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?