Taking Turns to Balance Work and Family

“Sharing Experiences” is a series of posts in which a variety of dads, all in different work-family situations, share their experiences. I hope this series can forward the important conversations we have here, and spark ideas we can apply to our own lives.

Guest blogger, Erik Eddy and his wife Margie and son Jackson.
Guest blogger, Erik Eddy and his wife Margie and son Jackson.

Supporting Each Other’s Careers By Taking Turns

In kindergarten, we learn the importance of sharing and taking turns. Erik and Margie Eddy took this lesson and built a successful family life

By Erik Eddy, as told to Scott Behson

My wife, Margie, and I met in college, and got married the year she graduated. She decided to pursue a Masters degree in Higher Education from Bowling Green State University, so I tailed along and enrolled in their MBA program. We were young, in love and completely poor. Somehow, we managed to get by on a $9000 stipend and a $7500 student loan for the two years it took to complete our degrees.

When Margie finished her program, one of my business professors approached me about following her to the PhD program she was joining at SUNY Albany.  After talking it through with Margie, we went off to Albany where I pursued my PhD while Margie began her career as an Assistant Dean of Students at Smith College. At this point, she was working to support me as I continued my education.

After a few years, I was working on my dissertation and Margie was growing increasingly dissatisfied with her profession. She enrolled at Albany Law School. I took a consulting job at a small firm led by a former SUNY professor, and the tables turned. I was now working to support Margie as she continued her education.

Happily, the consultancy was fantastic. I worked hard, but worked on incredibly interesting projects for prestigious clients. My coworkers and bosses were tremendous people, and we had lots of fun together. Consultancy came with many perks- for example, we ran a corporate planning retreat in Jamaica for a client, and then got to extend our stay for a great vacation.

Margie loved law school, and thrived as a top student. Looking back, it is pretty amazing to see that, after 10 years, we had never both been working at the same time.

Spiking at the Same Time

Margie had our baby, Jackson, just as she was finishing law school.  I don’t know how she was able to study to pass the bar exam with a howling infant.

At this time, Margie also lined up a highly coveted job on the central staff of the NYS Court of Appeals for two years which turned into a two-year clerkship for a judge on the NYS Court of Appeals. This extremely demanding clerkship involved 12-15 hour days. It was a great job that she loved, and that could open many doors. However, it was not a great job for motherhood.

My consulting career was lucrative, but also demanding- often including travel to clients.  Work demands, family demands- everything was spiking at the same time.

We ended up hiring a nanny to take care of our son. She was a wonderful caretaker. However, when he turned two, we realized that the nanny was raising our son, not us. Something had to give.

Downshifting Together

I decided to leave the consultancy, fearing that I had just left the best job I’d ever have.  After a several month gap, I was able to secure an academic job at Siena College.  As Scott has already mentioned, the flexibility and breaks built into an academic career make it very lifestyle friendly.

Margie left the clerkship, and took a position as a lawyer for New York State- the work was still interesting and the hours were now 9 to 5.

We felt by both making compromises to our careers for our family, we avoided some of the stress and resentments that could build up when one parent has to make all the sacrifices.

On the plus side, our total work hours dropped, and we both had much more flexible jobs. On the downside, although both jobs paid well, our household income fell.

Our current situation is great. Both Margie and I are far less stressed. Jackson gets lots of time with both of us, and is growing into a great young man. We have our struggles- everyone does, but we have built a family life that seems to work well for us.

And even though we make less money- we never needed that much anyway- after all, we lived on $9000 just a decade ago.  One key to our successful juggle is that we avoided unnecessary financial commitments. Our house is nice, but nothing huge or expensive. We drive our cars many years. We spend money on our priorities, like Jackson’s school, and do pretty well avoiding wasteful spending. Not being trapped by monetary commitments or possessions frees us up for the more important things.

Planned and Unplanned

It may seem like we had a master plan all along. In some ways I guess we did, but a lot of our “taking turns” career paths were simply us making an adjustment reacting to our situation.  Margie and I still check in periodically to make sure we’re on a good path, or if one of us wants to go back to school again  😉

Thanks, Erik, what an interesting story!

What do you think about shifting career and family demands and changing jobs and schedules to meet these challenges? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

Coming up next week at FWF: On Monday, part 2 of the series on Coping with Work-Family Stress (part 1 here) and, on Thursday, some tips on surviving snow days when your kids are unexpectedly home from school.

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