When I started working as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in New York in 2006, I was working long days, from about 7:45AM, until anywhere from 4 to 6PM. I had to travel between clients, and sometimes I was able to stop home between visits. I was paid hourly, and only for the time I spent working with children, not the time in between.
After I moved to Vermont and was hired at a local school in 2008, I thought this parent-friendly job was setting me up to spend more time with my family. I thought because I worked in a school, on a school schedule, that I would be able to achieve work-life balance.
I’d like to make it clear right away that I understand that I was lucky to have school breaks and extra time over the summers to spend with my children. (I did work for the district part-time during some summers). When I was working, I did get to spend more time with my family than many other parents. I did have about the most parent-friendly job that existed at the time, I believe. It just wasn’t as easy to get that family time and work-life balance as I had pictured it would be.
The point I’d really like to address is that, no matter what you do for work, parenting isn’t easy, even if you find a job that appears to have a parent-friendly schedule on paper. Finding work-life balance between family and work is challenging.
My son was born in 2011. My husband and I both opted to take extended (12 week) maternity and paternity leaves back-to-back which, of course, included plenty of unpaid leave for each of us. Leaving our son with my husband during my first twelve weeks back at work postpartum definitely helped me emotionally.
Once that phase was over, and we were both working full time, I still did not need to find sitters if daycare was closed for holidays and school breaks because I didn’t have to work then either. This helped, but I still felt my job wasn’t as parent-friendly as I had hoped it would be.
I returned to work after my leave needing to do numerous makeup therapy sessions. It was no one’s fault; despite my school districts’ best efforts, no one who was offered my long term substitute position took the job. As a result, work had piled up. I’d start my day before 7:30AM, perform my duties for the day, and stay after school planning, doing paperwork, or going to meetings. I stayed until past 4:30PM, and many times I stayed later than that. I fit pumping breastmilk for my baby twice a day into my schedule as well. Then, I went home to a meal cooked by my husband. We ate, spent a short time with our baby, and completed his bedtime routine. After putting our son down, I always stayed up trying to finish paperwork I didn’t get done at school, most of the time until 1 or 1:30AM before collapsing into bed, only to get up with my nursing baby a time or two before getting up for the day at 6:15AM. If I hadn’t kept this brutal schedule, I would have never submitted any of my paperwork on time. (As a side note, being timely with paperwork is important, as there are laws about timelines in which IEP and evaluation paperwork, along with any Medicaid billing paperwork, need to be completed. State audits check how schools perform with these rules).
I was exhausted, my hormones were still a mess, and my body was getting just barely used to its new pumping schedule. Apparently, I was not as pleasant to live with anymore either. My husband told me he was worried about me and felt that I should quit my full-time job. He felt me staying home and spending more time with our baby was just what I needed. I was surprised he was giving me an out but, if we could swing it financially, I decided that I would not protest.
After spending the summer home with my son, an opportunity presented itself and I accepted a part-time SLP position working with preschoolers. I figured it had to be more parent-friendly than working full time.
It wasn’t bad for a couple of years. I still brought plenty of paperwork home but I did have two days off each week to spend with my son and take care of our home. He napped regularly so I could get just enough of my work done. Thank goodness he napped, because that was what made my work-life manageable. I thought my workload was a bit more than my salary would indicate, but I never complained because it was steady, predictable work and I was financially contributing to my family. I also worked part-time for two summers, so I didn’t completely take the summer off.
In 2014, we found out we were expecting again, and I fully planned on going back to my job after the baby was born.
My daughter, like her brother, was born a month early. To make a long story short, I didn’t have a long term substitute scheduled to cover for me until one month after she was born. So, due to circumstances that left my boss’ and my hands tied, I ended up doing a little bit of work from home (and being compensated for it) early in my maternity leave.
Many would say I’m probably too nice, but I have a hard time saying no when it comes to helping my students.
I figured that doing a little bit of work during my maternity leave wouldn’t be that bad and would possibly prevent the backlog of work I experienced after my first maternity leave. It would also make subbing less confusing and less difficult for my long term substitute.
As I sat tying up loose ends while at home with my three-year-old (who was still at daycare part-time) and my brand new baby cluster feeding like crazy, I started to wonder if I really wanted to go back to work.
My stress levels were high balancing two children and finishing SLP work. I processed my thoughts for a while and had many discussions with my husband before making a decision.
I resigned from my job as a speech-language pathologist in the spring of 2015. Mainly, I felt that I wasn’t going to be able to find a manageable work-life balance if I returned. I felt I could no longer be a good SLP and a good mom at the same time.
What I had thought would be my parent-friendly job was more time consuming than I had realized. In retrospect, I can see how my desire to do a thorough job with both my children and the children I worked with just wasn’t sustainable at that time.
Even before I had gone on my second maternity leave, it had been doable but tricky to parent and work as an SLP. I considered the fact that, even though I had some office time between therapy visits scheduled for paperwork, usually, I was forced to use that time for meetings or it would be absorbed if I ran off schedule because of the unpredictability of the preschoolers I worked with. I did not have as much planning time or time to make educational materials until I got home. Finishing my work at home and parenting one child was difficult, and I spent little to no one-on-one time with my husband. If I continued working, I was only giving my family 50% of my best self and work the other 50%. My family didn’t deserve that and neither did the children I worked with. The perfectionist in me wanted to do better. For both my students and my family.
On top of all that, my daughter did not nap regularly no matter how hard I tried to get her on a schedule. She also had feeding issues that resulted in regular doctor and therapist visits. I started realizing I just couldn’t go back to work. I am forever thankful to my husband, who decided to make sacrifices and pick up a second (part-time) job so I did not have to return to work.
Fast forward to today, three and a half years after officially resigning, and my daughter is now in preschool and her brother is in first grade.
Last spring, I began exploring my options to re-enter the workforce on a part-time basis.
One option I considered was going back to being an SLP in the schools. I didn’t see many advantages to this option. Not only would I be paying for a full day, full-time preschool for my daughter, but I’d also have to have funds for after school care for my son, as I wouldn’t be there to pick him up at the end of the school day. It seemed to defeat the purpose of working based on how much I would be making in comparison to what I would be paying for two kids’ care in Chittenden County.
I thought about getting a different job not related to being an SLP. However, I often did not have enough training or experience or was overqualified, and I most certainly wasn’t getting school breaks or weekends off. Most jobs would also require me to pay for after-school care for my son.
I explored direct sales options, but felt entirely inexperienced in this area and worried about putting a good chunk of start-up money into something that might be unsuccessful.
For now, I substitute teach. Mostly at my son’s school. This works pretty well, but it is sporadic. Some weeks, I am not needed, and others I am needed a lot. It is helping with the bills, but I am stuck in this rut of feeling like I need to do more to contribute to my family’s finances. My husband still needs to work two jobs to support our family even though one day he’d love to go back to one job. I want that for him, too.
Substitute teaching has been enjoyable for me, but I feel guilty and discouraged that I went to school for six years to get a degree I haven’t used in almost four years.
I know there isn’t one job out there that is entirely ideal if you have children, but I’m wondering what jobs might be a better fit. My thoughts often wander and yearn for finding a different, more parent-friendly occupation with more consistent income.
How parent-friendly do you find your job? Or what tricks do you use to create a better work-life balance? If you’ve found a more parent-friendly job with a decent income, I’d love to know what it is!