Showing up – the working parent dilemma

I know I haven’t written in a few weeks, and I apologize to the five of you who read this blog. Well, maybe slightly more than five people read it, but it’s not like I have thousands begging for my new content, so I figured I could get away with it.   The main reason I haven’t written is that I started a new job about a month ago and it’s been pretty busy.

I made a move from the agency side to the ad tech side in my field, which is social media.  This may sound like jargon to some of you, but the main point of me calling out this transition is that I just left a thousand person company that’s been in business 25+ years for an established but still relatively small startup that has just under 150 people and has been around for 7 years.  It was founded by college students, so the founders are also a good ten years younger than me.  This could have been a risk as a mom to go to a company that is small and young in both business and median age but so far it has been really great.

The company has a flexible working policy, which includes unlimited vacation days and no mandatory work hours, although a good amount of the people work on a schedule that fairly closely matches standard office hours. The policy is extremely helpful as a mom because to be part of a family with two working parents pretty much requires flexibility.  Although I am extremely busy so far every day and doing some work at night (which is pretty similar to my other jobs) I have been able to work from home already a few times. I’ve also managed to leave most days around 5:15, which means that I actually get home before Julia is asleep (she’s in bed already, but I get to chat with her for a few minutes, which is awesome).

This past Friday I worked from home so we could attend an event at Julia’s Kindergarten. It was an end of the year “Family Appreciation Day” held by her class.  It was adorable, the kids dressed up and performed a few songs and dances for us and I almost cried from cuteness.  But it was at 1:50 pm. It’s hard enough to go in to work late when there are events in the morning, But a 1:50 start time means that at best you’re getting a half day at work.  Let’s not forget that we work in the city and her school is in our home town in the suburbs.  I worked from home in the morning, but Brian had to take a 12:37 train to get back for it.

And this is just one of the events going on at the end of the year.  Thursday they had a field trip, which we didn’t volunteer for to be a chaperone, just like I didn’t volunteer for the last field trip a few weeks ago. Next week is a Flag Day performance (at 9:30 in the morning, which effectively means if I go I won’t be able to get to work until about noon with my commute if I go).  Then I just found out there is Field Day on the same day as Flag Day, if I wanted to go back to the school three hours later to watch that. And if I wanted to send my nanny in my place, too bad, because the school doesn’t allow siblings to attend so she wouldn’t be able to bring Luca. Then there’s the last day of school.  I figured unlike the first day of school, I wouldn’t stay home for it, until I found out that her kindergarten class parents have arranged for a pool party after school.  Unfortunately the last day of school pool party is the same week as Camp Orientation night which I am already leaving work early to attend, so I don’t think I can make both.

Then there’s first day of camp, which starts the Monday after school ends, and which I have to go to because our new nanny has never been there before and I want to make sure she has the process down.  And yes, I have a nanny.  And parents and in-laws who help out once a week each.  We’ve got something approximating a village working to raise our kids and we still can’t do it all.

How is a two parent working family supposed to manage all this?  I think this is a particularly challenging situation for families who commute longer distances like we do.  An event at school becomes not just the 30 or 60 minutes for the actual event, but then at least an hour and half past that – other than morning and evening rush hour, the trains around here only go into/from the city once every 30 minutes.  Then it’s a forty plus minute train ride (no expresses outside of rush hours) and then the subway trip to the office.  If I worked fifteen minutes away like some of the moms do, I’d only miss an hour or two at work at most.  But that’s assuming they have flexible schedules like I do, which is not entirely likely.  There are plenty of people who’d have to use up half or a whole of one of their few precious vacation days to attend these events.  And if they are one of the moms who only has an after school sitter and not a nanny like we do, that also means that the bulk of the rest of their vacation days are used for school breaks.

I know that traditionally women used to stay home, and that certainly there are plenty of stay at home moms still around. But it’s been at least 30-40 years that women have by and large been a major part of the work force, and I don’t understand how businesses (and schools) have not evolved to the needs of working parents (including dads).  There are certainly some great steps forward  – paternity leave policies that didn’t exist in the past, and more work from home flexibility for many workers because of computers and the internet.  But I feel like there is still a fundamentally flawed system yet not one that there feels like there’s an obvious answer to.

I can think of a few things that would help out on both sides.  Free wifi on commuter trains like the metro north where we live could help parents going into work late/leaving early score an extra 30-60 minutes of work while they commute.  More schools could have early drop off programs because if parents are regularly getting into work later than their counterparts, it doesn’t make it so easy to leave early.  Schools could offer affordable paid school vacation alternatives, like rec programs that would make it easier for parents to use days off for special events at school and not just because their kid has a winter break.  Businesses could offer a certain amount of “life event” days.  One of my former companies had these but they were limited to things like moving, bereavement or honeymoons.  Add in the option for 2-3 kid days a year would give a little relief.

I understand that I speak from a place of privilege, and that I have more resources and financials at my disposal than many parents.  So if it’s this hard for me, I can imagine how much harder it is for parents with less flexibility, less financial resources and less family around.   But regardless of the scale of who has it worse, the main point is this – we fundamentally need to figure out ways to make thing easier for working parents to be there for their kids.  Any ideas?

Lets Do the Time Warp Again!

clockWhen you have children, time becomes a strange and elusive thing. It stretches out for you in overwhelming infinity and then snaps back tight like a rubber band, giving you whiplash. I find myself wishing for time to slow down and speed up in the same breath. And feeling guilty for both of those wishes.

 

In the early days of my firstborn I felt like time was drawn out with the slowness of pouring molasses. Endless naps and endless crying and endless anxiety. I wished for my baby to be awake more, to cry less, to talk, to walk. Days went on forEVERRR.  In those days of maternity leave when my husband came home from work and asked me what I had done all day, I felt like I had done everything and absolutely nothing. I had had all the worries, all the struggles, all the emotions, but nothing to show for it. I did not earn a merit badge for getting through that Thursday. But I felt I should have.

 

I loved my baby’s firsts but I was constantly looking for the next. First solid food? Check, but so excited about when I could feed him his first Thai food.  First step, but when could he ride a bike?

 

I was also struggling and looking for the part I felt was beyond the struggle. When they could hold their head up, when they could feed themselves, when they could walk, when they could talk and tell me what was wrong with words instead of tears. I felt guilty for wishing time would move faster, guilty for not enjoying the baby steps more. And all along the way are people telling you how wonderful it all is. Usually grandmotherly types encouraging you to soak up every minute. “They won’t be babies forever!” And you smile weakly and nod, but you are tired, so tired, and it seems all uphill from here.  Their words cut straight to your heart. You feel guilty for not loving this moment. Being present in this moment. Let me tell you something- in this moment I was most likely not showered for at least two days, my clothes were stained with milk, or snot or spit-up (or bonus grand slam- all three!) and I exhausted to the point of seeing double. So, if I could go back to give myself some wisdom, it would be “You’re allowed not to love the present moment. Some of these moments are pretty unloveable.”

 

On a vacation to Puerto Rico, our flight was delayed three hours, putting us squarely past bedtime. Elliott was tired and cranky and could not get comfortable and he cried non-stop all the way back to D.C.  Time has never ever moved so slowly in the history of the universe. Surrounded by angry faces, those hours felt like decades.

 

Despite sometimes wishing away these moments, moving slowly through the quicksand of time that engulfs you, you hit milestones and wonder inexplicably, where the time went? You find yourself planning your little’s first birthday party and have no idea how you got there. Time warp.

 

With my second, it’s a whole different ball game. We only wanted two kids, so I know this is my last baby. I savor many more moments. I live for every giggle and gurgle. I hold him more, and for longer than I probably should. I am completely to blame for this one being an unapologetic Mama’s Boy. I try to stop time, to hold it tight. To keep him little and lap sized forever. Or at least a little bit longer. I love his goofy little voice and his strange foreign jabbering, and don’t wish for him to talk any sooner than normal. I find myself holding back from being the woman in the grocery store who tells that tired mama “They won’t be babies forever!” And then I remember that’s a terrible idea! I waver. Do I tell them instead, “It’s ok not to love this moment.”? What if they ARE loving this moment? Everyone’s moment is different. And the next moment will be completely different.

 

I do wish ahead, though. Even now. I still try to peek into time and find the golden moment that seems a little easier. I sometimes wish for my boys to be 3 and 6, which in my head is some magical time when they will be fully engaged and play with each other endlessly and we can go everywhere and do everything. They will be somewhat self sufficient and mostly potty trained and I will be finally unencumbered by a diaper bag. But I’m sure when I get there I will be wishing for something else. Whether I will be wishing to go forward or go backward, I do not know. Or maybe it WILL be that golden moment and I will want to stop time right there.