We have another reader question! This concerns that category of task known as “mom work” or “dad work.” It is, broadly, household management, but with a specific parental twist: making doctor and dentist appointments; buying new pants for a rapidly-growing kid in the correct size (and getting rid of the old ones in some responsible fashion); signing permission slips; buying and sending in stuff for a school party; getting kid thank you notes out the door, etc.
Our reader wants to know: when does this stuff happen? When should it happen? By way of background, she has a traditional in-the-office job that’s got flexibility, but is generally 9 to 5 (or 6 or…) She recently leaned back in after some time off, so this is a balancing act. She wants to keep family life humming along now that she has somewhat less availability, but she also doesn’t want to undermine her new situation at work, either.
The mental load involved in these organizational aspects of life can feel overwhelming at times. Some of it has to be done during business hours, and some of it is much easier to do without the kids. That means it’s tempting to do it when you have childcare (e.g. stopping by Office Max on the way to work). That can work, except if you have a passel of children, work hours already wind up getting interrupted for more urgent parenting tasks (e.g. covering a nanny sick day or picking up a sick child at daycare). Using them for optional ones means you risk falling behind and having to work at night and on weekends just to keep somewhat caught up.
There are different ways of approaching this question. Before getting to the question of “when,” such work needs to be examined in light of some other questions:
1. Does it have to happen? There are all kinds of parental work that are nice to do but aren’t truly required, or that don’t have to happen while you’re scaling up at work or have kids in the baby stage. Closets can stay messy. Kids can keep outgrown toys around for a long time.
2. Does it have to be done by me? If you have a partner, tasks can be split. Just be prepared for your partner not to care as much about a particular task as you do. The birthday party food may not be Pinterest-worthy, if you get my drift. If you have a nanny or regular babysitters, they can perhaps handle some of this work, like addressing thank you cards or buying school supplies, buying and wrapping friend birthday presents, etc. Kids can bring lunch money or pack their own lunches if they’re old enough.
3. Can it take less time? You can sometimes book doctor and dentist appointments while you’re there for the last one, which is probably quicker than calling and waiting on hold. Many things can be ordered online these days. I love Amazon Prime for the all-you-can-buy 2-day shipping. Buying online means you can do some of this while waiting for a conference call to start. Not billing an hour at a lawyer’s rate because you’re hunting around in stores for a slightly better price on laundry detergent is not necessarily a good deal.
Once you’ve put the parent-work through that 3-question rubric, we come to the question of when it should be done. I’m not sure there’s a perfect answer to this. My answer for my life likely looks different than it would if I had a traditional job.
As much as possible, I try not to do time consuming mom-work during work-work time. I send out birthday invites on weekends. I go shopping for kid clothes at night (if I haven’t bought them online). I make lunches when the kids are awake and in my care in the morning, and generally not after they’ve gone to bed. Because I work from home, it is always possible to do home and kid-related tasks, so if I don’t set rules for myself, such stuff could expand to fill all available space. I already feel like I don’t have enough hours to work (a situation we could analyze at length in additional blog posts), so hours that can be work hours generally need to be work hours. I might assign myself one “mom work” task per day, and that keeps it under control.
However, if you’re in an office, you’re likely facing different headwinds. This reader wondered if she should take one day off a month to do household management tasks that needed to be done during business hours or were easier and more pleasant without the kids. Then she would work one weekend day to make it up (her office is nice and quiet on weekends and no one is emailing to interrupt her!). That could work, though the problem is much of the mom-work sort of trickles in. You’d have to be very diligent about planning ahead to see what will need to be done over the next month. My guess is that you’d still wind up doing some of this every few days.
So another approach for tackling stuff that needs to be done during business hours, or is ten times easier without your children, is to find an otherwise low-value slot once a week. Friday afternoon could work. Most people aren’t doing much of consequence after 3:30 p.m. anyway. You could make up the time by coming in a little earlier on Friday, or some other morning (or staying later).
I’m curious what you’d recommend.