30 July, 2011

Two Jobs. Two Kids. Too much?

For the last month, my wife has been at the office 65+hrs/week. Long days. Especially when you consider she works 4 days a week. Long, long days. So, for 80% of Monday-Friday, I’ve effectively been a working single parent (encouraged by the bravery, grace and achievement of those who’ve gone before - Erin Brockovich, JK Rowling, Peter Andre, etc).
I too have occasional heavy work hours, which then puts my wife in the same transitory single-working-parent situation.

Whenever one of us is in a crunch at work it restricts the commitment the other can show at the office. With more women continuing to build their careers rather than being full-time mums, this must be an increasingly common situation. Does the fact that we both get to continue our careers outweigh the frustration we both feel at frequently never quite having the time to deliver gold-standard during the working week? Would it be better overall if, for example, my wife went full-pelt into career and I stayed at home?

Generally, on a given day, if I drop-off the kids then my wife picks them up - and vice-versa. So every day one of us is scrambling to make it to work by 9am and the other is leaving early. We’ve both got demanding jobs and delivering our objectives within those constraints is a struggle. Routine and efficiency between the kids waking up at 7am and going to sleep at 8pm has become really important during the week…

We’ve got a system honed with the kids in the morning. Then, at work, knowing that you’ve got limited hours really makes you concentrate and prioritise. I never let little, unimportant things take any significant time now, focusing only on the key things required to deliver my objectives successfully. Also, we both ride scooters to work to save commute time.

So, with our week days now involving less casual internet-surfing and more nervous glances at massive-and-uncomfortably-close lorry wheels, we’re able to perform our jobs ok.
Plus, once the kids are in bed - if it’s really necessary - there’s the option of logging on to do a bit more work from home. (Though not, I suppose, if you’re a train driver, fireman, astronaut...)

Career expectations have probably reduced somewhat for both of us. But I believe that is better than one of us being completely without the achievement/sense-of-identity that comes from career, and the kids never getting to see the other.
My work-life might not hit the heights it would have done in a different situation. But the secret handshake my daughter and I invented now has seven different actions (and growing). Plus, my little boy is at the age where he does something new every day and I’d hate to constantly miss those things. 

The main challenge we have now is that, given our schedule during the week and us both focusing on time with the kids at weekends, it’s very easy to neglect our relationship…

Learned Wisdoms#10: Refining the routine to get everyone ready in the mornings as efficiently as possible is a good thing. But if your refusal to deviate from the most streamlined order of initial actions (out of bed > down to kitchen > milk from fridge > milk in kid's cups into microwave > turn microwave on > then go to toilet > microwave beeps > take warm milk up to kids) causes you to wee yourself a tiny bit in the kitchen, then it’s probably time to relax the protocol.

#11: Everyone knows ‘face-time’ in the office shouldn’t be important as long as you’re delivering your work. But these days we seem to be in a culture where everyone is expected to look busy. If you feel uncomfortable with the passive-aggressive “Half-day?” comments when you’re by far the first person to leave the office, take solace in the fact that anyone who makes jibes like that will almost certainly die alone. And unloved. And will probably have had a significant proportion of their face eaten by their cat before somebody finds them.

#12: When you’re trying to keep things together at work as an acting-single-dad, you may dash in without noticing the baby vom deposited on your shirt. If a colleague, having spotted the white residue, asks “What’s that?” just tell the truth. Everyone will have a little chuckle. It’ll be fine. Do not get flustered by second-guessing what they might be thinking and blurt out “It’s not cum” while going bright red. This causes a degree of awkwardness.

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