Work shift

When I had trouble falling asleep the other night — knowing I’d have to get up at 5:20 a.m. to make my 6:30 a.m. train to New York for meetings — I read through my advance copy of Anne Bogel’s Work Shift. Anne writes the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog (and occasionally comments here). Her ebook goes on sale Thursday.

I found the book fascinating partly because I think Anne approaches questions of work and life a little differently than I do, though she has come to some similar conclusions. Reading the comments on her blog, it seems that many of her core readers lean more naturally toward traditional views of motherhood and marriage — that mothers should naturally want to stay home with their children, that full-time work is incompatible with a cozy notion of home, etc. Work Shift makes the point that, actually, you can work and earn an income and still spend a lot of time with your family. “The black and white world of working mother vs. stay-at-home mother is giving way to grey,” she writes. “In many fields, new technology and flexible work formats have rendered the work/home dichotomy a false one. Today it’s not a hard divide; it’s a continuum.” Earning money may in fact be better for your family in ways beyond the economic; as Anne’s husband Will writes, “My wife’s income has allowed me to choose the work that I want and not just chase the biggest paycheck. By making time for her passions I’ve been encouraged to make time for my own.”

I quite like this thought. Traditional notions of marriage and parenthood trap men as well as women. I remember stumbling across a book in Borders a few years ago called something like “How to help your husband make more money so you can be a stay-at-home mom.” He could take more classes, work more shifts, etc. But why not aim to earn more yourself, I wondered, so your kids can spend time with both parents? That is, to a degree, what the Bogels have done.

A few thoughts on flexible work — because I do have some caveats on the concept. First, I think finding your passion, or work you are very good at, is more important than a job’s hours. I’m always struck by how people get so excited about being able to work from home part-time that they fall for scams and, in the case of legitimate jobs, accept far less challenging work and less pay than they’re qualified for. One of the best ways to get to work from home and set your own hours is rise up the corporate ranks at somewhere that will then cut you a deal. But to get that deal, you have to take your career seriously. I worry about a lack of career seriousness when people become too obsessed with flexibility.

Also, the continuum Anne writes about is very broad. I work 50 hours a week. We have full-time childcare. My situation is a little different from someone trying to get a wee bit of work in during naptime. I occasionally get a bit annoyed being lumped into the same continuum — particularly when people make assumptions about me and my work based on that work-from-home stereotype. (The “oh, you’re a real writer” comment happens a lot — though we don’t seem to talk about real plumbers, real dentists, etc.)

I also dislike narratives about how women are realizing we can’t “have it all.” Anne’s book occasionally leans toward those. If you define “all” as a thriving career and thriving family, sure, you can have it all. I know many readers of this blog do. There’s a certain narrative where women talk about how crabby their families were when they were working full-time, some of which Anne retells, but I can assure you my family would be a lot more crabby if I was trying to cram my projects into a 2-hour nap.

But fundamentally, I think it’s a good read, and I’m in favor of any work that reminds people that, no matter how valuable the work you’re doing on the home front is, you probably have other gifts to offer the world too. If using those gifts also enables your husband to pursue his passions and spend more time with the family too, what’s not to like?





26 thoughts on “Work shift

  1. I can definitely see where not having your career success as a writer recognized would be frustrating. I think the reason people don’t talk about real doctors and real plumbers is that those are real professions with barriers to entry and standards for performance. And it’s not like you can say, “I’m a free-lance writer with a six figure income that lets me afford full-time childcare for 3 children.”

    Remember that humility is a virtue and try to view the lack of recognition (by people who don’t matter) as an opportunity to be humble.

    In the crowd I can’t talk about my career aspirations with, this book on Professionalizing Motherhood (link below) is popular. We live in a state heavily affected by methamphetamine, so my dominant thought when these moms want to call motherhood a profession is “Unless there is a barrier to entry higher than “not addicted to meth” and/or you can get fired from it, it’s not a profession.”

    But I restrain myself from saying that in public.

    1. @Twin Mom- interesting book, I’ll have to check that one out too. I’m all for setting standards in parenthood — at least setting them for oneself. I think where I get a little wary is that what is the intended outcome? Parents have less actual control over how our children turn out than a lot of us like to believe. Children of educated, middle-class parents generally turn out well, but it’s not clear that was because of awesome parenting. And when they don’t turn out well it’s often not because of awful parenting (I’ve posted the link several times to that article by Dylan Klebold’s mother). What you can affect is whether your children think they had a happy childhood — so that’s where to put the effort.

  2. Two hour nap? That’s what my husband takes occasionally (after a night of walking baby), but not something we get with any regularity here. Even the infant alternates btw awake days and asleep days in a totally unpredictable fashion.
    I am at home right now taking a nursing break from the article I was reading for work while the mother’s helper cleans the kitchen. DH recently quit a job he hates to explore other opportunities in the future. It is nice making a good salary and being valued at work.

    1. @Nicole and Maggie – it is nice to be valued. And nice that you can give your husband the opportunity to pursue other things.

  3. Gah! I can’t believe people ask you about being a “real writer” so often! I don’t work from home (much) and have never had to deal with the work-at-home stereotype myself. Goodness!

    I’m having interesting thoughts about the women (not just in the book, but in general) who truly were crabby before they backed off at work. In thinking about their experiences, I suspect that backing off work wasn’t the only solution. The same ends (namely, a manageable pace of life) could have been achieved with outsourcing a good bit of the home stuff. I wonder if the limiting factor for these women was money, or creativity? (The question itself reminds me of a hedge fund manager you profiled in 168 Hours, if I’m remembering the story correctly.)

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and review, Laura.

    1. I agree that either outsourcing or cutting back at work can be good alternatives. Unless you like your job or it’s fairly secure, it’s hard to make that happen financially for most women. I know successful women who outsource, but they are all married to high earnings spouses, not women who contribute half the income and pay for half the childcare and taxes.

    2. @Anne- re the crabby part. I think there are two things going on. First, I’m always interested to see how many people are stressed out by moderate mental load and chore issues. You don’t even have to outsource the chores! Chores don’t require a set amount of time. You can choose to de-prioritize them. Cooking doesn’t have to be elaborate meals. Cleaning doesn’t have to involve scrubbing the grout with lemon and a toothbrush. You don’t have to go to bed with a clean house — it will just get dirty again the next day. The second, more profound, problem is that people get into certain narratives. If women had internalized, growing up, that full-time work was how you showed you were a good mother (because good mothers provide financially for their children) they wouldn’t tell themselves a story that, oh, things were crazy, so I had to scale back. Many women have an internal narrative going on that full-time work and good mothering are incompatible, and so evidence is marshalled to support that.

      1. I *did* grow up with the narrative that full-time work is how you show you are a good member of society (and a good role model for your children), at least from my mother’s side. (My father believes that true success is when you make more from your investments than you do from your labor market income, something I also internalized. I love me some stock market.) I will never *have* to scale back, barring health issues. However, I may at some date choose to *want* to scale back.

      2. actually the society beats on the children of single mothers but as one I can tell you that one of the best things about it is you see your mother work and motherhood is defined for you as producing income. if we could then also define fatherhood as not only producing income but also fathering (aka nurturing in a father’s) way think what that would do for women and for our sons and daughters…

  4. I think Anne recognized one very important reason for the crabbiness: lack of control.

    She mentioned it in respect to stay at home moms who feel controlled by their children, but it would also apply to those who feel controlled by the clock, a long commute, a grumpy boss, meaningless work, etc.

    I reviewed Anne’s book from a completely different point of view, so it’s interesting to read your take on it.

  5. Laura, I’ve been thinking about your thoughtful comment. Thank you. I answered it on my blog, and am sharing my answer here as well so you’ll have a chance to interact with it if you wish.

    I totally agree with you that fathers should be a part of family life. That, after all, is their primary responsibility. Recently I reviewed a book that goes into this in great detail.

    But I’m convinced that a man need not actively support his wife’s career ambitions if that impacts his ability to accomplish the other things God has given him to do. The Bible points out that we wives are meant to be the helpers, not the other way around.

    Here I’m not talking about men who are selfish slackers, nor am I talking only about time constraints. There’s more to one’s ability to do things than meeting time constraints (although 168 Hours effectively points out how much more time we have than we think we do).

    Here I’m talking about those men who are working to their limits to meet their obligations and, for certain times in their lives, are barely able to cope. It happens, often. When jobs are difficult to get, highly performance based, emotionally draining, stressful, or require great creativity, a person often has nothing left to give at the end of the day. If my husband has been given a dragon to conquer, far be it from me to distract him so that I can do my own thing; I’d rather support and encourage him in whatever ways work for our family.

    And then there are other seasons in life when everyone has a bit more margin and other things are possible.

    With this attitude, we’re not letting our husbands off the hook; we’re extending grace.

    1. @Annie Kate- thanks so much for posting your comment here. I meant to go back over to your blog and check to see if you commented, but I was traveling for work this weekend (a speaking gig). My husband was helpfully taking care of the three kids while I was doing that 🙂 A few thoughts on your response. First, as Nicole&Maggie noted, people have different views on the epistles and literalism — what is theologically imperative and what is part of the culture of the day. I imagine most of us don’t believe slaves have any obligation to obey their masters anymore. As for dragons, we all have been given ours to conquer, and it’s not clear to me why one set of dragons is more important just because of the slayer’s gender. I think we should all support and encourage our spouses in whatever ways work for our families, as you put it — ARC has a nice essay over at House of Peanut on why she’s working, even though she might in the abstract like to stay home, because she wants her husband to be able to find work he loves and spend time with their daughter too. Incidentally, I say this as someone married to a man whose profession has long been up-or-out, stressful, etc. Many of his colleagues have stay-at-home spouses (of whatever gender) for precisely this reason, but we’re trying to forge our own way. And as I’ve gotten to know many of his female colleagues, I see how they’ve figured out ways to manage their energy in order to have love and attention left to give after the workday. Joanna Barsh has a whole chapter on this in her book How Remarkable Women Lead that I thought was interesting. When something is important to you, you figure out a way to do it.

      1. I didn’t know your parents were academics of religion. You should write about religion more or have your dad or mom do a guest post… I found the religious stuff on here interesting. I also deeply admire you and your husband for forging this path b/c I know how not easy it is and would love to learn more about how why you guys do it and how you think it works. I will check out this suggestion for sure about Joanna Barsh b/c I think this idea is interesting that there are some people who take on the stressful job and still make the second shift work — who are they, what do they give up and what can we learn from them… etc.

        1. @Cara- I forget the exact quotes from her book. But she talked a lot about managing energy– finding ways to refill the well when it’s depleted. For some people, that means a walk, or reading a gossipy magazine on the bus commute home, or something that then gives them new energy to tackle the second job. I find that planning what I’ll do in advance helps. If I know in the Am I’ll be taking the kids to the park in the evening, I’m much more energized to do it than if it’s 6 pm and I’m deciding what to do.

  6. There were some pretty powerful female “helpers” around Jesus, who was by all accounts very open to utilizing all types of women in pretty powerful roles. The first folks to report on the resurrection at the tomb were women.

  7. Thanks Laura,
    I popped over to the House of Peanut, and I love the essay. Given ARC’s world view, this is a great thing to be doing, and I just love it when people are creative in living out their convictions.
    But there again, my fundamental issue is, as you and others have pointed out, that I believe the Bible differently than you do. I do actually accept it literally. That’s why the dragon-slayer’s gender does matter to me.
    I know that some in difficult professions can manage it all, like the women you mentioned. We also all know that many men and women can’t. But, again, that is not really the issue. As mentioned several times in these comments, we’re down to something more fundamental.
    I love your last line: when something is important to you, you figure out a way to do it. My challenge has been to understand how to use my talents and my PhD in a way that is consistent with what the Bible literally says and that works for our family. As life changes year by year, I need to keep on figuring out new ways to make it work, and I do because it is important to me.
    Thanks for the wonderful discussion. You really helped me think things through, once again. God bless you and your family.

  8. Wow, this has been quite a discussion! All I can add is my personal take on the issues. First of all, Laura, I’ve quit teaching to be a full-time writer and I absolutely hate people’s responses, most of which is, “Oh, you’re home with the kids.” Okay.. whatever.. moving on.

    I think loving what you do is a huge piece of this work/stay home puzzle. Last year I was very burned out at my job and the day was torture to get through. I was grouchy because I felt like I had no control over my life, as Annie Kate mentioned in the comments. Also, when I was working full-time at a job with no flexibility, the day became an elaborately constructed puzzle of drop offs, pick-ups and responsibilities and if one piece was a askew, the whole thing fell apart.

    Working for myself is a whole new world of issues to navigate- how do I feel productive? What am I doing that’s going to pay off in the long run? How do I make sure I’m spending time on things that benefit me in the short term? Etc, etc. But I am happy to put together this puzzle, because its MINE and I’m making my own choices. Freedom! Yeah! Which leads to money… ahem….

    I have given up my nice, steady paycheck and my family is feeling the pinch. But I’m not going to guilt trip myself about that. I supported my husband through grad school and I ran the family while he started his business, so I feel like I’ve earned some cushion here while I get this writing thing going.

    1. @Kelly- both of you support each other at different seasons of life… But yeah, the writer thing is just a personal pet peeve. I almost wrote a post a few months ago responding to a blog post by someone who was, in fact, staying home with the kids primarily, and trying to squeeze in a bit of writing here and there. She wrote about worrying people wouldn’t take her seriously. And I was going to point out that, yes, that’s because you’re not treating it as a job. To use my plumbing example again, you don’t hear plumbers say “I try to squeeze in a little plumbing during nap time.”

      1. Just because you do it during naptime/TV doesn’t mean it isn’t a job. I work 8 hr/week and earn about as much as I would working full-time as an engineer and paying for childcare.

        I don’t tell most people what I do and if they knew my hourly rate for my SAHM job, they would be shocked.

        To each her own!

        1. @Twin Mom- thanks for this comment. I completely agree that it’s possible to earn money through flexible work. Often good money! Indeed, in my own life, I’ve worked on getting a certain book of business that can be done in less than an hour a day — it will be somewhere between $25-30k of the work I do this year. Sometimes I think about not doing those projects but I also like that I have options in case things changed in my life. I have a few speeches lined up for next year, so do those, my 1-hour a day stuff, and cash royalty checks from the ebook and 2013 could be a reasonable year mostly during naps. On the other hand — and one thing I’d be sure to tell young women thinking about how they could create flexible work — is that all those options are available to me because of things I wrote in the past that couldn’t be done in an hour a day. I think my main beef with the post (which I realize I should just link to here – it’s kind of a long story) was this tone of how hard the writing life was, trying to find time for it, and my point was that this was a certain mindset of approaching one’s work. If you’re trying to earn a living at a job (even if you’re in the season of life where much of it goes to childcare — it won’t always forever!), you usually don’t try to find time for it.

          1. Exactly. My hourly rate is good because when I work, I FOCUS and work hard. And because I have an engineering degree and high SAT-V (done before kids) which made me eligible for the job in the first place.

            I’m not doing as well as you are, Laura, but I think we are both exceptions to the rule.

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