On Juggling

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the tight scheduling required to run my household, family, and career- and this morning I was looking over the posts in my reader and noticed something from Isis on some of the changes causing disarray in her universe. You want to know what being inside my life is really like on a daily basis- raising two active daughters, with an academic career myself and having a spouse with an academic career? Here is your big chance.

I’m up at 6:15- and some mornings I roll directly out of bed into my gym clothes. I wake up the kids, scarf down a banana, and I am out the door by 6:45 to go to the gym.  During my hour of cardio I’m reading something- like perhaps that prelim, or a manuscript draft that I’ve been working on.  I make it to work by 8:30 or so for a day of endless interruptions. DrMrA wrangles the kids- breakfast, lunches, backpacks…. and making sure everyone is appropriately dressed (not so easy with my girls who seem to want to wear shorts and t-shirts even when it is 40 degrees outside)- and getting one to the bus stop on time at 7:25, and the other to school at 7:30- then he heads off to work. Things work this way 3/5 mornings per week.  On the other mornings- I stay home to see everyone off and DrMrA takes off early.

Now- the kids are in school until mid-afternoon, and we have a sitter that picks up the LittleA, takes her home, sits with her to do homework and piano practice.  Things weren’t always like this- we previously had both kids in an after-school program at their school, where they could stay until 6 pm.  While this was economical- it wasn’t perfect. When the kids were at this program, they would come home exhausted, and we would always have some sports practice of some sort- soccer, or music lessons to attend. So- on those nights (which was 4 nights out of the weekday last year), I would leave my office at 4:30- pick up kids at school, we would go directly to practice for the one child- I would take the other child and we would arrange some dinner- (a car picnic as my kids like to call them), before picking up the now totally beat kid (after 1.5 hr on the soccer field), then we would either head home or off to the practice/lesson for the other child. On such nights- which were really more the rule than the exception- we wouldn’t get home until 7:30 or so- and the kids and I were basket cases.  I have a rule that each child can do no more than 2 extra-curricular activities- but you can still see that if one of these activities is a sport that the schedule is totally insane. But I digress- The arrangement with the sitter makes life easier- this is because she also has a car, and she can take the children to their various practices during the 3 pm-6 pm hours, at least one way.

DrMrA and I negotiate who is going to be home ‘early’.  By ‘early’ I mean 6 pm, when one of us arrives to let the sitter go and start dinner.  In the last 6-9 months, I have worked late nearly every week night. Why?  I simply have a hard time getting all the writing of papers, grants, and revising of text done during the day. There is always some fire that needs to be put out, some faculty meeting to attend, some teaching to be done, some job candidate (this can steal like 3-4 hours from your week per candidate) or seminar speaker ( at least a 2 hour deal to attend the seminar and talk with the speaker one on one) coming though, not to mention the day to day running of the lab and talking with my own students etc., that has to happen during regular business hours. This schedule was exhausting for me, and it lasted for some time such that DrMrA’s days at work were very short- which I know was frustrating for him. The pendulum has now swung the other direction such that DrMrA is having many more late evenings because he has a few upcoming deadlines. But, I hope you can appreciate that things are almost NEVER shared 50/50- it’s been more like 90/10 one direction, and now 80/20 in the other direction. This is just something we have accepted, and although it sometimes causes tension, we have learned to live with it.  Also note that although our offices are quite close together- we could not carpool and be able to have such a schedule.

From the time we hit the door in the evening we have about 2 hours with the children. This time includes making sure homework got done, playing out doors if possible, reading together,  running any errands that just can’t wait, getting ready for the next day, bathing and bedtime. And the children need to talk to us- it is no longer like when they were babies and we could finish the diaper change and multi-task while they were playing/eating/ etc. Now they are older and they need 100% of our attention, they need guidance- and this isn’t something that can be multi-tasked. Anyway, while I make the two hour evening hours sound pretty easy- the children- who remember have been at it essentially since 6:30 am, are tired and not as agreeable as they might be if their days weren’t so darn long.  The kids go to bed between 8 pm and 8:30 pm- and when I’m home with them this usually means that I have about an hour or two where I can work (or blog!) uninterrupted until DrMrA gets home.  If he comes home earlier we can actually have some semblance of grown up time, if not I am usually awake enough to have a 15 minute conversation before I pass out with exhaustion. Only to do it all again the next day.

I haven’t even mentioned when or how the house gets cleaned, the lawn gets mowed, groceries magically end up in the house, the bills get paid, the kids get to the dentist/the doctor etc, …nor have I mentioned my aging parents, my sister,  bla bla bla…

Does this schedule work? Yes, it works. Is it always fun?  No, it’s not always fun, and I don’t always know that I’m doing the right thing for myself or for my kids. There are days I’d like to give up my career and work part-time as a veterinarian in some clinic with lovely short hours (9-3), sure there are.

But- I don’t think I’d last very long at it- because the truth is that despite how crazy the schedule sounds- it all ends up working somehow.


21 thoughts on “On Juggling

  1. Wow, just reading this makes me tired. So glad that you love what you do enough to put up with such a schedule- I love my work, but reading this makes me doubt that I like it enough to have this kind of a regular schedule. Kudos to you and your husband for making it all work.

  2. As a counterpoint, it IS possible to choose variations on a theme. In fact this ability to choose is a big plus in the crazy dual science career thing. It is possible to intentionally do less than the max- just so long as you are prepared for the potential consequences.

    Just sayin’, for the dismayed readers..

  3. Like CE, I’m exhausted just reading this! But I think it’s absolutely fantastic that you and DrMrA work together like this to get everything done while managing your two demanding careers. I know quite a few women scientists who seem to always be doing 80% of the child-rearing and household chores, and keeping their heads above water at work is a real struggle for some of them. Good for you guys for finding a system that works for you!

  4. Mad Hatter- DrMrA is a saint. For one thing, he does far more housework than me. Hands down.

    Bikemonkey- One of the great things about this career is the flexibility to come and go when I choose. If I want to take an hour off in the middle of the day to go to school and have lunch with my kid, I just do it. If I want to work at home, i just do it. If one of the kids is sick, I re-arrange and we split up the day to stay home.

    There are lots of places where we can make adjustments where people who have careers say… dealing with the public (physicians), just can’t. This is a definite benefit of this job, thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Not that you asked or anything, but I don’t think it’s fantastic. By my family’s standards your schedule is dysfunctional. We couldn’t / wouldn’t live taking turns alternating between who “gets to” work from 8:30 am until late in the evening, arriving home after the kids are already asleep for the night. This post makes the previous post’s “idiotic question” of

    Well, are you going to be able to handle this, you have two kids!

    seem a lot less idiotic. But hey, if it works for you, that’s great for you. If that’s what is required to keep dual academic careers going in general though, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, “include me out.”

  6. @DrDrA–Husbands who do housework are awesome! 🙂

    @whimple: I didn’t say that their schedule is fantastic; I said that their teamwork in sharing the work and responsibility so they can both maintain their careers is fantastic. And BTW, this isn’t unique to couples with dual academic careers–most couples I know with dual careers of any kind have to do some form of juggling to get everything done.

  7. Whimple- I’m not even going to respond to that. … other than to say- everyone makes choices. We go in stages where one person works a lot (these are usually grant writing periods and we have just had a very long run), and the other is home, a reversed situation, and times where we all are home together. It is not always perfect or ‘fantstic’, that is for sure, but it works for us. I expect that there will be no set schedule or set division of labor- this will have to be flexible and change as jobs change, kids schedules change, etc.

    I will also remark that my father-in-law had a job that kept him out of his home country 10-11 months per year when his kids were growing up. Compared to him, we have it positively easy.

  8. DrDr’s posts on her routines (and FSPs similar posts) are informative, because they tell us how they do it. I very much appreciate these how to’s. Then, it’s up to us to decide whether we’d want to do it in a similar way or if we’re willing to do what it takes.

    But, what’s missing for me, is our “boys” posting how they manage their routines (Drugmonkey? other dads?). I’m thinking that physioprof doesn’t have kids (though I’m not enough of a stalker to be sure). It’s a bummer when the women tell us how they do it, but the men don’t. And, if the men really are managing by having their wives take on the lion’s share of the family and home work, then, that tells us something, too.

    Like whimple, I couldn’t manage drdr’s routines, at least not voluntarily. But, people are different, and need different levels of activity, excitement, even stress, in their lives. I also don’t think my kids could manage drdr’s family routine, but, again, children are different, and I think drdr is the best judge of what works for her children.

    (Well, and there’s the question of whether and when it’s temporary. I think one of the big and tough things to decide is when something isn’t temporary, when you started out doing it, thinking that it was. I write hamburger code quite a bit, and I realized a while ago how “temporary” code would quickly become an integral part of your software).

  9. “But, what’s missing for me, is our “boys” posting how they manage their routines”

    Perhaps because the person who makes the mistake of actually thinking about the act of juggling is a person soon to have balls rolling around their feet? 😉

  10. “Perhaps because the person who makes the mistake of actually thinking about the act of juggling is a person soon to have balls rolling around their feet?”

    Ah, yes. But, part of the reason drdr & others are posting is ’cause they’re trying to help other people learn to juggle. So, the point is to do it for the good of mankind (or womankind), not for yourself.

  11. I agree with neurolover- I’d like to hear some male views on juggling. I don’t see a lot of guys here that actually do it.

    I am part of a family of 3 kids with two working parents- I’m a postdoc. I start work at 7 am every day and finish around 3, 3.30ish so I can spend time with the kids after school. My partner starts work at the normal time- he has a lot less flexibility in his schedule, but on the other hand never has to work overtime. So our schedule is slightly less hectic than DrDrA’s. What I find though, is that there is no way I can fit all my work into a 40 hour week. So the downside is, I am always behind my peers in terms of getting stuff done, publications etc. unless I work extra time at nights (and even that’s not enough). I worry from time to time about stuff like, am I obsessed with my work? Will my partner and I drift apart like two ships that eventually stop passing in the night? Generally, I think it incredible how much effort women put into juggling so we can do the things we love- whether throwing down hot science a la DrdrA, or getting to the school play. The downside for me is that I will probably be one of the women who leaves science cos I can’t maintain the punishing schedule long term without feeling exhausted.
    Which leads me to the real point as I see it- competing successfully in science seems to require far more than 40 hours of real effort. The lack of recognition for work-life balance is a generic and institutionalised problem that discriminates against women. All kudos to DrdrA for working it, but I’d like to see some real changes in the science system, and how it judges merit.

  12. We do it much like it sounds prof-like substance (http://proflikesubstance.blogspot.com/ ) does it (described on “Realism vs. Negativity”). We have two kids that have to be at school early in the morning. We take turns having the first shower (getting up first) and both get the kids ready. We have one car and carpool so we have to leave work no later than 5:30ish to pick the kids up from their after school daycare. We (all of us) always eat dinner together. We almost never go back to work at night. We are usually not at work on the weekends, with the exception of the few weeks before a major grant deadline.

    That doesn’t mean that what we’re doing “works”. If drdrA gets tenure and I don’t, that’ll be a data point concerning workability for you. If I had to live by drdrA’s schedule it would destroy my marriage. I don’t know what drdrA’s schedule per se would do to the kids, maybe nothing, except that the destroyed marriage would affect them adversely. Obviously, drdrA’s marriage is tolerant of her schedule; different things will work differently for different people for sure.

    Your mileage may vary considerably on this one, but I don’t think academic science is either designed for or particularly tolerant of people with kids, nor do I think this will ever change. Academic science wants product product product and in the final analysis couldn’t give a rat’s round rump what it takes for that to happen.

    drdrA, you know I love you and I’m happy that things are really turning around for you lately, but I have to wonder, after you’re one of the Associate Professors sitting on the Promotion & Tenure committee, and an assistant professor comes up for tenure that has achieved less than what it took for you to get tenure, do give them a pass because they have a family and interact differently with it than you do with yours? When you’re on study section reviewing competitive R01 renewals, how much of a higher productivity standard do you require from people without kids? (this is the reverse of how this question is usually phrased, but the effect is identical) The answers to these kinds of questions is where the rubber really meets the road on issues of work/family balance in science. I don’t have answers to any of these questions myself, and maybe there aren’t any answers to be had, but it’s worth thinking about.

  13. Well, I’m research faculty/postdoc, so I’m technically only juggling a single ball and the issue is just how many times I can throw it, and catch it, in a day… but…

    Better Half gets up at 6:30 and leaves at 7:30 after handing The Wee’un to me for feeding, changing and dressing. I hand The Wee’Un over to Grandma who takes her to daycare at 8:15. I walk to work and arrive at 8:45. Better Half finishes work at 4:30-5 and retrieves The Wee’un. I finish at 5:30-6 Mon, Wed, Fri and 6-7 Tues, Thurs. The Wee’un is fed, hosed down, and administered the daily Darwin Test for an hour or so, before being given a bed time story (my turn this week; “Blood Meridian” by Cormack McCarthy is a lot less weird and savage than anything by The Brother’s Grimm that’s for sure). Wee’un is then manhandled into her crib with much wailing and gnashing of her single ill-developed tooth. Dinner duty is pretty much shared. If I don’t have anything to read from work or to do for our motley troop of players, I just unwind along with Better Half.

    Except for occasionally popping in to cover for the lab stooge, weekends are usually off limits unless I’m grant writing. The techniques I use are pretty easy to schedule into a normal working week, so outside of sudden catastrophes, there is rarely any reason for my experiments to run beyond a 9 hour day or into the weekend.

  14. “During my hour of cardio…”

    You should try interval training and likely shave 30 min off of that gym time.

  15. Hey, I’m really impressed that you are fitting the gym in there at all! That seems unfathomable to me. Way to go!

  16. Ink- I must go to the gym. MUST. On days when I can’t make it I go on long walks with my younger daughter (she’s only 7 but she can walk a good 3 miles with the dog!)…

    ScienceMama- Don’t be afraid. You decide what you want – with Mr. ScienceMama of course- then you just work on getting there one day at a time. There will be adjustments and corrections along the way. The kids will get older and their schedules and needs will change- as will yours… and I promise you it will never be boring. … but please don’t be afraid of it!!

  17. “Hey, I’m really impressed that you are fitting the gym in there at all! That seems unfathomable to me. Way to go!”

    It was one of the unexpected, and yet in hindsight fairly obvious, challenges for my wife and I when The Other was born. We eventually canned the gym membership because we were consistently failing to get our money’s worth in use.

    I started using the fire escape stairway down the corridor from the lab for interval training, keeping it on the quiet lest I look foolish. My boss found out, laughed, and said our 4 story building was strictly for amateurs. The hardened fitness freaks were using one of the 12 story stairways across the street in the hospital on a regular basis. Sure enough, it can get pretty busy over there on the run up to local marathons and what not.

  18. DSKS- He He He. If I had a 12 story building around I’d do that, as it is I’m on that evil Stairmill at the gym. But what about a jogging stroller??? I had a single, then I got a double… now they are both obviously too big for it… but 30 minutes pushing that thing should do ya! – Now they have scooters and bikes (if I need a run), and they like walking as well.

  19. Loved your post, drdrA! I’ve been on the same schedule, so I didn’t get around to replying until now…it disturbs me a little that other people in academia think this schedule is in any way unusual for people with families and working spouses. If there is a better way to get all that work done and the kids taken care of, I’d like to hear about it…..

  20. Pingback: On Ritual Fighting… [On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess] « iThinkEducation.net!

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