February 1, 2012
Weather, sick days leave working parents snowed under
Nothing like a snowstorm to bring a smile to children's faces, fill the air with the smell of fresh-baked cookies and ... summon the two-headed demon of work-life balance and gender-role conflict.
So it was in my house last month, when all four of us, plus the yappy dogs, were trapped together for 3.5 workdays of eggshell walking and stifled tantrums (mine, not the kids'). There were some sweet moments, sure -- sledding breaks, and those cookies -- but the overall scene was a little different.
My husband was hunched over his laptop with the door barricaded, trying to deliver on his deliverables while not feeling like a guilty jerk. The kids were attempting to start a brush fire by cutting up houseplants. My work was forcibly abandoned but snowballing, trying to keep everyone happy and wondering whether I was taking one for the team or getting the shaft.
My husband usually works outside the home full-time. I work part-time from home while our children are in school. This works well: The main income earner rarely has his schedule interrupted. I focus on my work and our supplemental income while juggling the tasks required to keep a household afloat.
It all threatens to break down, of course, when snowstorms blow in, or -- more likely -- when kids get sick. To say nothing of holiday school closures. While Seattle approved requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave, there's no law for weather days, and even family-friendly employers get tired of parents' child-care conflicts. There are millions of families like ours, many even more squeezed, with no backup for child care.
On Day 2 of Snowmageddon, when my untouched work began to pile up, my mind drifted briefly to the bitter ground of gender battles (why am I making endless peanut-butter sandwiches while his work time is revered?). But the truth is that in our house, the work time of the main breadwinner must be preserved; it's all about dollars and cents and has nothing to do with gender.
After clocking out, my husband does as much domestic drudgery, or more, as I do. In other parts of the city, part-time/work-from-home fathers I know were pulling out their hair trying to figure out if they were getting the shaft, too. So what's to be done?
Eventually, my husband and I remembered that we've previously navigated these issues, both when we each worked full-time out of the home and since I have taken on a flex schedule. The tactics we devised, some of which we ended up implementing during Snowmageddon, can help working parents maintain productivity and domestic peace when weather, school-closure holidays and illness blow our way:
• At the beginning of the year, tally every sick, vacation and personal day your employer offers, then rough out a rotation for planned and unplanned child-care demands to spread the impact.
• Before a crisis hits, have an honest discussion with your spouse and set specific expectations for who will step in when.
• Find family members, friends, neighbors and babysitters willing to provide care during emergencies. Make a chart of their availability, rates and contact information.
• Arrange a care-share system with friends or colleagues: One person cares for the families' children, and then someone else pulls a shift.
• Triage the most necessary meetings and projects, sync your calendar with your spouse's and set reminder alerts for trading off child care.
• If approaching your employer about unplanned time off, create a plan for flex-time work goals and be clear about your commitment to completing tasks.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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