This week I experienced the main segment of the podcast as a listener, and not a participant. Sarah interviewed Rebecca Fike, a lawyer, exercise enthusiast, blogger (LagLiv!), and mom of three. I was out of the country and not clear on how my internet access would be at the point when Fike could squeeze us onto her calendar. But since Sarah has been a longtime LagLiv reader (I started reading her through Sarah’s blogroll links) it made the most sense for her to run this one.
Anyway, the interview was fascinating on many levels. Among Fike’s strategies: in her house, there is a morning parent (her husband) and an evening parent (her). So if she wants to go into work early, she can just go. But then she understands that since he is completely unreachable in the afternoon (he runs a swim school and is in the water) that time is her responsibility. Ground rules like that can help a household run smoothly.
She also made an interesting point on outsourcing cleaning. They stopped going out to eat (more or less) in order to afford a weekly housekeeper. Fike noted that when she and her husband were doing more of the cleaning, she would get mad at the kids about their messes. Now, when she won’t have to deal with all the fall-out, she can be more calm about it.
Fike made the somewhat uncommon choice to have her first child during law school. So she’s never experienced work not as a working mother. She spent the first few years of her career as an associate at a big firm before transitioning into a (highly competitive, hard to get) job with the SEC.
As she reflected on life with little kids and older kids, she noted that she was happy she put in a lot of the long hours when her kids were little. Little kids, she said, were pretty simple. Happy to see her when she came in the door. Not terribly aware of her schedule and her choices, and they had fewer specific things that they had opinions on her being there for.
Older children are different. They choose when they want to interact with you. They have more specific events that they notice if you’re there for. So Fike was happy that she put in those long hours as a Big Law associate, learning her way around the legal world, and then getting the opportunity for her prestigious job with the government, when her kids were little. She has a lot more flexibility now, when she believes it matters more.
This is somewhat the opposite of how a lot of people plan their careers. The standard mode for people who scale back at some point is to scale back when the kids are little. Then, when they’re in school, the idea is that they’ll scale up. That can certainly work, but there are hazards to this approach too. It can be hard to get back into the workforce, or even to scale back up from a very part-time position. If you are scaling up, you might not have as much control over your schedule as people with more seniority. That means you might not have the flexibility to go to, say, the karate belt testing at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, or at least not to repeated events like this. And while your kid will likely not remember that you took her to gym class at age two, she will remember stuff that happens when she’s ten.
Anyway, careers are complicated things. We can’t always plan exactly how they will go, but I’m curious how many people reading this made the conscious decision to “lean in” when the kids were little, partly to have more autonomy and flexibility later on. Or if you made a different choice, I’d love to hear your thinking about that too.