My husband and I both want to be home with our kids while they are young, and we downsized our standard of living enormously to do that.
I made a career change from software company executive to writer. This has been great for me. It’s a career that can grow big, but there is lots of flexibility for working around my personal life.
My husband ended his entertainment industry career and downshifted, slowly, first to the nonprofit world, which we found surprisingly inflexible for parenting, then to stay-at-home dad.
You know how you hear about the dads in the 50s who folded under the pressure of having to support a family with no financial help from a partner? I am sorry to say that I felt like that — especially living in New York City.
But, like most people who want jobs with flexible hours, my husband was not able to find one. And a standard job would mean leaving at 8 a.m. and getting home at 7 p.m. which are pretty much the hours our kids are awake. So, he had to choose between working nights or not seeing the kids. He chose working nights.
There are not a lot of options for working nights. Especially if you don’t have the talents to work at a nightclub. So my husband is answering phones at a car service. He takes down the time the person wants the car and some other information and a computerized system dispatches the car. My husband does the same thing, over and over again, for eight hours a day.
To give you a sense of his co-workers, the woman next to him slammed down the phone the other day and said, “The customers are so outrageous! This guy wants a car in a quarter hour. How am I supposed to know what a quarter hour is?”
In between calls, his coworkers play brand-name Internet-based games that my husband produced in his former career. He doesn’t tell anyone. He tries to fly under the radar.
But the customers, investment bankers at the most chic-chic firms in the city, notice something is different about my husband. Two or three times a week, someone will say to him over the phone, “What are you doing at this place?” One guy said, “Is this your real job?” My husband said yes and the guy pushed until my husband explained our situation. The guy said, “That would have never happened when I was your age. Men couldn’t do that.”
The hardest part about this life is that very few people understand what we’re doing. You can imagine what a conversation killer it is when someone asks my husband the great American question: “So, what do you do?”
Although I overheard one woman say to him, “Your kids are so lucky,” the best support system I’ve found is learning from other people who are thinking seriously about this topic.
I particularly liked The Bullshit Observer’s rant this week about how difficult it is to manage career aspirations and be a hands-on parent. He has some interesting statistics as well as insights like this one:
“American parents have two very fundamental responsibilities at war with each other every single day. Those who’ve chosen the path that goes up the ladder appear to have chosen not to be parents. Those who’ve chosen the path that leads to the diaper bin have chosen not to move up.”
One organization that publishes a lot of information on changing the situation is the Third Path. This organization helps couples move beyond the idea that one parent is the primary caretaker and toward a mindset of “shared care”.
Third Path offers mentoring to couples who are trying to implement a shared care arrangement in their home. Though this path is not easy for anyone, the stories of what people have gone through to make shared care work are inspiring.