This is part of the December theme post series over at PAIL. Go check out some more!
Ahh balance. It's a great favorite word around my grad program. One of the great aspirations is that at some point, someone will teach us about balancing life and work. I get pretty fed up with how little flexibility we get as students if you suddenly have a moment where life has bigger needs than school, or if you have to work while in school (and that's a totally separate and venting post about how we're expected to work if we're going to get the cool jobs/internships/residencies and yet if we work, we are super frowned at for not putting enough time into school, so... anyway...).
So I am not working right now, just going to school, and that's plenty. I did work last year and have occasionally this semester, but reasonably pregnant it's too much.
School though, it feels like it's a job, and it sure sucks up my time like it (more than just work, actually). When I'm interning, we call it work. We tell the kid that I'm going to be done with school when I start rotations because it will be going to work.
The spouse has a job where work comes home a fair bit and my school studying often eats up evenings. It's not ideal but it's life. Work is 5 days a week, ending a smidge earlier than 5pm. School is 8am to 4pm most every day, but I study at home between classes, so I'm around the house an awful lot. Maybe too much. Probably too much. Mostly I like to cook at home and I'm too lazy to pack lunch and 3 snacks a day.
I spend a lot of time studying at home, the kid goes to daycare full days all the time, and it is what we're used to. We were both home with the kid most of the time until she was about 3 months old when I headed back to school, and at 6 months old she started daycare full time. This is to say that we've been attempting to balance things since and we still aren't terribly good at it, but we try.
When things are balanced well, we cook a big meal on the weekend and eat it for a few dinners and maybe a couple of lunches. Most nights we retrieve the kid about 5pm and start bedtime at 7:30 or 7:45 (earlier if we're on the ball about it). If the kid is being beastly and refusing sleep, then we take turns attempting to placate her or at the worst, contain her until she conks out.
When things are balanced, we have one night of kid activity, one night a week where I'm out at a meeting/study group/whatever, and one where the spouse is. We're trying to eat together at the table and hopefully the same thing, but it isn't working well. Maybe some day.
The trouble with balancing things is that they don't balance reliably. A big week in exams for me or a big week at work for the spouse and it's a mess.
Balance... the goals are simple: spend enough time to get by in school and at work, spend enough time at home so we are cohesive and whole people, spend enough time out so nobody goes insane from the stress. In practice, we fake it. We don't often fold laundry aside from hanging clothes that wrinkle and shouldn't. We load the dishwasher together as a game after dinner. Sometimes we eat much later than we'd like because we were grocery shopping after child retrieval. While it's kind of cute when the kid is being a little sleep-deprived zombie, we pay for it dearly in extended bad behavior the next day.
I try really hard to set aside some time most if not every day to put away the screens (since most of my books/notes are digital, this means no studying). Once a week we do Family Movie Night where all screens except the TV go off and we all watch a movie together (and generally we try to start as close to 5pm as possible so we can hopefully get to bed at a reasonable time).
The best way for things to balance well is when we divide and conquer. I study, the spouse and kid grocery shop. I sort and maybe fold the laundry during a study break, the spouse and kid put it away. The hard part is that we'd rather do more things together, so we wind up doing that and it takes up any chance we have of getting ahead of things.
One of our sneaky tactics for seeming more balanced is to not give specifics of "adventures" to the kid ahead of time unless we are 100% sure something will happen. Recently we went into the city for a shopping day with a holiday lights tour and a movie, but we announced it the day before as just an adventure the next day, so there would be no disappointment if we didn't get to do everything as planned. This gives our slow adjuster time to be ready to do something out of the ordinary but prevents days of sulking due to disappointment if something she got really excited about doesn't work out.
In my fantasy of how things works once I'm working, we do a good division of labor around the house (we both cook 3 days a week and leftovers on the other, someone washes while others dry and put away the laundry, etc) and have enough time to spend hanging out being a family. Hopefully there will be something like regular jobs for the both of us so we can keep a predictable (if irregular) schedule.
How does the kid handle it? She's used to it so she doesn't ask a lot about it very often, but periodically we get the "Can't we take the day off and stay home? Why do you have to go to work? Why do you have to go to school?" fussing. We both say it's so we can pay the bills, so we can survive as a family. I'm not sure it flies but we try pretty hard to be convincing, and then do some fun distracting thing within a few days.
How does it all work out? I'd say we muddle through, doing the best we can. Isn't that how life usually goes?