I just returned from ‘spring break’ with my kids. Spring break, which may be a break for our kids but in reality, a pain in the ass for moms and dads everywhere. With limited time-off, issues around childcare, and real-world responsibilities, navigating school vacations is a problem for many parents. School breaks are just the tip of the iceberg, though, when it comes to parenting and career-ing.
Although I am a warm-weather person, we did not hit up a beach over our kids’ break. We did a bit of an east coast city tour, hitting up Philadelphia, NYC, and New Jersey seeing sites and family along the way. While checking out the Liberty Bell in Philly and an off-broadway show in NYC, these were not the most striking events to me, rather witnessing ‘life’ was my focus.
What do I mean? Well, in each city, we spent time with relatives who all have children/babies and careers different than one another and us (Henry and me). We also ran into other families we knew from back home – actually, a set of grandparents vacationing with their grandkids while the parents stayed home and worked (because they did not have spring break). My conversation seemed to continually drift back to this: How do we make it all work? Does parenting mix with career-ing?
Hillary Clinton, while she may be overstated when it comes to this, was extremely right: It takes a village. To be more exact, even when there is a village, it often doesn’t cut it (IMO).
In talking with a number of cousins whose professions range from finance to medicine, I learned about the trials and tribulations of daycare. It is not long enough, not always adequate enough, and nothing makes up for the guilt that often comes along with it. There is a constant energy around who is dropping off and who is picking up before day care CLOSES. Other relatives help. Grandmas, sisters, aunts all pitch in with the effort. Work days seem long while childcare hours appear to be shorter.
While my head was swimming with these conversations, I waited in line at the science museum in Philly and other attractions in NYC and watched nannies caring for countless children. Some were doing an amazing job….I wanted to walk up to them and thank them for the kids’ parents. Thank them for helping some other mom and dad make it all happen. Other caretakers did not seem as engaged. It is just a job. A job to do while some other parent is out there doing their job.
I spent quite a bit of time reminiscing on my own early days as a parent. The decision-making was ever-present. I was home full-time while Henry built a career, a name for himself. There were days I resented it, but they were far outweighed by the days and weeks filled with love and fun times with my kids. Full disclosure: This was my choice to stay-at-home and we made the sacrifices to make it happen. I made that choice and I loved it (for the most part), but the biggest sacrifice was my own career and credentials and dreams.
Breaking back in was hard. Not impossible, but hard. Reconciling what my life was with what it had become and where it was going did not balance evenly. Figuring out how to make it all work relied on me, and I was up for the challenge. Like I said: Not impossible, just hard.
Hard like what the large majority of parents face today. Which brings my weekend full circle to this article that I read this morning in the NY Times. The piece called for Dad to Lean In (at home). (Gosh, I am sick of that term already.) So much discussion on Sheryl Sandberg calling women to Lean In and help a sister out, help a fellow women climb the corporate ladder. Well, is it even possible when we pick up at daycare is at 5:30 p.m.? Doubtful, I expect.
Can success occur with parenting and career-ing with companies retracting the ability to work from home, to telecommute? I am doubtful once again.
Where is the flexibility that is so desperately needed?
How about 24 hour daycare (Sweden) like the article mentions?
Where’s the beef? I mean paternity leave?
The article speaks to the significance of time off for new dads as being the entryway to dads ‘leaning in’ more when it comes to childcare. They have a vested interest from day one?
I don’t even pretend to know the answers to these complicated questions. I just know we have to look long and hard at them. Help a sister out. We should be able to make the choice we want: Stay Home, Work out of Home, Lean In, Lean Out, Rely on our spouses/partners.
When I announced over breakfast a few years back that I was dissatisfied and it was time for me to create a new destiny for me, I was met with confused looks. I did not have anyone to Lean In with or steer me, just a determination and passion to make it work. The timing was somewhat good with my husband travelling less for work, and much to the chagrin of a few others, I helped my husband Lean In at home. Guess what? He was good at it. Damn good. Sometimes better than me, and that was a hard pill to swallow (still is)…..
So, yeh, I think we need dads stepping in (not just leaning), but the first step comes up from the institutions at our core. We need to create an atmosphere that dads and moms can step freely into parenting and career-ing.