What do I owe my family?

{So yesterday’s post was not supposed to go up without some editing, but I messed up and it was published without that editing, so the timing was super confusing. To clarify, my interview was last Friday, the 16th, and I was supposed to hear this Monday, the 19th, but now it’s Thursday the 21st and I still haven’t heard, which all but guarantees that I didn’t get the job. Hope that clarifies things.}

I have been thinking a lot about my kids and husband, and what I owe them as their mother and spouse, as I try to sort through my anxiety about actually being offered a job next year.

I read enough by empowered working mothers to understand that I can make my professional satisfaction a priority and accept a job that takes me away from my family in the mornings. Many families have a set-up where one parents manages mornings and drop-off and another manages pick-up and afternoons. We used to have that same set up, back when we had one kid, and even when we had two and my in-laws provided childcare for the 2nd and came to pick him up in the mornings, and my husband had a nice wide window of acceptable drop off times for my daughter. I wasn’t at home in the mornings for the first five years of my kids’ lives.

Then my daughter started public school and suddenly she had to BE THERE at 7:50am, and THERE was a school only a mile away as the crow flies, but inconvenient to get to on public transportation. Suddenly, getting her to school in the mornings without a car would be a 45 minute long expedition on two buses, one of which only comes by every 20 minutes. That is when I started requesting a schedule that lets me be home in the mornings.

{Which is one of the big reasons I got the bike! Except my husband neglected to mention that he can’t really ride a bike, but that is a contentious topic for a different post.}

So yes, I understand that I don’t have to be there for my family in the mornings. There are various possible solutions to the problem: hire someone to take our daughter to school; lease a 2nd car for a couple of years; get my husband on that damn bike.

But the thing is, it’s a lot to ask. The mornings are a stressful time in our house. Our daughter does not get up easily. She does not do anything easily in the mornings. And yes, I know most kids struggle in the mornings, but I have a feeling our daughter struggles a little more than others might. (Or maybe we just cope less well with her struggles than other parents do.)

And 7:50am is a really early start time. Even if you have a car. And getting TWO kids ready to be out the door at 7:30, and then parking and getting two kids out and taking one in and then getting the younger one back in the car, that is a lot (no, my daughter will NOT walk in on her own. You cannot physically force a kid to do that, believe me, I’ve tried). So mornings alone would be hard, especially for a man who is decidedly NOT a morning person.

Yes, I am making excuses for my husband. Yes, I should let him just suck it up and be a dad. And he could if I asked him to. He has consistently assured me that he could handle mornings if I were offered a high school position. But the reality is, he would be miserable if he had to manage mornings alone. And if he were miserable, I would be miserable too.

Of course one day I will be asking him to handle mornings alone. Hopefully next year I will be asking that of him. And hopefully next year our daughter will be better able to manage herself and her big emotions, and will be okay walking into school by herself and my son will be a more cooperative 4.5 year old than he is 3.5 year old, and it will all be a lot easier.  (We also hope our son will be at a TK or public pre-K closer to our daughter’s school, which will also help.)

And if it’s not a lot easier, my husband will still have to figure out a way to make it work.

I don’t know. Maybe I am selling myself short feeling like I have to be home in the mornings next year. Maybe I am creating a cycle of dependence by not assuming they can figure it out.

I love that I’m giving myself shit about this when I haven’t actually been offered a high school position for next year (as I mentioned above, the last school still hasn’t gotten back to me, which all but assures I haven’t gotten the job). This is a non-issue this year. And yet, it might have been one, and I’ve been rolling it around in my head a lot, trying to figure out what I should be willing to do.

Next year I hope very much to get a new job, at a high school, where I will need to be there at 8am. I will be working hard all year at making that happen, and I will definitely not let mornings at home keep me from that goal. Maybe that is all that matters, that next year I am willing to let my husband make it work, without shouldering guilt for not being there.

Man, who knew that changing things up (or trying to) on the work front would raise so many hard questions about my role at home. Life can be so enlightening sometimes.

23 Comments

  1. I’m in a similar boat, where currently I’m the one doing drop-offs and pick-ups (this was after 2 years of Grey being the one doing this) and summer school requires me to be on campus at 8 am, meaning 7:30 am drop-offs. There’s been a lot of work getting out the door in the morning with adjusting the routine, but one thing I’ve been focusing on is something special for the kids for cooperating. We’re also experimenting with timers (5 minutes making beds, 5 minutes getting pottied/dressed, 2 mins brush teeth, 20 mins for breakfast).

    Given that your goal is to transition to high school, I would reach out to colleagues who have school-age children for thoughts about the early mornings. It may mean an earlier start time for your daughter, which sounds like it could be difficult, but there may be ideas others have for making this work.

    1. Forgot to add this. Ithink it’s great that you are so mindful of what your family needs to function smoothly. This is something I struggle with as I tend to get caught up with my work. Given this, I wondering if bring them on board with this transition would be useful. What I mean by that is sitting all of them down, explaining your goal and ask them for help with reaching it. We do this with the Beats, with visits to campus, having them help me water plants, them watching me compose lectures, talking with them about what we do. It may sound weird, but I’ve found they do want to help and it also helps them understand why I push for certain things (though there are still the meltdowns). Anyway, just a thought.

      1. I really like this idea. Thank you for the suggestion. I’ll definitely be talking to them a lot more about what I do at work, and at home, next year, and what we all need to be doing to make things run smoothly.

    2. Doing drop off and pick up is hard. Really hard. I find it super exhausting. And while I worry about my family being okay without me around, there is a part of me that can’t wait to walk out the door and avoiding the hardest parts of the morning. Things felt a lot more “fair” when my husband did mornings and I did afternoons. I appreciated the balance. It’s frustrating now that I’m part of both those stressful times. But I also recognize that mornings are just logistically really hard without a car, and I take the car so…

  2. Each child, each spouse, each family is different.
    And just how different it is to live and deal with transportation and school locations and parking/cars in San Francisco versus 30 miles away from San Francisco versus in Atlanta or Cleveland or New York City is tough to envision without experience in each specific location. Knowing San Francisco really well, I still do not know where THIS family lives and where the schools and jobs are.
    I have seen IMPOSSIBLY weird demands where the child is assigned to a school that is 1&1/2 hours away, each way, by unreliable public transport (2-3 transfers is not unusual), and Kindergarten is under 3 hours in length. Right, “take a car” ~ ummm sorry, still can be over 45 mins each way and that means parking multiple blocks away and walking significant distances … so that an easy smooth ‘drop off’ can take 15 mins on average. And, parking a car in SF is a HUGE challenge ~ your ‘at home’ parked car can be 8 mins away, after getting out the door, when walking with a small child.
    None of this is easy. Balancing the conflicting demands and needs is tough and the challenges change constantly.
    Looking forward to hearing more about your trip and preparations and discoveries.

  3. These are very difficult issues. On the one hand, it seems that you have done a lot for your husband in the past (and continue to do so), so from the outside it feels like he should step up and that you should think about yourself for a change. On the other hand, only you know what is really the best choice for you and your family, all things considered. And I hate it that on top of all the work/home balancing, women are always expected to justify their choices, both when they put themselves first AND when they put other people’s feelings first (as in “you should just make him suck it up!” etc.).

    My husband is the more organized one and the morning person here, so he always gets our son to school and generally deals with early mornings. When I have to do it, it’s difficult for me. However, I’d definitely do it with no issue if my husband’s job would make him leave early and mine didn’t.

    1. “And I hate it that on top of all the work/home balancing, women are always expected to justify their choices, both when they put themselves first AND when they put other people’s feelings first (as in “you should just make him suck it up!” <-- Amen to this!

  4. I understand where you are coming from. It’s a lot to ask someone to park in San Francisco, and then get back in the car and make another stop, especially with a 4 year old in tow that is still in a harnessed seat. If she were willing to walk in, which you’d have to work on, then I don’t think it’s asking too much. Of course, he would not be stressed out if he made a or professional change that increased demands on you, I don’t think.

    1. You are right, he wouldn’t be stressed out. I am really thankful that this year it’s not an issue, because I think it could have been bad. We’ll work on some systems this year, and hopefully next year the kids will be more manageable in the mornings. We shall see…

  5. We are super lucky and return to two employed adults soon, but now we venture into the childcare and aftercare and distant school circus of trying to manage to keep everyone safe and sane. I absolutely feel your pain on this whole series of issues. I agree with Cristy that having a few family meetings and discussing everyone’s perspectives and getting everyone to pitch in to help is a good idea and it worked for us in the past. We will use it as we decide on childcare locations and if both children will commute with me or not.

    1. Good luck with this big transition back to two working parents. I am sure you will make it work, as you guys always seem to come together as a family to do what you need to do. I’ve always been in awe in your ability to work together like that. Let me/us know how it goes!

  6. I always feel guilty when I leave in the morning, my husband has to take the mornings since I teach at a high school 35 minutes away and like to get there really early.

    This next school year has me freaking out, we have 3.5 year old twin boys starting preschool 3 days a week, (only about a 3 minute drive) and a new baby on the way. I keep trying to work out a plan with my husband but he just tells me he has got it. I am not sure why I worry so much or figure I will get to work on time instead of early. He does not worry or ask me about how I will deal with the afternoon pick up situation.

    You are doing a great job, I can not imagine living in a city where you have so much traffic and parking issues to deal with!

    1. Two 3.5 year old twins and a new born! How exciting! And a lot of work. It’s awesome that your husband has faith in his own abilities. Mine is less confident, but I think in a year or two we will all be there.

      Good luck next year! You guys can do it!

  7. My kids absolutely have to be at the bus stop by 7:15 am. I’m responsible for getting them up and dressed, making sure they eat breakfast and have lunch packed. My husband is responsible for getting them out the door (not always easy) and to the bus stop. He also has to wait with them until the bus comes, because the school district requires a parent to stay with them until late elementary school.

    Maybe a split like that would work for you? Maybe not, though, if you would have to leave too early or the real problem is the complicated drop off. Also, I assume there’s no possible school bus for your kids. If there is, I’d give it a try.

    The way I make it work is to put the kids to bed (though they don’t always fall asleep right away) ridiculously early and get them up by 6:00 am. But, obviously, not every kid will adapt to that schedule and I think I remember you saying your kids don’t do well with going to bed early.

    1. I think, when I do eventually have another job and am not there for actual drop off at school, we will do something like this, where I get everything ready and my husband does the final push. I think that seems like a good way to do it. And hats off to you! 7:15 is early!

  8. Lots of good ideas here. Informationally: CA in general, and San Francisco in specific, does not have school buses. There is a discounted ticket for children riding public transportation but the reality of a young child’s vulnerablity/safety in getting to, on, and off and to the school is not friendly. Add in 1 or 2 transfers, regular delays, lack of on time reliability………. Not a plan in my mind …. and then there are Big City hazards of the mentally ill and let’s not even go to how crowded the system is at commute hours…. pickpockets, and sexual offenders.
    My impression of Noemikjames’ husband is a really kind, loving, sometimes obtuse but trying, highly human person who grew up in a traditional 50’s model of male versus female roles. He isn’t apt to make real changes in this any more than those women who grew up in the equivalent role where men work and women raise children. You know; the model the current administration in Congress and White House would like us to return to. Which worked well ~ if you were white and not in the bottom half of the population.
    Moving away from the political to children’s sleep: I think getting children to go to sleep earlier is best achieved by making them awake earlier. EVENTUALLY, they will be tired earlier … but it is REALLY REALLY REALLY hard in the transition which is why so many of us HATE the daylight’s savings transitions twice a year! Tired, crabby, wornout, emotionally non-resilient children are tough; add in any sort of special need and ~ most human parents find this super tough. And there is no extra rest for parents on weekends either and that stresses today’s over-pressed parents even more making for another factor stressing the household.
    Childcare issues in our country are really hard. It is going to get harder in the next few years. There will be more women who get pregnant, who do not get pre-natal care, more damaged children, more maternal deaths, more children in need without assistance, less support of child care and public education. People who work with medically needy and foster babies are saying that many ‘babies with problems’ (premature, substance abused, genetically different, chemically exposed from pollution, in and out of foster care) will exceed their life time maximum public health allowances in the first year.
    These are going to be the golden days….and they are really not gold already.

  9. Wow, I had no idea that Cali had no school buses.

    But the division of labor where one parent gets kids ready/ one parent does the actual transportation might still work if the timing is possible. Which it might not be.

  10. I have 6 kids, 5 of them are closely spaced, with 3 of them having special needs. Our lives were really bad for awhile until I figured out how to problem solve transitions. It’s hard, especially if you have 1 or more with anxiety. I have one daughter who also wouldn’t walk into school alone. She had a really amazing teacher her second year that worked with me to slowly help her face her anxiety and see that she could overcome it. We took the tiniest of steps. First, her teacher came and got her out of the car. When she was fine doing that, her teacher stood halfway between the car and door and my daughter walked to her. Then right outside the door, right inside, and then different segments of the hallway. The end part went really quickly as her confidence grew. I thought it would take weeks, but she was completely independent in less than 2 and was so proud of herself. That was the beginning of her really taking off being able to manage being at school in general. Before her anxiety was so high she had difficulty paying attention. It is definitely a cyclical process, but now that she is 11, she can help us understand what she needs to face new situations (she has verbal delays too) and knows that she is capable of facing challenges. She will say that she doesn’t like how it feels, but she knows she can do it and she will feel really good after she does. The key is figuring out the right balance of challenge and support.

    1. I was unclear. It wasn’t her main teacher. There was a para in the building my daughter knew well and her teacher reached out to her and they set up this plan. Her actual teacher had duty before school that prevented her from doing it.

    2. Thank you so much for sharing your daughter’s (and your) experience. It really helps to hear how things play out for other families. And I know it will get better, because it has gotten better, it just takes time, and like you said, it’s a cyclical process.

  11. I tried to comment on this days ago but it never popped up and then told me it was a duplicate when I tried to re-comment. At any rate, my question was a bit off topic, but has to do with the school start time issue. In my experience, the 8am start time is totally normal. My childhood school started at 7:55, so we were on the bus at 6:50. Stella’s school now also starts at 8, so if she was a bus rider she’d be on the bus at 7:35. Is it not like that in your district? I feel like you’re saying 9 is more common, but I literally don’t know of any schools around here in CO or in MN where I grew up that started later than 8/8:25 at the very latest!

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