done to make a home function and run efficiently. There just isn’t. There are other “to dos” that aren’t even listed above. Those are just the most regular, most needed, and most nagging ones. The holidays, which are closing in fast upon us, are also really good at taking your already dialed up to 11 schedule and dialing it up another couple of notches to 13. (Warning: At 13, your brain wires start fizzling and smoking.)

The school system is really good at piling onto your “to do” list, as well, and they like to do it right around the holidays. I’ll save that discussion for another post….Although, you may not get another blog post out of me until after the New Year. And now you know why.

The famous question of “Can she have it all?” has been incorrectly framed from the start. The correct question is: “Can she do it all?” And the answer is no. She cannot. Not without help. Lots and lots and lots and lots of help in the form of nannies and housekeepers. And maybe even some favors from friends and neighbors and family members. (For which, I am forever grateful. Thank you to my village!!)

And really, if you pause to think about it, how could you expect a different reality? The reason men succeeded in their careers for centuries is because they had free domestic labor in the form of wives. And the reason high-achieving women got as far as they did in high school was (at least, partly) because they had mothers doing all (or most of) their domestic labor for them, as well. Furthermore, in college and graduate school, you have more than enough free time to get all your non-academic labor completed. In other words, you succeed, because you either have help (parents) or time (no kids). Once you add kids into the equation, your ability to succeed (at anything, really; take sleep, for instance) plummets dramatically, because you lose 99% of your most valuable commodity: Time.

Maybe you started on the right career track and are pocketing enough money to afford all this help. If so: Congratulations!  But how many women do you think there are in this world that can afford full-time help and have time to live and enjoy their lives? (I would honestly love to know that statistic!) Because, it’s not just about money. It’s about having enough time leftover in the day to spend time with your family. Men and women who are earning the big bucks are working so many hours, many do not see their children during the week. And maybe, if you’re lucky, it’s about having a little time leftover in your day to sit in quiet contemplation, reading, or blogging. (Wink.) It’s also about mental health and taking care of oneself, so one doesn’t suffer burnout and depression.

So, sure: You can “have” it all: Career and family. But something is getting sacrificed along the way. Some ball is getting dropped. Maybe it’s your health. Maybe it’s your sanity. Maybe it’s your marriage. Maybe it’s your kids. Maybe it’s your career. Maybe it’s your body, the interior or exterior of your home, or the inside of your car. Because we are only human. We only have so much energy. And we only have 24 hours every day in which to expend it.

**I only work an easy 8-hour day now, which most days leaves me with about 5.5 hours to get things done each day. Nice! But I still litigate on the side, and there are days that I put in 2 hours in the morning or evening, leaving me with the leftover 3.5 hours discussed above.

Econ-mom’s comments:

Ah yes, the fun subject of the time budget. People have asked me how I am able to do my PhD and raise the boys.  My main answer is “I live in abject filth.”  This is really not much of an exaggeration honestly.  And beyond almost never cleaning, I cut a lot of other corners. Lunches?  My kids buy school lunches! (Actually, I did pack their lunches for their daycare for years, but Tuffy requested that he be allowed to buy lunch at school and I happily agreed. Peanut’s current daycare provides lunch, hooray!) Shower? Pssh, the daily shower was a pre-kid luxury.  (Although I can only pull this off because I work from home wearing sweat pants almost every day.  This comes at it’s own cost, namely me feeling like a slob.)

I could go on and on, but really the upshot for my situation is that most of my time crunch problems came in the form of me spending less time on school.  This is the hazard of being a working student – if your child needs, oh, I don’t know, 4 different types of therapy, you just do it and let your school work suffer.  (Of course, I would have done this for my son anyway, so the glass-half-full way to look at being a student is at least I had the option to do almost no work for about a year and a half versus a “real” job where I’m sure I would have been fired.)

Finally, like most things Law-mom blogs about, economists have been paying attention to this issue as well.  An interesting paper came out last year describing the “puzzle” of why highly-educated parents spend more time with their children despite working more hours.  I put puzzle in quotes, because it’s only a puzzle in the sense that a very simple economic model would predict that highly-educated mothers would spend more time working because they can earn more money per hour. In reality, I don’t think it’s that much of a puzzle.  The more we learn about how important things like reading to our children are, the more pressure we feel to do them.  And my personal take is that when we choose to work outside the home, we also feel guilty, and that guilt translates to more focused time spent with our children.

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*