Is working full-time compatible with raising school aged children? Discuss

Is working full time compatible with raising school aged children? This was the question I posed, somewhat rhetorically, on Twitter a few nights ago. The deluge of responses I received were pretty unequivocal : Without bucket loads of support it was either impossible or very, very difficult.

I have a seven year old school-goer and an almost four year old, who will start school next year, and is currently in full-time childcare. Myself and my husband both work full-time, nine to five jobs. We both have bosses who are supportive and flexible, but we are still expected to be in the office 8 hours a day, five days a week.

I posed the question after another day of feeling like I was running on the spot, or more accurately, running  full tilt into a brick wall. I’m not giving enough to my children. Specifically to my son; I’m not giving him the support, emotional and practical, that he requires. Whether it’s a falsely placed sense of guilt, whether it’s the result of being socially conditioned to think mothers should be at home; regardless of any of these things, it is how I feel.

It is how I feel.

Once upon a time, someone advised me that the juggling parents do gets harder once the kids get to school. When they’re babies, this wise oracle pronounced, they just need ‘someone’ to look after them. As they get older, they really need that someone to be you.

As my son goes into his fourth school year, I have certainly found this to be true. Guilt is an emotion I try my best not to succomb to, but I seem to be spending more time than ever trying to suppress the nagging voice in my head that I’m not being a good enough mother. I know when my daughter is in creche, she has everything she needs there for the duration of my working day. She is fed, played with, entertained, educated. She is loved. All of her classmates generally arrive and leave at the same time. In contrast , with the school aged child,  I feel guilt that I am not at the school gate in the mornings or the afternoons as he attends wrap around care. I can’t do homework with him. I can’t organise play dates. There’s little time for extra-curricular activities. And all this is before wading through all the school related administration, which feels like a full time job in itself. This week’s tasks included ‘bring in signs of nature’, sign this form, buy a birthday card, pay for this class, make a volcano….

Reader, we did not make the volcano and the signs of nature were a hastily picked up conker and a fallen leaf from the side of the road.

By coincidence, a report in the Irish Daily Mail the next day claimed that 63% of mothers would stay at home rather than go out to work, if funds were not an issue.

I love the idea of funds not being an issue. As if we can just ignore the little matter of money making the world go round, and the fact that our capitalist society has made it virtually impossible to run a home and/or raise a family on one income.

I suppose with a feminist hat on I should be outraged at this report. Isn’t this what our fore-mothers fought for? Our choice to ‘have it all’? Except for most of us, choice doesn’t come into it at all, and having it all is an objective that would require an extra five hours in a day, at least.

I want to have it all. I want a career, time with my kids and time for me and my hobbies and interests. The problem is two out of three of those things are full-time jobs.Second wave feminists were looking for equality with men, hence the arrival of the having it all myth. Kids, career, personal life. The trouble is that isn’t equality, because the men they were so keen to emulate, may have had kids, but they also had someone at home looking after those kids. The men may have had it all, but they weren’t doing it all.

And there’s the thing. You cannot do it all. No matter how much you might want to. Not full time. Full time job, full time kids, part-time you. It doesn’t fit.

It’s not to do with biology. It’s not because you’re a woman and you are the nurturer. It’s plain maths. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

Many commentators mentioned the fact that you don’t see fathers having this debate. This is true, and it is part of the problem, but do you know what? I don’t care. At this moment, I don’t care. This is about me, as a mother, wanting to spend more time with my children. I shouldn’t feel like I’m failing the feminist cause by saying that.

If you were reading this looking for an answer I’m sorry to tell you I don’t have one. Even worse,  I don’t think there is an answer. Not one that solves all the problems and ties them up in a bow with money left over anyway. And so, we plough on, wondering how long we can keep this up, wondering when the perfect solution will present itself,  as we watch them grow up and away.

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18 comments

  1. I worked full time when my youngest two were babies and it was a juggling act for sure but it was when they started school that I really began to drop those balls. I always thought that starting school would mean that things got easier (and certainly cheaper than full time nursery care!) but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The answer for me was accepting that I couldn’t have it all. Something had to give and for me that was the job I once loved. But I know that just isn’t possible for many women and opens a whole can of worms in itself. Being a mother is exhausting on so many levels, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is EXHAUSTING! Cant remember a time in the last seven years where I wasn’t worrying about something. Sigh.

      Like

  2. I’ve just posted a very similar post!
    I have 2 teenagers and have worked full time, part time and not at all. It is a crazy juggling act and I hate it! There is no easy answer.Like you say, this is not about just mums but it’s a never ending burden of being a parent. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is juggling, plate spinning, feel like its all about to crash down around you…going to read your post now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I work part-time, 23 hours a week, a the end of the month I go down to 20, this is what I want. That extra 3 hours makes everything more tricky. I work 5 hours a day over 4 days (school hours) and have the 5th day spare to fit in all those unforeseen doctor and dentist appointment, school productions, meetings, fetes and fairs. For 7 years i have worked as a housekeeper, it paid well , fit around school and I was lucky to have understanding employers if the children were poorly. Since starting my blog I have managed to get a job for me and my brain, same money, same hours. Hold out for what works. I could never manage full time, I have friends who do and I am in awe of how they stay sane. Great post, good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post Beth. I work 8-4 four days so I’m home one day a week to do homework, school runs etc. I definitely agree that the juggle gets harder not easier as they get older, my crew are 9, 7 and 4 now. I don’t think I want I be at home all the time, but a three day week sounds appealing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Three day week sounds like a dream. But then I do worry with part-time that you sometimes get the worst of both worlds rather than the best…thats me being typically pessimistic tho!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I I think 5 mornings is very rough as you get zero alone time and always on the run. I loved my 3 day week.

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  5. I don’t think it is compatible, but it is probably a reality for many families. It’s probably almost impossible unless you have a lot of family support or you can afford an au pair. I’ve been looking for part-time work for awhile and it really is difficult to find roles that fit in with family. It’s assumed that mothers will return to work when children reach school age but how many jobs are 9-3? Not many. Furthermore, it’s just as busy, if not busier as children go to school. The school system doesn’t make it easy.

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  6. As a young civil servant I had a good career but when my son was born seriously ill I had to give it up to look after him. I took in ironing, cleaned in the evenings and scrimped on everything to make ends meet. I have never been so tired. My husband was trapped in work he would rather have moved from. In the end I was a stay at home mum for 17 years. Going back to work part time as a teaching assistant was hard on my daughter of 10. She has never really forgotten it. We were very fortunate that we didn’t have the problems of high rent and so on that younger people now have to deal with, although mortgage rates of 15% sting a bit. My heart goes out to parents in this situation. The right answer is a wage system that allows parents to live on one and a bit wage. Housing costs are quite simply ridiculous. It is a complex problem but a time bomb. Kids need their parents time and attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you , Sue. I agree its complex, and there are many layers to both the causes of the problem and the possible solutions. It needs to be a choice people are able to freely make, rather than a situation they are forced to endure, where nobody is happy.

      Like

  7. Marie Ronan · · Reply

    Thank you for articulating so clearly what has been circulating in my mind for so long. My amazing mum has so frequently told me that she is so much happier that she didn’t have to bring up children in these times. She raised 5 of us with a dad who was away for extended periods of time with his job. When she felt we were old enough she went back out into the workforce and at one point held down 3 jobs at once. Whilst all of this was undoubtedly exhausting what she doesn’t envy is that in today’s Irish society it is expected that not only will all mothers be career focused with unfettered amounts of ambition but that we will also be doting mothers who make organically certified home made meals, alongside the requirement to be a regular gym goer, hair and makeup aficionado, style icon and general all round social media ready butterfly – god I’m tired just typing that! In summary having it all is a myth. As you rightly say there are only a certain number of hours in the day and trying to fit 2 full time roles in there alongside sleep/hobbies/friends/relationships just won’t add up.
    So for me what does it boil down to? Making conscious choices every single day. Being really clear on what I need to prioritise on which day – sometimes I’m more mammy and sometimes I’m more employee, sometimes I’m more wifey and sometimes I’m more friend. I am incredibly lucky to have an employer who respects this – I know this is not something that everybody can say unfortunately. I also know that financial drivers are the priority in a lot of homes to help families make ends meet and don’t even get me started on the cost of childcare, rent, mortgages etc. But so much of this is outside of our control so again for me it’s back to choices based on my priorities. No 2 people have the same priorities so no 2 people are likely to make the same choice. All we can do as fellow mammies is support each others choices and at least ensure fear of judgement is not a factor in any decisions that we make.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Radio For Daddy · · Reply

    Hi.

    This is bang on the money. My wife & I talk about precisely this, most nights.

    Check out my blog radiofordaddy.wordpress.com. I talk about similar issues but from the point of view of a full time Dad, whose wife is in exactly the same position as you. From a Dad’s perspective a lot of what you say resonates, and I know I won’t be alone.

    Like

  9. Possible solution: basic income for all?!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I don’t have a solution, but flexible and home working should be a standard offering for men and women, wherever the job requires merely sitting in front of a computer. Not all jobs will accommodate this but many will. I work from home twice a week, my husband works from home twice a week, so we only have one day a week that we need wraparound care. We are extremely lucky. But I simply don’t understand why this isn’t on offer for more people.

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  11. It’s not compatible with anything much. It will put food on the table and a roof over heads, but it will sap the living crap out of everything else.

    Like

  12. themotherhub, would you agree that the most important question is “what is best for the children?” Is the question “what is best for me (and my spouse – if that’s the case)?” of equal weight?

    Like

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