Six weeks ago, an acquaintance approach Kyle and me about a possible childcare swap. The other couple wanted to trade full days looking after one another’s children so that the primary caregiver could work per diem occasionally. They couldn’t afford to pay for childcare (childcare in Seattle is expensive, people!) so a swap was a good fit for them.
I debated (with myself and with Kyle) whether to accept this offer for quite some time. The upside was that I would have occasional full days freed up to devote to work. The downside was 1) taking care of an additional baby for each free day I ‘earned’ and 2) being apart from DPR for full days.
The truth is that all summer and fall being DPR’s primary caregiver had been squeezing out my work time. On a good (non-travel) week, I would fit in 10 hours of work in little snippets here and there. Lots of weeks, I worked less than that. My other new-mom friends who were either primary caregivers or using childcare while they worked told me they didn’t know how I was finding any time at all to work, yet I was despairing not working more hours because I really love what I do and I knew the business couldn’t advance without serious effort. Yet I didn’t want to use any more childcare than necessary, either – I didn’t want to be separated from DPR.
When we returned to Seattle from winter break and found out about this childcare swap opportunity, I realized that I didn’t want to be apart from DPR for full days, yet I also couldn’t keep going the way I was. The idea of the swap pushed me to change my daily routine to fit in more work time so that I could justify not being separated from my baby.
I made three main changes:
1) Capitalize on every moment of DPR’s naps.
By the time I pushed myself to change my routine, DPR was over six months old and had developed a more-or-less regular sleep schedule. She takes either one long nap at midday for 2-3.5 hours or a couple shorter naps that sum to at least two hours. As a little baby, DPR needed a lot of hands-on care when she was awake, so I used her naps for my own self-care, such as catching up on sleep, showering, cooking, eating, and exercising. Now that DPR can amuse herself with toys and floor exercise, I get all my self-care done when she’s awake so I can really sink into my work when she’s asleep.
2) Carve out work time while Kyle is home.
Last fall, I was counting the minutes until Kyle came home from work so I could hand her off to him and get some time to myself. The routine we fell into was that he would take DPR right when he came home from work and I would go wash bottles and dishes. (Yes, doing dishes was my end-of-day relaxation; I would watch Netflix on one of our iPads while washing.) Changing that coming-home-from-work routine was actually an easy switch to flip. I just told Kyle that I needed one uninterrupted hour to work right when he got home, and we would have to take care of the dishes later in the evening. (He asked me why I wasn’t using the time for work all along!) After my hour of work, it’s just about time for DPR to go to bed, and then once she is down I often return to working for a little while.
The other time I asked for was another hour in the morning. Kyle doesn’t go into work until about 10:00 AM, and he prefers to sleep until the last possible second (9:30 AM sometimes!). But DPR wakes up between 7:30 and 8:30 AM. So once she wakes up and I nurse her, I go off to do as much work as I can fit in before Kyle has to leave for work. Kyle is often pretty sleepy during this morning hour, but he can still be present enough with DPR to adequately care for her.
I definitely don’t get these two uninterrupted hours every single day. On Thursdays, for example, Kyle has a standing 9:00 AM meeting and we attend a church small group in the evening that Kyle has to leave work early for, so I only get nap and late-evening work time. Other days, sometimes DPR doesn’t cooperate or one of us is too tired. But putting in place the expectation of those two hours each day means that we fit them in more often than not. I’m amazingly productive during that time, too, because I know the only reason I might be interrupted is if DPR needs to nurse.
3) Work while DPR is awake – sparingly
I prefer to only work while DPR is asleep or with Kyle so that someone can be present with her (to some degree). But from time to time, I do some easy work in front of her. A few months ago, I joined a community of self-employed PhDs, and through that I listen in on great webinars for an hour or so once every two weeks. Unless I really luck out, DPR is usually awake while I’m watching those, but she’s at an age now that she is content being dandled or playing with her toys next to me on the floor. Occasionally if she seems really content by herself I might do a little easily-interruptible work like email or social media.
I love being with my daughter and I love serving the personal finance needs of grad students and postdocs, so I’m trying to ‘have it all’ right now. I’m certainly not firing on all cylinders on both of those fronts (not to mention my marriage, home, social life, spiritual life) but I’m doing a lot better than I was a couple months ago just by making these simple changes – and they are mindset changes more than anything else.
I’m happy to report that in the last six weeks I’ve averaged over 20 hours of work each week, which is a level that I’m happy with. I’ve been very productive, too. I launched my first course a couple weeks ago and I’ve been learning tons about marketing in addition to all the typical stuff I do.
I know that this balance between work and caregiving will shift over and over as DPR grows. Already since I started planning this post our routine has changed a bit, so we have to continually adapt to her needs. But these few easy changes have made all the difference in these last couple months.
How do you balance work with the rest of your life? What is your current childcare arrangement? How have you changed your routine recently?