Friday, December 4, 2015

100 Hours a Week

I have a son for whom a 100 work week is fairly routine – he’s in the financial world – and whose doctor wife is no stranger to 80 hour weeks. There are days where they aren’t even in their apartment at the same time. That they are even thinking about having a child makes me smile and fret at the same time. So I was intrigued by a recent article by Laura Vanderkamp in (November 19th) examining exactly how many hours a working family can actually withstand before cracking… including the hours necessary to raise a child (children?).
It seems that the 100 hour effort might just be the breaking point. 100 hours of combined work across both people constituting a parenting couple. Ugh… not pretty, I though. “But talk to two-career couples and you find the situation is not so cut-and-dried. First, almost no one actually works 80 hours per week. [Yeah, right!] One study comparing people’s estimated workweeks with time diaries found that people claiming 70, 80, or 90-plus hour workweeks were inflating their totals by about 25 hours. In other words, two people with ‘75-hour workweek’ jobs might both be working 50.”
Except that I can call my son at 9 PM on a Sunday and know that he is at the office!!! And Dr. Dekom is on the night shift schedule at her hospital having worked most of the day before. Reality. So what steps can a couple take to make long work hours work with having a child?
Studies at IBM and Brigham Young University suggest that if you can sort of control when and where you work, there is greater capacity to parent. This flexibility takes the 38 hour maximum week before chaos ensues and makes the 57 hour week tolerable.
While 100 total hours probably isn’t a strict limit, smart couples naturally ebb and flow to cover each other’s busy times. Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother magazine, often talks about how she and her husband each work late two nights per week while the other covers the home front.” This trade-off strategy takes some of the pressure off… assuming that there are ebbs and flows. 
Where life allows a little more balance in the workplace, where there are religious or other clear bright lines to protect family time, “Lots of parents with big jobs work what’s called a ‘split shift.’ They leave work at a reasonable hour, spend the evenings with family, and then do more work at night after the kids go to bed. That makes it possible to work long hours while still having time together.” Kind of looks like “flexibility light.”
There is a strong pull, from the exhaustion from a tough work life, to let go when there is down time, but this option seems not to be a big one for those with children. They simply have to use all their time, at work and at home, creatively. Easy to say, but it does impose a new efficiency and prioritization paradigm to couples who may be used to a more free-flowing, play-it-as-it-comes prior lifestyle.
OK, this one has to be used in a way where the core parenting – that one-on-one relationship between each parent and child is cherished and nurtured – is preserved. Enlist the Village. Yes, you’ll likely need a lot of paid help. ‘Having full-time daycare (7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) and a person clean my house monthly is key,’ says [attorney-married-to-an-engineer Laura Deitz Shaughnessy]. ‘We are also fortunate to have grandparents nearby as emergency backup.’ Friends and neighbors may be willing to pitch in during busy times if you chip in when things are calm for you… One hundred hour couples may rely a bit more on takeout and Amazon Prime. But life can still be doable, if you want it to be.’”
Not sure any of this is going to get me a grandchild or two, but I am finding myself plotting and preparing for that joyful part of life that I really never thought I would want so much. I won’t show this blog to my son and his wife… I just don’t want to be want to be “one of those” pushy parents. I just needed some reassurance that it is doable… and then I realized that I am actually part of that village!
I’m Peter Dekom, and having children in the 21 century seems to be a whole lot different from what parents in the last century (millennium?) faced in their child-rearing efforts.

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