No one needs to tell you that returning to work after a period of time away can be challenging, with skills-polishing and resume-building to tackle, plus interviewing strategies. And that’s on top of effectively explaining the reason for your gap in your career.
But once you land that job, another challenge comes into play: keeping your household in order with two working parents in the mix.
You’re not alone here. More mothers have entered the workforce over the past several decades, bringing the number of households in which both parents work to 46 percent, up from 31 percent in 1970, according to a recent study by Pew Research Center. What’s more, the share of households in which the father works outside the home and the mother doesn’t has sharply declined, dropping to 26 percent from 46 percent in 1970.
Still, the questions remains: How does this phenomenon play out among today’s two-parent households?
A lot of “Who Does What” Falls to Traditional Gender Roles
Slightly more than half (54 percent) of households with two parents working full-time said that the mother takes on more of the responsibility for managing kids’ schedules and activities, while 47 percent said that the mother cares for the kids when they are sick.
But when it comes to household chores and responsibilities, disciplining, and spending time with kids, 59 percent, 61 percent, and 64 percent of both parents say they share the load equally.
Both Jessica, 39, and a mom to two kids, aged 7 and 9, and her husband, Paul, 47, work in finance in Manhattan, commuting just over two and a half hours a day each from their home in Fairfield County, Connecticut. But while both work full-time, the brunt of scheduling the kids’ after-school babysitters, doctors’ appointments, play dates, and weekend sports falls to Jessica, who also tackles preparing the week’s meals on Sunday afternoons. In the evenings and on the weekends, Paul is more involved, helping the kids with their homework, shuttling them to their activities, and tending to chores like yardwork.
While this is in part because Paul’s work doesn’t allow for him to take or make many personal phone calls or leave his desk for more than a few minutes at a time, Jessica says it’s also because of the way they grew up.
“Neither of our moms worked outside the home,” she says. “We just kind of fell into a more traditional pattern divided by our gender roles.”
Perhaps more understandably, in households where the mother works part-time, or has a more flexible schedule, the division of labor is even less balanced, with these mothers taking on more of the parenting tasks and household chores than those who work full time.
“I think it’s a question of who feels ownership of the kids’ schedules, and in many cases, we still assume the default is mom,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The Most Of Their Time. “Mom is more likely to have taken a job with some flexibility, or negotiated it, precisely because she believes she needs to maintain the schedule, but then these things turn into a self-reinforcing cycle.”
Time Is in Short Supply—But Can Be Effectively Managed
Both working parents reported feeling rushed at least sometimes, with 40 percent of the full-time working mothers surveyed said they felt rushed almost constantly, with little time to do even the things they have to do.
These moms also said they felt they both spent too little time with their kids, but also didn’t have enough time, as they would like to get together with friends or pursue their interests or hobbies. They also said they didn’t to spend as much time as they would like with their partners.
However, 50 percent of those moms surveyed said they felt rushed “sometimes,” a fact Vanderkam says can be expected.
“I think sometimes is part of life,” she says. “Sometimes we’re running late, or have a lot going on. I don’t think we can expect to ‘never’ be rushed.”
That said, there are a few things you can do if you feel short on time.
Vanderkam suggests tracking your time over the course of a week using a notebook, a spreadsheet, or an app such as ATracker, to figure out exactly how you’re spending your time.
“Many times we turn out to be telling ourselves stories about our time that aren’t actually true,” she says. “One woman who worked at a tech company had been telling herself she wasn’t spending enough time with her kids. Then she kept a log and saw that she was with them almost every hour they were home and awake; she left work early and made up time after they went to bed. She saw that and said, ‘I used to feel guilt. I don’t feel guilt anymore.’”
Planning ahead is also key.
“People who can get their heads around the concept of thinking through their weeks before they’re in them can make time for everything that matters,” Vanderkam says. “Take a little bit of time on Friday afternoon to think through the next 168 hours. Make a short priority list with three categories: Career, relationship, self. Assign yourself two to three top items in each. Then look over the whole of the next week and figure out when these things can be scheduled in. That keeps you focused on making sure the important things happen.”