Anticipating 168 Hours criticism

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!

6 thoughts on “Anticipating 168 Hours criticism

  1. really, a special needs child “might” be different??? you really have no clue. raising a special needs child is vastly different. in fact, no two children are alike special needs or not, and your premise that all women should find balancing child rearing and their careers to be as easy as you find it to be is quite arrogant. don’t flatter yourself by thinking there will be a backlash of anger towards you. i think i feel sorry for you and your complete lack of compassion and understanding. it’s really very sad.

  2. i just wanted to add, it appears that your book and blog is not really designed to “help” woman but rather to create some controversy and hype to sell some books.

  3. We have just read your interview in today’s Globe and Mail newspaper and are really offended by your arrogance and judgemental tone.

    It is revealing to me that you completely ignore the effects of shift work on mothers. The fact is that most working mothers do not work 9-5 or even have a regular shift. It seems to me that you have used your own lifestyle and extrapolated that into a one size fits all perscription for working mothers. It seems to be that you are talking about just one class of working mothers.

    What I find most disturbing and highly insulting is the fact that in this article you suggest that a working mother spending quality time with her children is easy. Most working mothers do manage to find quality time to spend with their children but have work very hard at making that happen. Your “magic bullet” solution of shopping once a week is oversimplified and insulting. I am happy that between your cleaning service and online shopping you are able to have enough time to spend with your single child.

    If you had approached this topic in the spirit of helping working mothers it would have been less offensive. Your judgemental tone only serves to put people on the defensive. Everyone’s situation is different. Exactly who are you to judge anybody’s domestic circumstances?

    Why didn’t you ask the question: Can a man have a career and still spend quailty time with his children? Maybe such a study would take away some of the pressure which you are more than happy to put on working mothers, who “fritter away their spare hours”, and free up more time for all parents regardless of gender.

  4. Out of curiosity: How much quality time does your husband manage to spend with Jasper every 168 hours while earning money to help balance your life?

    By the way, you deflected the anticipated criticism #1 but did not answer it.

  5. Actually, like you, I thought having a second child would not be nearly the difficult transition having my first one was. Wrong!!

    Balancing two children who are at different stages isn’t twice the work, it’s exponential. You have to remember that Thing 1 is going to be going through a transition as well, and that means more work for you while in your own transition. If you’re lucky and have an “easy” baby, you’ll still be facing something much more than you currently expect. If you’re not lucky – this is the voice of experience via a mother whose second baby had 4 months of colic and sleep problems and would not let me hand her off to anybody – you could find yourself thoroughly derailed and no amount of organization or scheduling is going to help. Seriously. And I am a highly organized woman who runs her own business, by the way, not some whiney loser who can’t sort her way out of a wet paper bag.

    The other thing you aren’t taking into account, in my reading of the article in the G&M and your blogs is that toddlers are actually much easier to schedule than school-aged kids. Once you have a couple of kids involved in music and/or sports, it doesn’t just suck up extra time, it fragments it. It’s much more difficult to be productive in fragmented bits and pieces of time – you might have a half hour before you need to head out again, but can you accomplish x, y or z in that amount of time? I often find small things get taken care of where more time and focus dependent tasks – some necessary – are not so easy to accomplish.

    I think you need some more life experience before you become a guru able to tell us how to solve our time crunches.

  6. I was annoyed by the controversial article that was written in the GLobe for a Mom of a single young child. I felt that the author had nothing to substantiate her claims as she hasn’t hit the hard years yet. In addition, I can tell you that every single suggestion provided in the article – I do, as do almost every mother I know.

    After the birth of my first child, after week 4, I thought it life was easy. I returned to work part-time when my son was 10 weeks of age. No problem. When my second child was born, I thought it was a lot harder. However, I returned to work part-time when she was 7 weeks old. By the time my third child was born, the kids were easy UNTIL the barrage of homework and activities began. That’s when time became scarce – soccer for child A, T-ball for child B, dancing for child C. That was my exercise time. You could opt to deprive your children of these opportunities…

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