This is a story about me being a recent domestic engineer to two elementary school aged children and how this stage of family life seems MUCH (unreasonably much!) easier to manage with one parent being at home. But there is a caveat - other than my maternity leaves, I was never a SAHM with babies, toddlers or preschoolers and I do not for a moment think that being at home with very young kids is an “easier” life than that of a working parent. I do not want to contribute to the “mommy wars” rhetoric that pits women against each other. I just want to vent a bit about why, when 70% of families have two working parents, so much revolves around the premise that one parent is at home?
Life Can Be Crazy
My kids are 11 and 8 years old and, until quite recently, I’ve always worked. For most of these years, I also cared for my elderly, unwell grandparents who refused to leave their home and were constantly in and out of hospital. It was a true sandwich situation as I was the only person doing most of the caregiving for my grandparents while simultaneously trying to be a “good” mom, wife and employee. “Juggling act” does not begin to describe it. But I did it and we persevered as a family relying heavily on Google calendar, Panago Pizza and hospital social workers. My husband’s flexible schedule meant he filled in a lot of the blanks and could make sure things happened when they needed to. It was hard and crazymaking, but I soldiered on like so many women do.
Then, over the course of two years, my grandparents passed away which was devastating, but also meant there was no longer that sandwich to contend with. Instead of embracing a bit of down time, I decided to take on a new job in a totally different field. But the job turned out to be way more than full-time and I felt like I was always on duty. I liked the work, but the workload meant things were not great at home. My husband was handling almost everything.
No one was happy and I felt like I’d blink and miss entire weeks of my kids’ lives. I lasted a year and then I quit - just kind of burned out and chose to be home, take care of the family, and keep a better eye on the preteen. Suddenly, after ten years of working and parenting, I was “just” parenting.
Life is Designed for Domestic Engineers
I’m six months into it now. The biggest shock is that running our lives has become SO much easier and smoother as a result of having one parent at home . . . and I kind of I resent the shit out of it. Yes, I knew it would be easier, how could it not be? I’m mad, though, at how so many aspects of raising kids seem to be designed around the concept that one person is at home and able to respond to whatever, whenever, wherever. Who and what exactly is responsible for this architecture I don’t know, but there are number of ways this has been true for us so far.
When working, I railed against how the whole blasted school day seemed designed around one parent being home. Let’s start the school day when most parents are expected to be at work. Let’s end the school day when most parents still have an hour or more to go at work. Let’s make childcare expensive and really difficult to sort out unless you luck in to having your kids at a school that has childcare in it. Oh and don’t forget – one day each week has an even earlier school dismissal time where your kids will be dismissed anywhere from noon to 2pm.
P.S. At least one day a month –a random, unpredictable day – will be a no-school teacher PD Day. If you’re lucky, your in-school childcare might take your kids on no- school days, but often they won’t because they’re closed if the school is closed.
P.S.S. All the best with the childcare conundrum that is eight weeks of summer holidays!
But all of the above, ALL OF IT, matters not one little bit when you stay at home. In fact, you’ll also be able to volunteer for all the field trips and attend all the school events that happen in the middle of the day if you so choose.
I’ve touched on what childcare looks like with school aged kids, but with very young kids it’s no better. Childcare is really expensive, difficult to get into (being on waitlists while pregnant is a real thing) and not very accommodating. Most daycares do not have part-time options and cannot accommodate any shifts outside of the typical work day. Once kids are school age there is the new reality that many schools do not have any kind of before or after childcare onsite so parents have to arrange for bussing to and from an offsite daycare. On top of that, some public schools do not even offer bussing, so parents will pay even more for a daycare to provide transportation.
Childcare is the biggest issue/financial burden/logistical nightmare for all the working families I know with kids too young to be home alone. It is ridiculous to me that as a society we can’t seem to fix this and/or just don’t really care about it.
3. EXTRACURRICULAR STUFF.
If you put your kids in any kind of sport, dance or other activity there seems to be this tendency for 4:30 pm practice times. Or maybe they will be 5 or 5:30 pm like that’s so much better. And said practices will be in St. Albert for some reason. As the kids get older, there will inevitably be some tournament or other meet-up that someone has decided is worthy of happening on a day that necessitates pulling the kids out of school and thus you taking time off work. I thought this was all completely unreasonable as a working parent and I still do as a domestic engineer, but now we can at least accommodate it.
4. VOLUNTEER COMMITMENTS.
If your kids are in any extracurricular activities there are likely all manner of weird and wonderful volunteer commitments that will eat away at your weekends (and souls) like bottle drives and bingos. The difference I’ve noticed as a domestic engineer is that the whole house of cards doesn’t collapse now because half my weekend was spent working a casino. The laundry will still get done and groceries will still get bought without having to visit a 24 hour Walmart at 11:30 pm on Sunday in order to buy lunch staples.
5. EATING WELL.
It’s just so much easier to feed your family well and better when you are home. It’s not necessarily cheaper, but it is easier. As a domestic engineer you can also make sure your kids are fed something good before or after their extracurricular activities because you are home with them. You also won’t need to deal with all the times your work schedule prevents you from cooking or shopping. I am amazed at how much easier it now is to make meals from scratch, ensure there is good food in the house and not rely on Subway or McDonald’s to fill in the gaps. It’s hard to explain, but this one really pisses me off because every parent wants to feed their families well, but it is just so hard to accomplish that when time is a premium.
6. THE NEVER-ENDING ERRAND TRAIN.
You know what’s easier to do in the middle of a weekday? Pretty much everything. Banking, medical and professional appointments, the post office, any kind of purchase, getting quotes, etc. are all faster and easier to do during a weekday. And, when your family is fortunate enough to have a stay at home parent, no one needs to take time off work, use up vacation time or move work hours around to take the kids to the dentist. I am amazed at how many services still have no or limited weekend hours.
Going Back To Work Part Time
So, after 6 months of domestic engineering it up, I am beginning part-time work again very soon. As currently anticipated, my work will be three short days a week slotted in around the school day. Having a pre-teen kid means I feel the need to be around a lot so I really hope this works out. If it does, after 11 years of motherhood and working, I may finally achieve work-life balance (which to date I always assumed was nothing more than an elusive urban legend).
My privilege is definitely showing throughout this post and I know it. We are in a situation where I can be home for awhile and we can afford extracurricular activities, childcare and good food on the table. I can choose to take on selective part-time work. But in a way that’s exactly my point. Who does the status quo work for? The system, as is, does not work for any two parent working families let alone those where both parents must (or want to) work full-time for financial reasons. For single parents it’s even harder - full-time work is necessary and the juggling act is constant and never-ending. Things are simply NOT designed with working parents in mind and seem to actually work against working parents. And, yet, here we are paying taxes, working, and contributing to the greater good. The system needs to change and schools, childcare and workplaces seem to be the logical places to start. I think women need to work on forcing change. I’m not sure where we start and where we best put our voices and efforts, but I think we all have a responsibility to do our part whether we work or stay at home.
I would love to hear others’ suggestions, feelings and ideas on getting change and balance for working families. So, Cabal, what are your thoughts?