Don't get me wrong - being a professor is a career that is very compatible with involved parenting! We are so lucky that Adam can mostly set his own hours and spend more time with Samantha than many other working parents. We are also able to travel more, and the pay is good enough to allow me not to work for an income. And none of those benefits cover the fact that Adam loves his work so much. Our situation is as close to ideal as I can imagine.
But that doesn't mean there aren't challenges, and the big one for me is that Adam's schedule changes three times each year, depending on his teaching schedule. He might have to teach a night class one semester, and an early morning class the next. He doesn't teach every day, so that makes each weekday a little bit different. Of course, teaching is only one aspect of his work, but it is the one that requires specific hours in "the office."
Adam isn't the kind of person to keep regular hours. He's a night owl, for one thing, and he's also not a planner. He works in irregular spurts, which is also part of the nature of his work. I can't count the number of times that he has jumped out of bed in the middle of the night to write down a brilliant flash of insight he just had. And when he does so, it usually means hours of work. He may or may not go into the office the next day, or he might go in late. In the past, he would also just stay at the office until he felt like he was done working, which might be early or late at night.
The nature of the professor's work schedule actually suits Adam's temperament very well, but it does not suit mine. I'm a planner and a scheduler. I like regularity in the day-to-day aspects of life such as meals, bedtime, and the like. Anyone with kids knows that it is also extremely important to have a regular daily schedule to help them regulate themselves, and that it makes the logistics of parenting much easier. Over the years, Adam and I have been able to work out a system that allows him his flexibility and still gives Sam and me a way to plan our days.
- Each semester, Adam decides what time he will be home at night, every night. If he has a night class (which is usually just once a week), that night is an exception. And of course, there are exceptions for working dinners and events that he has to attend quite often. But on a normal workday, he must commit to being home by a particular time, regardless of his class schedule or whether he is in the middle of writing something earth-shattering.
- The previous requirement is mostly in service of this one: We have dinner together as a family every night that it is possible. Dinner is at a fixed time each night. This is our sacred family time. Exceptions happen, but they happen within the fixed framework. There was a point when Sam was little that I had to call Adam every single day to find out when I should have dinner ready. As Sam got older this quickly became a big problem, and we solved it this way.
- When Adam has to travel for work on weekends, he needs to make some extra time at home during the week. His travel often occurs on weekends, and I had become frustrated that that time always was subtracted from family-time, not work-time. We don’t have a firm rule about exactly how much time will be exchanged. Maybe he’ll be gone on a Saturday and just come home early on Monday. A lot depends on what is going on with him at the time. The point is only that his weekends need to be viewed as family-time, so anything that interferes with that is an exception.
- Finally – and Adam had to work on this for more than a year to get it down since it goes against his nature – Adam must be primarily responsible for creating his semester schedule, and doing it right away at the beginning of the semester. Even after he agreed to the other points, he thought it was ok to take a few weeks to nail down the schedule, or to expect me to track his time and tell him when he needed to be home. There were times when I was unaware of his travel plans until the last minute. This was a huge source of conflict between us, but in the past semester or two, we’ve had no issues.
This system allows Adam to go into work at whatever time suits him. He can still utilize his middle-of-the-night flashes of insight, or work at home in the evenings if necessary. He really just has to focus on a time to be home for dinner, and he does a great job at that. We still have a lot of irregularity in our lives because of all the exceptions, but the fact that we do have a framework makes all the difference in the world for me.
We set up a new schedule that works for both of us each semester. For example, last spring, Adam taught a night class on Tuesdays and couldn’t be home for dinner. So Sam and I had “girls night out” where we went out to dinner each Tuesday. It was a lot of fun, and we never would have done it otherwise. Over the summer (which requires its own schedule), Adam discovered that if he left work an hour later than usual, his commute was reduced from 45-50 minutes to only 20-25 minutes. This means he gets home at 7pm instead of 6:30, but it saves him so much time that we decided to try it this semester. We now have dinner at 7pm and Sam gets to bed a bit later, but she’s old enough to handle it. And to make up for lost time in the evenings, Adam drives Sam to school three mornings each week, which is a great thing for all of us.
Next semester, Adam doesn’t teach at all, and we’ll have to come up with a whole new plan. And as long as I know that we will have a daily/weekly schedule, I don’t mind the uncertainty of that. In fact, I kind of like it. Who knows what benefits it will bring? Maybe Adam will make his “weekends” Sunday and Monday, allowing us to do all kinds of touristy things on a weekday when they are less crowded. Maybe he’ll drive Sam to school every day. Or maybe he'll take her to swim lessons. I'm all for spontaneity, as long as it is well-planned!