Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The balance

There has been quite the discussion recently about work / life balance and how it relates to gender issues. Things started with Isis' commentary on a ScienceCareers piece on balancing the chores with work, that was aimed specifically at women. After a bit of a scuffle, mostly on Isis's blog, Jim Austin had this to say at ScienceCareers. Despite the "special announcement" (which ends with the dismissive Thanks for your attention. You may go back to whatever you were doing.), I'm not sure Jim ever really heard Isis and Zuska's complaint that the implicit assumption in ALL of the ScienceCareer articles aimed at work / life balance was that the target audience was women and only women.

Based on the discussion, ScientistMother called out the men, and specifically Drug Monkey, to write more about how they deal with the balance between work and life. I think that's a fair thing to ask, because by not addressing this it appears is if it isn't a problem for us and I can assure you, at least in my case, that is not true.

Most of you will know that I am married and have a daughter who is just over two. While I am not in a two body academic relationship, my wife works close enough to where I do that we own one car. I mention this because it is critical to how our lives are scheduled. Basically, our hours are daycare's hours. We drop the Wee One off at 7:30 when it opens and we pick her up at the end of the day (though not when daycare closes), usually between 4:30 and 5:00. Those are my weekday in office hours, whether I like it or not because I have no other option to get home.

At first I found this difficult because I was used to working later in the day, but now I actually appreciate the restriction. Why? Because it means that no matter what I go home with my family and we play, eat dinner and have bath/bed time with our daughter together. I can go back to the office afterwards if I want, though more often than not I work in the evenings from home. But during the week we don't see the Wee One for that long each day and this schedule means that I see her all the time she is not in daycare. It means I have to be a bit more organized and that I have to get everything I can done during the day, but it also means that I spend more time with my daughter and, importantly, that the parenting burden is not skewed. For the same reasons, I try hard not to work much on weekends, but when I have to, I pick one day to get things done and spend the other day with my family or just with my daughter if my wife has to work.

As far as chores go, we have essentially reached a balance where the overall work is split evenly without both of us doing every task equally. I do more of the cooking and dish washing, whereas my wife does more laundry and yard work. We both clean the house when it needs it, which usually either happens in concentrated bursts or in fragmented pieces (just the bathroom gets done, or just the kitchen gets cleaned) during the Wee One's naps or after dinner. We take turns giving the Wee One a bath and putting her to bed. For the most part it works.

The tough part is travel. At the moment I travel more for work than my wife and that places an enormous burden on her during those times to single parent while I am away. For some reason, when I travel is also the time when random catastrophe strikes the household, making my time away that much more difficult on my family. There have even been times when my travel and changes around the house have caused anxiety in the Wee One, which was a bit scary. Travel times are stressful times and I've tried to make careful decisions about travel to get the most out of the time I am away. Sometimes it means missing a relevant meeting. It is what it is.

Kids are a lot of work. Relationships are a lot of work. Work is a lot of work. Everyone finds their balance and what makes the most sense in their relationship to get 26 hours worth of stuff done in 24 hours. There is no one right way to make it happen but allowing home duties fluctuate between us depending on each other's work burden at the time allows us to manage.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post, PLS.

    My hub and I have pretty much the same schedule (i.e. public school and the daycare schedule), commute together on most days (go with 2 cars 1 or 2 days of the week, depending on the semester schedule and weather).

    There is no one right way to make it happen but allowing home duties fluctuate between us depending on each other's work burden at the time allows us to manage.

    I think this is very important, realizing that there are no static solutions for the division of labor. The balance between family and work is really never a balance, more of a seesaw. When kids are healthy and spouse not terribly busy, you can afford to be more immersed in work. With a sick kid (or kids) and/or a busy spouse, you chip away at the work time...

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  2. Thanks for always making a clear your a full and participating father/partner!

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  3. PLS, thanks for writing a post about your life and balancies in the family (especially practical stuff like cleaning and laundry, cooking etc.).

    I have read your previous entries about going away on conferences and juggling the family responsibilities and enjoyed them. Mainly since it is as mentioned in some of the posts earlier here and on other places, many women tend to write about their family obligations as well as research whereas many men writes about work only which gives the "feeling" that they don't have to worry about it.

    I wish there could be a time when noone really worried about the balance but there could be time for all....

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  4. Well said, PLS. With women able to make more choices regarding career and family, men are starting to confront the same issues women have had finding work-life balance. It's still an unbalanced equation, IMO, but I like seeing the guys jump into this conversation with us gals. :)

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  5. http://sogniamo.blogspot.com/

    (it's a commment to this, but not really a comment to this, feel free to construct my criticism)

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