In years of studying working mothers and their schedules, I’ve seen that there is often a perilous moment in career trajectories that people don’t really know to watch for.
When the kids are little, two career couples generally need full-time childcare. It takes different forms, but it has to be there.
Once kids start school, though, things get more nebulous. Many families celebrate the arrival of school because they hope to pay drastically less for childcare. But …children can still get sick. School tends to be 180 days a year, whereas most work schedules are closer to 240 days. School is often 6-7 hours per day, whereas a workday, with a commute, would be closer to 9 hours. And then there are snow days, half days, and so forth.
For families who have employed a nanny, there is another realization: there has been another adult available to do things. This adult might not have had much availability with little kids around, but as the youngest has gotten a little older, perhaps there has been time for starting dinner, or putting away the grocery order when it’s delivered, doing laundry, and driving kids to after school activities. Without a full-time person, this support is less available.
Many families who have just been getting by need the extra financial room that a lack of daycare bills creates, and for parents with flexible jobs, maybe school plus some before/after care and summer camps can work. People who have family close by might also be able to lean on them to fill in the gaps. Some people manage with part-time after-school sitters, though this can be a hard job to fill or keep people in long term, and these people might not have availability to scale up when needed (e.g. on half days).
And so, if you have big ambitions, and are really looking to lean into your career as your kids get a little older and less physically needy, this week’s episode of Best of Both Worlds looks at a different question. What could support look like if your primary goal is not to reduce what you’re paying for childcare, but to have the ability to truly lean in at work and enjoy your time at home?
Sarah’s family still employs a full time nanny because this gives them flexibility in the evening, and for travel, and means that if a kid is home sick one of them doesn’t have to cancel a full day of patients. As the kids have gotten older, this person has also taken on a lot of household management duties as well. One of the reasons we were able to record this episode together in Florida is that it was absolutely fine for her to be gone overnight Monday and all day Tuesday, without the worry that her husband would miss work if something went awry. Her household runs like a tight ship!
Again, not everyone can afford support, and I know that we always get emails and podcast reviews about privilege when we run episodes like this. So I’ll just note that many ambitious men assume they will have this level of support — to concentrate at work and enjoy their home lives — because they assume that their wives will provide it as a matter of course. If you, as an ambitious woman, do not have a partner who is covering all these bases, then it is something to think about.
So please give the episode a listen and let us know what you think!