Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It Gets Easier But..

There is no question that parenting a healthy, happy 10 ± 2 year old kid is easier than parenting an infant, but one thing that has surprised me in the past few years is how much more challenging it is to balance work with the school calendar.

When my daughter was in preschool, this aspect of being a working parent was easier because, although the preschool was closed for vacations etc., it typically followed the university calendar pretty well, and it was open from early to late. We seldom needed our daughter to be at preschool for the full, long day, but the option was there if we did need it.

At my daughter's current school, the school-day schedule is excellent, and there are after-school activities 5 days/week. School gets out at 4 pm, and she loves having an extra hour or so after school to play with her friends or participate in a play or musical or dance performance.

The main challenge now is that there are at least 2, and commonly 3 or more, no-school days/month on days when my husband and I have to teach and do the usual essential academic things (meetings, meetings, and meetings). On such days, we try to arrange for our daughter to play at a friend's house for part of the day, but sometimes she has to come to campus with us. She is old enough to entertain herself for long periods of time with a book, a pen and paper, or a computer, and sometimes she comes to a class or meeting with one of us. In fact, attending her dad's large intro-level class last year was a revelation for her. After class, she asked, "Daddy, did you know that no one in the back of the room is listening to you?".

It has been semi-difficult to deal with so many no-school days, especially when there are 3 or more in a month, but it has been manageable. Next year, however, our daughter will be attending a new school. All our options involve a decrease in the amount of time she is or can be at school. She will have the same number of no-school days, and there will only be the option of after-school activities 3 days/week.

Most of the time it won't be a major problem for my husband and me to take turns to leave campus an hour or two early 2/days week, but it will be difficult when one of us is traveling or ill or just generally insanely busy.

Fortunately we both have very flexible jobs that will allow us to manage this new situation somehow, but in general, what are working parents of school-aged kids supposed to do? Work part time? Hire a baby-sitter? I guess I didn't think we would need to hire a baby-sitter for our daughter at this age when we have not needed one up until now.

32 comments:

Kristen said...

I can't speak from the parent-side of things, but from the recently-kid side, during the periods of my childhood when both my parents were working, I always looked forward to the afternoons my brother and I spent with our babysitter. This was especially true as I got a little older and I came to see our sitter as something of a stand-in older sibling (something lacking from my oldest-child life) rather than simply as a caretaker.

I don't know if this helps at all, but I hope that you find an all-around agreeable solution to the situation.

Ann said...

With 2 kids involved in various afterschool activities like plays, music lessons, soccer, baseball, debate, we couldnt possibly manage all the chauffering plus our jobs without an afterschool babysitter. If you advertise in your college paper, you will find lots of responsible, delightful college women looking for part time work, who would be happy to have the relatively easy job of afterschool babysitting and chauffering of a older child.
We have found that in addition to the help, most of our babysitters have been role models and friends to our children. The "older sibling" comment of Kristen is apt for many of our sitters too. Most of the sitters have been regarded fondly by the kids, and when not, we have changed sitters. Also, as kids get older and their homework and social life gets more complicated, the kids need more down time, and it is stressful for them to attend school afterschool childcare programs.

ra said...

I'm not sure how old your daughter is - I'm an only child of two academics and I think I started being home by myself after school at around 11 (there was a school bus). I don't think it did me any harm...I had a babysitter before then though. In fact, pretty much throughout my childhood.

Jay said...

We're going to face this at some point - our daughter's school day ends at 2:45 and she's currently in an after-school program that goes until 6:00 PM, but that is only an option until she's 10. So in two years we'll have to figure out something, and I suspect it will be a babysitter.

Brigindo said...

There's a great book out (Not-So-Nuclear Families, Karen Hansen) that examines how families meet the demands of childcare across class. While all families have needs that shatter the myth of the independent nuclear family, it is the middle-class and especially the professional middle class that seems hardest hit due to the salience of their careers.

Anonymous said...

(also Kristin, but a different one....)


I have younger kids (2 and 5) and am in graduate school/hubby and I both work for the community college. But this semester we have started swapping care for our children with our next door neighbors. 1 day a week we watch their daughter for 2 hours and 1 day a week they watch ours for 2 hours. Our 5 yr olds are best friends so it works out well. Perhaps you can arrange something similar with one of your daughter's friends? Or maybe exchange some nighttime sitting in exchange for your daughter to play at a friend's house?

and finally: my 11 yr old self would have loved the right college age/high school age girl to hang out with me as a babysitter.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the change of topic, at least for one day. I still want to find active solutions to improving the environment for women scientists. We are losing too many of them and their tremendous contributions. If new discoveries and breakthroughs are going to be made, then it is imperative that we find a way to ensure that women are not harrassed and discrimated against. I am forever grateful to you for your boldness and courage to bringing these troubling issues to the forefront. Keep up the good work and keep fighting for women.

Anonymous said...

Middle school is a problem, as you describe. According to the school system, apparently a sixth grader is "old enough" to be home alone after school. In my case, my spouse worked "only" 35 hours a week to ease this, but with two faculty jobs that isn't an option. By eighth grade my daughter took a sudden and unexpected (given my own abilities) interest in sports--running cross country and track after school solved this problem during the season, and thus eased things. We also split pick-up duties with another parent duo.

My daughters are both used to coming into work, and while that's not ideal, it is our solution for school holidays and teacher workdays.

This isn't a new problem, however. Growing up, financial reality meant both my parents worked (my father often in two jobs), and after having a babysitter through the early years, I, as the older sibling, was the babysitter for the rest of my childhood. We survived.

Mark P

chemcat said...

I hear of this problem a lot from my colleagues with kids older than mine (mine is 2). The added complication is that they all seem to have soccer, ballet, swimming and what not, so even if the parent left early etc s/he would just be a chauffeur, driving the kids to the activity and waiting around while they are busy. Solutions: several hire an undergrad to do the chauffeuring; one signed on her kid to a ballet school that has concurrent adult classes, so she gets a workout as well... others pick the school based on the after school activities/services offered. Some big campuses have kids activities, for example ours has a great swimming school, and one of my colleagues lucky enough to have little competitive swimmers picks them up from school and takes them to campus for a two hours daily training.
Yes, I do not know how other parents do it, especially low income ones for whom hiring help is not an option! I'm from Europe, and my mom choose to be a grade school teacher to be on the same schedule with us. The scary thing is that she made that choice well before getting married: what if she didn't have kids?! (careers are not very flexible where i come from). She advised me to do the same when I was in grad school (and single) :-)

EcoGeoFemme said...

How old do you feel she has to be to stay home alone for a couple of hours? Ten is too young, but 12 is approaching babysitting age. I think my parents had me be home alone after school when I was on the young side (6th grade?). we had many very friendly neighbors that I could have called if I needed help. I really liked having that hour to myself, even then. It's a crummy situation for you and your daughter, but at least it won't last too long.

smellyrunningshoes said...

My parents both worked very long days, and had too far a commute to make leaving early practical (since they drove together). My brother and I did a pretty good job entertaining ourselves. We were both so busy with extracurriculars, we didn't ever really get home until our folks did anyhow--and we were walking distance to school. I can only once remember my folks coming home early; when I got hit by a car on my bicycle. Even then, they checked that I was ok, then turned around and went back to work. Maybe that skews my vision of child-rearing, but my brother and I both turned out ok :).

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde said...

I spent many a post-school hour in one of my parents' offices. By your daughter's age, there should be enough homework to keep her occupied for an hour or two. And if not, that's what reading was invented for (as I'm sure she knows). Self-sufficiency is a great skill, especially if she's headed into academia herself....

And I'll second Kristen's comment that babysitters are a blast, because they do things your parents never would.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see a problem... If your kid is fairly independent minded and can entertain herself/do her own homework (which I assume given she's a kid of two profs) and has no major behavior problems, I'd say once she's 8+ years old she can hang out at home by herself for 2-3 hours before you get home. Of course this is assuming that you live in a relatively safe neighborhood.

I mean, I babysat my neighbor's kids at the age of 10...

If you feel nervous about it, set up a "call in" schedule so you check up on her every hour or so by calling your home phone.

Global Girl said...

In middle school, me and my classmates were expected to be able to take care of ourselves until our parents came home. But that was a culturally different situation, and given how child-like American college students ("college kids") are allowed to act, perhaps that is not a good solution in the US. Isn't there daycare for older children too here?

Anonymous said...

My son is only 3 but I've been thinking ahead to how my husband and I will handle this when the time comes (we are both academics). I am pretty sure we'll use babysitters, and try to find one that speaks a foreign language (he is nearly bilingual at the moment and I want to encourage this). Perhaps you could find an undergraduate who is fluent in whatever language your daughter is learning at school, or who has some other skills that would be of particular interest to your daughter. The great thing about being in a university town is that you have a pretty large population of talented people who might be very interested in this type of a part-time job.

Harvestar said...

My parents both worked by the time I was in school. There was about an hour or so of time after school where I'd have a babysitter, until I was "old enough" to stay at home alone. I guess we were lucky to have lived in the same neighborhood for many years and knew everyone. My babysitter in the early days was a girl only 4 years older than I. She was very cool.

There were also the times when my parents had evening events that I could not attend and they had to get a babysitter. I enjoyed those times a lot since I didn't have any sisters and getting to hang out with a cool older person was great.

There was also a much older woman in our neighborhood who was like an aunt to me. I would stay at her house too during day times.

chall said...

I was alone at home and&or with a friend and her older sibling when I was 12 and older...

I guess I lived ina safe neghibourhood and my parents trusted me that I didn't lie since I wasn't allowed "down town" and had to stay at the house or at my friends' houses.

My parents also had phone numbers to my friend's places (since this was before cell phones as well) so I knew that they might call and check up on us... I guess that can't be done as easily now?! (And this was not mainly because they didn't trust me but to give me an opportunity to say to some of my friends why I couldn't lie to my parents and just take off...)

I do know that my junior high school had "after hours homework reading" in the library where kids could be until it was time to go home and meet parents. Maybe that is an option?

Janice said...

Well, we've been able to juggle things but I'd recommend the babysitter route if you can manage it. That wasn't a viable choice for us given youngest's special needs situation and I'm reluctant to approach any undergraduate to offer employment because I feel they might think it's an offer "they can't refuse".

Anonymous said...

hm.. my parents gave my sister and I the opportunity to learn piano at 4. That took care of the after school activities big time. We practiced everyday (even when we were sick, except going-away vacations) for at least 0.5-1 hr each day at first which then increased to 3-4 hr as we got more advanced and had to practice for exams, music festivals and competitions. Sometimes my sister and I fought over when we could practice. Needless to say, that didn't leave much time for other activities. I'm sure the neighbours were sometimes bothered by all the wrong notes and repetitiveness. If we weren't practicing properly, our mom would know (i.e., no sounds is not good) and I found that it's pretty hard to read fiction while playing piano.

I did miss out on a lot of social activities with other kids especially in high school, but I'm glad I went through all that. Now I play for self-enjoyment and teach once in awhile.

Susan B. Anthony said...

I just wanted to say that I LOVED going to campus with my mom when I was in middle school. It seemed like such a cool place, full of smart people and interesting buildings, fountains, etc. I'd spend hours reading in the bookstore or library, or drawing/doing homework/typing on the typewriter in my mom's office. I'm sure this early exposure had a lot to do with my pursuing an academic career.

I started taking the bus home from school and staying there alone for a couple of hours at about age 11, I think. There were several neighbors I knew could always help if I needed anything.

Anonymous said...

I think 10 is definitely old enough to be given a key to the house and stay home alone. I did this starting at age 6. Just have her call you at an appointed time each day (maybe right when she gets home), if you feel unsafe. And I really enjoyed having some time to myself each day. I was a much less rebellious teenager than I could have been, and that was partly because I knew I'd have a few hours at home everyday away from my parents. (Not to suggest that I had a bad relationship with them; we get along great, and I didn't use the time to do anything they would've frowned upon. It's just... you know, personal time).

Anonymous said...

My mom went back to college when I was in third grade (8 years old?) and I watched my brother(5 years, full of energy) after school for an hour. I remember my parents being angry the school offered no solutions (they were going to send pre-school brother home by himself an hour early because 3rd grade and preschool finished at different times) and that was their best option. They couldn't afford a babysitter - it's expensive to pay for college when only one in the pair is working.

Give it a try - I'll bet your daughter will be fine, especially with neighbors to call - are you a reasonable distance away so that if you need you you and the Mr can be there quickly? That might ease your mind.

chemcat said...

Some people are suggesting that a pre-teen can be home by herself. That was true when (and where) I was growing up, but it could add other complications. A friend of mine who works as counselor for a high school tells me that all the trouble (drug use, teenage pregnancy, unsafe we surfing, etc) happens between 3 and 6..... :-)

Principle Investigator said...

I echo the comments about a responsible 10-yr-old being able to stay home by herself for a few hours. My dad was a high school teacher and my mom had family members nearby and neighbors willing to help out, so my sister and I enjoyed a lot of free childcare. But I was expected to look after myself and my sister by age 10 or 11, and I worked as a sitter through junior high and high school. I just wonder whether any laws have changed since then about leaving minors unattended?

Tom Comeau said...

What you do is really going to depend on your child. My daughter has been coming home alone two or three times a week since she started fifth grade at 10. Some of her sixth grade classmates, at 12, still don't feel comfortable going home to an empty house.

What remains a hassle are the days when she's ill, or the long Spring Breaks that don't line up with good times for me to be off, and the one day a week she needs to go somewhere other than home (riding) and I have to move her.

My wife is an attorney, and can't regularly take off, so most of the load falls on me. I'm fortunate to have a very flexible schedule, and to work from home a day or two a week.

One of her friends has two parents who are both in law enforcement, and they not only don't have great schedule flexibility, they both have to travel every month or two.
They rely on family (grandmom and an aunt, I think) and a friendly neighbor.

Another of her friends has a dad in health care and a mom who is active-duty military. They were able to plan pretty well until mom got deployed, and they brought grandmom to live with them.

One of my PTA buddies is a nurse, married to a doctor. They managed to have a nice, coordinated schedule until he deployed to Iraq. He's a reservist, and the Army seems to need surgeons. She quit her job, and does temp nursing part-time when she can. It's taking a financial toll, both because her income is way down, and because the Army doesn't pay as well as private practice.

So I don't know what ordinary working folks are supposed to do, either.

Anonymous said...

It would seem reasonable that being with an attentive, caring babysitter on occasion might be preferable to being alone -- whether alone in your presence, trying to remain unobtrusive for long stretches of time -- or *shudder* actually home alone for long stretches of time.

In either of those cases, her needs are going unmet. By contrast, a good babysitter would be there precisely to meet her needs.

I'm not sure I understand the hesitancy around hiring a babysitter -- although cutting back work hours is certainly an economically plausible option since you are both tenured.

Jay said...

Not all kids need adults to meet their needs, and part of our job as parents is to help them learn to meet their own needs. My daughter, now 8, is nowhere near ready to stay by herself, but I know 10-year-olds who really want that level of independence. It's important to respond to the needs and capacity of the individual kid, and not just have a kneejerk >shudder< at the idea of a child being alone for an hour or two without an adult to dance attendance.

Anonymous said...

I have a kid at school and one in preschool, and the school-age kid is way easier. (Your preschool may have been more accommodating than mine, and your school may be less accommodating that mine, of course.) Like you said, bringing an elementary kid to work, is not a big deal (that's what we usually do in those days); bringing a preschool kid, on the other hand, pretty much obliterates the possibility of getting anything done.

Also, students seem to think nothing of having a 7-year-old quietly coloring in the back of the class, but I received negative comments about bringing my 10-day-old sleeping baby to class (yes, napping the whole time).

Related to some of the points you touched on in your more recent post, I'd say somehow babies just seem more unprofessional than school-age kids, I suppose ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm comfortable leaving my 8-year-old alone for an hour or so at home. We do that sometimes while I go out to exercise. However, I'm not comfortable having him arrive from school alone every day.

Amanda said...

"Daddy, did you know that no one in the back of the room is listening to you?"

Amazing. That just made my day. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

while I go out to exercise
*shudder*

Anonymous said...

I don't ever remember having babysitters and my parents both worked or were in school full-time from when I started kindergarden. I was 5 or 6 when my brother (age 8-9) and I began staying home alone together in the afternoon. Perhaps we lived in a much safer city than you do. Maybe I'm naive, but I would think a responsible 10-year-old could manage on her own for a few hours, especially if you have reliable neighbors she could turn to in an emergency.