This past weekend (from Saturday to Tuesday night, actually), my wife took our daughter to the family cottage and left me to have some focused work time. My productivity amazed me. I wrote 3 chapters of my dissertation in 4 days. I lived off of a single order of takeout and batch of muffins for all 4 days (because for once I didn’t have to prepare 3 square meals a day for my family), I showered once, and I worked from sun-up till sun-down.
I know that before I became a wife and parent I used to work long days on my schooling (and the occasional contract of paid work). I know I used to be wildly productive, and professors and advisors would comment on my efficiency. But somehow, when I became a parent, I lost that frame of reference for what productive work work could look like. When Avery was first born, I took a semester (4 months) off and just focused on taking care of baby and myself. Then I slowly dipped a toe back into work by taking on a teaching assistantship. By the first summer after Avery was born, I had become more homemaker and mom than student, and being able to churn out a single research proposal over an entire summer became something I was proud of. “Look at what I achieved WHILE cooking and cleaning for my family and taking care of a baby full time!”
What did my wife do during that time? She was an immense help at home, but from 8-5 every day she worked in an office, networking with important work people, being productive and efficient, and she got two promotions and completed countless big and important projects.
I wrote one research proposal.
From the time Avery was 1, she was in daycare part time. I had 12 hours a week to work. But you know what I spent 6 of those hours doing every week? Cleaning, cooking, trying to get my head in the game after being up all night with a sleepless child, running errands for our family on the way to daycare pick-up (really menial errands like dropping off and picking up my wife’s dry cleaning and mailing packages for my wife). Somehow I was still working from sun-up till sun-down (and let’s be honest, I was a full-time parent at all hours of the night, too) and only had a couple of hours a day to get my own work done. And when you’re doing large writing and theorizing projects like a dissertation, a couple of hours at a time is a very unproductive way to work. It can take an hour to get my head in the game.
What I’ve learned from trying to work part time with part time child support is that I will never be wildly successful unless my work is valued at the same level as my wife’s paid work. It’s because my work is seen as less important (by me, too) that I get relegated to cooking and cleaning for the family (a couple of hours a day). That I do every single daycare drop off and pick up (there’s 40 min of every day right there). That I run all of our errands, and get up with our sleep-challenged child every single time through the night.
My wife often jests that our lifestyle is going to change when I get a job. That we won’t be able to have fancy dinners as often, and that we’ll have to have a less clean house. But I don’t want that, either… I want to take care of my family so we can life a low stress, healthy life. But I also want to make money and excel at a career one day. I’m just realizing now, looking back over the last almost 3 years, that I’m not sure that kind of balance is possible.