Coffee Chat: Parenting as a Job

In March, I went through a job transition. To figure out my next career move, I weighed the options with Troy; should I find another full-time job? Do I need a full-time job? Do I pivot to a different industry? Is it necessary for me to stay-at-home?

In my job search, I looked for the following: competitive salary and vacation time, hybrid scheduling but mainly work from home, travel is a plus, retirement matching, and hourly flexibility to accommodate for my family’s schedule. If I was getting really picky, I’d go for summer Fridays and complimentary meals like at Google. Honestly, I was looking for perks that let me be as available as I could with my girls while still giving me a salary, exciting responsibilities, and time to myself.

They always say that being a parent is the hardest and best job there is, so I wondered what it would be like to be a stay-at-home during my compulsive LinkedIn browsing. It’s estimated that the average SAH parent does the equivalent of three jobs, and if paid to scale, would make over $100K per year. Working parents are at their salaried jobs for 40+ hours/week, and then come home to “the second shift”. Yes, everyone’s family is different and how they manage their lives and raise their children is completely personal. But what would happen if we started applying our job search standards to parenting?

Let’s take the traditional SAHM because it’s the easiest example. Dad is the breadwinner and mom stays home to care for the young kids. In return, she is “paid” by having all of her bills covered, giving her a bit of financial security. The obvious hole in this arrangement is that the mom covers the child duties and manages the household 24/7, while the dad works 40+ hours and comes home to do…? Yes, working and keeping the family financially afloat is important, but so is raising kids and managing a home. A SAH parent is essentially a project manager, people manager, custodian, shopper and chef, and in some cases home-school teacher. The duties don’t delegate as cleanly any more.

Let’s take it a step further. If our SAHM is an “employee”, shouldn’t she be entitled to a quarterly or annual review? Do the parents meet regularly to talk about strengths and areas of improvement on both sides? Is there a scheduled salary raise consistent with the market? Is there a clear path to promotion, retirement matching? Paid time away if she’s sick? Does her employer value her work/life balance? Is she the right “fit” for a stay-at-home position? Is this job one that she really wants? Does she feel challenged in her skillset or even bored? Can any of this be negotiated or renegotiated after a trial period?

If there are more kids and her duties grow exponentially, is she ok to get an assistant or would the employer take on those extra tasks? And after 5 or 11 or 18 years, when the family no longer requires a person at home, is she fired, retired, or asked to find a “real” job?

Let’s apply the same analysis to dual-income families. What are the job responsibilities for the 16 hours that the kids are not in school? What happens if one of the team members gets a bad review because they didn’t pull their weight on a group project? And then what happens if one parent realizes that they aren’t happy with her job situation, doesn’t feel valued, and looks for another, more balanced position elsewhere?

So many hypotheticals, right?

There is a reason why so many divorced co-parents say they are happier; because the work of parenting is more clearcut and in most cases, time and money are legally delegated and more evenly split.

Sometimes those traditional gender roles are hard to shake. But as our society changes, we can’t expect those roles to hold up in every circumstance. And with Millennials doing more mental health work and self-reflection, we are becoming more adamant about what does and does not make us happy and quicker to point out those work imbalances.

Get to Work

The US obviously places huge favor in keeping Americans working. Americans stay overworked, are constantly tethered to the office, and don’t use all of our vacation days. We never want to be perceived as a bad or lazy worker, but is that at the expense of being an absent or uncaring parent? Is it really either/or? And at the end of the day, if we put our career first, how does that affect the relationship with our kids and the added work burden on our spouses?

Not so long ago, choosing to be a “career woman” had a negative connotation. Now there is an equally negative connotation for choosing to stay at home, especially if you are a SAH dad. Even if SAH parents are pulling a crazy number of working hours, they still are stereotyped as being lazy.

*Quick fact: An estimated 2.1 million fathers were stay-at-home dads in 2021—up 8% since 1989. One in 5 parents consider themselves stay-at-home.

I think all of us Millennials agree that parenting is work. It is essentially an all-consuming hobby with a tax credit. It is 100% possible to feel overworked as a parent. And like work, we can also find joy in it. We love feeling productive. Work and parenting can be both emotionally fulling and draining. We become friendly with our colleagues (other parents), juggle middle management (the grandparents), and talk about all the drama with our friends in the meantime.

In both cases, the work never lets up, the economic landscape is always changing, and we are constantly forecasting and planning for the next week, the next quarter, the next year. No wonder our generation is perpetually waiting for “next week when things slow down.”

So how can we use this business-lens to help us become less like workers and more like happy parents. A lot of sound career advice is already in our parenting mantras, like “Good enough is fine”, “Done is better than perfect”, and “Pivoting”.

This list is partially how to make the role of SAH less stressful; and for dual-income parents, how to make that second shift feel less like additional work.

  • Organizational Structure

I think (not a blanket statement but observation) that it’s easy for men to fall into a traditional organizational hierarchy. You have a President on top, then Officers, Directors, Managers, and Associates. You can see how this type of mindset can’t really work in parenting, even if you say you’re Head of Household on your taxes.

Try moving to a networked, collaborative structure. This calls for: communication, coordination, transparency, accountability and trust. This also means regular check-ins, syncing calendars, talking through processes, etc. Clearly, these strengths benefit both parents as well as their kids. If we’re talking about Millennial parents being more active and being role models, it helps if parents work as peers.

  • Say No More Often

Boundaries are important. The pandemic has taught us that we need clear work/life boundaries and to leave work at work. At a workplace, that may mean being realistic about deadlines, not taking on more projects until others are finished, or not taking on overtime without checking with your partner. It also means standing up in the workplace and saying that family is a priority.

In the home, saying no could literally mean saying no to another extracurricular, canceling plans if necessary, and handing off duties to your partner/in-law/babysitter for your own mental health. This is standing up for yourself and advocating “I am a priority”.

And to tack on, sometimes it’s saying “we are a priority” and going for a date night.

**I know that etymologically, you can’t have more than one priority. So, this is when you have to be very clear about your time management.

  • Autonomy

No one likes a micromanager. If it’s mom’s job to handle the cooking, don’t look over her shoulder and hassle her about the cost of groceries. If dad is doing bedtime routine, don’t watch like a hawk and tell him he’s doing it wrong. Everyone needs space to accomplish their tasks. Grant your partner time and grace without correcting every little detail just because it’s not how you would do it. At work, I love that I have autonomy over my projects and schedule and I don’t have someone constantly hovering.

  • Professional Development and Appreciation

They say that workplaces that invest time and resources into their employees have a much higher rate of employee satisfaction. Employees feel appreciated and in turn, are happy to stay working for many years. Parenting development works similarly. I find that after I read a parenting book or listen to a TED talk, I will approach my kids in a different way with a more enriched perspective. If I introduce them to a new project (like 1,000 Hours Outside or starting a backyard garden), it gives us a new goal or something to shake up our routine. Feeling like you are doing the same thing day in and day out is mind-numbing. And although parenting isn’t always routine, there are still times where it is definitely not mentally stimulating. We say this often, but reading books, blogs, listening to podcasts, #ParentingTok all give you need ideas to support your parenting.

As for appreciation, parents in any partnership should take time to make sure that their partner is happy. Gifts, thoughtfulness, all the love languages; it all goes a long way.

I also feel slightly obligated to mention this. If your partner is SAH and you are supporting them financially, you do NOT have the right to demand, obligate, or negotiate for sex and affection. Just because you hold the financial strings, sex and affection are not transactional.

I know there is going to be a contingent who will argue that parenting isn’t work, it’s the most rewarding thing ever, I’m so fulfilled. Good for you. Again, the arrangement you have with your partner on how you run your household is completely personal and between yourselves.

This chat is about how you can make the most of your occupation and best advocate for yourself and your family. There are whole sections of Office Space (a movie filled with business management theory) that can be applied to our parenting. Thank you for joining me on this little tangent. It fits nicely with Thursday’s upcoming post on Team Parenting, which will tie in more for dual-income parents.

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Key elements of (good) team collaboration. Pumble.
The Rise Of The Stay-At-Home Dad, Jack Kelly., December 7, 2022.

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