How do you do it?

I’m often asked and I’ve never known quite what to say to this question.  After all, like the proverbial “how are you,” often times the questioner doesn’t really want to know and certainly doesn’t want to engage in a discussion on the answer.  Sometimes the question is a way of paying a compliment – like when someone says “Thanks for having us over for dinner on a work night, how do you do it ?” (e.g. you must have worked hard in advance to pull this off).  It’s nice in those cases to be appreciated.

But what if it’s really a question seeking an answer as advice? This is where I struggle with answering.  I am twenty-five years down the path of working (or being in school) full-time while being a parent.   I’ve learned (and am still learning) things from those experiences that could be worth sharing.  On the other hand, I feel it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that what works for me will work for others.  Also, the real answer is a combination of the important and the mundane and the mundane feels too…well…mundane to describe. With this as caveat I’ll start with what I consider the important, and I’ll save the mundane for when I’m feeling humorous.  So here goes:

First – marry the right person.  I cannot imaging doing “it” (it being defined as balancing a demanding job and parenting) solo.  My husband and I have truly been partners – respecting both of our careers as equally important and both contributing to managing the household.  That doesn’t mean each doing half of each chore but it does mean each doing what feels like more than 50% of the load.  The responsibilities have ebbed and flowed over the years – Steve has picked up much of the cooking and grocery shopping (he’s both good at it and picky about the result hence the switch).  I do most of the laundry, doctor’s appointments, kids shopping (though he has always done the toys).  He does sports, I do music.  He’s the home math tutor, I’m the essay editor.  He pays the bills, I am IT support for the family.

For a great read on this topic I recommend Getting to 50/50  When I was at the WSJ Women in the Economy conference in April it was incredible how often I heard this same refrain, with the women CEO’s who had children pointing to their true partnership with their spouse as the key ingredients.

Second – be willing to make the tradeoffs necessary to minimize your commute. Not much explanation needed here – all of us have the same 24 hours in a day.  The commute hours represent a huge percentage of potential parenting hours and yes, it unfortunately tends to replace personal time not work time.   Not to mention being nearby in case of sick children, parent/teacher conferences, etc.

More on this tomorrow…