Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Making a two parent working family work

I love it when friends and readers of my blog suggest ideas for me to write about. Today's suggestion came from someone in a household where both parents work full-time and they are squarely in the middle of the small kids, work and childcare/school juggle. It's also the end of the year when everyone is tired and cranky and completely over 2016. Oh....hold on, that's me. Sorry.

I found it really helpful seeing how others managed going back to work after maternity leave, and thought this post might also be helpful for others in the juggle. Also, this is something I should write about because I think women should work. Full time. But it ain't easy and if you can see how others do it them maybe you can work it out too.

So here's how Arran and I did it when we lived in Sydney when Aiden was 3-5 years old and Charlie was 1-3 years old. This was probably the most challenging time in our family life, and after I accepted a big job that required lots of travel domestically and internationally, it got more crazy. Arran was also working on his international cycling career.

This is how we did it but I'm sure there are lots of ways you could manage this situation so if you have any other suggestions I would love to hear them.

First things first

Both kids were either in full-time childcare, or when Aiden started school he was in before and after school care. Thinking I was going to save money on childcare when Aiden started school was wrong people. I had to spend the same amount on before and after school care!

A side note on childcare: Aiden and Charlie are both happy well adjusted kids who have now moved countries twice and I can say that child care didn't hurt them and probably helped them a lot. They were lucky to be in a great childcare centre with fantastic staff. They are both robust, make friends easily and are now doing well in school.

The weekday routine

Arran would get up early each morning, around 5am, and do a big training ride on the way to work. He would start work at around 7.30am. I would dress, get breakfast and take the boys to childcare and/or school. That sounds easy if you say it fast, but usually by the time I got to work I had been up for nearly 4 hours. I arrived at work, somewhere between 8.30 and 9am, in a pretty frazzled state. Trying to get dressed, do your hair and make-up with two small kids at your feet is not a relaxing start to the day. There would usually be a tantrum from one or both kids at breakfast, and Charlie would do a big poo in his nappy just as I was trying to get them into the car. I would have an internal debate about either changing his nappy or pretending to the child care centre that it happened in the car. Yes, bad mummy.

The last 6 months in Sydney there were two different drop offs, Aiden at school and Charlie at childcare and let me tell you doing that in the middle of Sydney peak hour traffic is not fun. Arran was having a lovey bike ride while I was trying not to lose my mind.

Once I was at work I could happily work until 6 or 6.30pm without stressing about having to pick up the kids. The later it gets in the day the better I work.

But wait...

Arran needed to do the opposite in the afternoons. He needed to leave work at 4.30pm so he could pick up Aiden and Charlie on his bike. He would head home and hitch up the bike chariot and then head off to childcare and school before they shut at 6pm which was pretty tight. He was responsible for getting their dinner and bathing them, though I was usually home for bathing and bedtime. Just getting Charlie dry after a bath was a two person job! That kid was wiggly.

We could swap routines if needed and one of us could drop-off's and pick-ups if the situation required. I think the key is to be flexible when things come up.

Charlie was in the chariot and Aiden in the seat on the back. Arran on the fat bike. Sydney to Wollongong event
What would happen if I was travelling for work? Or had a work dinner? Well Arran had to do it all himself, sometimes a week at a time. That's a lot of organisation.

And what would happen if one of the kids was sick, which happened often, cause they were little and at a childcare centre or school with lots of other germ producing and spreading kids? Well that was a negotiation. It depended on what Arran or I had on that day. What meetings were scheduled and what deadlines had to be met? If I didn't have much on I would work at home. Or if I had been travelling a lot I would look after the sick kid. I was lucky that I had trust and flexibility in my job. Arran would do a bit of the same. One day when Charlie was sick I had an important meeting in the morning, so Arran stayed home and then we switched so Arran could attend a meeting in the afternoon. Pretty crazy but that's how we worked it.

When Aiden was more little and sick I could sometimes take him to work. I had my own office where I could stash him and he was a really good kid. I would take an iPad and a little sleeping bag and he would entertain himself and sleep. Not many people can do this though and probably not a practical suggestion. I could never take Charlie to work. He was just too high maintenance! Lucky he's cute.

Aiden watching out the window for trains and watching his iPad in my office 
Aiden asleep on my office floor
A friend recently shared this article on Facebook and I think it's great. At the start it says 'The well-being of children, the status of women, and the happiness of men will depend on whether more fathers are willing to take on primary parenting roles.' Arran and I share parenting roles, but during this period Arran took on the role of primary parent more than I did. And I had to push him to make it work. He definitely wanted to be involved in the parenting and doing his fair share but it doesn't happen automatically. I had to ask and push, mainly because he didn't realise what was needed. I have asked him to write a blog post of the challenges he experienced, particularly in his workplace. Stay tuned.

I am still the default parent which is kind of annoying.

Things that helped
  • Having childcare and school in relatively close proximity to either home or work. Ours were close to home which meant it was easy for both of us to get to. If the child care is near one of the parents work, guess which person is dealing with drop offs and pick ups?
  • Having a really good cleaner. Our cleaner in Sydney was a godsend. She and her team came once a week and also stripped and made the beds with clean sheets. It's hard to find a good cleaner but you need to preservere in finding one as it makes life much easier. If two parents are working you should allocate money to this service. It's cheaper than psychological help, pharmaceuticals and divorce. Doing the same for a gardener when you would rather spend time doing other things.
  • On a Sunday I would often make food for the kids or all of us that we could have for dinner during the week. I would make a huge pot of spaghetti bolognese (with lots of veggies hidden inside) and freeze in various portions so that we just had to boil some pasta. Or would make some meatballs and tomato sauce (also with veggies hidden). We would also have fresh or frozen ravioli the boys liked and fish fingers in the freezer so it was easy to prepare something if time was tight and the kids, and us, were tired. Luckily the boys childcare centre was in a shopping centre so it was easy to go to the supermarket to get dinner food on the fly if we were a bit disorganised (about half of the time). 
  • We had a combined washer-dryer which we had purchased to save space when we lived in a much smaller house, which took ages to wash and dry a load of washing (close to 7 hours), but this worked really well for us because we would put a load of washing on at night, shut the door of the laundry and the clothes were washed and dry in the morning. 
  • Arran would keep business shirts and suits at work and have them laundered and ironed or dry cleaned near work. I refuse to iron so my clothes either went to the drycleaner 50 metres from our house on Saturday morning or were hung on hangers to dry so they didn't need ironing.
  • If my hair needed washing and 'doing' I would do it the night before and just touch up in the morning
  • Arran exercised in the morning and I would go for a walk in the evenings after the boys were in bed.
  • You have to let go of some stuff. You can't have a perfect house if you are both working and you can't do everything that childcare and schools ask parents to do. Lots of parents are in the same boat. You just have to do your best.
  • We had some great friends in Sydney, who we now regard as family, who would kindly babysit if Arran and I wanted to go out for dinner.
So that's how we worked it. I hope this helps. What do you do in your house to make things easier?

Lisa xx

Photo credit of our family on the beach http://www.andreathompson.com.au


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