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Is “It” All Worth It?

Two kids (heads not pictured) sitting on a couch petting a dog

Last night, my husband asked me if “it” was worth it, and by “it” he meant my job. He claimed that I work all the time, that I was missing out on my children’s young lives: “They’ll only be this age once. Won’t you be sad that you worked all the time and missed these moments?” He further queried: “How sustainable is it to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning? You’re going to do that for the next 30 years?”

The last question was easy to answer: Nope, not forever—I get up early now because that’s the only time I have to work 100 percent unobstructed, unless I leave the house. Someday my kids won’t rely on me to feed and clothe them and tend to their every need. Even on days I have childcare, the kids stay in the house and can still find me if they need me, so the wee morning hours, while they’re still snug in their beds, is my best work time.

The first question was harder to respond to, because it hit a sore spot for me. My husband is a wonderful, supportive partner, but just like so many partners of individuals who work from home, he has a really difficult time understanding the dynamic of my workday—a dynamic complicated by two things for me at the time he made this statement: first of all, it’s summer, and daycare in the summer for some reason costs ungodly amounts of money, so we opted to hire sitters part time instead of putting my daughter in half- or full-time daycare over the summer; second of all, I’ve made the conscious choice not to put my son in daycare until he’s able to advocate for himself about his food allergies and to understand that there can be severe consequences to putting a shared toy in your mouth, if that toy has been shared by someone who has recently eaten peanut, dairy, or egg. Right now he’s one, so he’s a ways off from being able to understand these things—let alone vocalizing them. I realize that there are conscientious daycares out there that will maintain an allergy-friendly environment, but I’m just not comfortable with that idea yet; and thankfully, because of my particular remote work arrangement, I don’t have to be.

But the trade-off is that my work schedule during the summer is erratic. My mother-in-law comes one or two days a week to watch the kids for the full work day, and I have a sitter who comes one or two mornings a week as well. But on those days that I don’t have help—and sometimes there are whole weeks, like when my kids get sick—I am the primary caretaker. On those days, I get up at 4:30 not only because it’s crucial for my sanity (see post on “Creating a Daily Work Rhythm”), but also because, quite simply, I have to: my son currently naps for an hour in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, and my daughter, who’s nearing four, doesn’t typically nap but will go in her room for a two-hour “rest time.” And three hours a day for five days a week does not a forty-hour work week make.

In my husband’s eyes, I work all the time because I work a lot of the time that he is at home: the morning, the evening, the weekends. Yes, it sucks that I’m working at those times when other families are spending time together, and yes, I need to be more intentional about carving out family time when the four of us are together. But this season (metaphorically and literally) will pass, and in the fall I’ll return to having full-time childcare for both children. The bigger problem, though, is the misunderstanding that inspired my husband’s original comments—the idea that I’m not present in my children’s lives, that I’m a workaholic who’s missing out because I just can’t stop working. Um, no?

On days I don’t have childcare, my day typically looks like this:

  • 4:30–7:00 a.m. | Wake up and work in my home office

  • 7:00–7:45 a.m. | Get the kids fed, washed up, and dressed

  • 7:45–8:15 a.m. | Workout in the basement/playroom while the kids play together or take them outside for a run in the double jogging stroller, depending on the weather

  • 8:15–8:45 a.m. | Shower and get dressed

  • 8:45–9:45 a.m. | Play with the kids until my son is ready for his morning nap

  • 10:00–11:15 a.m. | Work while my son naps and my daughter watches TV or colors (gasp, I know—screen time)

  • 11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. | Prepare lunch and feed everyone, including my husband who comes from work on his lunch hour

  • 12:15–1:30 p.m. | Play with kids until they’re ready for their rest time—in the summer, we usually jog over to one of the many nearby parks

  • 1:30–3:30 p.m. | Lights out for the kids, work time for mama

  • 3:30–4:30 p.m. | Kids are awake, so time to do household chores that I don’t want to waste precious work time on: prepare dinner, put away laundry, water plants, etc. I let my daughter help with things she can, and we’re all in the same room regardless.

  • 4:30–5:30 p.m. | Most summer afternoons my daughter has some sort of activity, usually swim, so my husband will take her so I can get some extra work time in. My one-year-old will play nicely in his playpen while I work.

  • 5:30–8:00 p.m. | Dinner, clean up, bedtime routines for the kids

  • 8:00–9:30 p.m. | Work time on the couch, while my husband watches TV or catches up on work e-mails himself

  • 9:30–10:00 p.m. | Watch TV with my husband and wind down and go to bed

Let’s do the math on that—and let’s be honest, this is an ideal scenario. There are days when the s**t hits the fan and there are kids awake at 5:00 a.m. or tantrums at rest time. You just have to adjust for those days with the full (and fully focused) workdays. But back to the math: 2.5 hours before kids are up + 1 hour in the morning + 2 hours in the afternoon + 1 hour in the late afternoon + 1.5 hours at night = 8 hours. But, had I not gotten up early and had I not worked at night, that total is reduced to 4 hours. Four hours! In the typical nine-to-five workday, I am only at my desk working for 4 hours…unless, again, I have a sitter, in which case I am fully available for those normal business hours.

Now let’s do the math on how much time I spend with my kids: 45 min. (morning routine) + 30 min. (workout) + 1 hour (focused playtime) + 1 hour (lunchtime) + 1.25 hours (post-lunch playtime) + 1 hour (chores with kids) + 2.5 hours (dinner and bedtime routine) = drumroll… 8 HOURS! Eight hours that I am present with them, not working. I am not missing out on their childhoods; I am actively involved in them. I’m just also working in the in-between bits, the inconvenient bits… the early mornings, the late evenings, the weekend mornings and afternoons. My husband perhaps doesn’t understand how my day as a work-at-home parent shifts endlessly between parenting and working. (Maybe I should e-mail him this schedule?)

Mallory painting at her easel while I work

My daughter painting at her easel while I work in my home office.

Doing the math was really validating to me because I often feel like I am failing in my work-motherhood balancing act. Some days are great: I am incredibly productive at work, I parent my kids the way I hope to but can’t always manage, and the energy from both work and parenting spills over into the other domain, amplifying the positive emotions I feel in each one. But let’s be honest… most days, in this stage of life, are difficult. The balance is always off-kilter, one area of my life needs more attention than it’s getting, and mostly I feel like family time is what is suffering…probably because my mind is on work things during normal business hours, even when I’m with my kids. So when my husband questioned my presence in my kids’ lives, it hit a nerve: Am I missing out? Am I working when I should be parenting? But the numbers don’t lie… I am there with them. Even though I might miss out on a weekend outing, I am nurturing them on breaks during the traditional workday. I have consciously made this choice to work at home with kids because I wanted more time with them, and that’s what I am getting. But to make this work, I have to sacrifice: sleep, time with my husband, and sometimes weekend activities.

My son playing in his playpen with shape sorters and stacking cups.

My son playing with his toys in his playpen while I work in my home office.

I know that it’s not feasible for everyone to get up at 4:30 in the morning, and I also know that it’s hard as hell to work in the evening after a full day of tending to small children. In fact, on the days that I’ve had childcare, it is far easier for me to continue working into the evening, because I’m not emotionally and physically drained from the demands of solo parenting. Because everyone has their own unique needs as to what work/childcare arrangement makes sense, I’m not advocating for a one-size-fits-all approach to work-life integration. But I do want to empower you to figure out what makes the most sense for you and to feel good about those decisions that you make about balancing work and life, career and parenthood.

What are some strategies for juggling working and parenting that you find useful? Share them in the comments below. And be sure to connect with me on social media (@thewahmblog) to share your experience balancing working and parenting as a remote employee, home-based entrepreneur, etc.

Don’t forget—the #GetDressedInitiative is going on right now. We’re on Day 4! The #GetDressedInitiative is an opportunity to discover how dressing up for work impacts your workday: how it affects the way you work, the way you feel about your work, and the way you feel about yourself while working—AND, what’s more, the way you feel when you’re not working.

Get “dressed up” for work today, whether that means trading the athleisure for a pair of structured jeans and a crisp button-down shirt or whether that means swapping the jeans for a skirt and blouse, and journal about your emotions, productivity, and general experience throughout the day. Share pics of your outfits and caption them with your reflections and connect with us and others doing the 30-day challenge on social media @thewahmblog, #GetDressedInitiative.