Motherlode: Juggling Full-Time Work…and Bad Assumptions

I was fascinated to read a guest post at Lisa Belkin’s NY Times Motherlode blog from Dr. Simi Hoque of the University of Massachusetts. Prof. Hoque will be returning to work shortly after maternity leave, and was fretting about the fact that she wouldn’t see her daughter much during the week, since the nanny would be there from 9-6:30, and her daughter went to bed at 6pm and woke up at 7:00am, going down for her first nap at 8:30am.

At first blush, this does sound rather problematic. But there are several assumptions about time built into this question that are probably common, and that keep people from thinking work and involved parenthood are compatible in the 168 hours we have. The assumptions:

1. Work has to occur from 9am to 6pm.

2. Work has to occur away from your house.

3. Babies need to go to bed at 6pm and wake up at 7am, and perhaps the biggest one…

4. 90 minutes is a paltry amount of time.

The first two assumptions are pretty fascinating, considering that Hoque is a professor (of environmental engineering). Academia is a lot more flexible than, say, police work, where you have to report to your shift. As long as you show up for your classes and departmental meetings, and get enough work done to publish frequently and pull in the grants, most people aren’t too concerned about your whereabouts at other times.

That means that Dr. Hoque could work from home maybe 1 day a week, and thus see her baby during her breaks. She’d still need the nanny there, of course. Working from home is NOT a good way to save money on childcare. But that would give her a bit more family time.

She could also shift her working hours to grade papers and edit journal articles at other times. She could, for instance, leave by 4pm two days per week and then make up those 2 hours in the evening after her baby goes to sleep. As it is, I have such night owls at my house that I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I had 5 hours in the evening after my kids went to bed!

But that, of course, brings us to the third assumption. There are definitely some schools of thought that advocate putting children down to bed very early, and some children do need more sleep than others. But 13 hours straight seems like quite a bit to me (or maybe I’m just jealous… my children have NEVER slept that much. Ever). Several people in the comments section suggested that Hoque have her nanny put the baby down for an additional nap in the afternoon, so she’d stay up until 8pm (or even 9pm). This would clearly solve the problem of them not seeing each other. As it is, over the next few months, her daughter will naturally stay up a bit later as she needs less sleep, and so they’ll get their evenings together.

But even if none of this changes — Dr. Hoque’s work hours, or her baby’s sleep schedule — the last assumption is still worth addressing. Ninety minutes of full-on time with your children each day during the work week would actually not be horrible. If Hoque was up and ready (though probably not dressed for work, as babies can destroy your clothes…) at 7am, and fed her daughter and then played with her for an hour straight through until 8:30, with no newspaper reading, no puttering around the house, no checking email, no TV, this would be better than some parents who have much more available kid time manage to accomplish.

The average stay-at-home mom of pre-school aged children, according to the American Time Use Survey, only spends about 50 minutes per day playing with them, and about 8 or so reading with them (and a few more minutes on educational activities). They obviously spend much more time around them (and I’m guessing the interactive figure is higher for very little children), but often doing other things — housework, watching TV, running errands, reading a magazine in the bathroom while the kid is taking a bath, or else the child is napping and not available for interactive time anyway. An hour each week day would actually be a pretty good show, considering that they will spend almost all their time together on weekends.

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