The context of an hour

I spend lots of hours with my family. Over the past weekend, I spent the majority of Friday, and pretty much all of Saturday and Sunday with them. So it’s interesting to me why one hour on Monday felt so different.

It was another full day. I had two events and a meeting in NYC, so after getting the kids off to school, I took off for the train station. I had packed to be able to go straight to the airport in the evening from the train station in order to get on a 10:10 p.m. flight to London. However, I’d looked at the train schedules, and if I made one of them, I’d be able to go home between the train’s arrival and my plane’s departure.

I had a charmed day with NYC subways, so I made my train, and drove back to my house. I was there for one evening hour. The big kids mostly watched TV, though they gave me plenty of bonus hugs and kisses before I left again. I nursed the baby (one less time I had to pump on the road!) and got him into his pajamas. My husband made us pad thai and we had dinner together before I repacked my passport and waved goodbye.

It was just an ordinary evening hour — a chance to cuddle with my baby and eat dinner, and yet it felt different from other evening hours. Context is everything, I suppose. An hour taken back from a string of three days spent on the road feels somehow decadent.

In other news: At one of my talks this week, someone said she’d heard a saying that as a couple you can work 100 hours a week before things fall apart. I think the idea was that if someone is working 80 hours a week, the other person needs to max out at 20. It’s an interesting idea, though I’m pretty sure as a maxim it would generally be used by couples explaining why two “big” jobs aren’t possible. Except — once you take workweek inflation into account — most big jobs don’t take 80 hours, or even 70. Two big jobs might often look like 45 hours and 55 hours. What do you think?

17 thoughts on “The context of an hour

  1. I think it depends a lot on finances. My husband and I are each right around 100k (your definition of Big Job) and expecting #3. We are able to make ends meet but not easily, we definitely don’t have money for tons of extra babysitting, a housekeeper, cars that don’t constantly need repairs, or a house with more than one bathroom. My career progress is definitely held back by my inability to consistently work more than 40-45 hours a week, and the same is true for my husband.

    1. @Tory – thanks for your comment. I agree that finances play into it. I’d be curious if a strategic investment of just a few extra hours a week (even just 3-5) for either of you could really pay off in terms of promotions (and hence raises) and the like. I can see the connection directly in my life between work hours and earning because I’m generally getting paid more when I work more, and I know that’s not straightforward in regular jobs. But if there seems to be an inability to work a few extra hours, I wonder how changing that (maybe for one person at a time even) might alter things. But I definitely sympathize with not being able to work as many hours as you want. I feel like I’m just coming out of that with the baby and changing childcare schedules, and I’m finally getting back up to my 45 hour week schedule.

  2. The comment about having a maximum number of work hours between a couple is really interesting and I think in my experience that makes sense. Both my husband and I are used to having really flexible schedules so I actually think our “breaking point” is less than that, or it may have more to do with number of evening/weekend commitments per week. More than two (and usually it’s my husband who will have these) and the week starts to feel unmanageable or at least not very fun.

    1. @Kelsey- I’m pretty sure we all have different breaking points, and it’s also a matter of what you’re used to. And if both parties have travel, it’s going to be difficult to limit absences to two total per week. That said, we definitely have slower weeks where we’re all around. So maybe it does average over time…

  3. Sounds like a lovely hour! Cuddles & less pumping & home-made pad thai—what more could you want.
    What do I think? I think any pithy saying that predicts that you “can’t” do anything is likely to be an excuse or based off one person’s negative experience. It makes sense that after a certain amount of hours you’ll need more help, but obviously many people do manage 2 “big” jobs!

    1. @Ana – I know, that was my first reaction that this was going to be some man making up a 100-hour week and then using that as the reason his wife “can’t” work. When I think about it, though, we are probably around the 100-hour mark — maybe a smidge over but not by more than 10-15%. And it’s possible we naturally adjust based on each other’s schedules. My husband worked less this week with me gone and I will likely work less with him gone.

      1. I guess I would frame it more as, after >100 hours, somethings gotta give. Whether that is one spouse scaling down, or getting live-in child care, or outsourcing a lot more—you can probably creatively manage it if you make enough $ and want to work more. I do agree that you can’t manage >100 week of working + traditional childcare hours + cooking dinner every night & driving your kids to all activities + yard work. Something has to go.

  4. Yes I agree with that. I work 50 – 60 hours / week and my husband works 40 – 45 hours / week. His shorter day schedule and alternating Fridays off enable him to do several of our home tasks during the work week. My travel schedule prohibits that, but I take on tasks like managing our finances and booking our travel that can be done remotely or on the weekend. Together we have the balance we want.

    1. @Jessica – wonderful! That sounds like a good split, too – I hadn’t thought about it, but it makes sense that there are some household tasks that must be done in the house, and some that can be done remotely, and if one party travels, that party can handle more of the remote ones (you can call to make a doctor appointment from anywhere. These days, you could even order groceries online from anywhere).

  5. I have a practical question. How were you able to relax in that 1 hour, knowing that you had to keep an eye on the clock? You had to do a,b,c,d (nurse the baby, make sure you have everything packed, eat food, etc, etc). I would be running around in circles frantically, getting everyone (myself included) stressed out, worried about being late for the train/airplane. You paint a perfect picture of contentment and relaxation by the clock. while the timing is ticking. What is your mindset like, during that hour? How do you manage to switch over from the rushing-around the New York to calm-and-happy-at-home… and then back to travel all in the same evening? [this has been a rushed and crazy morning, so I apologize if the message is a bit grumpy].

    About additive work schedules… I have a friend who might be a bit like Laura (very determined, hard working, driven, with seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm for everything from work to kids to social events) – her favorite saying is “Where there is a will, there is a way”. All of us make it work, somehow, whatever the combination of work hours. If one parents is staying home, yes, that does give the other person more work flexibility. My husband spends fewer hours at work now that I am working again. I do believe he enjoys working less and playing more with the kids – so it is good for him. 🙂 I have to say, any sort of work/school emergency is a lot more stressful now.

    More than 100 hours of work for both parents can work, too, particularly if kids are at a boarding school or if there is a live-in nanny (or grandparents) – and who is to say that is a bad choice?

    In some cultures, it is very common for grandparents/extended family to live together and help with raising children, so that the parents can work. In this situation, parents really can dedicate all their waking time to work, if that is what they want to do.

    1. @Natasha – good question. There wasn’t a lot of rushing around because I was basically packed. I hadn’t planned on having that hour, so everything was set to go. The only thing that “had” to happen was feeding the baby, and that was relatively quick. But I do think it is a learned skill to know you need to do something at a certain time but relax before that. Some times I do better at that than others. I also knew that my timing on the evening flight was fine – I had built in enough time with my tolerance to feel like I had that hour available.

    2. ha ha! I would be the same way. It would be way more relaxing for me to get to the airport early and have a cocktail, as much as I’d like to hug my kids one more time…

  6. That is an interesting number and it does seem to be how it plays out in our house. My husband is out a lot in the evenings either for work events or travel so by default I find myself working less to cover the gaps. It works fine in the abstract but the lack of free evenings definitely hampers my networking opportunities and career advancement. It was easier when the kids were smaller and did not also have evening activities. I am working on renegotiating this balance.

  7. This is an interesting idea. For us, it’s only really been possible (without heads exploding) for both of us to work essentially full time because we both work from home 90% of the time. I can start dinner between meetings (or at least defrost something), he can throw in a load of laundry or mow the lawn at his “lunch hour” and not everything has to be done in the few hours at the end of the day or on weekends when we’d like to be relaxing. When we were both working outside the home full time, before kids, it was pretty stressful, but we had all that extra time (and sleep!) so we made do. For us it’s a case of “sure, we COULD do it if we had to” but we’re lucky enough that we can choose a more relaxed pace. Then again, neither of us is on the executive track either 🙂

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this. I just got back from a two week trip in China and I would have given anything for an hour at dinner or to put my kids to bed during that time. This post was a great reminder of how valuable time with family is. All the best…

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