Thank you all for your nice emails and comments on my last post. I almost didn't post it, because I was worried it would come off wrong... I'm glad I went ahead and pushed the "publish" button. If nothing else, I now know where to recruit when I get around to starting a company: right here!
I got one really nice email from a young woman in grad school, who is worrying about how she will put all of her puzzle pieces together. She wants kids, and she wants a career in biotech... and she wonders how it will all fit. She'd read my last post, along with my recent rants about work-life balance and having it all, but wanted to know more. I remember looking ahead and being afraid of trying to live the life I am happily living right now, so I decided that I'd answer her on my blog, rather than just via email, on the principle that if one person asked, maybe other people are wondering the same thing.
My first piece of advice is to stop worrying about future problems, and just work hard and do great science now. In other words, don't lean back ahead of time. Once you have kids, you can decide whether or not you want or need to ease up on your career, but whatever you decide, it will be easier to keep your career viable if you have a strong reputation built in your earlier years. Whether you keep working or take a break, that reputation will serve you well. I think that one reason I haven't suffered from much "working moms are slackers" bias in my own career is that I have a sterling reputation for productivity- and have maintained it. But we are also actively recruiting someone right now who is coming back after about 5 years off with young kids. We actually sought her out and asked her if she was ready to come back, on the basis of having been impressed with her work before she took the break.
My second piece of advice is to figure out how to be productive within a reasonable work week now. It is much, much easier to do this before you have the stereotype-inducing baggage of motherhood to contend with. Even if you end up not having kids, you'll probably want to have a life outside of work. And you'll be happier and more productive now. So it is an all-around winning proposition! Figure out what your work limit is. Figure out where your time goes when you are in the lab- chances are it isn't all to work. That's OK if that is how you want to manage your time right now, but an awareness of this will help you later.
My third piece of advice is to choose your partner carefully. Look for someone who will actually be a partner, i.e., pull his or her fair share of the work around the house, be a fully equal parent, and collaborate on solving logistics problems. Update: I was reminded in the comments that some mothers don't have partners, either by choice or circumstance. I am sorry- it shouldn't have taken a comment to remind me of that! But I obviously can't write about the logistics of making that work. I wrote a little more in the comments, and hopefully some single parents will weigh in, too.
The woman who wrote the email also asked if I would write a post with the details of how my husband and I make it all work. I've decided to do that, but with a certain amount of trepidation. First of all, I find it hard to believe that it will actually be interesting to read. If you agree with me, stop reading right now! I won't be offended. Second, I think it is too easy to read a post like this and think "well, I can't do XYZ like she does, so clearly I can't have kids and a career, too." But that is a mistake. The details of my life aren't actually very informative, because the details of every family's arrangements will be different, depending on the temperaments and sleep needs of the kids and the adults, the specifics of the jobs involved, the transport options in the city in which the family lives, etc., etc.
But she asked so nicely. Just ask my kids- I'm a sucker for a polite request! So here goes. Please don't read too much into the details, and remember- you are smart, and you will presumably find a smart partner. Together, you can probably solve the particular logistical problems your life poses once you have kids. Trust yourself.
The Base Weekday Schedule
My husband gets up at about 6:20 a.m., when the alarm goes off. Most days, I get up earlier (as early as 6 a.m.), when one or both of the kids wakes up. If the kids are "sleeping in," I get up at about 6:40, when my husband gets out of the shower. If Petunia's had a particularly bad night, I make my husband get up when she wakes up for the day, and I try to sleep a bit more until the alarm goes off.
We all eat breakfast. I check my email and then shower, make my lunch, and do my hair. I also help get the kids dressed and ready as makes sense- but the morning routine is primarily my husband's to run.
I leave the house between 7:40 and 8:00 a.m. The kids usually walk me to the car, carrying my purse and my lunch for me, then give me big hugs and kisses and wave goodbye. This is my second most favorite part of the day, second only to the big smiles and hugs I get when I pick them up from day care.
I drive to work, and get there between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
My husband finishes getting the kids ready, leaves the house between 8 and 8:30 a.m., drives the kids to day care, then drives to work, arriving between 8:30 and 9 a.m. (It turns out that the time you lose dropping the kids off is mostly compensated for by the fact that when they are in the car, you get to use the car pool lane on our freeway on ramp.)
We both work all day. I don't take a long lunch break most days, although I do occasionally meet a friend for lunch. I go for a 20-30 minute walk at lunchtime if my meeting schedule allows. I actually find that the walk helps me think problems through, so it can be a very productive thing to do. I usually manage a walk at least twice a week. If I have a meeting too close to lunchtime and can't walk, I usually still take a short break, by goofing off online while I eat.
I leave work between 4:30 and 4:45 p.m. and drive to day care. One of the bonuses of my current job is that it is only a 5-10 minute drive from day care. Unless it is raining, in which case it can take more than 30 minutes to get there. This closeness to day care is what gives me the wiggle room to leave a bit later sometimes. At my last job, I left by 4:30 without fail.
I drove home with the kids. We are home by 5:30 p.m. most days.
The kids watch TV or a DVD and eat a snack while I cook dinner. My husband leaves work between 5:15 and 5:30 and is home by 6 most nights. Dinner is served between 6 and 6:15 p.m., and we're done between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m. It isn't slow food, but I try to make healthy things.
One adult plays with the kids while the other clears the table and puts away any leftovers, then comes and joins in the play.
The kids have bath together at 7 p.m. My husband and I take turns giving the bath. Some nights, this is a pain, but a lot of nights it is a lot of fun. The kids usually play well together in the bath, especially if there are bubbles.
The kids have a snack at 7:30 p.m. Both adults usually hang out for that, but if one of us has a lot of work to do or just needs a break, the other will cover snack alone.
At about 8 p.m., Petunia goes to bed. One parent goes and handles that, and the other stays up and plays with Pumpkin, or, if feeling particularly wiped out, watches a show with her.
At about 8:30 p.m., Pumpkin goes to bed.
Both kids get 20-30 minutes of books before the lights go out. These days, Pumpkin reads to us for some of that most nights. Petunia still gets snuggled to sleep, which takes 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on whether or not we've offended the gods of toddler sleep (seriously- I have no idea what causes the variation). Pumpkin got snuggled to sleep until she was three, but now goes to sleep on her own after one story (I made up a story about a zebra trying to get all the other animals in the zoo to go to sleep, and have had to tell it every other night for years. Let this be a warning for you. If you make up a story, make it a good one! I rather like mine, but even so, I'm getting a little tired of it.)
We take turns getting the kids down- one night I do Petunia and my husband does Pumpkin, the next night we switch. Whoever finishes with their kid first does the dishes and sweeps.
Most nights, we're both done by 9:30. Then we work, do chores like paying bills, blog, watch TV, or do whatever else we want/need to do.
I go to bed between 10 and 10:30. My husband comes in later.
Petunia may or may not sleep through the night. Probably not. Usually, I go and resettle her when she wakes up, but sometimes she'll accept my husband instead. It is not uncommon for the adult who is resettling her to fall asleep in her bed and spend the rest of the night there.
On Tuesdays, my husband picks up the kids from day care. I leave work at my usual time, but come straight home and get a ~45 minute workout in before dinner, which is leftovers.
Every other Wednesday, we have a big "clean up" session to get the house
tidied up so that the cleaner who comes the next day can actually clean
it. The adults do most of the tidying, but we do get the kids to help pick up the toys.
On Thursdays, my husband has an early teleconference, which he takes from home. I take the kids in. We make a concerted effort to get me out the door by 7:50 a.m., and I get to work by about 8:30 a.m.
We both pick the kids up. Pumpkin goes to swim lessons with my husband. I bring Petunia home and attempt to do my workout DVD. She usually does not co-operate. I need a Yo Gabba Gabba workout DVD. (Seriously. They should make one. I suspect there is a reasonably large market for such a thing.) I usually get my workout in after dinner, while my husband gives the kids their bath.
Starting in a few weeks, on Fridays I will pick up the kids and go to a park near day care for soccer lessons for Pumpkin. Petunia will play at the playground during the lesson. My husband joins us about halfway through the lesson, and then we all go out to dinner at a nearby small food court (our choices are Daphne's Greek or a local BBQ chain) and are home by bath time. Last summer and fall, we did this on Tuesday nights.
When a kid gets sick, one of us picks her up and takes her home and the other one finishes the day before picking up the other kid. We choose who has to leave work based on our work schedules- basically, who has a meeting that can't be missed or who has the deadline coming up first. We also roughly take turns. I call my Mom (who is retired), and if she can, she flies over from Phoenix to stay with the sick kid the next day or two. If she can't, my husband and I take turns, or split the days (one works morning, the other works afternoon), and we try to work from home as much as the sick kid and the rest of our schedule will allow.
On Friday nights, after the kids are in bed and the dishes are done, my husband and I crack open some beers and sit down and plan our weekend. One of us writes a list of things to do, which includes chores, any work we need to do, and at least one fun thing for the kids. Once our weekend to do list is written, we chat or watch a show- usually a British mystery, because that is one type of show we both like.
I try to sleep in (until the decadent hour of 7:30) on the weekends, to help compensate for the fact that I am the one who gets up in the middle of the night most nights. When Petunia starts sleeping through the night, we'll probably each get to sleep in (or stay in bed reading for an hour or so) one day.
On Saturdays, we do laundry. We complicate this by hanging the majority of it up on a clothesline and just finishing it briefly in the dryer. Using the fancy retractable clothesline he made his parents lug over from New Zealand at one point makes my husband happy, and the kids love to help (hand us clothes pins), so even though this saves us at most $1/month, I figure it is time well spent. Also, it seems criminal to waste all that San Diego sunshine. Anyway, my husband usually does more of the work around laundry than I do.
Every other Saturday, Pumpkin has a 45 minute Chinese lesson after lunch. One of the adults takes this with her. I can count to ten, and know a bunch of colors and fruit in Chinese now.
On Sundays, my husband goes for a run in the morning. I write the menu plan and grocery list, and then in the afternoon, one of us (usually me) goes to the grocery store. We tried getting groceries delivered, but didn't find it to be a big help, so we dropped that.
My husband cooks dinner on the weekends. He usually makes enough for leftovers at least one of the two nights. We often have my sister over for dinner one of the two nights. We also have the usual mix of play dates, birthday parties, family outings, trips to the park, visits with friends, and other fun things mixed in with the chores.
Petunia still takes a two hour nap after lunch. Pumpkin has "quiet time" (usually TV time, but sometimes coloring or reading time) during this time. I work, blog, or read. Sometimes, I take Petunia for a walk for the first hour or so of her nap- she's sort of outgrowing this, though. Maybe eventually, I'll go out for a run instead. My husband works or does chores (usually yard work) during naptime. Sometimes, one of the adults is really tired from the night before, and naps with Petunia.
So there you have it- our logistical plan in all its boring detail. We got lucky on a few details- we both work in the same part of town, for instance. My mother is retired and willing to come over and babysit sick kids. We also made one very good decision, which we didn't really recognize at the time we were making it: we chose to buy a smaller, more expensive house closer to work, rather than a larger, cheaper house further away. This means our commute is only 15 minutes without traffic, 30-40 minutes in heavy traffic. This really makes our lives easier. We also choose to do a lot of our shopping online, which may or may not increase the cost, but spares us from needing to take frequent trips to a big box store. We go to Costco for diapers, beer, and cereal once every couple of months. We go to Trader Joes for their various yummy foods and cheap wine about once a month. We take the occasional Target trip. Otherwise, we buy almost everything we need online or at our grocery store.
Like I said- I wouldn't read too much into the details of how we've worked things out. Think of this as a worked example problem. The problem on the test will be different, but applying the same general principles will probably lead to a solution.
Feel free to leave your own tips and tricks in the comments, or ask questions if the detail above wasn't enough for you.