Originally Published in The NY Enterprise Report, May 1, 2008
A business owner and mother of three shares her struggle to adapt to domestic duties after her stay-at-home husband returns to work
My husband, John, recently returned to work after spending the last 10 years raising our three sons and caring for my elderly and disabled father. He took his role very seriously and made it look very easy - food shopping, laundry, cooking (great cook!), dry cleaning, school trips, Little League, lacrosse practice, football practice…should I go on? He cared for my dad - fed him three meals a day, took him to his doctor's appointments, gave him his medication and more.
Being the CEO of an IT staffing company in New York City has been my main focus, and having the peace of mind knowing my husband was at home holding down the fort has been essential to my success. But since my dad passed away and my youngest son is now in the first grade, John went back to work in the construction industry in January. Well, to say the transition has been a challenge for me is an understatement.
On John's first day back, he takes the 5:30 a.m. train to Manhattan. I must now get the boys - ages 7, 12 and 14 - to school. By 7 a.m., they are washed, dressed and packed for school. I think to myself, "I've got this totally under control. I can do this." So why are they standing in the kitchen staring at me? "Mom, what's for lunch?" Lunch? "Don't you buy lunch at school?" I ask. "I heard they are making the lunches healthy now." The boys' response: "Dad always makes us our lunch." Think quickly. "Can you buy lunch? How much will this cost me?" I ask. My 14-year-old son says $4. Where else can you get a sandwich and drink for $4? Sold. Easy. Problem solved.
However, John's acclimation wasn't completely smooth. During his first commute, John walks up to the subway station booth and tries to buy one token. The MTA agent tries to explain that he will have to buy a single-ride Metrocard from the machine. "When did they do away with singleride tokens?" asks John. "Where have you been?" asks the agent. After missing three subways, he finally gives in and buys a Metrocard from the machine.
One evening after a long day of playing CEO and chauffeur to the kids and cooking dinner, my first grader says, "Mom, you don't really work. Dad works." "What do you mean?" I ask. "Well, no offense Mom, but you check your BlackBerry and take people to lunch," he says. "Dad comes home dirty and tired, that's WO RK!" No offense taken. I have always tried very hard not to bring the stress of work home, so I will take that comment as a compliment. However it looks like a trip to Mom's office is well overdue!
It's Monday and I'm running a little behind schedule. We are in a mad morning rush to get the kids out the door. I drop off the 14-year-old at the high school, loop around and drop off the 12-year-old at the middle school. With five minutes to spare I approach the train station. I check my rearview mirror and notice the little guy is still strapped into the backseat. "What are you still doing here?" I ask. "You forgot to drop me off!" he responds. I honestly consider taking him into work with me for the day. But that won't work. I frantically call the office to have some appointments rescheduled and fly back to the grammar school in the hope that at least one of us isn't late.
Every week that goes by, my husband and I are noticing an unexpected side effect of both of us working-the children, especially the 12- and 14-year-old, are maturing into responsible young men. When my 14-year-old walked out the door one morning with his Joe Boxer flannel pj's on, I asked, "Where are your pants?" He said, "I don't have any clean clothes but that's OK, these are comfortable." We went to the basement that evening and I showed him how to do his own laundry.
I am enjoying the time I have with my children in the morning, and I truly believe they are getting a kick out of watching me figure this out. I find my days are much more productive when I am at work, and I have learned to prioritize and make the best use of my time- being the CEO gives you complete control of your schedule, instead of client breakfast meetings, I try to schedule quick coffee meetings, instead of responding to every email, I prioritize better and make better use of my commute home-even if that means a quick cat nap before the homework madness begins.
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