One reason, it’s said, that women don’t pursue “big” jobs is that “big” jobs leave no room for family. Even people with superb feminist credentials sometimes buy into this belief. In a piece for HBR, Joan Williams, a law professor and founding director of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, wrote that few women would work 55 hours a week, because, adding a normal commute, you’d be gone from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day. The assumption is that you’d never see your children. Or as Joan put it, “Most moms have this one little hang-up: they want to see their children awake. Increasingly, many fathers do, too.”
I don’t deny that parents want to see their children awake. But is it true that if you work 55 hours a week, you'll only be gazing on their sleeping faces? Does a 55-hour work week mean being absent from your children's lives?
Maybe. But maybe not. After studying the time logs I'm receiving from the Dandelion Project — of consultants, lawyers, accountants and others who happen to be mothers — I'm pretty sure that the choice Williams is presenting is a false one. That matters for women (and men) who ponder how they might combine work and family.
The first thing I noticed is that even in Williams’ 55-hour scenario, you’re not missing out on childhood every day. Saturday and Sunday would feature no work whatsoever. These are actual days when actual life occurs and it’s strange to discount them as not counting in terms of parenting.
But let's accept the premise that mothers want to see their children on days that don't start with "S." To see how family time still fits, we'll look at the hypothetical case of Jane (who could be John, because none of this is gender specific. But since Williams argues that it’s a reason women in particular wouldn’t work long hours, let’s go with Jane). Jane is a partner in a major consulting firm, She has a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old.
Jane’s kids wake up around 6:30 each morning. So even if Jane worked in Williams’ scenario — gone 8:30-8:30 every week day — she’d still see the kids for two hours every morning (The 7-year-old gets on the bus at 8:30; his school goes from 9-3:30). That’s not nothing. It’s time to play in the back yard, read stories, and enjoy family breakfast in addition to getting the kids dressed and ready.
But Jane isn't gone from 8:30-8:30 every day. Instead, she thinks in terms of 168 hours, not 24. Yes, there are long days. Let’s take a hypothetical week for Jane. Though she’s based in Philadelphia, she’s got three projects running in Washington DC. She gets in a car (Boston Coach — she’s not driving!) at 6 a.m. on Monday to make a client meeting at 9. She’s answering emails, working on documents, and taking calls the whole drive down. She works all day and takes one of her clients to dinner, over which she pitches her some new work. She sends her last email at 10, giving us a 16 hour day. On Tuesday, she wakes up at 6, does a quick workout at the hotel gym, and is on her first call at 7. She works from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., pretty much straight through, ordering in dinner for one of her teams as they do a team problem solving session. At 10 p.m. she’s back in a car, with the driver taking her up to Philly (2 hours with no traffic). She snoozes the whole time, gets out, and gets back in bed.
So, Monday and Tuesday have been tough. Jane’s worked 31 hours. She hasn’t seen her family. However, if we’re thinking our 55-hour/week total, that leaves just 24 hours to distribute over 5 more days of the week. And Jane takes full advantage of that fact. Indeed, her two long days are by design, because she realizes it's silly to get home at 8:30. If you're working until 8:30, you may as well work until later, since you aren't seeing your kids anyway.
So the rest of the week is entirely different. Wednesday, she gets up at 6:30 with her kids, and hangs out with them until 8:30. She drives to another client she’s trying to develop, a local one this time, and has some meetings during the day, but she’s back home at 4 to meet the 7-year-old’s bus. She does the mom routine until she gets the kids down at 8, then she’s back to work for 2 more hours. She’s done 8-9 hours of work…and has spent 6 hours with her kids. Who have been awake during this time.
Thursday, Jane works from home since she doesn’t have any client meetings. She hangs out with the kids from 6:30-8:30, then takes a break from 11-noon to go read a story at her 3-year-old’s preschool. They have lunch together. She works until 4, meets the bus, then does another 2-hour shift at night. Our total for the week is 48 hours at this point, and it’s only Thursday. Yet Jane has had quite a bit of family time.
It’s a pattern she continues on Friday. After making her kids a pancake breakfast, she meets a friend to go for a run from 8:30-9:30, and goes into the Philadelphia office of her consulting firm from 10-4, then has a quick drink with a female associate pondering how she’s going to “have it all” from 4-4:30. She gets home around 5, and unplugs until Sunday night, when she does another 2-3 hours of work. The weekend features some exercise, family adventures and — because Jane is so organized — a late dinner out with her husband on Saturday after the kids go to bed.
So here we have Jane who — despite her 55-hour work week — has exercised 4 times, met her 7-year-old’s bus twice in the afternoon, volunteered at her 3-year-old’s preschool, gotten together with a friend, mentored a colleague, had a date night with her husband, and put her kids to bed 4-5 nights per week. And she wasn’t just racing in to do the last story on the weeknights either. She’d been there since late afternoon.
This is the sort of time log I’m seeing in the Dandelion Project. This is why I want to write about this topic. There are so many faulty perceptions out there. I am seeing time logs with yoga classes and quilting sessions, with preschool parties and soccer games. Someone even spent time processing the CSA produce. There are hugs and dandelions. How many hours you work matters less than how much control you have of them. Williams is right that mothers tend to want to see their kids awake. The good news is that you can earn big bucks at a big job and still do that.
Photo courtesy flickr user Mobile Edge Laptop Cases