Taking My Own Advice on Fatherhood, Work and Family (or, helping my wife Lean In)

My wife just started a new show, leaving me to shoulder the load for a while so I can help her “Lean In” to her career. Four ways our family is preparing, plus a plea for advice.

My wife's career as a stage actress has led to lots of cool experiences, funny costumes, and work-family juggling
My wife’s career as a stage actress has led to lots of cool experiences, funny costumes, and work-family juggling

I’ve written before about my wife’s career as a stage actress and the work-family challenges it presents:.

Amy is a musical theater actress, and her work schedule is demanding, haphazard, inconvenient and inflexible (but, even in her brutally competitive field, she is talented enough to be working all the time!).  If she’s called for an audition, it is often scheduled for tomorrow! and it cannot be rescheduled to fit her preferences.

When she’s rehearsing, it’s usually 10-6, six days a week (plus a driving commute to/from NYC).  When she’s in a long-running show, she works at night and on weekends. On the plus side, she’s usually home during the day, and does far more than her share in parenting and maintaining the household.

However, in general, entertainers work when others don’t, and the world it not set up to help parents with non-traditional work hours.

As a result, the evening routine usually falls to me, and my opportunities to work or play at night are limited by my ability/willingness to get a babysitter.  With Amy’s four-show weekends, a lot falls to me during days/times in which school and activities can’t pick up the slack (when Nick was younger, the lack of evening and weekend daycare was a big problem).

Also, as Amy is sometimes unreachable and usually unable to leave work on short notice, I need to arrange my schedule in order to meet Nick’s bus or cover emergencies.  We don’t have local family- my parents, in-laws and sister are all a good drive away.  While they are awesome and extremely helpful when they visit, we don’t get built-in day-to-day family assistance.

Well, now it is once more unto the breach.

After three years in a long-running off-Broadway show- it was 8 shows a week, but minimal rehearsal time and we’d pretty much gotten the routine down- Amy’s got a new gig. She plays the title role in “The English Bride”- a new (really good) three-person play at Centenary Stages in NJ that will also run off-Broadway, NYC in the Fall.

And rehearsals started two days ago. The rehearsal schedule is pretty intense- just 2 ½ weeks to get the show up and running. In general, rehearsals are 1-9, with tech week going even later (plus, the theater is about an hour’s drive away). This means Amy will be working the entire time Nick gets home from school until after he’s asleep.

Oh, yeah, and Nick has “Spring Break” from school next week! So, yay! One week in which there’s no school to help me out.

So now, it falls to me. I wish I had some sort of “work-family issues for dads expert” to tell me what to do…

Thank goodness the boy and I get along so well. We're gonna see a lot of each other
Thank goodness the boy and I get along so well. We’re gonna see a lot of each other

Oh, right… Well, now it is time I start taking my own advice, and seek your advice, too. Here’s my family’s initial game plan, and I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments section:

1. Shifting Where and When I Work

Except for Mondays when I teach class until 4:30, I can usually arrange my schedule so I can be home to meet Nick’s bus. This means I’ll be bringing lots of work home, getting the bulk of it done after Nick’s asleep. But also, he’s almost eight, so I can get stuff done even when solo parenting. I am unbelievably fortunate to have such a flexible job. I’m still going to give work my best effort, but I am going to take full advantage of the flexibility my work offers and of all the credibility and good will I have built up to carry me through these two months.

2. Getting Organized

Amy’s always been great about keeping us organized, but now we’ve taken it to new heights. By going through our March and April work calendars, Nick’s school calendar, and our family calendar, we’ve identified where the toughest stretches will be, and when we absolutely need help for picking up Nick after school, making sure he can get to his activities, and watching him at night.

3. Marshaling My Resources

Thanks to #2, we identified the days and times we most need help well in advance. This made it easier to call on my fatherhood network and line up help from our friends, family and neighbors. There are a few days Nick will get off the bus and go home with one of his friends from around the corner. We’ve scheduled in our two regular sitters for a few evenings each. My in-laws are going to come for a weekend (my in-laws are awesome, so this is a blessing and not one of those in-law horror stories you sometimes hear about). The local Y has a reasonably priced spring break program and we’ve signed Nick up for a few days there.

4. Pacing Myself

I’ll be patching together help from family and friends to handle being the primary caregiver while holding down my full-time job. But I also gotta take some time for me.  So, there will be a few times we’ll bring Nick to his best buddy’s to allow me to play volleyball, have a breather and generally not go insane. And there will be some days I’ll try to work fully from home, so I can save on commuting time and have a more relaxing work day with an unshaven face and sweatpants. Just like on airplanes- you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can take care of others. I’m a much better parent when I get to take some breaks.

All in all, the next 7 weeks or so will be pretty intense, and there will be times I’ll feel over-stretched and over-stressed. Amy will be working very hard and will be really missing Nick. But, we’ve been through this before (14 shows/week during Grinch!), and we have a plan. As I wrote in a previous post:

Part of the reason Amy and I have been a successful married couple/co-parents is that we fully discussed and are on the same page about how our lives together would include commitments to our family and each other’s careers

I could always use some more advice and ideas. Got any for me? Please help me out in the comments section.

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21 thoughts on “Taking My Own Advice on Fatherhood, Work and Family (or, helping my wife Lean In)

  1. A facebook commenter thought this piece sounded like I was complaining too much. I really hope it doesn’t come off that way.

    I love being Amy’s husband- and she is an incredible partner whom I am happy to support however I can. And, frankly, for all of the amazing that Amy has added to my life, picking it up at home on occasion is the LEAST I could do for her.

    I’m just trying to write a piece about how we deal with the juggle, hoping that other working dads may think a bot differently about their situations, too.

    And, for the record, I have always been very up front that I have it much better than most when it comes to work-family balance- a great wife/co-parent/teammate, a flexible job, a wide network of friends, no health problems, etc.

  2. Wow! Congratulations to Amy and good luck to all three of you over the next two months! I’ll make a few suggestions that will hopefully be helpful…

    As a category, I recommend “lowering your expectations.” What I mean is, make sure that you all are aware up-front that the house might be dirtier, dinners might not be as “good” (e.g. healthy), and that you might spend more money (maybe this is a time when it’s ok to go over on budget items if it buys you peace of mind and makes things smoother).

    Another category that may work to a small (or large) extent might be “doing things together.” Maybe you and Nick can sit at a table together and both work (he can do homework and you can do work). Maybe you two can play/exercise together to get some activity, quality time, and blow off steam. Maybe you can have him help you cook, or help you clean, or whatever. I know not all kids like these things (heck, most parents don’t like them) but if they’ve got to be done any little thing you can get him to do with you is one less thing you have to do after he goes to bed… If that doesn’t work then ask yourself if it really has to be done (refer to the “lowering your expectations” category above!)…

    The only other thing I’d recommend, and I’m loath to do so because you’re obviously trying very hard to be prepared (and I’m that way, too) is to not rely too much on your preparations. Two months flying mostly solo with your son is a long time – you’re going to be surprised, significantly, at least a couple of times. You won’t be able to plan for those surprises. The best you’ll be able to do is keep your cool and breathe through it. Personally, I find that a daily meditation (I do 10 minutes in the morning) and a mantra (I tell myself, “It’s ok, it’s my time” a lot) help.

    Asking for help is also great, and you seem to be doing that well. Did you post this on LinkedIn or any other channels? Maybe that would be good if you haven’t – be very public in your appeal. And of course ask again if there’s anything else I can do to be helpful (or let me know how to connect offline – don’t know the “right” way to do that here)…

    • Hi Ernie-

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment and good advice. There are some things around the house that will not be done as well, but I lived on my own for many years before getting married, so I’m confident the house won’t turn into a pig sty. And, I am a big believer in using extra money to free up time.

      Thankfully, Nick is a GREAT kid, so we’ll be ok.

      And, Ernie- I really appreciate you reaching out. My email address is listed under the professional services tab at the top of the screen. feel free to send an email, and we can connect beyond this blog

  3. Scott – As someone who has been helping Shared Care couples for over 12 years, I’d say your advice is top notch! I also enjoyed Ernie’s added comments. My colleagues at ThirdPath Institute are all well aware of the incredible joys of doing Shared Care – and how great it is for building connection within our families.

    But it also means that when the person who does half of everything needs to travel for work, or be in a performance for 7 weeks (!), suddenly the work that was done by two is now being done by one.

    Thanks for sharing with your readers how to make the best of this — and the amazing thing about families is that children grow up. With my youngest already 16 years old — this challenge (and this amazing opportunity to really spend time with our children), doesn’t last forever.

    • Thanks, Jessica! I have long believed that the stretches of time I’ve been the primary parent, while sometimes hard, were really a gift enabling me to bond with my son in a special way.
      (BTW, thirdpath does great work in the work-family area!)

  4. Scott,
    Great piece. My wife travels for a week or two at a time a few times per year & the biggest tip I got from this is to plan a little better. Since my wife’s trips are quite a bit shorter I’ve never felt the need.

    I’m a member of a gym that has a great child center. I get my “recharge” time that way, two hours per day. Have you looked into the Y for that?

    I’m glad I read this piece now because I’ve been thinking about what we are going to do here during the summer. My son’s Montessori school ends in the middle of May. We are not going to enroll him in summer school there because it is a little more than double the normal price. During the summer, in Phoenix we typically don’t do much during the day because it is so hot. I’ve been a little worried about it this year.

    Your mention of the Y reminded me that we have a good city program here.

    Thanks,
    Matthew

    • Thanks, Matthew. Planning is really helpful. we’re 2 weeks into my wife’s work crunch, and it honestly hasn’t been so bad- I’ll be writing a debrief at the end of the show’s run.

      A good Y or community program is really useful, and pretty cost-effective.

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