Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Making working work for us

Ever since Matt and I opened joint bank accounts a month after we got married (eight years ago next week!) we made a goal of saving money for an emergency fund as well as for a maternity leave fund. The idea was that I'd take one year off teaching after our first baby arrived and then I'd return to the classroom. Matt always said that even when I was "taking time off" from teaching I'd probably still be doing some kind of work (of course he thought that -- he's an eternal optimist). Being a pessimist, though, I always said let's plan as if I am not working at all during my year off.

But then I had a January baby. So a year off turned into 19 months off. And during that time I became a self-employed private tutor. Oh, and I also got pregnant, again, so I extended my maternity leave again, and 24 months after I temporarily left the classroom I had baby #2, the final installment. Because I was already heavily involved in my tutoring business while pregnant with baby #2, this time around I was responding to essays the night before I went into the hospital for my c-section, and I even did some work a few hours after delivery. Within four weeks I was back to working with my students.

Though this may or may not sound intense, depending on your vantage point, I have to say that I love my job and I love my work-life balance. My choice to leave the classroom temporarily and start my own business has had a monumental impact on our family life. It is an ideal situation for our little family. I know everyone's situation is different, but I share our pros and cons to add another voice to this ongoing work-life dialogue among modern parents.

I tutor middle and high school students in a variety of subject areas. I work between 20 and 28 hours a week depending on my current client list. I can work as many hours as I do because my husband is also a teacher, so his schedule mimics the schedules of the students I teach and therefore he can be home just in time for my work to begin. I work Saturday through Thursday, only pausing for breath on Fridays, which I've made into my official work-free day. During the summer I work four days a week, morning, afternoon and evening, which I can do because my husband is off work. We're able to then enjoy three-day weekends as a family in the summer months. My students come to my house for tutoring, and we did a slight renovation to our downstairs living room that has now officially transformed into an area solely used for my tutoring business.

This whole gig is rather perfect, and here's why:

Pros
I am working just the right amount -- If I was still in the classroom, to be the kind of teacher I'd want to be, I'd need to work long hours grading and planning. Something would have to give, as I wouldn't be able to devote myself to my job and still spend time with my kids, let alone my husband, relatives and friends. I couldn't, though, be happy not working at all. When I was on total maternity leave following Natalie's birth, neither teaching nor tutoring, I was not very happy. I needed an outlet, and we needed money, so this time around with Adam I was eager to get back to tutoring as fast as possible.
We do not pay for childcare -- Financially we are in a much better situation than I ever could have imagined while having two little kids. This is in large part due to the fact that the only childcare we pay for is when we hire a babysitter on a weekend night. Additionally, besides the money, we do not have to experience some of the anguish associated with finding and maintaining good, reliable childcare.
We have equal parenting -- Matt spends every afternoon and evening, Sunday through Thursday, with the kids. He spends every Saturday and Sunday morning with them, too. If you tallied all the time each of us spends with the children while they're awake, our hours would come out as being fairly equal. Yes, I still spend more hours with them, but I also work part time, so it makes sense. Matt always does bath time. He almost always handles dinner. He reads to our kids just as much as I do. And, he makes our dinner between the time when the kids go to bed and the time when I stop working each night, which is crucial.
No commute -- In the Washington, D.C. area, this is also crucial.
I'm my own boss -- I never thought I would be self employed. I am not a risk taker, and being your own boss is inherently risky. But I'm really understanding that cliche idea so many self-employed people say about the joys of not having to answer to anyone else (except my clients).

There are, though, many drawbacks to this lifestyle. Here's what we've experienced:

Cons
We don't have much "down time" -- I'm not sure any set of parents with two small kids gets down time. If anyone does, though, we are certainly not in that group. Matt and I both have great jobs and great schedules, but we work opposite schedules. Some days when Matt's work schedule and my work schedule are particularly packed, I am literally handing the kids off as I begin working with a student. Part of being a parent, I think, is learning to get everything done in way less time. So, we've simply adjusted. (Side note: Our latest favorite show is "The Americans," and in a recent episode Keri Russell's character told her daughter that being an adult means doing things you don't want to do when you don't want to do them. I couldn't agree more.)
I have to work weekends -- I guess I could decide to scale back my tutoring business, but right now I'd rather not; therefore, I have to work weekends. I get Saturday afternoons and nights and some time on Sunday to spend with family and friends, but I've missed out on many baby/wedding showers, picnics, parties, and other events because of my schedule. Unless I have major advance notice on an event or I get a last-minute cancellation from a student, I have to RSVP "no" more often than I'd like. To protect my professional reputation I try to keep my work schedule as consistent as possible, only taking time off for illness or special occasions.
Our home needs to be clean -- This really a pro-con. My clients come in through our front door and stay on our entry-level floor. I don't want them to see a mess or dirt. This isn't, thankfully, that hard to do because that level only get used for my business, but it's definitely something I spend time each day straightening so as to keep a good appearance.
Sometimes working from home is more stressful than having an office to retreat to -- Matt is fantastic at keeping the kids entertained, fed and clothed while I'm working, but there are inevitably times when someone's having a tantrum or someone's fallen down and screams, and I can hear it downstairs. As a mother I feel that pain of knowing something's wrong but I can't do anything about it, or I feel annoyed that I'm just generally hearing noise while I'm working.

Ultimately, the cons are heavily outweighed by the pros, and for now this is our life. It's a good life as I can't imagine a better situation for our family. No situation is perfect and everyone figures out what works for them. Fortunately, we've found something that works for us.

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