I can. But should I?

I work for myself and have for years. I love having control of my time. To be sure, it would be mistake to see this as a stark choice; one thing I’ve learned from the Mosaic Project is that plenty of people with conventional jobs have reasonable control over their time too. Nonetheless, with my set-up, the stakes to choose something personal rather than work-related are probably smaller in any individual decision. But that leads to a different problem. Because I can do things during the day, and can often move work from one day to another, or one week to another, each decision to say yes or no seems more fraught.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with this recently. September has been a month of transition: starting schools, a new childcare situation and schedule, new sports routines and the like. All the expectations of previous years have been re-set. As one example, I now do the morning routine on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Last year, I didn’t. That means (among other things) I go outside and wait for the bus with my 7-year-old. But he asks close to every other day (when we have childcare) if I’ll be coming out, and can I come out, and so forth. While I enjoy chatting with him about his day, so I am happy to do it twice a week, five times a week is a different matter. It’s an uncertain chunk of time during what is often a productive hour for me. I either need to say no and deal with the whining, or else I do it, and feel like these 3 days of the week are chopped up. Are there consequences? Not immediately, I suppose. But over the long run, I can’t do everything I could do without undermining my professional goals too.

If I had an 8:30 a.m. staff meeting in an office, I could answer semi-truthfully that I “can’t” do it. I can do it — though I also know I can accomplish very productive things in that window, possibly doing more than some chunk of meetings accomplish.

My husband tried to be philosophical about this with me: “It’s like a country western song! Eventually he’ll be too embarrassed to be seen out waiting for the bus with you! Aren’t you lucky that you get to be home during this time when he wants to be with you?” Which is fine, except that this country western song could apply equally to both of us. We both have control of our time. He seems to have managed the expectations differently. 

All of this is part of transition, though, and I’m sure at some point we’ll reach an accommodation where each individual decision is not fraught. My son may figure out that I come out with him twice a week and don’t three times a week, and that’s just the way we do things. In the interim, though, I’ve become a bit more amenable to 8 a.m. calls. They give me specific reasons to stick with the 2x on, 3x off schedule.  

If you have a flexible schedule, how do you decide what you’ll do and what you won’t?

13 thoughts on “I can. But should I?

  1. Coming from a different perspective, this may be a reaction to the impending addition to your family. My kids seem to go thru these times when they seem to “need” me more. I’ve learned that it is usually in response to something they are experiencing and tends to go away after awhile. Maybe he just wants more of your attention now knowing that later there won’t be as much opportunity to get it. Maybe there are other ways/times that you can give it to him. Just some thoughts.

  2. Since I work from home too, I tend to think of it in terms of my hourly rate. So I can rationalize NOT “catching up” on dishes or laundry during the 5.5 precious hours of childcare I have to work each day.

    However, I do take an hour and half each Monday to volunteer in my older child’s classroom – it’s something I actually couldn’t do as a SAHM because I didn’t have regular childcare for my toddler. So even though I’m essentially paying to volunteer, I think it’s worth it even though I’d much rather be home by myself instead of in a class with 19 preschoolers. T loves it and is so excited to see me.

    I agree with your hubby in the country-western song dept – soon she won’t want me anywhere near her school.

    I wonder if you can make a deal with him somehow – that he can get breakfast etc without your help, and you can work a bit, and then you’ll go with him to the bus stop?

  3. I worked from home on my sideline for 4 months and to be honest, I LOVED doing any and everything I could with the kids – getting them from school, going for walks, crafting, making their lunches.

    I’m not sure whether that was because I knew it would only be “for a season” and whether it would lose its lustre if it had been a permanent situation.

    1. @Marcia – I think this may be the “season” vs. permanent thing. The first few months that I wasn’t commuting to an office daily (this was pre kid) I was all like “I can go walk over the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the day! I can go to an art museum when no one’s there!” Then I also realized I had 40+ hours of work and also needed to deal with the administrative realities of running a business (no one else is buying paper, pens, and staples…) Same thing now. I’m looking at what is sustainable long term. I do think there is a good balance between never doing things and always doing things, and the question is what is the right point, understanding that I am not the only stake-holder in this situation.

  4. I wonder if it’s partly a reaction to having a new nanny. He’s not yet completely relaxed with her and wants you for security before he has to go off to school. Once they’ve had a chance to develop more of a relationship, he’ll probably be just as happy to chat with her some days while he waits for the bus. Sounds like you have a good set up now you get to spend some of that precious early morning time parenting DS and part of it focusing on work projects.

    1. @Chelsea – this morning I took a phone call at 8 and stayed in my office. All went well. Tomorrow I’ll do the morning routine. I’d love to open up this discussion too — it’s not just the bus. There are all kinds of things I could do but should I. Like a coffee for parents of kids on one of my children’s classes. It’s at 9:30 a.m. on a work day. I could go. But should I? It’s nice to meet parents, especially if we’ll be here for years and he’ll be with these kids for the next decade. On the other hand, I’m breathing down book deadlines and the like, so that means I’ll be making up the time in the early AM or at night.

      1. Seems like something that has to be weighed with each individual situation. Obviously if you have a tight deadline and all you’ll be thinking about is that, then don’t go. Work and finish what you need to do. If you don’t have a tough deadline, try it (parent coffee meeting, whatever) once and see if it seems helpful for you to go. If yes, then I’d say try to make it at least sometimes – as you know, “networking” counts for a lot – but if it seems totally unproductive you can skip it with a clear conscience that your time is better spent elsewhere.

  5. Yeah, this is a tough one.

    I’m taking one of my most theoretically productive mornings and going on my son’s first field trip. It’s his first. And not bringing him would involve complex carseat maneuvering.

    But don’t volunteer at my big kid’s school–except if she specifically asks, which is rare–and I limit most non-work activities during prime work time.

    1. @gwinne- I think field trips are a great opportunity for working parents. You’re doing something memory-making with the kids (well, as they get older — I’m not sure preschoolers remember much), but they’re also time-limited. Running the PTA silent auction can theoretically take every hour you have until that event. A field trip takes a few hours.

  6. I do have a fair bit of flexibility most days, and I don’t have any kind of system for these things. I just go with how I feel and how they feel about me being there (so far, if they ask me to be there for some school thing, and I CAN, I do. they rarely ask at this age, but that may change soon).

    1. @Ana- I think I may have blogged about this with the school book sale last year. My son asked me to volunteer for it, so I did. When I got there, it was pretty clear they didn’t need my labor — there were almost enough parents that each kid could have a personal shopper — so I needed to remind myself that I was there because my son wanted me there, not because of anything else. From that perspective it was fine, but it also reminded me that this school does not lack for parent volunteers, especially in younger grades. I don’t need to feel like I have to volunteer because the place is understaffed.

  7. I think that just because you “can” does not necessarily mean you “should.” I think this is one of those situations where you decide what seems like a good/reasonable amount to you and go with that. Plus I find “should” to be a tricky word. It opens up the possibility of all kinds of guilt.

    I think that there are useful things that can be derived from both choosing to spend some extra time with your child (at the bus stop or volunteering in the classroom) or choosing not to do these things. If you choose to do them then there is the opportunity or forming some memories and catching some extra moments with your kids. If you choose not to then it is a time that helps your child forge more independence by doing some things without you. To me, either one can be viewed as a win/win.

  8. Not sure if I’m reading this right, but it sounds like you have a maximum for how often you’re willing to wait with him, but haven’t directly communicated that with him. Why not tell him? He is probably old enough to understand and accept that Mom has made a decision about how often she’ll wait for the bus with him.

    Good luck!

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