Flexing Frustrations

Most days, my flex schedule is great. I get a few mornings in an office setting with adult conversation, thought-provoking challenges and a kid-free zone to work. I am able to be home to play, meet the school bus and make a family dinner. Appointments for the kids can be made for times when I’m at home and meetings can, most often, be scheduled for times when I’m in the office.

But not every day/week/month lives up to the ideal it is on paper.

For instance, elementary school started last week and the now 7 year old is back to a full school schedule. The 3 year old, however, doesn’t go back to preschool for two more weeks. The babysitter I had for the summer has gone back to school and I’m officially without dedicated child care for two weeks.

I have a very understanding husband who, even during the school year, will make it a point to handle preschool pick-ups during his lunch hour so I can manage an extra 45 minutes in the office. He has had a fantastic flex schedule of his own this summer that allows for some half-day Fridays. And overall, he’s been very supportive of helping me get that coveted office time when he can.

But, it’s weeks like these that bring the same old tired argument we always have about two work schedules back to the surface. The fact of the matter is, when he goes to work each morning, he doesn’t have to worry about where the kids are. So when I’m stuck with no sitter, he doesn’t have to think twice about where he will be from nine to six, five days a week, but I have to jump through hoops of fire to figure out how to manage eight to 12 hours a week in the office on top of the extra at home hours I already have to finagle.

The fact of the matter is that there are just not that many reliable, easy, part-time daycare options available. Daycare centers don’t really offer part-time care, nannies most often want a full-time position and relying on babysitters means that you have to find the sweet spot in scheduling between their other commitments and yours. It can be a full-time job in itself to find this kind of part-time care. And who has time for that? Many part-timers and flex schedule folks I know tend to cobble together the same sort of piecemeal care that I do: shared pick-ups, strategic play dates, occasional sitters, preschool.

I spend a great deal of time being available via email and cell so that nothing falls through the cracks whether I’m at the office or the zoo with two stir-crazy kids. Sure, sometimes I have to be that mom who is talking to a reporter the day of a big company announcement from the parking lot of my kids’ science camp watching him launch rockets. And sometimes I have to park the 3 year old in front of a movie to get work done when there isn’t a babysitter and pitching a reporter after they go to bed is not an option. But it means that my colleagues don’t doubt my work ethic and ensures that the work gets done, while at the same time, being there for my kids.

I don’t know what the answer is, but until part time child care is a reliable and easy option for families, it will be harder and harder for families (and let’s face it, mostly women) to create and fight for these flexible working situations. 
Even weeks like this when I struggle with the guilt of not being in the right place at the right time, I count myself lucky. I am lucky to have a situation that is truly flexible. I am lucky to have supportive family. I am lucky my kids are self-sufficient enough to build a race track through my living room as I push press releases to 13 different states. I am lucky that when the work is done, I can pack a picnic and play at the park with a very precocious little 3 year old. 
But it frustrates me that I have to count myself lucky. We need to look at how to make flexible work more widely available and accepted. We need companies to understand the mutual benefit of creating these types of arrangements to keep the right kind of people benefiting their bottom line. We need the child care industry to recognize there is a market for flexible care. We need to take advantage of the technology we have available to us to allow us to work whenever, wherever. 
Of course there are jobs that will never be flexible, but for those that can be, we need to start fighting for flexibility. 
The saying goes that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. It’s time we start making our own luck in the workplace. 

2 thoughts on “Flexing Frustrations

  1. I recall being in a work meeting many years ago when the cell phone belonging to a mom of two kids started to buzz. Our boss's boss looked at her and said, “Oh, go ahead, take it. It might be your kids' school.”

    Afterwards, she said to me, “You know, on the one hand it's nice to have that my children might need me acknowledged and recognized. On the other, he never would have said that to a man. The expectation is that even if she works, the responsibility for the kids belongs to mom.”

    She, like you, worked PT and had a spouse who was FT (and often traveling) but still. It seems we have much territory to cover til we get this all figured out.

  2. I don't know if you have this where you are, but we have drop-in daycares where I live. They are GREAT! Never have to make an appointment, they will provide lunch if needed and I can sometimes get hours on a living social deal for $4.50 per hour. My youngest loves it. My older 2, who are elementary schoolers, are not as excited about it as they used to be. But when a Mom needs a few hours of work on the fly, this is a great option.

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