I’m still recovering from spending all of last week in New Orleans at the 59th annual ATA conference, so here’s a topic for all of you while I catch up on work and sleep:
A colleague is weighing the options for working (or not) with small children, and specifically whether to take a sabbatical (stop working completely) for a couple of years, or to work 10-20 hours a week during the small child years. Obviously there’s not a clear answer here (if only!), so I’m interested in hearing from readers about the pros and cons. Freelancing moms and dads, over to you: what do you think??
I’ll kick things off:
My daughter is 16, and I started freelancing when she was a baby–just a few months old. I worked probably 5-10 hours per week during her first year of life, then 10-20 hours a week until she went to preschool at age 2 1/2, then a little more than that until she was in school for a full day when she was 5. However you slice it, freelancing with small kids involves some tradeoffs, but I feel that this option was probably the best for me. I felt–correctly, I think–that if I didn’t work at all, I would lose my mind from boredom and lack of intellectual stimulation, and that if I worked full-time, I would regret not having spent more time with my daughter during those early years.
However, the situation still had some minuses:
-I continually wished that I could be a full-time translator and a full-time mom. Intellectually, I knew that there would still be tons of exciting work opportunities there for me when my daughter was older and more independent. In retrospect, I feel that I have plenty of time to work as much as I want, now that my daughter is a teenager and will soon be in college. However, time sometimes moves very slowly when you have a small child; they don’t call it “the longest, shortest time” for nothing, and there were moments when I felt a lot of tension between the kind of fulfilling professional life I wanted for myself, and the kind of home life I wanted for my daughter.
-No matter how little you work, working when you have a small child is still stressful (or at least it was for me). Murphy’s Law dictates that even if you hire child care, which seems like the “easy button” solution, the babysitter calls in sick on the day you’re scrambling to meet a big deadline, or the kid wakes up with a fever on the day you have an important client meeting. Even with a supportive husband, I still did a lot of juggling. And for what it’s worth, this Murphy’s Law is still true when the kids are no longer little. My daughter almost never gets sick, but when she does, it is always when I have a big deadline or ATA-related task. Kids seem to have a radar for these things!
-However, I feel that I would not have been happy had I not worked at all. As an illustrative example, a friend of mine took several years off working when her kids were little. Then one day, she went to pick the family’s tax return forms up from their accountant, and in the space where the accountant lists your profession, her accountant had put “Housewife.” You can say that “housewife” is a dated term–and it is. You can say that unpaid labor, mostly performed by women, is a huge and hidden part of the American economy–and it is. You can say that a lack of affordable, high-quality child care is a major barrier to women’s economic activity in the US–and it is. You can say that child care should be seen as a family or household expense, not something that the woman in the household has to fund if she chooses to work–also true. Or you can criticize the accountant, who perhaps should have listed the friend’s previous profession, or asked the friend what she preferred to put. Still, that was part of my fear–getting stuck in the “housewife” category.
-Finally, I’m a maniacal believer in self-sufficiency. I felt that even if I earned only enough money to pay for my daughter’s child care and my own spending money, I still really wanted to work. Other people feel differently, and would rather be home full time than net a few hundred dollars a month by working. During my first year of freelancing I earned $9,000, but in some ways it felt more draining than the work I do now to make six figures…constantly getting up early, working late, arranging babysitters, praying that my daughter would sleep for a full two hours in the afternoon, and on and on.
Readers, over to you: what are your thoughts on this?? I’m particularly interested in hearing from people who took an extended period of time off when their kids were little, and how that worked out.