How modern parents manage kids, jobs and everything in between.
As you read this story, you may be sitting in a cubicle, occasionally glancing over your shoulder to make sure the boss doesn’t catch you perusing a magazine during work hours.
Or maybe you’re on your back patio, hunched over a laptop and listening for the first peep from the baby monitor to warn you that nap time is almost over and you’d better finish up, pronto.
Or perhaps you’re with a group of parents at the park, chatting as you watch your little tyke climb the stairs to the slide, all the while worrying about not having a second income in one of the most expensive places in the United States: Orange County.
I have been all of these parents.
I’ve worked part-time, full time and not at all. I’ve worried about neglecting my kids and my work and about not earning enough money. I once nursed my infant daughter under a blanket while trying to co-teach a journalism class. (And she was enjoying the experience a little too loudly.)
I worked full time at a real estate magazine while my kids fended for themselves at home (they were 11 and 13 by then) and tried to parent via texting. And I’ve lied about being sick so I could leave a job to see my daughter’s music recital.
All three scenarios may sound a bit ridiculous, but they happened, and I’m guessing that many of you have similar stories to share. Also, I realize that despite these situations, I am one of the lucky ones. I have a husband who works and does his share of the housework and childcare, and I have had jobs that I can leave (even if leaving required a lie) without getting fired.
My jobs have also allowed me to call in sick and still get paid, or even to work from home on occasion. I know many parents don’t have these benefits, and many struggle to balance childcare and work much more than I have had to do. How does all this fit together? Here’s a look at some of the trends:
More parents are working
Since 1970, the number of households with two working parents has increased dramatically, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. In 1970, 46 percent of American households had a father who worked full time and a mother who stayed home full time. By 2015, that had dropped to 26 percent.
Seventeen percent of households had a mother who worked part time and a father who worked full time in 1970, and that number remained the same in 2015.
However, the number of households with two working parents rose from 31 percent in 1970 to 46 percent in 2015.
Who does the chores?
The Pew study also took a look at how chores and child care were divided in homes where both parents work.
Most parents in the study claimed that chores, discipline and quality time with the kids was shared equally. However, more fathers made this claim than mothers.
A greater percentage of mothers said they took on more tasks, while fathers said the chores were shared equally. Hmmmmm.
When it came to sick days at home and scheduling activities, mothers took the lead by a fairly large percent.
Whose career is more important?
With two working parents, it’s likely that there will be arguments about whose career should take priority. Sixty-two percent of the Pew study’s respondents said both parents were equally focused on their careers, but in half of these families, the father earned more money.
Income often dictates who stays home with the kids, rather than passion for a career.
But, as you may have noticed, things are changing.
Since the 1960s, there has been a rise in women serving as breadwinners for their families. Some of this growth can be attributed to an increase of single mothers, but 40 percent is due to married mothers who earn more than their spouses.
What’s going on in Orange County?
I talked to several local parents to see how they’ve figured out the complicated mix of kids and family. One thing they all have in common? There is never enough time.
MyPhuong Trieu and her husband, who live in Huntington Beach, have two kids, ages 7 and 5. They both worked full time before having kids, and they both work full time now. While MyPhuong’s job is a standard full-time work week, her husband works at a hotel, so he has more flexibility but also often works holidays and weekends.
How have they figured out their work/life balance? Both kids are in school full days, which helps, and after school they go to a homework club that buses them from school to church, explains MyPhuong.
Also, “Now all our extra-activities revolve around the kids,” she says. “Our world revolves around our children. We gave up date night for family dinners. We parent independently on most days. I feel like a single parent on weekends when Sean’s working, but it works for us.
“We work together as a team, but we do things separately. We do what it takes for our kids and for
our family,” she adds.
The full-time/part-time dance
Alexandra Lilly and her husband live in Mission Viejo. They have 3-year-old triplets and a 1-year-old. Before having children, both of the Lillys had full-time jobs and the weekends off. Now, her husband works full time in an IT job from home, and Alexandra works “very part time” at home and as an R.N. on the weekends.
One big advantage the Lillys have is Alexandra’s mother, who lives with them full time and helps out with child care.
Alexandra says, “Working from home, we feel that we are able to have a good work/family life balance. However, there is never enough time in a day! And I recently started to work part time to make some extra money.”
Ruby Lin, who lives in Irvine, says she is a single mother by choice. She has 3-year-old twin girls, works full time from home and her retired parents live with them. “A lot of my child support is provided by them when I am not available,” she says.
Lin works for a software consulting firm and because many of her clients are based on the East Coast, she can work while her kids are sleeping. She also has a “very understanding manager” who does not require her to travel and provides flexibility if a family emergency arises.
Her daughters have attended Montessori pre-school since they were 2, and her parents help with morning routines. Lin picks her kids up at 3 p.m and takes care of them until bedtime, then often goes back to work.
Navigating special needs
Kathie Bozanich, a regular contributor to OC Family, and her husband live in Huntington Beach with their 12-year-old daughter. Before having a child, they both worked full time. Her husband now continues to work full time and Kathie recently returned to work after freelancing for nearly two years and, before that, working a night shift job at a newspaper from 3 p.m. to midnight.
Returning to an office job after freelancing at home has been a bit difficult.
She originally agreed to work 30-hour weeks with a 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift so she can pick up her daughter from middle school, but decided to go full time when the opportunity arose.
It means great benefits but less time with her daughter, who is special needs.
“Meanwhile, there are school issues related to her autism program, so I had to leave my new job early three times in the first three weeks,” she explains.
“Also, with early dismissal one day a week, I arranged for services that bill themselves as ‘Uber for Kids’ to pick her up and bring her home, but one ran 15 minutes late for their first pickup and my daughter panicked, and the other couldn’t find a driver to assign and canceled the ride, so it’s no longer an option.”
Dad stays home
It’s difficult to figure out exactly how many American men are now the primary caregivers in the family, but we do know that there are more fathers staying home to care for their children than ever before.
According to the most recent U.S. Census numbers, approximately 7 million dads (32 percent) are a “regular source of care for their children under age 15.” This number is up from 26 percent in 2002. A regular source of care, however, is defined as at least one day per week, which hardly qualifies as a full-time, stay-at-home dad.
A lot of the data on stay-at-home dads is based on unemployed fathers, and that is not the same thing. Being forced out of the workplace by a dour economy is different from choosing a strategy designed to serve your family.
These days, most of us know one, or maybe even a few, fathers who are home with the kids by choice.
Carl Skinner is one of these dads in Orange County, and he’s even blogging about being a stay-at-home parent at WhoaDad.wordpress.com, a lighthearted romp through the trials and tribulations of parenting. His wife works full time, and together they’ve found the right recipe for parenting.
Skinner says, “It was quite easy to decide which one of us would stay at home with the kids because my wife has always had a more stable and consistent career. Raising children into respectable little people seemed to be something I have always been good at.
“I helped my parents with my brother (who is 13 years younger than me) while they were at work, and I coached fourth- and fifth-grade boys basketball players with great ease. So the decision of who would stay at home came very naturally.”
The future of work/life balance
According to several studies, millennials want jobs with flexibility.
They view work as a “thing” rather than a “place,” and don’t want to be stuck long hours in the office. If this means being available outside of typical working hours, so be it. The tradeoff is considered worth it by many young workers and parents.
Flexible work can provide parents the option of earning an income while also caring for children.
It can mean not having to miss a recital or doctor’s appointment or morning snuggle, but it may also mean an after-dinner Skype meeting or weekend emails.
The workplace is changing, and what workers value has changed as well.
Fortune.com recently released a list of the 50 Best Workplaces for Flexibility. The companies that made the list offer job sharing, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, flexible scheduling and phased retirement options.
More than 209,000 U.S. workers were surveyed for this study, to figure out which companies are getting it right, particularly for parents trying to sort out the work/life balance.
No Orange County companies were on the list, but several in California made the cut, including Clif Bar and Co. in Emeryville, Cisco Systems in San Jose, Riot Games in Los Angeles, Ontraport in Santa Barbara, DemandGen International in San Ramon and Mindflash in Palo Alto.
The village is growing
Having live-in help from family is another way parents have made their work and home life operate smoothly. According to Pew Research, one in five Americans (60.6 million) now lives in an intergenerational household. In 1950, the number was
a tad more than half of that at 32.2 million.
The reasons for this trend are myriad, and include economics and people living longer and needing care. But no matter the reason for combining generations under one roof, the benefits often outweigh the struggles. There are more people around to spend time with the kids, more time for homemade meals and less stress for many parents.
Connecting with other parents
Not all of us are fortunate enough to have parents nearby or alive and who can help out when needed. But parents can form communities that help each other as well. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find a parent network that can assist you with picking up a kid or taking care of your children when you just can’t make it home on time.
There are some sites where parents can link up, including Mom and Tot OC, which helps connect parents of toddlers in Orange County and offers classes for parents. (momandtotoc.com) OC Mommies is a social network based in Orange County that offers moms various resources and guides designed to help find local programs. (ocmommies.com)
And there are sites like Nextdoor.com where you can connect with neighbors and get recommendations for babysitters and sell your used baby gear.
No matter your life hacks for parenting and working, nothing is perfect. As writer Gretchen Rubin once said, “The days are long, but the years are short.”
Days of balancing child care and working can be long indeed, but they go by quickly, and then you will most likely miss them. So enjoy whatever life you’ve created with your family and seek help when you need it.