That familiar circus act – juggling kids and job
In the hope that you and your kids managed to enjoy the summer and the chagim, I thought it timely to raise the somewhat controversial subject of two parents working outside the home and its impact on our children. Obviously my area of expertise is to look at the issue from a financial perspective, but it’s important to evaluate the social and psychological angle before being able to discuss the financial elements.
The point of this article is not to make people feel uncomfortable with their current parenting and lifestyle decisions, but rather to open up for discussion the option of change for those who would like to consider it, but feel it’s too difficult or impossible. Or in other words to challenge you to think outside of your comfort zone. This article is the result of various conversations with several different couples who felt they wanted to change direction but were at a loss to see how they could.
In Israel the norm seems to be to have two parents employed outside their home. A variety of afternoon programs can supplement the hours in school, which supervise younger children until a parent/care giver can collect them at four or five pm and then spend a few evening hours with their children. Older children often make their way home to an empty house to have their parents join them in the later afternoon or evening. This situation which functions during the year becomes more stressful during vacation times when regular programing changes, and often becomes more expensive.
Most working couples will acknowledge that they have no other option. Economic reality means that difficult decisions need to be made, and the majority of couples don’t have the luxury of having only one spouse working and bringing home enough money to support the family.
Having both spouses working outside the home has become much more commonplace than it was 50 or even 20 years ago. Our lives in Israel are pressured, and it’s difficult to find time to get off the treadmill of daily work, activities and to do lists. Children are often latchkey and carry far more responsibility than before, whether just for themselves or for younger siblings too. You will be able to find arguments for and against the phenomenon of increased responsibility, which will support whatever your opinion is. But stand back for a minute and try and be unbiased as you consider what impact your lifestyle is having on your children.
Placing the subject of increased responsibility to the side, our kids are more aware than we think, and absorb our stresses. They can also be deeply impacted by our financial situation, and the messages we are sending of what is of primary importance in life.
If you think that your kids are being negatively impacted by your working schedule, the question is what, if anything, can be done about it? How can you change the situation, when staying on that treadmill is what is keeping you financially afloat?
First, focus on your standard of living. Are you working to create a higher standard while creating all these new issues with your kids as a result? Everything in life has a tradeoff. Contemplate if the tradeoffs are worth it for your family.
Think carefully about your expenses. The size of your house – in addition to the original cost and mortgage etc – will determine the size of bills such as arnona, electricity, garden. Think carefully about where you live and how large a place you can afford. Then there are decisions such as kids’ chugim, food decisions, entertainment. These could be areas in which it’s possible to decrease your expenses quite drastically, if you felt it was necessary.
Not everyone has a choice whether to have a spouse work. Many can’t get by without two earners. But sometimes within the framework of two earners, one or both have the option of structuring around the kids’ schedule. Often that too comes with a tradeoff, but assess if it’s worth it for you. Sometimes spouses can split their work schedules to ensure that at least one parent is available at the most critical times of the day.
If you really want to be at home more for your kids and can’t see how you can live on less than you are both earning at the moment, try a financial reset. This is a technique that can help you prioritize your spending and evaluate your current standard of living. Start from zero – re-evaluate all expenses from the first shekel to see what can be changed. When we started our married lives our expenses were less, not just because we had a smaller family, but because we had a more modest expectation of what we “needed” and could afford. As our income grew we usually increased our “needs”, often above our earning potential or at least towards our maximum current cash flow. So take a step back and look at where you are now and where you want to be going forward. Assess the impact that your working lifestyle has on your kids.
Our lives today are much more materialistic than those lived by our parents’ generation. For better or for worse, our lifestyles have changed with constantly renewing technology and a more luxurious standard of living. It’s really hard to downgrade and downsize, but if you do a financial reset you might well end up adjusting your priorities as you assess your lifestyle with a ‘fresh’ pair of eyes.
This article was intended to make you take a step back and evaluate the pluses and minuses of your financial lifestyle and how it impacts your family. Without this ‘stocktaking’ we often end up living a life that we have fallen into, rather than one we have chosen. Whereas some families will not have the luxury of a financial choice, many families will, if they feel it’s important enough to implement. If you think that this could apply to you, then start examining your whole lifestyle. Be honest with yourself – you owe it to your kids to truly assess the impact your lifestyle has on them.
Nothing is simple. There is no easy solution. It’s a question of prioritizing what is important to you and your family. And that obviously is going to be a discussion and decision unique to you. But whatever lifestyle you decide is best for you, you will feel far happier knowing that you made that decision after proper introspection and assessment of the needs of your whole family – you, your spouse and your children. And what better time of year to begin the introspective process than just after Rosh HaShana and the chagim.