Amy at Hope is the Word wrote recently about her experiences as a homeschooling mom who also works part-time. It’s an excellent post and I’d suggest you check it out as well as the ongoing discussion this week on the same topic at The Three Thinking Mothers. It’s a topic that’s been on my own mind lately for a variety of reasons.
I’ve worked part-time since my oldest was born. We’ve roughly had the same schedule during those eight years. I work two days, about 6-8 hours each day. I work some “off” hours (one evening and starting at 7 am one day) and my husband is able to stay home with the kids while I work. I also go to the hospital daily to see patients, this can be relatively quick or several hours but I can do it very early in the morning.
The biggest downside to working is that it makes for a very tight schedule. There isn’t a lot of margin in our days. It means that H. and I have to be more proactive about talking to each other or risk falling into the routine of having most of our conversations be the “sign-off” (who ate, what work needs to be done, whether or not the laundry needs to be folded). The more complicated downside to working is the emotional aspect. I think like many working mothers (those who are full time, part time, homeschooling or not) I usually feel like I’m only doing a halfway decent job in any one area of my life. Either I’m not giving my full attention to work or I’m distracted by work when I’m home.
Working part-time and homeschooling can be kind of lonely, in my experience. My fellow doctors all think I’m a little nuts for making the choices I’ve made and often I end up feeling like somewhat of an outsider in the homeschool world where most people I know are full time stay at home moms. However, I’ve come to believe that some of this feeling of isolation is self-imposed. I’ve met more and more women and families who don’t fit the traditional mold of a full time stay at home homeschooling mom. Some freelance or have home businesses with their husbands or work part-time out of the house or have a side business of their own. Still, it’s not typical to go to a homeschooling convention and see “balancing work and homeschooling” as one of the topics offered. Yet.
The most obvious benefit to working is financial. Beyond that, the benefits are more ethereal and I admit that I’m not always good about seeing the blessings in the midst of the day to day stresses. First, because of the way that we balance our schedules, having me work enables H. to have more direct involvement with schooling and parenting. I’m very lucky to have a husband who has been willing to make sacrifices in his own career and we’re both very lucky to have jobs that have allowed us to be part-time. I think more men might be interested in an arrangement like ours, but sadly it’s not always an option.
Working also engages a part of my mind and self that isn’t engaged by parenting. It’s partially intellectual and partially that I’m a different person as a doctor than as a parent. I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was very young and medicine has always been a passion of mine. There are times when my job feels more like a passion and times when it feels more like just a job, but regardless working connects me to a part of myself that preceded being a parent and that will be there even when my more active role as a parent is over.
By far, the biggest misconception I hear from people is that I “do it all”. This is just so far from the truth as to be laughable. I think many women imagine my life and think that after work I come home and have to do the laundry and clean the house and put the kids to bed and then added to all that the schooling. The best way I can describe what our life is like in reality is that H. and I make one stay at home parent between the two of us. It’s not that he does “his share” of the household chores it’s that we just both do what needs to be done. In the morning while I’m at the hospital, he starts the laundry if it needs to be done. He changes the sheets on all the beds on Fridays. He typically grocery shops late at night or early on a Saturday morning. We’re still working out how we share school responsibilities but he does school on his days at home just as I do. Beyond that I’ve already admitted I can’t or don’t do it all.
Amy started her post by saying that when she thinks ahead to advising her daughters on careers she wants to steer them to choices where they can homeschool and work part-time. I do realize I’ve been blessed in many ways, not the least of which is that I didn’t plan for this lifestyle but am still able to have it. I always knew I wanted to have kids and I always knew I wanted to be a doctor but I never really thought about how that was going to work. My Mom stayed home when I was little and I didn’t really ever plan on putting my kids in daycare even while I went through phases of dreaming about careers likes “reconstructive plastic surgeon”. I’ve talked to other women my age and we all had similar experiences: we were told we could have it all but no one ever really addressed exactly how that was going to work in reality. So I ended up in pediatrics because I loved pediatrics and then it just happened to be very compatible with part-time work.
What will I tell my own kids? I think for both my daughter and my sons I want them to know that while it’s true they can be whatever they want to be, some careers aren’t compatible with some lifestyles. Being a top neurosurgeon might be what you have a passion for, but it also means you probably can’t also be a very hands-on parent. My hope is that the lifestyle that H. and I will have modeled for them over the years will show them it is possible to achieve some semblance of balance in life and that it’s possible to have a happy and satisfying job that isn’t all-consuming. I want them to see that can be true for both men and women.
And in some ways that might be the biggest benefit of all to me working.