For those of you following along at home, you know my husband and I both work at big law firms, putting in long hours on big expensive cases… and we just had our second kid in July. I’ve been on maternity leave ever since.
Now I’m gearing up to return to work and have been dreading it.
Leave has been wonderful — I feel so lucky to have been able to spend my baby girl’s first six months with her. But what comes next? By the time I left work to have the baby, I was so burnt out I was certain I wouldn’t be back. I was going to spend my leave looking for a new job, and if I didn’t find it, well then, I’d just stay home with the baby a little while longer. But it’s pretty hard to find a new job that fits the bill — something interesting enough to make it worth doing, with a reasonable enough schedule to let me to be the kind of mom I want to be, and with a good enough salary to allow us to keep stashing away those savings… Those jobs are few and far between! I’ve applied selectively to things that look good, and am playing the waiting game.
Now that it would be time to tell the olde job I’m not going back, I’m too chicken to just quit. It seems like having this job will help me get the next one so… unless I go crazy in the next couple of weeks and decide SCREW IT I’M OUT (unlikely), I’ll be back at work after the holidays. Womp womp.
My husband and I have decided to BOTH drop down to part time! We’ll both be going to 75% when I go back!!!!
Now… Many law firms offer the option of dropping down to part time, and many women do after having babies. But men? They go to part time far, far less frequently. But it’s also fairly unusual for both members of a couple to be in the kind of highly demanding, unpredictable jobs we’re both in right now. I’m constantly asking colleagues with kids how they manage, and almost always the answer is that one spouse has a more forgiving work schedule and therefore can pick up more of the kid and home responsibilities. Or, they have a nanny and never see their kids.
For us, both working at 100% at this kind of job was reaaaally tough. We felt like we were constantly on the verge of disaster — most weekends at least one of us would spend part of the weekend working while the other handled our son. We were often up late at night after our son went to bed trying to finish up stuff we couldn’t get done at the office. Or, one of us would stay late at the office while the other did daycare pickup, dinner, and bedtime. In the mornings, we were exhausted and stressed about getting to the office to get started.
That stress pervaded our home life — we were often short with each other, and found it difficult to enjoy the time we did have with our son because one or both of us were worried about the work we were putting off to do it. We felt like we were barely keeping up with the basics — providing meals, getting to and from work each day, barely keeping up with housework… forget about doing anything extra, like working out or cultivating our side-interests. Those things were not possible. I tried starting a few times to write or work out early in the morning, but after a few weeks work would inevitably get overly busy and I’d have to give it up again for a while.
Now that I’m on leave, my husband has continued to have many of those stresses. Yes, I’m at home and usually able to cook dinner. I’m in a better mood most of the time, and because of that, the stress level in the house has gone way down. But my husband has still had plenty of high-anxiety weeks. We’ve had weekend days when he’s gone into the office and I’ve stayed home with both kids, and dinners where he had to jump up in the middle of eating to go answer e-mails. Not good.
So, despite the social norm that the woman pulls back at work while the man stays at 100%, we’ve decided just one of us scaling back won’t give us what we’re looking for. We’re nervous about broaching this issue with our bosses — I’ve already asked, but my husband has not! I’m certain his request to go part-time will be granted, but I’m just as certain that some old school people will raise an eyebrow. That’s a little uncomfortable.
But, to be honest, I’m prettttty excited to make them raise an eyebrow! It’s not good when women are the only ones that take a step back to raise a family. It perpetuates the gender-based stigma that once women start a family they’re less committed employees. And, it makes it harder for men to seek a more forgiving work schedule even when doing so would be better for their family. So here we go — we’re putting our money where our mouths are about wanting a better life and co-parenting. In our little sphere, hopefully we’ll contribute to changing some hearts and minds on the subjects of family-rearing and work-life balance.
And do we think both of us scaling back will actually help alleviate the stresses we’ve been experiencing?? I have good reasons to worry that it might not. After I had my son I went back to work at 80% and found the experience…. frustrating. It worked out well at first — I took Fridays off and spent that day with my baby. But soon enough, my cases were so busy that I almost never got to take my day off, or, when I did, I was running down to the computer every time the baby napped to answer e-mails or try and take care of some emergency work. It was actually more stressful than just going in to work 5 days a week would have been, and I was getting paid 20% less. Even though people wanted to respect my time, the demands of my cases made it difficult. When everyone else is in the office on a Friday, it’s hard for them to work around you not being there. Eventually, I went back up to full time because I felt that if I was going to be that stressed out, I might as well be getting my full salary.
This time around, we’re going to try doing it a little differently. We’re planning on a typical week to go into the office 5 days, but leave earlier. That will alleviate the concern of people constantly trying to horn in on a day we are supposed to have off. And, when we inevitably have busy periods in our cases and wind up working more hours than we want, we’re hoping we can take some more days off when things quiet back down to compensate. I honestly don’t know whether it will work. But what we were doing before wasn’t working, so it’s time to give something else a try.
I’ll keep you posted on how our (expensive) little experiment goes!
Like what you see here? Sign up to get Greener Pastures in your inbox!