In the past couple of weeks, three people have asked me about Kent’s work-life balance move away from a big NYC law firm to an in-house position and how it has affected us. Since I was asked months ago to write a post about it, I took this as an omen that the time has really come.
Before I begin, I have three caveats. First, I’m absolutely not giving anyone advice on how they should live their lives. All I can do is tell you my experience. Second, I’m coming up on prime midlife crisis age and keen to second guess all my life choices, plus I’m melodramatic, so factor that in should you try to analogize any of this to your own life. And finally, I really, really hesitate to talk about money again on my blog. I hate how much I talk about money. I consider it one of the top three ugliest aspects of my personality these days.
A brief summary: In April 2013, Kent took a substantial pay cut to work at Lockheed Martin. Being out of litigation and in-house means his hours at work are more predictable and fewer.
When people talk about making a life-style move, they mean they want to work less so they can spend more time doing other things like sleeping, hobbies, and spending time with family. Here is my subjective analysis of how those hopes have played out.
While it is true that Kent spends less time at his new job, it is not true that we are able capture all those other hours for recreation/sleep/family time. To put it bluntly, we now spend the majority of those extra hours performing jobs that we used to pay other people to do. Kent is home on Saturday mornings now–which he spends mowing the lawn. Kent is home on Saturday afternoons now–which he spends babysitting while I clean bathrooms and paint. Kent comes home at night earlier than he used to–so that he can help me tile the backsplash.
One of the worst disillusionments of the life-style move is that Kent and I spend less time together. Currently, my productive hours begin when Kent comes home at night, so sometimes (he would say, all the time), I am waiting at the door for him with my keys in hand so I can take off. On weekends, we do fewer family fun trips because of the expense, but also because of the yardwork and the cleaning and the fact that I need my weekend hours to be productive.
When Kent worked obscene hours at the law firm, we had a standing datenight on Friday nights to make sure we spent time together. We also found that he was less inclined to cancel if we had skin in the game, so every season, I bought tickets and made reservations for virtually every weekend. It gave us something to look forward to, we had a lot of fun, and we spent quality time together. Datenights were an expensive habit, but one of the best parts of our life together.
When Kent moved in-house we indefinitely suspended datenights. We try to do family nights instead. (Animated movies? Oh, joy.) Kent thinks we should reinstate datenights on some smaller scale, but we’ve struggled to get that going. In truth, we have gone to some movies, but the prospect of, say, bowling and burgers doesn’t motivate us to hire a babysitter. Besides which, we’re too tired to go out on Friday because we need to save our strength for the workload of Saturdays.
Unfortunately, both the quality and the quantity of our time together has decreased. We did an unscientific assessment and agreed we see less of each other now than we did before. There are things we could and should do about it, but yeah, it was naive to think we’d automatically spend a bunch more time together when he worked in-house.
When Kent was glued to the laptop on all our vacations previously, I used to dream of the day when we would be able to cut the electronic cords on vacation. Now Kent truly can take real vacations–not just “working vacations”. But yeah, you guessed it. Vacations didn’t survive the financial chopping block either. Don’t get me wrong, a staycation in a cool city like DC can be awesome! The first time. By the fourth one…not so much. (Although the vacation contract radically improved the quality of our time in the same house.) We are going to take the kids to my family reunion in Disneyland in February, though! Both the anticipation and the scarcity are making that trip feel super significant and exciting.
Those are the major disappointments, but it’s definitely not all bad, and Kent would rush to assure you the gains outweigh the losses. Even after you subtract all the hours we spend doing things we used to pay others to do, there is real time left over. And the biggest perk is that though I use Kent as a babysitter on weekends, he is the most incredible, wonderful babysitter. One of the main reasons I married Kent is that I knew he would be a phenomenal father, and I was not wrong. He plans these awesome “science projects” for Saturdays with the kids like making pink slime out of Borax, or fountains with Mentos and Fanta. He does elaborate Super Hero Training programs for the kids, scooters with them to the park, and makes cardboard crafts and glow-in-the-dark fairy jars. Sure, he can’t keep this up for very long and quickly winds up napping under a pile of children playing iPads and videogames, but they love that, too. These kids are crazy about their father. They know him well, and they love all the time he spends with them.
The other major upside is that Kent loves his new job. He loves the work, he loves the people, he loves the technology. He comes home high on military geekitude all the time. He loves to talk about his work with anyone who will listen. Work is an enormous part of his life, and he enjoys that enormous part of his life infinitely more now.
The kids? For the purposes of this blog, I asked Fluffy (with Kent present) in as neutral a tone as possible. “Were you happier when Dad was at his old job or now he’s at his new job?” She puzzled and puzzled and finally called it a draw. “Can you just say ‘It was a really hard decision’?” She says she liked it better when Dad was coming home earlier, but she likes it better now because Dad has a more fun bring-your-daughter-to-work day at Lockheed Martin. I should note here that when I had Kent pre-approve this post, his biggest objection is that he thinks he gets home a lot earlier than he used to. I believe it’s about the same time, but Fluffy perceives he comes home later. I haven’t kept good enough track over the years to be able to give accurate figures, but my sense is that he gets home about half an hour earlier than he used to average–8:30 vs. 9. He thinks it’s about 4 times that much. I really wish I had hard data on that one.
Okay, what about me? The first full year, I would have immediately said I was way happier when Kent was at his old job. However, now that I’m living in the new house and finally enjoying some of the fruits of our labors, my attitude is different. Now that I see that we actually can survive this mortgage, I sleep a lot better at night. Now that I’ve stopped being mad, I see the silver linings. I am also proud of myself. Not for my admirable attitude from April 2013-April 2014, certainly not! But I am proud of the many cool things I accomplished in my self-taught way out of self-inflicted necessity.
The thing I miss most about having money is spending it on my kids. I loved being a mom who says, “Yes!” and “Sure!” The thing I miss second most about the money is not having to think about money all the time.