Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What does "making it work" mean?

I received a lot of email after my post about playgrounds and boardrooms and the elusive interesting part time job. At first I was hopeful that women were going to write me about their fabulous, 20-hour a week gigs, that allowed them to keep at least one foot on the career ladder. That hasn't happened yet.

I got several interesting emails on how some moms make their careers work. Most rely heavily on their partners' ability to scale back their own professional pace to pick up some slack at home. One such couple has a deal that the dad will do all child care pick up and drop off for the first six months that the mom is back at work in her new (and fabulous) full time job. This works for them because the dad is well-established in his company. Of course his boss doesn't love the idea, but he's placated by the unspoken underlying assumption that once mom gets re-oriented into office life, she'll reclaim the majority of pick up and drop off detail. Still, it's by far the most functional arrangement anyone has shared that doesn't involved two shifts of paid childcare.

Here's the most unusual scenario I heard - the one that literally made my jaw drop:

One highly specialized consultant recently went back to work when her youngest kid started school. She wrote to tell me that her work day starts at 5 a.m., so she can leave by 2 p.m. to get her kids from school. By my math that means, assuming an average commute of 15-30 minutes, and given she can't go into the office wearing pajamas, starving or sporting wet hair, her alarm goes off some time between 3 and 4 in the morning. Brutal. But creative, for a skilled professional who isn't beholden to a client's or colleague's schedule.

She says it works because her husband does school drop off before starting his (much more conventional) work day. It seems from her message that the dad usually has the option to stay late at the office, take evening meetings, attend career advancing corporate events or occasional cocktail hours with the big boss. However, the mom who started her day when bars were closing in New York City has to be home by a pre-determined time, because the school bus will spew out children whether she's ready to receive them or not.

Women who want or need the option to vary their schedules tend to rely on nannies to take the after school through bedtime and beyond shift. And of course a family pays a premium to have a wonderful nanny who will put up with long, unpredictable hours. Bottom line: the majority of moms in that position need to earn enough to justify the nanny's substantial presence on the payroll.

So, getting back to the consultant... Am I the only one who feels sick at the mere thought of waking shortly after 3 a.m., five days a week, 49 weeks a year? Don't get me wrong: It's great if it's what she wants, but would it work for most people? Can you get your job done in off hours or will it follow you home?

Some people have no choice. Their jobs require certain fixed hours. But if you have a choice, are you willing to sacrifice all your adult time (i.e. the hours between the kids' bedtime and yours) in the service of your career? Presumably that means, bye bye social life? Or am I missing something?

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