Monday, April 23, 2007

Dear HTT, I work full-time, take care of a house and two small children, and I'm exhausted!!

Dear HTT,

After working from home for the past six years (five telecommuting, one running [okay, more like stumbling] my own company), I've rejoined the 9 to 5 working world. I get up early, take a shower, put on actual clothes rather than running pants and a stretched-out t-shirt, get my 5-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy ready for school, put on MAKEUP and CURL MY HAIR (every day I'm saying!), go to work, deal with all the ridiculous little office personality crap all day and work every second (there is definitely no Internet surfing time at this place--I'm not even allowed phone calls or personal email), go home, cobble together some kind of dinner for the kids (typical dinner: veggie and fruit tray from Food Lion to pick at, slice of American cheese, watered-down juice), and fall asleep on the couch at about 8:00pm while my husband puts the kids to bed.

Here's my question. How do people who work in an office all day every week have any kind of life? I don't exercise, I gobble down fast food most of the time for lunch, I'm too tired to read my email at home and only occasionally look at it on the weekend. I don't talk to or see my friends or extended family. Sex is a distant memory. I usually sleep most of the day on Saturdays and spend Sunday desperately trying to get ahead of the laundry. I have not seen the bottom of the hampers since I started this job at the beginning of February. To further complicate matters, every other week is a deadline week, and I have to work late (alone, as my boss prefers to go out drinking with friends and everybody else is a sales rep) every day, not even getting to see my kids at all before they go to bed.

How can I balance work and having a life? I actually like the task part of my job and am good at it, and the location is perfect -- 2 minutes from my house. My husband has a good job, but it won't pay all the bills, especially because we ran up an extra $15,000 in credit card debt during the year I was trying to run my own business. I eat a lot of chocolate to try to fight getting depressed, and that's just making my clothes smaller... along with the junk food. What I really want is to be a stay-at-home mom and take care of the house and maybe do some freelance web design on the side. Way on the side. Practically falling off the edge of the side, if you know what I mean. I want to spend quality time with my kids and husband, help provide a healthy lifestyle for them, walk my dogs, see my friends, have a clean house and no piles of dirty laundry, actually go to a movie once in a while, etc etc etc.

Can you help me?

Tired and Whiny In Cary

Dear Tired,

Wow. I feel spectacularly unqualified to answer your question. I have no idea how families with small children and two working parents manage. I’m only responsible for me, and sometimes I still feel overwhelmed by how much effort it takes to keep life on track. But I have given work-life balance a lot of thought over the years, so let’s see if I can ask a few questions and maybe offer some suggestions.

Is it possible you’ve got some perfectionist tendencies? If so, maybe you’re being too hard on yourself about your housekeeping, the meals you serve, and the state of your laundry pile. Try to figure out what you can let slide a little without beating yourself up about it. Most small kids I know aren’t clamoring for fancy meals, so if you’re meeting their nutritional needs, I wouldn’t sweat it that you didn’t whip up something from Martha Stewart’s recipe collection. If the family has enough clothes to last for a few days, take the dogs for a walk if you want, even if the hamper isn’t empty. Something’s got to give.

Are you getting enough help? From all the articles I’ve read, it seems that mothers generally still do more than their fair share of the house and kid duties. I don’t know your husband, so I don’t mean to sully his good name. Just asking.

(As an aside, I think it’s hilarious that this article in the Wall Street Journal crows over the results of a research study that showed that women underestimate the amount of time that men spend on housework. Women reported that their male partners did 33% of household chores, but when the researchers tracked men’s actual housework time it amounted to a whopping 39%. Excuse them for being off by six percent!!)

I know you have bills to pay, but can a compromise be struck? Can you do some part-time work instead of the full-time grind? And while it sounds like you enjoy your work tasks, it also seems that the working conditions leave something to be desired. Do you think a job search might be in order?

And now I’m getting into dangerous waters because, let me be clear, I am no budget guru and am definitely not one to be giving financial advice. But I can recommend a book I once read called “Your Money or Your Life,” which discusses the true costs of working (commuting, clothes, daycare, meals bought rather than fixed, job-related illness, stress-induced spending, etc.) and challenges readers to think about their purchases in terms of how many “life hours” they cost you. I guess what I’m trying to get around to, delicately, is this: is there room in your budget to cut back in order to pay off your debt more quickly? Will you be able to afford to quit working, or work less, once you do? I can tolerate just about anything if I’ve got a plan and an end in sight.

You need some support. Do you know other moms who work full time? How do they do it? Can they offer any advice? (I might fancy myself an advice columnist, but I also know when I'm out of my league!) And finally, are you depressed? O.K., clearly you're depressed and stressed out, and you have every right to be. But situational depression aside, do you think there’s something deeper going on?

You don’t need me to tell you this, but I will anyway. You deserve to have more fun in the one life you’ve got.

Good luck, my friend.


Anonymous said...

Hang in there, Tired!!!! Even if you had been in the workplace for awhile, making the transition from one job to another new job, new office is very stressful. Add to this the fact that you're changing your whole lifestyle need a lot of sleep. Or Zanax. Also, if you've been at home for some time and are used to eating small meals when your hungry, making the transition over to scheduled, larger lunches can seriously screw up your metabolism, blood sugar levels and mood. Several smaller, low-sugar meals can help you maintain energy throughout the day.

I'm with HTT on the "Your Money or Your Life" suggestion. I sat down with a friend whose situation was similar to yours, and once we figured out how much it cost to buy work clothes, pay for dry cleaning, pay for lunches, pay for dinners picked up on the way home and more convenient prepared food at the store, daycare, car payment, gas, she was only bringing home a few hundred bucks a month. But for her, the stimulation of being with adults, the personal satisfaction she gained from her work, she put a high price on that so it was worth it. I couldn't agree with her, but it made her happy.

Check and see how much this job *really* pays. Have you considered staying at home and maybe caring for other people's children for a few bucks?
Regardless, we're rooting for you!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Laundry tip - wash everything in cold with all temperature detergent so you don't have to sort by color. No, it won't be as wonderfully clean but it's faster. Also, put it in the washing machine when it comes off. When the machine is full, start it. We generally run a load every night and there are only 3 of us. It's the only way to stay even with it - forget about being ahead of it. Don't know what your physical set up is but we keep a basket for each of us in the hall plus one for sheets and towels. Underthings and anything that doesn't have to be hung up goes straight from the dryer to the appropriate basket. We try to hang up the hang up stuff as it comes out of the dryer and we have over the door hooks on bathroom doors, etc. where we hang it until we can put it away. We used to just empty the laundry from the dryer to a big pile and that was nightmare. Hope some of this helps you.

Hang in there. It gets better.

Anonymous said...

Hello Tired,

Did you see the article on Yahoo! this morning on how much stay-at-home Moms would earn if they were actually hired to do the jobs they do at home? Check it out...

Hope you're hanging in there!!!! It's almost Friday!