As I’m finishing up the draft of 168 Hours, I plan to send it to a number of test readers in order to see if parts rub people the wrong way or need to be explained better. I’ve also finally gotten around to checking some of the blogosphere’s take on my guest post for Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode blog.
Based on what I’ve read, I’m anticipating a few main lines of criticism for the message of 168 Hours, which is about how we spend our time, and how all of us can spend our time better. The most controversial part of this thesis will be my assertion that any perceived conflict between building a Career with a capital C and raising a family is overblown. Though I won’t claim to be writing as some great success story, inevitably, people like to point to the author’s life if they don’t like what you’re saying. The arguments:
1. You’re rich, and hence it’s easy for you. I freely admit that my husband and I do quite well for ourselves, and that money does make life easier. On the other hand, many other wealthy women I know have elected not to incorporate paid work into their lives in any fashion whatsoever. I think it would be far more hypocritical to extol the virtues of staying home when a) you have full-time help anyway and b) most people can’t afford it.
As a side note to this, there’s some interesting evidence that people perceive more time stress as their household income rises, even holding steady the total volume of market (paid) and non-market work (housework and childcare). In other words, the richer people become, the more likely they are to fret about work-life balance. Being in a high tax bracket and not fretting about it is actually more rare.
2. You have a lot of help. I do have some, though in my case, this is a substitute for having zero family around, and a husband who works more hours than many others. Beyond childcare, this help is confined to a once-every-two-to-three weeks residential cleaning service. I pay $80 for this. I eat out less than the average American.. If anything, I’m looking for more ways to outsource things in my life! The biggest way I “outsource” things is by ignoring them. My house just isn’t that clean. I admit that there are currently crushed Cheerios all over the floor. Maybe this makes me a bad person. But I fail to see how the universe would be improved if I spent more time cleaning my kitchen and less time working, exercising, volunteering, or interacting with my family.
3. You’re a lousy mother — much worse than me because I do____(fill in the blank). One of the reasons I think women’s life choices are considered so controversial is the difficulty of figuring out metrics of success. Should we judge a mother on how her children have turned out by age 30? We all know Supermoms whose children have turned into disasters, and super successful people whose parents neglected them. There isn’t a one-to-one correspondence. In general, spending more interactive time with your children is probably better than spending less, though according to the American Time Use Survey, the average parent isn’t spending that much time with their kids regardless of labor force participation. Stay-at-home moms of preschoolers only spend about 50 minutes per week reading with their kids. We all have different impressions of what a “good mother” or “good father” does. For instance, some people might say that a good mother is ready and able to financially support her family. By that metric, someone who puts a lot of effort into, say, sewing a Halloween costume, rather than maintaining a professional network, is failing miserably. I think parenting is best approached with confidence in your own competence in the short term, but humility about the long-term.
4. Just wait until your second kid is born… then you’ll see how hard it is. I find this criticism fascinating. I’m sure that having two children will be a lifestyle change, though probably not quite the lifestyle change that having one was. Anyway, I’d be more concerned about this if people hadn’t told me the exact same thing before Jasper was born. I wrote a post for The Huffington Post back in May, 2007 called “When You Work For Yourself, Is Maternity Leave Possible?” Jasper hadn’t quite arrived yet, and I wrote about how I planned to manage my workstream and all that. People emailed me in a tizzy saying I couldn’t possibly know how I’d feel after having a baby.
Well, Jasper was born and… things happened pretty much exactly as I anticipated. I don’t mean that all was peaches and light (I never guessed that my husband would take a business trip to Europe when Jasper was 1-week old — it took me about 6 months, several apologies and a commitment that we’d handle things differently the next time around before I forgave him for that one). But I know myself, and know how I handle stress. Given that we had a child without any health issues, life more or less continued, albeit with a sidekick. Two will be more of a juggling act, but writing 168 Hours, I’ve talked to women with far more than 2 kids who make it all work. Plus, I’m not sure why the demarcation between 1 and 2 is the important one. Perhaps there are people who would tell me, if I was expecting my fourth child “oh wait until he comes. Four is so much different than three!”
Again, I can completely understand that a special needs child might be different, but that usually isn’t what people are talking about. Just the normal chaos of having multiple kids under age 5.
Update 11/19: Well, Sam arrived in late September, healthy as could be (thank God). I’ve been going back through to edit previous posts, but I couldn’t find much in this one to change. Having 2 kids is more work than having 1, of course, but life has more or less continued, albeit with a second very cute sidekick. There are some newer posts on this blog about time management with an infant. It’s basically just the fundamentalist version of time management during the rest of life!