No June Cleaver here
October 14, 2010 7:21 AM   Subscribe

What’s it like to grow up with two working parents?

My kids are 6 and 7 and I’ve been working full time for basically all of their lives. With so many other things they go through, I can understand because I’ve also been through them. But because I grew up with a stay-at-home mom, I can’t relate to their experience in terms of spending time with me and dealing with our busy schedule. (My husband grew up in a similarly traditional family so he can’t relate either).

My kids don’t get home until about 5:45 (we pick them up from their after-school care around 5:30). Their bedtime is 8:15, so we have 2.5 hrs to get dinner ready, eat it, do any homework, have a bath if bath night, and spend some downtime together. It’s not enough for them and they often feel rushed. They are possessive of their time with me and I don’t blame them – they hardly see me! My husband and I are doing our best, and I think we’re doing a good job, all things considered. We model a healthy relationship to our kids, and they are overall happy, good kids. But I still feel guilt and wonder how this will shape them as they grow. Can you share any insights into what it was like growing up like this? What do you remember the most? Are there particular things we should/should not be doing?

I think it’s also important to note that I’m not “following my passion” or anything like that – I work full-time because I have to. In an ideal world, I’d work part-time, but we are not at that stage yet. I DON’T talk negatively about my job to my kids, but I can’t exactly gush to them about how fulfilling my work is.
posted by yawper to Human Relations (48 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up with two working parents, then my dad died -- so one working parent. I don't ever remember feeling cheated of time with my mom after school; but my bed time, from an early age, was considerably later than 8:15. Also: Why are they not doing homework in after school? Shouldn't their workload be light enough, at this age, for it to be finished by the time you pick them up?
posted by chelseagirl at 7:27 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My parents both worked long hours, and my sister and I were looked after by full-time nannies, which was pretty much the standard among my classmates at my tiny Boston private school. After my parents divorced, my mom had to work even longer hours due to the need to move to a less expensive home, which was much further away from her job.

I remember that at the time, I understood that my mom was working because she had to, not because she didn't want to spend time with me, and I didn't resent her for it. The only thing that made me angry was when she didn't follow through on the promises she made to be at a certain place and time and do a certain thing. Even very small things, like picking me up from school, were made important by how little time I spent with her -- she almost NEVER picked me up from school, so when she promised she would on a certain day and then turned up a half-hour late (usually because of work) it was really upsetting to me.

Other than that, I wouldn't let this worry you too much. As long as your kids have someone looking after them (nanny, babysitter, after-school program, daycare, whatever) I'm sure they're fine. Just enjoy the time you have with them and try not to feel too guilty about it -- they'll pick up on that kind of thing, and feel badly that YOU feel badly.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:29 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Both my parents worked - until I was in junior high or so, my mom even worked half-days on Saturdays, so I really didn't get a ton of time with her. I don't feel particularly deprived, but I do have to acknowledge that my babysitters - good, bad, and indifferent - had a tremendous impact on my development. Far more than any broke high school student really should, I think.

Point being, make very, very sure you've vetted your kids' after-school programs and that they are happy there. Those folks have a lot of access to your kids at a very malleable age.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:32 AM on October 14, 2010

My mom did stay at home until I was about 7 or 8, and then started working full time. It was less out of a financial need, and more because she was going crazy after having been a SAHM for about 10 years.

The only thing I was going to come in to say was exactly what Narrative Priorities already hit on. I hated when she (or my dad) made promises that they didn't fulfill to be somewhere. I think rationally I knew they worked hard, and that they couldn't always predict their schedules, and that there were four of us kids - that they couldn't be everywhere at once, but it doesn't mean it didn't hurt when they didn't show up.

Most of the time I was totally fine that they didn't come to my plays, games, events, etc, because we discussed that they had a meeting, or my sister had a doctors appointment, or whatever. But the worst thing was always, always at the events they said they would be there for - my soccer games, high school plays, speech tournaments, whatever - when they wouldn't show up another parent would always ask "Oh, and CharlieSue, where is your Mom/Dad?" and I would have to say something like "I don't know, they said they'd be here" and I'd get that pitying look. Ugh.

I guess I'm saying kids are adaptable, they won't (and shouldn't) expect you to be there for every event, but when you say "Jake, I'm going to come to your soccer game this weekend" actually go to Jake's soccer game.
posted by CharlieSue at 7:39 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My parents worked opposite shifts through most of my childhood, so I would really only see my mom (the 2nd shift worker) on weekends and my sister and I really just ate dinner and watched TV with my dad in the evenings (maybe a sports practice here and there). It didn't bother me very much, but like Narrative Priorities, any time my parents my parents weren't able to deliver on a promise (especially my mom) it was really upsetting.
posted by chiefthe at 7:42 AM on October 14, 2010

I grew up with two working parents and feel that I actually greatly benefited from it. Both my parents worked in high-ranking government jobs in India, with the only exception being my mom's one year of maternity leave after I was born. I was an only child so things could have gotten lonely, but I was also the first grandchild on both sides of the family so doting grandparents were always glad to have me over. We also had a live-in housekeeper and other household help.
I don't ever remember feeling resentful towards my parents. I was certainly always their top priority and they had a hundred ways of showing that, from showing up to every play or sports meet I was ever in, to the immense support they gave me if I was feeling upset about something. Also I was raised with feminist principles, and I really saw no good reason why my mother shouldn't be as free to pursue a fulfilling career as my father. They modeled a really good relationship for me, with plenty of give and take and compromises being made on both sides.
This is not to say that things were always this easy. Sometimes my parents would be transferred to a different town (though in the same state) and I would live with one or other of the parents (whichever happened to be posted in my home city), seeing the other only every two weeks or so. I'm sure these long separations were hard on them but they seemed to look on everything as one giant adventure. I'm sure having household help made a huge difference. When both parents were out of town, I stayed with my grandparents, which I loved, because they were really nice people to be around and tended to spoil me more than my parents did. The hardest time was perhaps when my dad took a five year unpaid leave of absence to work on his PhD in the US. So he was away for five years. About three years into his PhD, my mother got a graduate fellowship for a year in a different part of the US. I was given the choice of either staying in India with my grandparents or living with my dad in the US. This seemed like a silly question to me, of course I wanted to go to the US. So a year in LA with my dad struggling with several jobs and his PhD and taking care of me. I'm sure this must have been really really hard on my dad, but I don't remember him taking it out on me; just memories of more Chinese takeout than we would have had back home and pretty clothes that had been run through the washer-dryer until they were rather bedraggled. But I really couldn't have cared less.
posted by peacheater at 7:43 AM on October 14, 2010

My parents were both working parents. My bed time was 8:00 until I was in middle school, so it was a pretty similar schedule. My mother worked at the school I attended, but I never saw her during the day, so it was pretty similar to having her drop me off and pick me up every day.

I don't feel at all cheated by my mother's schedule. I saw her before school and after school, and that was it. There were days when I rode the bus home and didn't see her until 5 or 6 PM, and I don't ever remember feeling lonely or like I was missing out on mommy - I always knew that she'd be home when she could, and once she was home she was there for us. (granted, I had older siblings to watch me, so YMMV) And she had evening meetings once or twice a week, which didn't bother me either. The question "was my mother gone away from home a lot?" never even crossed my mind until I read this post.

I feel slightly cheated by my father's schedule, but that's because he chose to work 14 hour days, every day. He was gone in the morning before we left for school (though he was usually around at breakfast time), returned home at 7 or 8 for dinner, and went back until 10 or 11 (past our bedtimes). This schedule was just his calling, so I can't blame him, but my point is you have to have a really extreme schedule for kids to notice you're gone. Otherwise, it's just routine.

So unless you or your spouse is keeping a crazy schedule like my father, I wouldn't worry about it. Moreover, I don't really think the issue is that he was gone during the week, it's that he didn't try to make special experiences. The truth is that people remember "that awesome camping trip." People don't particularly remember "every Tuesday." It sounds like you are mindful of your children's experiences and as long as you do something special a few times a year, or maybe have a special routine every weekend, you're doing fine.

On preview: my parents never broke commitments that I can remember. They were careful only to commit to things they could do, and I imagine that saved me a lot of angst.

Finally, editorializing: I have some acquaintances whose development has been, IMO, stunted by too much parental involvement. These people never learned to be without their parents. 6 and 7 is too young for "without parents" time, but later on they'll need to start learning to take care of themselves without burning the house down. So setting appropriate boundaries that are based on reality, even if it's "mommy and daddy have to go to work, we love you and will see you very soon" lays the foundation for healthy, not-totally-dependent children. Of course, that's easy for me to say sans evidence or experience being a parent. :)
posted by Tehhund at 7:48 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had no problem growing up with two working parents. For part of elementary school, my father was working from home. The other times, I would leave school and go to my mom's office across the street. There was a little room they had for me to do my homework and watch non-cable TV when I was done. During the summers, I would go to my mom's friend's house from 9am-4pm or go to work with my mom. My mom's friend had a daughter my age and two younger daughters and we would play together all day and just have fun. The daughter and I are still friends. When I went to work with my mom, I would stay in my little room and read the newspaper and library books. If it was nice, I would go outside and watch the animals and people going by haha. For part of middle school I went to my mom's office and then I started walking home myself and becoming a "latchkey kid".

I got a little annoyed at times that I couldn't go straight home and watch cartoons or whatever like the other kids. It was annoying having to get up and go to my mom's friends house in the mornings. But I wouldn't change the way that I grew up. I was and still very am proud of my mother for being a working woman, making her own money and being able to contribute financially to the household.
posted by lovelygirl at 7:49 AM on October 14, 2010

Best answer: Can they not do some of their homework during after school care?

The most important thing here is what your weekends are like. Do you spend most of the weekends with your children, including time when each parent takes a separate child and even occasional times when one child gets both parents and no siblings? Do you vacation together, and then do family-together things while on vacation? Do you follow through on your commitments to your kids? Those are the things I remember being important to me as a kid when my parents both worked.
posted by jeather at 7:49 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I grew up with a single working parent. I never felt deprived, but then I didn't have to share my mum with other siblings/parents until much later (step-family intergration is a whole other Askme). Even then I never felt that I missed out on her physical presence, because I felt very secure in her love I suppose. For what it's worth, I remember thinking friends with stay-at-home Mums seemed a bit smothered.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:50 AM on October 14, 2010

After reading some of the other responses, my parents were generally quite good about keeping their word about being in a particular place at a particular time. If they couldn't make it, they couldn't make it, and they expected me to understand (and, for the most part, I think I did).
posted by peacheater at 7:51 AM on October 14, 2010

Two working parents. I did my homework at afterschool stuff, so I'm not sure why your kids still have homework by the time you get home?

I honestly don't remember a whole helluva lot about being a two-working-parent house from before I was about 8. I mean, this stuff that you're worrying about, unless you are (as CharlieSue says) not doing what you say you will do, I am not sure they would generally even notice.

If things feel rushed at home at night, try to figure out ways to cut out some of the stuff you "have" to do - can you make dinner in the crock pot all day, so you don't have to actually cook when you get home? Can you cook once on Sunday and have whatever that is last for two or three dinners so you just have to reheat?

After a certain point, I think when I was 11 or 12, I started riding the bus home and didn't go to afterschool care. I got to relax in my own house and do my homework at home, so by the time my mom got home from work, everything was pretty chill. That lasted until I started getting into extracurriculars about Freshman year of HS. Like freya_lamb, I didn't get what was supposed to be so superior about SAHMs versus my mom. I was (and am) really proud of my mom, and I thought that nothing made more sense than for me to be learning how to take care of myself and how to be a responsible person, while these other kids seemed to be unable to be trusted to get home and make a peanut butter sandwich on their own.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:53 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a wacky childhood on many levels, but for the K to 6 years, my dad, mom, and stepdad all worked full-time; my grandma was a part-time caregiver until she died when I was in 4th grade. By comparison, my younger sisters (and I) had my mom around (we homeschooled) from 7th grade for me to 10th grade for the one who's 9 years younger.

The years when I was a latchkey kid made me pretty independent. I was constantly in weird "I have to go to the bathroom and all the stores say 'no public restrooms'" situations on my own. I missed the bus to after-school care, chose to walk the two miles to our house, then got followed by a scary car and had to decide whether to call the police or not. While we were homeschooling, even if we did go out into town alone, Mom was always close enough to help. When I was a latchkey kid, the nearest parent was 20 miles away and couldn't leave work to rescue me. Scary nuns and dime store clerks were people I had to deal with myself.

I was also promoted to mini-adult. On school holidays I went to work with a parent; I was installing Windows on PCs in the storage closet at my dad's office and playing games of Memory with my mom's high school students. People - adults - asked my opinion or about what I wanted to do far more often than they did with my sisters, because when I was a kid there was no parent around to be my agent.

Probably the biggest thing was that I was always hyperaware of where my parents were, the phone numbers for them and their supervisors, the route to the nearest emergency room, how much water I had on me. I hated being alone and waiting for someone who hadn't been scheduled to be gone so long (I would have loved a cell phone.). It doesn't help that my dad was worried about me, too. Sometime I'll have the chance to get longwinded about his ill-advised child molester speech.
posted by SMPA at 7:58 AM on October 14, 2010

I grew up with two working parents. My mother was the major breadwinner, and although my dad contributed he was also an emotionally absent alcoholic, so really I grew up with one working parent and one person who worked and was just sort of around.

I didn't suffer from it at all. Part of this is because my mother was (and is) an amazing person, but I think it's mostly because I never knew any different. The majority of my friends' parents both worked as well, so it always seemed normal. Even today it seems kind of strange to me that some parents choose to stay home with their children. I feel like my mother set an excellent example of a woman who was able to both achieve career-wise and also raise a family, and although I have made different choices for myself with regard to having children, the way she set priorities and put her family first still resonates with the way I live my life now.
posted by something something at 7:58 AM on October 14, 2010

Both of my parents worked full-time, and it seemed perfectly normal to me (there weren't that many other kids at after-school care until 6pm, but it didn't faze me). I don't think it negatively affected me at all.

I never got the sense that my parents felt guilty about it, and I don't think they should have felt that way. I think I would have felt bad if I had thought that my mother was feeling like you are - it would have made me feel like a burden or a source of unhappiness. I wouldn't suggest to your kids, either explicitly or indirectly, that you feel guilty about not spending more time with them. You're setting a good example of two people self-actualising through work.

It may be hard for you to see because you were both raised with stay-at-home parents, but there's nothing unconventional or "wrong" about what you're doing. I remember that while many of my primary school friends felt smothered by their stay-at-home mothers, I genuinely liked and respected my parents.
posted by mxc at 8:06 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I grew up with two working parents and various babysitters, after school programs, neighbors, and nannies (who came later and were primarily responsible for my much-younger sister).

I resented my parents in some very small ways (mostly my mother, who probably would have insisted I pack my own lunch and refused to do PTA even if she worked part time or not at all) but overall, I have grown up to seriously respect my parents for their dedication to their careers and educations, and I think I'm much more independent, mature, and self-sufficient than my peers who had parents at home.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:08 AM on October 14, 2010

My mom didn't have a regular job (she did some freelance stuff) when I was a kid, but we still had afterschool activities pretty much every day of the week that went until about 5. That was the cultural norm and part of our education (e.g., dance class) and social life ("afterschool"). I don't think it occurred to me that I should have gone home earlier, and probably would have felt I was cheated out of afterschool activities if I had...
posted by mdn at 8:12 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not only did my parents both work, but most of my peers parents both worked. The idea of stay-at-home parents still feels really weird to me, as others have mentioned.

All I can do is to emphasise some of the things upthread: don't make promises you can't keep. I never minded when parents told me they couldn't do something because of work, but it hurt like hell when they said they could and it turned out they couldn't. I did get anxious when they didn't turn up to collect me, as SMPA did, but I think that really is something that mobile phones can very easily deal with (I would still have resented being cold and wet waiting for them, but I wouldn't have been worried).

Get them to do their homework at daycare - it's boring and not terribly productive and so shouldn't be eating into family time. My mum had all the evening meals for the week prepared at the weekend to not waste time on cooking on weeknights.

If they're doing something they're proud of (lead in school play, going to win something at sports day), do your damnedest to be there. There are important moments when you want your mum or dad there - but they're not that frequent!
posted by Coobeastie at 8:14 AM on October 14, 2010

Response by poster: Re: doing homework at childcare – having regular homework is fairly new for them and they need some structure and guidance, which my childcare isn’t really able to provide as English is not their first language. There are also other younger kids there who don’t have homework, and they all just want to play after school. The care is really good otherwise, so it’s not really a battle worth fighting.
posted by yawper at 8:15 AM on October 14, 2010

My parents both worked full time, and my mom was earning her Bachelor's degree by taking evening and weekend courses, so between age 6 and 10 I didn't get much time with her.

My brother and I stayed at an in-home daycare before school (from 7 AM), after school (to 5 PM), and all day during the summers. I actually enjoyed daycare a lot. It helped that it was run by another mom from her own house, who cooked meals for the kids and planned activities, so it felt kind of like staying with an aunt or something. There were other kids there around my age and we had a pretty good time just hanging out. If your kids speak positively about their after school care, they're probably fine as far as that's concerned.

I didn't ever feel like I was "missing out" on some ideal childhood. Sometimes I would be disappointed that I couldn't stay up late enough until Mom got home, but I never cried myself to sleep or anything traumatic like that. My parents always attended important things like piano recitals or school plays, and I think that's key. I got to see my dad and mom most evenings and weekends, I knew they loved me, and that was fine. My brother and I are both adults and we get along well with our parents, so there's no lasting damage that I can see.

Going off some above comments, I did know kids who had super involved SAHMs and a lot of them did have a harder time transitioning to adulthood. I had friends in college who had no idea how to do their own laundry, cook a basic meal, or clean a bathroom because their mom had always done it. I was making my own school lunches by first grade, so this boggled my mind a bit. The kids with suffocating parents were also the ones to go totally crazy with drinking when they got their first taste of college freedom. So it's not always awesome to have a constantly present SAHM.
posted by castlebravo at 8:17 AM on October 14, 2010

My mother didn't really do much paid work, but I still have many memories of coming home from school and unlocking the back door to an empty house and being by myself for several hours.

(She would be out running errands, visiting sick friends, etc. etc. She was very active in her church community.)

It didn't really bother me that I remember - I loved the freedom to play music loud on the stereo, stand up on top of the dining room table, and dance with joyous abandon.

And I could eat all the biscuits (cookies) and dried fruit and fresh bread and cordial that I wanted without being told off that it would upset my stomach.

And while I was home alone, I could read books belonging to my parents that otherwise would have been verboten on the grounds that they were too scary.

Also, I adored the babysitter that I got when my parents went out in the evenings. She had a wonderful singing voice (she went on to very minor professional opera roles), and she was kind. And she helped me make pigs out of apples and toothpicks. I remember loving my babysitter far more than my parents, and I always looked forward to spending time with her - she was like a big sister.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 8:19 AM on October 14, 2010

Best answer: Kids adapt to whatever they have as normal. I never had a stay-at-home parent. When I was little I had a babysitter or housekeeper, when I was older I was a latch-key kid. It was all OK and always seemed just... normal to me. I don't ever remember even thinking about having my mom stay home as an option. Life was just life, you know?

It would be astonishing if your kids didn't see their situation as completely normal and the way the world has always been and will always be. If your kids seem like they "aren't getting enough of you," try to step back and see what it is they're reacting to. I promise it isn't a socially constructed expectation that you should be June Cleaver.

It might be that they're reacting to a feeling of being marched from one thing to another in the evening. Do they have unstructured playtime every evening? And do you play with them?

Or it might just be that they've discovered that "But I want to spend more time with yooouuuuu!" hits a hot button for you, and they're using it for an end like, say, not going to bed, or getting treats. It would be helpful if you could describe the behaviors and situations that you have observed in your kids that are leading you to being concerned.

But if your question is "How can I make my kids feel like I'm spending more time with them?" then things you can try include:

* A much later bedtime (my 8-year-old goes to bed as late as 9:30). Even 20 minutes could make the tone of your evening more relaxed.
* Making sure they do their homework at the after-school program. I'm not sure why this isn't happening already.
* Serve dinners with a faster prep time, or use a slow cooker. Super-quick meals like turkey sandwiches or soup can cut down on how much time you spend cooking and cleaning up, and you can plow that time into your kids.
posted by Andrhia at 8:21 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I read the question and my response is something like, "Well... it's just... normal?" because I never had a really stay at home parent so I don't know what that's like (although my dad did come home from work early and work from home fairly often and unpredictably during my teenage years, to try and keep me out of trouble).

My parents tell me that once when I was a little kid I asked why my mom wasn't at home all the time to make me snacks after school like one of my other friends' moms. I have no memory of this, or indeed of ever once feeling critical about my parents' working. I was very clearly the center of their world, and if Mom had to work late sometimes then that just meant I got special one-on-one time with Dad or vice versa. We'd always go out and do things the other parent didn't like when one parent was out of town - Mom and I would go to our favorite Japanese restaurant, Dad and I would spend three hours at the bookstore... and then have some time cleaning the place up or doing something nice for when the other parent came back from their trip. If anything it felt liberating - not just having the house to myself (although I LOVED having the house to myself, just for the solitude and the knowledge that I would be undisturbed), but also knowing that when I was an adult, I wouldn't have to drop everything in my life to have kids. It's actually been great for me having two parents with insight into the corporate world, now that I'm a bit older.

Something that seems to make a big difference is the local norm. At my high school there were maybe 10% stay at home moms, and so it was a special occasion when someone's parent would show up to a game (and kinda embarrassing). In some of my coworkers' neighborhoods, it's more like 10% of mothers work outside the home, and so they get a lot more flak about it from their community (and their kids are more likely to feel like it's weird, and wish their parents would be more 'normal').
posted by Lady Li at 8:24 AM on October 14, 2010

Best answer: When I was younger, my parents worked pretty disparate schedules--my mother, days, my dad, nights. I remember spending a lot of alone time with my dad in the mornings before kindergarten and valuing it quite a bit. When I was 8, he passed away. My mom increased her hours to full time. I spent mornings before school at a friend's house and parts of the afternoon being looked after by my older sister. I never resented this; I understood that my mother had to put food on the table.

I agree that perhaps you should reevaluate bedtime, especially for the older kid (an extra 45 minutes to watch TV or hang out with mom and dad might especially help) and that you should figure out why they're not getting their homework done after school.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:27 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Both my parents worked relatively long hours in high-profile jobs and had 3 kids. School was usually over at 1 (I grew up in Germany). Spending the afternoons alone at home was not ideal, but fortunatly, your kids don't have that problem.

One thing that was important to me was that if my mom promised she would come home at time X, she'd keep that promise - even if there were big things happening at work. That left me with the impression that I wasn't less important than work.

You mention that you're not that happy about your job. This could send very strange signals to your kids - "I don't like working, but I do it anyway" - try to take responsibility for what you do. Tell them: "We want to live in a house, not a condo, and we want to have a car, not walk, and that's why we have to work!" - otherwise, they might get the impression that you only work to get away from them. My mother always made it clear that she would be very unhappy if she wouldn't be able to work (she liked her job), and so I never questioned her decision not to stay at home. It was presented as a decision, not a thing that just "happened" to her or that she just "had" to do, and that made it easier on us, I think.

One other thing: Don't feel guilty. I know people try to portray the stay-at-home situation as the ideal solution for everyone involved, but that's just not true. Literally all the stay-at-home moms I know went through a long phase of deep, deep unhappiness when their kids left for college or work, and this was a big strain on their relationship with their kid. Some never get over it. Even years after their kids have left, they feel very needy and alone and sometimes even start to guilt-trip their kids into "taking care" of their mother. This is not easy on the adult son or daughter: Their mom "gave up everything" and "just lived for them" for a decade, and now they owe their mom something they will never be able to pay back! That's just not a good basis for a strong relationship between adults. Every kid needs to break free at some point, but it's much easier to emancipate yourself if you're not the center of your mom's universe...
posted by The Toad at 8:35 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just off of what castlebravo said, definitely I loved the freedom of having some independence in the afternoons. That couple of hours of time free from anyone watching me, anyone walking through my space and making me nervous about whether I look like I'm busy enough (I did do homework, but it's nice to feel like you don't have to justify your breaks), anyone calling up to ask me to do chores or interrupting my train of thought with questions... that time was so valuable to me. One of my friends with a SAHM says he had that kind of freedom, but it turns out that was because his parents never asked him to do chores, which has left him somewhat distressed and longing for his childhood, having been blindsided by the responsibilities of the adult world (work he was expecting. Dishes, laundry, vacuuming and grocery shopping he was not expecting). So I'm definitely in favor of the independence sooner rather than later.
posted by Lady Li at 8:39 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

My parents - while they were married - both worked and I hated it.

Sometimes, I went to someone else's house after school and waited for my parents to pick me up there. I hated having to remember two completely different sets of household rules and having to remember which rules were for which house. I hated spending all day in school only to spend more time without being able to relax or feel like I was home. I didn't know these people, and didn't particuarly want to know them. They weren't bad or mean to me, but I wasn't any more important to them than a tenant is to a landlord. I wanted to be home.

Other times, there would be a sitter who showed up at our house before we got there. I hated this, as well. They were nice enough, but they didn't really care about me, or how my day was, or any of the things that I was interested in or excited about (and why should they? They weren't my family.) So I would stay in my room and do my homework and wait for my parents to come home.

They would come home, and try very hard to be attentive. But even at a pretty young age I could see that spending any more than 10 or 15 minutes with me was an imposition. Dinner had to be made, chores had to be done and bedtime rituals had to be initiated.

I remember walking home from school and seeing many of my friends being greeted at the door by waiting parents. I remember seeing other friends run up the sidewalk to their front door because they were excited to be coming home.

I remember wishing that I was them.

My wife is a stay-at-home mom, and I'm blessed to earn enough to support us. It has required us to sacrifice things that we want, and it requires us to live a more modest lifestyle than we would with two incomes. To me, it's 100% worth it because my kids will never experience what I did.

Note: This is not a value judgment on anyone else's choices.
posted by DWRoelands at 8:44 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My kids (who are past 18) grew up with both of us at work, but we had a babysitter/nanny for 12 years. She's much better with little kids than I ever was, and I'd say that they're much nicer people for having had her in their lives (we're still sort of in touch--they went to Guatemala with her a few years back.) My husband or I would drop them at preschool or school, she'd frequently pick-up. This isn't uncommon in Southern California, and the nanny network provided the kids with lots of play dates etc.

But I would often be the last mom to pick up from parties or activities, was usually late (but present!) at the school events, and I didn't feel very plugged into the school communities. My daughter told me that she really didn't like it when I worked so much (TV production--I'd get home really late), but my older kid (son) told me he thought what I did was cool, and he didn't mind. In retrospect, I think I might have been a tich less driven and a bit more relaxed about stuff.

As a freelancer, when I wasn't working, I was looking for work, but still had times of no work, so I could "make it up" to the kids then. Feast or famine. By high school, both of them didn't care at all if anyone was at home.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:50 AM on October 14, 2010

My mother worked 3 12-hour nursing shifts, my dad worked the normal 9-5 as well as having appointments certain days after work as a social worker.

What didn't bother me was that they worked the amount they did. What did bother me, like others said, was very late pickups, no-shows, etc. Believe me, even an 8 year old totally knows how socially awkward it is when you're the last kid at afterschool care and the teachers have started shutting off lights and your mom's still AWOL. Also, I had to tough it out a lot when I really wanted to go home sick (though sometimes I could get my grandmother to pick me up). I mean, at the time I sort of realized how sad that was, and it's just as sad now. My mom couldn't get out of work as a nurse (and was an hour away) and my dad is a DCF lawyer and is in and out of court all day and could very rarely leave early. I'm glad they both work at big, solid institutions in Boston, but I really wish one could've transferred to a job closer to home in the suburbs. We didn't need the McMansion as much as needing a little bit more stability, honestly.

On the plus side, as the oldest, I'm very independent. I could cook us a simple mac and cheese or soup for early dinner at 11, and also I would have to suck it up and knock on the neighbor's door if I screwed up and left my house key inside the house because while I was OK playing outside until 6PM, my 8 year old and 5 year old siblings needed food and bathrooms. These were really important life skills. My SO had a lot of things taken care of for him growing up, and the difference in our personalities is very, very noticeable.

TLDR: It's not necessarily a bad thing, it instills a lot of positive independence, but don't leave your kids hanging or make them feel like they have no one if they need help.
posted by kpht at 9:07 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I grew up with two working parents: mom's a teacher and dad worked in the oil patch and on the farm. I noticed my dad's absence a lot (he was gone for two weeks at a time), but not really my mother's, even though she'd sometimes be home as late as 7 pm if there was a staff meeting. My sister and I always spent time at home (a farm, so I guess differently risked than a city house) and enjoyed both our independent time and time with my mom. In many ways, I appreciated that my mom had interests outside of the home and she often seemed more interesting than my many of my friends' mom who didn't do anything other than clean, cook and gossip. The only other difference I recall noticing was that many of my friends ate dinner at 5 while we'd usually eat it at 7, as mom didn't get home soon enough to cook for 5.
posted by Kurichina at 9:28 AM on October 14, 2010

Homework, especially in elementary school, functions as a way to let parents know how the kids are doing in school. The backlash against homework is huge and growing. If I had your schedule, and felt secure in my knowledge of my children's academic situation, I'd tell the teachers not to give them any more homework, the end. I'd make it a priority. YMMV, of course.

My mom worked part time from the time I was about seven. When I was ~11 and my brother was ~7, she started working full time. Then she quit for a while, and went back to work full time when I started high school.

It sucked. Not because she worked, but because my dad was an entirely inadequate parent, and because my mom really withdrew around the time she started working. She said she was "afraid of smothering" me. This had nasty effects- for example, I went without lunch for years- in theory, I was supposed to "pack my own", but since grocery shopping was one of her most hated tasks, there was very, very rarely lunch appropriate food in the house. And money for school lunch? Forget that. My dad would have a conniption fit every morning if she gave us money for lunch, and my mom was too withdrawn to call him on it. Do I think this would have been different if she was at home full time? I don't know. I do know that work became an excuse for a lot.

I think, especially if someone is home full time, and things are not functioning well, it's sort of in your face. If everyone's so busy busy busy, like we were in my family of origin, it's easier to just push on and never deal with the fact that parents are failing their children. But my parents didn't fall flat because they worked, they did it because they let work take the blame. This is a really important distinction.

The other quasi side effect from having two working parents was that the cleanliness or lack thereof of our house became THE MAJOR ISSUE. Roughly 75% of our time as a family was spent either cleaning and maintaining the house or talking (bitching) about it. My dad was lazy as sin around the house and set a rotten example. He is a neat freak, too- when he lives alone, he cleans a lot, but with a family, he had a pretty atrocious sense of entitlement. This was a deadly combination. My mom tried to guilt me, in particular, into doing more, and it was tiring. By puberty, I was onto the fact that this was abnormal and dysfunctional.

This is why, when I go back to work, I will have to be making more than enough to just cover my expenses for it to be worthwhile, and one of my expenses will be housekeeping. Life is just too short.

The other biggie is cooking. I think the make-dinner-eat-clean-up evening time suck is why people eat out so much. Again, when I go back to work, we are not going to eat home cooked meals every night. I have a flexible meal planning schedule now, since I'm a SAHM, but if I worked full time, the rotation would be something like pancakes and veggie sausage, drive-thru, crock pot, frozen pizza, take out, canned soup, hot dogs, sandwiches, cheese-bread-&-fruit tray, pasta and jarred sauce, you get the idea. I'd also live heavier on the earth and use plastic cups and cutlery, and paper plates and napkins. Evenings are precious, and I'd shave time off chores however I could.

Now, the two or three years that my mom was back at home, those were better, but largely because she was covering for my dad and picking up his slack. We also never had daycare and only rarely had babysitters. My grandparents both worked, so they weren't clutch player childcare, either. I think if we had some supplemental child care, things would have been much, much better. I mean, what are kids going to do if left to their own devices after school?

Myself, my husband and our children moved far away from our friends and family, so we don't have clutch player child care. We know families with young children who have two careers and many hobbies that don't include their kids. I'm not sure how this works, but if it's anything like the way I was raised, I still think it's bullshit if the mom is taxed far beyond what she can take while the dad plays golf.

This seems pretty negative, but I don't mean it to be. What I'm trying to say is that it is entirely possible to be a great, involved parent and also work full time, but it takes support systems, self awareness, and equally involved parents.
posted by Leta at 9:36 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a working mom in a neighborhood of SAHM.

Honestly, I thought it was awesome. It seemed so glamorous. I loved that my mom got dressed in her beautiful office dresses, her heels, put on her perfume and went to work. When I looked at the other mom's in their house frocks I thought SAHM was just boring. (We had some pretty unfashionable neighbors.)

It seemed pretty reasonable to me. We all had something to do during the day and we all reconvened at dinner. Dad went to his job. My sister went to school. I went to day care. Mom went to the office.

As we got older, my sister and I were latchkey kids. Neither of us is any worse for wear. We spent our afternoons places that we could walk: at the library (which we loved), Girl Scouts (sister loved), music lessons (neither of us loved). We played after school sports and joined extracurricular clubs.

And - bonus mother lode - if we didn't feel like going to the library or girl scouts or clubs, then we skipped. Mommy wasn't driving us. From schools end until Dad got home, we were the masters of our own destiny. We had a few hours of autonomy and independence.
posted by 26.2 at 9:48 AM on October 14, 2010

Both of my parents still work (I'm 25). I feel more independant than my SAHM raised peers. Before I was in grade school, I went to a babysitters house where the babysitter watched several children. It was great there, we basically played all day, tv was limited to 1 hour a day (or 2 if you were old enough to not take naps, which i think was 3) and I remember my favorite thing was when it was nice outside we could spread out a tarp and eat lunch outside like a picnic. Most of the day we played with legos, dolls and action figures, drew stuff, or ran around out in the yard. Drawing time usually happened a few times a week and the babysitter would teach us some fundamentals, like the alphabet. Although when I went to kidnergarten I knew little other than recognizing alphabet and how to count, I learned how to read, write, and do math with no trouble or any sense of "feeling behind" and I think that's because having so much unstructured time growing up really developed a sense of curiosity in me so "new things" and new ways to spend my time were always of interest to me (ans still are). To this day, there is nothing more relaxing to me than unstructured time. So much freedom in doing what you want to do when you get the urge to do it.

In school I went to an afterschool program where I would do my homework and then for the vast majority of the time play hockey, either on the gym floor or outside on the grass. This wasn't a formal thing, just kids playing a game. Our afterschool program had a variety of board games and sports goods to play with. I got a lot of excercise there and don't remember too many nights at home, probably because I was tuckered out. That's not to say I felt my mom wasn't there, I'm sure she was, but we were probably both lazy lumps by the time we got home.

I was staying home alone in the summers and after school by the time I was 10 (this was late 3rd grade for me). I could fix a snack or lunch and just generally handle myself by this time. I wasn't allowed to leave the house unless I called my mom and told her. She was always fine with me going to my friends house or taking my dog outside, but she just wanted me to tell her so shed know. I loved this alone time with my dog just hangin out.

Because of my parents working, I never remember a time when I didn't have a concept of the "weekend". It's always been a special time because the whole house seems more relaxed because we didn't need to go to work or school or the babysitters. And we always got a big ginormous mom cooked breakfast on the weekends instead of cereal. Consider breaking out that waffle iron.

So how it affects me today - the positive: I love being alone and feel most calm when I am alone. I crave unstructured time. I am very self reliable.

The slightly negative - Sometimes it's hard to get alone time. I sometimes have difficulty keeping up with friendships because the thought of scheduled events on my weekend oasis of unstructured time still throws me off (though I do have fun at scheduled events..its just a kneejerk mental response whenever someone says "do you want to go hiking saturday at 8?" or whatever). I also have an immediate mental response when I hear about SAHMs with school-age children which is something like "What do they do all day"? So far I have yet to hear any answers that provide anything my mom didn't do while also working.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:55 AM on October 14, 2010

Best answer: This was so obvious that I left if out of my response, but it's really important.

We were loved, cherished, respected and nurtured. My parents liked us as unique little people. We liked to spend time together as family and we still like to spend time together.

If you've got the love, cherish, respect and nurture thing covered, then it's all good - work or not.
posted by 26.2 at 9:59 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

My mom worked as a school nurse (previously an ER nurse before me, brother and my two sisters [one with severe disabilities that meant that she lived in a hospital and when she came home required constant care until she died]) while I was growing up. My dad was NYPD and worked varying hours. There was a point in my lief when they both had a full time job and a part time job (medical bills from my sister, among other things).

The idea of having a parent always at home is foreign to me. I think I've got awesome parents and don't feel like I missed out on anything. Would it have been nice for them to not work so much? Sure, in the same way it would be nice if my mom gave birth to two healthy twins. But I don't think my mom could be a stay at home mom, she'd get bored.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:13 AM on October 14, 2010

Upon reading a lot of the comments here, I do think I'm a rather independent person for a lot of reasons, but a big part of that is I didn't have a parent constantly hovering over me. My girlfriend jokes (every time I wonder aloud how someone got to be an adult and doesn't know how to ____ yet) that I believe I was raised by being left on a mountain top at age 6 to fend for myself. I don't think that's the case exactly, but this general idea seems to have surfaced here a few times.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:18 AM on October 14, 2010

Best answer: You already know what it's like. It kinda sucks. But hey, them's the breaks. I was raised by a single working mom, and it was hard for both of us, but you do what you gotta do to get by.

My advice would be to engage your kids in a lot of conversations about their caregivers. "So what's new with Suzy Stayathome," that kind of thing.

My mom never brought them up in conversation (maybe she felt guilty, or maybe she just didn't care, or maybe the thought just never occurred to her). If she had, I probably would have mentioned how Mrs. _____'s friends came over every afternoon and they snorted this funny white powder at the kitchen table, and what was the deal with that, anyway?

I was vaguely curious about that for YEARS until I finally figured it out!
posted by ErikaB at 10:29 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had a pretty unusual childhood for the time I grew up in (late 1960s through 1970s) - my parents divorced when I was around 5 and each parent worked full-time. Not to mention that I'm an only child. I was a latchkey kid starting at age 7. Anyway - there was definitely no June Cleaver around my house!

The negative that came out of it is pretty small-scale, I'd say - my interest and competence in domesticity is nonexistent. I had to teach myself how to cook, I remain a terrible housekeeper, I have no happy memories of family mealtimes because there really weren't any.

The slightly negative: the love, cherish, nurture side of things. This was missing somewhat due to who my parents were - they were not warm fuzzy people. I wasn't aware of it at the time, so I don't think I felt anything lacking there, but as an adult I have had to work really hard to develop these qualities in myself.

The positive, however, is what matters most to me and what I am grateful for: to echo others, I learned independence at a very early age, embraced it wholeheartedly, and never looked back.
posted by chez shoes at 10:31 AM on October 14, 2010

Best answer: Not only did both my parents work, but my father was an orthopedic surgeon (which means being on call) and my mother is a hospital administrator (again means being on call). Both of them worked very long hours and brought their work home with them. This meant also working while on vacation. I never resented either of my parents, although I was occasionally disappointed when one of them had to miss something like an awards ceremony or a family outing because of an emergency. Still, I understood that it WAS an emergency. My parents had a very deep commitment to helping people and being a survivor of childhood cancer myself, I knew how important their jobs are/were.

What DID bother me were unnecessary interruptions of time set aside to be with one or both of them. For example, when I was younger the only uninterrupted time I had with my mother was when we were in the car together usually when I was being driven to school. Yet once she got a cellphone, she would constantly interrupt conversations to "Make one call. It'll just take a minute." But it was never just one call and those quick calls would add up and suddenly the 30 minutes we had to talk was gone. I have to admit that she would do that (and still does that now that I spend even less time with her) is hurtful and, frankly, I find it insulting.

My advice is to set aside special time to spend with your kids each weekend AND DO NOT INTERRUPT IT. Even if you guys just play board games or go out for ice cream, creating special time JUST FOR THEM should go a long way to letting them know how much you love and care about them.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:51 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Growing up, I think I went through what you're asking.

My mom was a stay at home mom until I was 7 or 8, while my dad worked full time. Things changed, money got tighter, and mom decided she needed to go back into the work force.

I was "the big boy" compared to my little sister, so I started being asked to do a lot of little things. Get a pre-made meal out of the fridge and put it into the oven, or pull something out of the freezer to thaw before they got home.

The biggest problem for me was having to remember a house key. I went from the front door never being locked while mom was home, to always having to remember the key, and if I forgot it or lost it, I was stuck sitting on the front porch or having to go to a friend's house until mom or dad got home.

It was really frustrating, but they both tried to make as much time for us on the weekends and in the evenings as they could. I think I'd agree with the "increased independence" that others have mentioned, but I will say I occasionally felt jealous of friends who always had a parent around the house.
posted by BZArcher at 1:09 PM on October 14, 2010

My sister and I grew up with two working parents. Well, three, really.
We lived with a family friend who shared his house with us. He later passed away from cancer when I was 14. But he was like a second Dad.

I should mention that I also lived next door to my grandparents, an uncle and an aunt.

When my parents worked - I was in school. After school, my aunt would come over and babysit until my parents came home. When we were older, we would just hang out at the
house and eat all the snack foods until Mom and Dad came home. Or hang out with my Aunt.

My father and I spent a lot of time traveling locally R/C racing and at his business (an R/C track). This was mostly on the weekends.

If anything, my sister and I were spoiled - and I can't speak for her, but I don't believe having working parents affected me at all. I didn't know any different.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:33 PM on October 14, 2010

Best answer: Both of my parents work, and I remember my siblings and I being very jealous and possessive of my mom's time after school. Good ways she addressed this was by having us trade off helping her make dinner/set the table, which gave us some time with her and by reading to us before bed (we each had a long book we would work on with her). I do really remember being resentful that my dad was not nearly as involved with us and always had the TV on from the time he/we arrived home until bed, including during dinner. I often felt even in the way of the TV during dinner, as I sat across the table from him with the TV at my back. I feel like this definitely minimized the quality time of a family dinner together given there was nearly no conversation.

My suggestions logically follow there: involve the kids in the things around the house you have to do, as that time spent with you whether one-or-one or not is still valuable; devote some time to them to ask about their days and share high points (and low if you like) of yours as well; reinforce how much you enjoy and value your time together afterward; and try to engage in their activity choices for a bit on the weekends- playing games, going outside, so they do know that when you have the time to say yes to a game of ball or Chutes and Ladders that you'll do so.
posted by questionsandanchors at 2:06 PM on October 14, 2010

My mom ran a home business (day care, so she couldn't leave) and then worked outside of the home and my dad worked as well. The only thing that ever bothered me was when my mom couldn't come to assemblies at school (I never expected my dad to for some reason, I guess because it was just a thing that most people's dads didn't come to stuff during the day). This was mostly in elementary school, when they had stuff during the day instead of at night, and she couldn't even "take off," because she had several kids at our house.

It was also really boring in the summer, but frankly, my mom didn't take us places a lot anyway, so even if she had been home, it wouldn't have been that different (outings were more dad's area on weekends). I was a responsible kid, possibly because I watched my younger sister starting in middle school, every weekday during summer. It wasn't that bad. I do wish my parents would have made more of an effort to get me set up to hang out with other kids, or do daytime activities like camp, but money was too tight.
posted by elpea at 4:13 PM on October 14, 2010

I had plenty of babysitters, usually a new one every 1-2 years. My grandmother did it when I was little until she got too sick, then I went to various people who lived within the vicinity of our house or the elementary school I went to, and by fourth grade they had a day care on campus for after school. In the fifth grade I was deemed Old Enough To Stay Home Alone. (Disclaimer: I was an olllllld fifth grader.)

At the time I was kind of "eh" about it. The day cares depended on who was there, how nice or blah the sitter was, or how nice or pain in the ass the other kids were. I only had one where the kids were pains (the sitter was nice) and one where the sitter was meh and the kids were nice. But it was okay, really. I'd do my homework and hang out. And I really loved the after-school daycare because my friends went there.

The only thing I really had a problem with is that my mom is perpetually late and I was always the dead last kid getting picked up all the time, and was usually there way past the time the places officially closed down. I got really annoyed at her for that.

Once I got to be latchkey, it was awesome. Even though I usually just had a snack and did homework and watched crappy daytime television, I liked the adulthood of being home alone.

It never occurred to me that a parent COULD stay home, other than my sitters I didn't know anybody who did (and I considered sitters to be working moms anyway). Looking back, I am sooooooooo grateful she didn't stay home. My mom goes out of her mind on weekends when she's trapped in the house cleaning, and I think she would have been a horror to come home to from school every day if she'd had no reason to leave the house.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:21 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hm. Upon looking at other answers, I forgot to add:

(a) My dad worked out of town, so he got home later. Mom was either in my town or in the neighboring town to ours, so she was the closer one to deal with the crap.
(b) Neither parent flaked out on school events, but we also didn't really do any that were not working-parent-friendly that I remember either.
(c) I felt like I got plenty of parent time. Probably more than I ever wanted, really.
(d) I had a really late bedtime (11 p.m.) since age 2, because we were all a bunch of night owls. Mom said something about how she kept me up late as a kid because she wanted more time with me, but I also wouldn't sleep before then either. (Boy, that hasn't changed.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:29 PM on October 14, 2010

Yes, nthing kpht's comment about late pick-ups

I loved coming home from school to an empty house (so much freedom to do anything I wanted, even the forbidden things.)

But late pick-ups are a totally different story.

Once a week after school, my mum would drive me to the theatre class that I attended, and drop me off. There was a finish time my parents were supposed to be there to pick me up. They were never on time.

All the other kids would get picked up.

Then the teacher would say to me "Are your parents coming?" (which would make me feel very awkward and self conscious and embarrassed. And also I would feel like all the other kids, and the teacher, thought that my parents didn't value me very much at all, or they wouldn't be so very late.)

I always wanted the teacher to stick around and keep me company while I was waiting, but her body language and tone of voice made it clear that the theatre teacher wouldn't have been okay with doing that.

Then the theatre teacher would leave, too, because she had places she needed to be, and she knew my parents were coming.

And then I would be, sitting on the fence in the car park, and the sun would set, and it would get dark, and I would still be sitting there all alone waiting in the dark for 10 or 15 or 20 or even 30 minutes until my mum or dad arrived.

And if I got angry at my parents about the late pick-up, I would get yelled at for ingratitude - after all, I was getting to take this very expensive theatre class, and my parents had to run me there and back each week, and it was such a huge effort on their part.

And anyway, mum or dad would say, we're not that late, and the class could have been running late, in which case mum/dad would have had to sit around in the car waiting for the class to end, which would have been a big waste of their time.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 4:54 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Both my parents worked - my dad full-time, my mother part time (shift work occasionally with weekends). From when I was ten I was allowed to stay home alone. It was BRILLIANT. I got to eat when I wanted, choose what to watch on TV all day, use the family stereo without being told to turn it down, and felt incredibly independent. I think it made me much more independent in later life as I learned to enjoy my own company and figure things out for myself.

Although, I lived in a town where it was easy to get about with public transport and I could walk to school - if you'r ein a culture where everyone drives it might be more of an issue.
posted by mippy at 3:42 AM on October 15, 2010

Both of my parents worked in the military, and I agree with everything that's been said. I never felt deprived or cheated by my parents, and I feel like it made me a more resilient and independent person. Added bonus: I got to see my mum have a fulfilling, rewarding career, and an identity outside of her family, and I think for that reason I'm a lot more open to the idea of having kids now than other women in my immediate cohort.
posted by nerdfish at 5:27 AM on November 22, 2010

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