Yesterday DrMrA and I took the girls to a neighboring major city to go see ‘The Nutcracker’, which was lovely. Of course there was a lot of arguing before we left about whether or not it would be appropriate to wear athletic attire (shorts!) into the ballet- BigA pretty much won’t wear anything else. She’s about to be 11 and oh MAN- she’s doing teenagerdom early. Both kids enjoyed the ballet- LittleA with eyes big as saucers and Julia-Roberts-pretty-woman type enthusiastic clapping after every dance, and BigA playing the big sister role explaining the story in the upcoming sections. Did I mention that I really, REALLY enjoy the time we spend together as a family, all four of us in the same place simultaneously. These times are frighteningly rare.
During the regular work week, we are barely all together except between the hours of 6-6:30 am, and then again after 8 pm, and even this doesn’t usually hold. As most of you know we are a two-TT-academic career couple, and the time demands of this are very difficult. How do we make this work? Well, the answer is that we try to get through each day one at a time, and there is a healthy give and take about hours spent working between the two of us adults. We sort of split up the schedule, so that one person leaves very early in the morning and comes home by 6 pm, to let the babysitter (who does the after school care) go home. The one of us that drops off the children at school- and is the one who gets to work late (that would be by 8 am, because the children have to be at school at 7:40)- also works late into the evening… and this can mean 9-10 pm on a regular basis, and during grant times even later. We tend to rotate days working late- on Sunday we will talk about the schedule and see who has what coming up that might require working evenings- and then we divide up the days from there. Weekends are divided based on who has a grant going on. Now I make it sound like things are evenly split 50/50 all the time. That’s really not true, there are times when one person has the bulk of the non-8-5 hours. When DrMrA has a grant deadline coming up- I tend to do the drop-off and pick-up… so I’ve got an 8-5 day every day in those weeks, and vice versa when I’m the one with the grant. I haven’t even mentioned what happens when one of the children is sick.
This schedule is the reason why taking breaks together as a family without any distractions and planning having as normal a family life as possible on a regular basis is unbelievably important. To this end we do the following …
1. In the summer we take a rather lengthy vacation- 3 weeks usually, to a far away place- and LAPTOPS ARE NOT ALLOWED. I warn all my collaborators in advance that I am going away, they know when I’ll be back, and they are threatened within an inch of their lives not to bother me.
2. At the traditional holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas- we try NOT to travel. I decided shortly after we had children, that those in my family who did not have young children would be the ones who would do the traveling at these times. I want to be in my own home, and establish my own traditions with my kids- so that they will remember something other than packing/unpacking and slogging through crowded airports at the holidays. BigA actually told me this year that one of her favorite things about Thanksgiving was staying at home.
3. We take short breaks together and travel at other times. This year we didn’t have our lengthy vacation- but we took the children on 4 shorter trips (Mexico, Boston, and California) throughout the year.
4. We severely limit the number of activities outside of school time that the children do. Last year two simultaneous soccer seasons and music lessons almost killed me. I think it is fine to do this once in a while- but I can’t sustain this semester after semester without help. So- we will do sports but with breaks- i.e. not every semester… Last year we had 2 practices per week per child plus 1-2 games..which means 4 nights per week eating dinner in the car, and up to 3 soccer games on Saturdays- I’m not even counting how we got to violin and piano.
5. We hire help. You probably remember that at the beginning of the summer I decided to hire a college student to watch the children- we did this for the summer, but we also have someone who picks them up from school, takes them home to to homework and music practice- and takes them to music lessons. This means that when one of us gets home, the kids and parent can make dinner together, and can sit down and eat together at a table like normal people. I highly recommend this approach if you can find a reliable, responsible college student to help out- it has worked very well for us.
I think before I started my TT position I thought that work-life balance would be a daily thing. I have changed my opinion of this drastically- and now see that this work-life balance is something we have to actively promote- and it comes almost unpredictably sometimes 100% in favor of work, and sometimes 100% in favor of play- and the rest of the time spent somewhere in between for both. And when things aren’t working out for some reason, we re-evaluate and make changes…