Doin' the Death March
Very interesting column in the Wall Street Journal this week by work/family journalist, Sue Shellenbarger. It profiles a few families that have cut back on outside childcare to save money in tough economic times, and have put a kind of ESP in place. I say 'a kind of ESP' because these families have got the equality piece right, but they've not quite embraced the other foundational goal of this lifestyle: balance.
The article starts out with an ominous tone - and the scary title of Extreme Child-Care Maneuvers - as if to warn readers that the economy was forcing couples with kids into a frenzied juggling act that leaves them both gasping for a moment's peace. But as you read further, the real story comes out. These tag-team parents who meet in employer parking lots to hand the kids from one to the other are really prioritizing their time beyond just making the maximum amount of money. And they may be tired, but they are kinda thriving on the challenge. Best of all, they are noticing a silver lining in the creation of an equal partnership:
Says one mother, "Good things can come from hard times. This has taught us to be more of a couple, really. Just managing our work and money and schedules is a skill. ... It takes a conscientious effort. The recession has forced our hand in making that change, which is ultimately really good."
The couples in this story were obviously handpicked for their crazy, hectic lives - lives they are not sure are sustainable. They are, as one of the full-time dual-earner ESP couples we interviewed for our upcoming book says, "in a death march." We don't advocate such an unbalanced life over the long haul, of course, but it contains much that is worthwhile too.
These parents are a true team. The kids get to spend plenty of time with both of their parents, and their parents both get everyday intimate relationships with their children. Both are contributing to the family income in equally meaningful careers. Respect and communication abound.
Now, to make this a happy existence for years to come, I'd prescribe a heavy dose of balance and further prioritization of time and money. Imagine if these parents could shave off a few hours of work each week and dedicate that time to enjoying a hobby or spend it together instead. Would this be worth the cost? Given the high price of overstress, this is definitely food for thought...