Help me talk to my wife about what time I leave work?
January 5, 2011 3:30 PM   Subscribe

How can I communicate better with my wife about what time I leave work?

I have a salary position that demands between 35 and 50 hours a week. I work for a company who does consulting for automotive OEMs; my position is onsite at one of the OEMs. This means I sit right next to my client who pays the bills.

I don't have a set starting time, and generally arrive at work between 830 and 930. I don't have a set ending time and generally leave work between 5 and 630 - depending on a variety of factors: what time I got there in the morning, how long my lunch was, workload, what I'm working on at the end of the day, last minute questions, what my client's schedule is [don't want to leave before them consistently], time of the month [busier at the beginning doing reporting for the previous month], etc. I have a 45-60 minute commute coming home, so I arrive home between 530 and 7 most nights. I usually work at home (aka open the laptop and be available for questions/meetings) a couple times a month, but these aren't schedule days either - just whenever I want to and can arrange things in my office.. I enjoy the flexibility and non-routineness of my schedule.

Every afternoon, without fail, my wife asks what time I will be leaving work. As soon as I hear the first part of the question, or even get to a lull in an afternoon conversation where it sounds like she might ask - I'm on edge because I can't answer her question satisfactorily.

If I say "I don't know what time I'll be leaving tonight." she doesn't understand why not. If I say "I'm going to work until X is done or person Y has a chance to look at this then start packing up." she wants to know how long those things will take. If I say "530, give or take" she gets exasperated that my "give or take" can be up to 30 minutes. To say nothing of her reaction if I get stopped talking to a client or someone else while packing up and talk to them for 45 minutes. Both the inconsistency in departure time and my inability to effectively explain what that time will be infuriate her.

She thinks I should be leaving at the same time every day. She's currently unemployed and staying at home with our two children. Prior to this, she was employed by the federal government [set hours of work, no staying late, no working weekends, etc].

My position is that I have a salaried job that requires me to work past 5pm some days; stay until 9pm some days, get up at 2am some days, and work weekends some times. If I try to accommodate and estimate a departure time & miss it or have to call to change it she gets upset; but if I try to be vague or noncommittal about a time she gets upset. Damned if I do and Damned if I don't.

Does any one have any suggestions for managing the situation? Do I need a set departure time every day even if its not what I want? Other ideas or input or try this or anything at all? It's a minor issue, but causes me grief every single day.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (83 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Would she be satisfied with a text as you're leaving every day?
posted by mollymayhem at 3:34 PM on January 5, 2011

If I were you, I would estimate the absolute latest I will leave, add on 30 minutes, and give that as an estimate. Then she'll be happy when you get home early!

Is she hoping for relief with the kids? All day every day is a lot. Can you hire a babysitter sometimes for the witching hour (say, 5-8 or something) to give her a break?
posted by valeries at 3:34 PM on January 5, 2011 [21 favorites]

You need to figure out (or ask) why it is your wife needs or wants to know when you are coming home. Is it because she cooks dinner for you and wants to know what time it should be ready? Is it because she is desperate for adult company after being alone all day? Is it because her plans for the evening depend on whether you will be around to put the kids to bed?

Find out which of these is the problem, or whether it is something else. Then find a solution to this problem that does not require you to finish at the same time each day or know exactly when you will be leaving. E.g. if it's a dinner issue, maybe tell her she only needs to cook for the kids, and then you take over cooking for the both of you (or just for yourself) when you get home.

If it's a loneliness issue, try texting or emailing her more frequently during the day. Maybe call her for a chat around 5pm, if you are staying late.

If it's because she needs you at home earlier, then you might need to think about coming in earlier and leaving earlier on a more regular basis, and explaining this to your client. Or hiring a babysitter/mother's help some evenings so your wife has an extra pair of hands around when you will be late.
posted by lollusc at 3:36 PM on January 5, 2011 [61 favorites]

You need to figure out why this is actually bothering her. My husband comes home from work hungry. He likes to be able to eat dinner shortly after getting home. Also, he works irregular hours. I like to be home when he gets home, because we don't always get a lot of time together. It took him a while to understand that I needed to know when he would be getting home, so that I could make sure dinner was ready or even just so that I could plan my errands or whatever such that I was back home when he came home. Our solution was that he called me before leaving his office. So perhaps she has some practical reason for wanting to know? Depending on what the reason is, you may be able to come up with a workable solution.
posted by bardophile at 3:37 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

The first thing I'll say is that even though I understand this is very frustrating, a bit of contempt towards your wife is starting to slip out. (Why did we need to know she's unemployed at home with the kids?) Once contempt starts slipping out in problems like this with your partner it just makes everything a million times meaner and harder.

If I say "I don't know what time I'll be leaving tonight." she doesn't understand why not. If I say "I'm going to work until X is done or person Y has a chance to look at this then start packing up." she wants to know how long those things will take. If I say "530, give or take" she gets exasperated that my "give or take" can be up to 30 minutes.

I think you should do your very best to at least give her that "5:30, give or take." And if the give or take is up to 30 minutes, or up to an hour, or whatever, specify that. Let her know what the factors are that contribute to the give or take. You could take 30 seconds at some point in the day to shoot her a quick text updating her on the progress on these factors.

If she's not satisfied with that, have you tried asking her in a genuine, non-defensive, let's-solve-this-problem-together, for her solution as to what you should do give these unknown factors?
posted by Ashley801 at 3:39 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Maybe she wants a set dinner time? Like you could eat dinner at 7:30pm every night? Maybe you could call her when you are leaving work so she gets an hour 'heads up' notice? It sounds like you enjoy having a varied schedule while she is (I'm assuming) pretty tied down with two children every day. I guess you need to speak with her to set some sort of routine with her so she's happier? /not married, probably shouldn't be answering this.
posted by bquarters at 3:39 PM on January 5, 2011

This may be less about your wife wanting to know exactly when you're going to get home from work, and more a case of her wanting to know when you're going to come help with the kids.

She may not be working outside the home, but she does have a full-time, non-salaried position taking care of the house and the kids. From her perspective, you leave every day whenever, and come back whenever, and you might or might not be at home on the weekends, either. You leave your job, but she never does.

My suggestion to you would be: arrive every day at work at 8:30, because that's absolutely in your control. And to tell her you will be home every day at 7:00, because that's what you list as your latest for the most part. Then you can only ever come home early, and she will be able to plan her day as well.

On days when you know you will be working past 7:00, call her by five to let her know you're working late. She'll just have to get used to the times when you get called in-- but if you anticipate being called in, let her know as soon as you do.
posted by headspace at 3:40 PM on January 5, 2011 [51 favorites]

I see nothing here that stops you from leaving at a set time most days. Plenty of people with small kids do that, then make themselves available at home later on in the evening. By your own description, you prefer the fuzziness in your schedule. So if what's really going on is that your wife wants you home at a set time (and that seems to be the gist of it) then you are going to have to have a conversation about how to negotiate those confiding preferences. Doesn't have to do do much with the exact tasks that you do, but rather how you chose to manage your time.
posted by yarly at 3:40 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

I completely empathize with that feeling of frustration when an SO asks "When are you leaving work?" Gah, I can feel it now...

On your wife's side, I can completely understand why it's frustrating. My SO is a student who sometimes has very varied hours, and it's frustrating not knowing when he's going to walk through the door. Dinner is impossible to plan. Evening activities are impossible to plan. If there are kids involved then that just doubles or triples the frustration.

In compromise, we agreed that instead of him bugging me each day while I'm working, we set a "standard depart time" (6:00 for us, even though I usually get off around 5:30). I don't have to depart at that time, but if I don't, then I owe him a text or give him a call to let him know what my schedule will be. That way he's not sitting at home waiting for me with dinner cooling on the stove.

"I don't know what time I'll be leaving tonight"

That doesn't sound like a very reasonable response to me, especially if she's calling at the end of the work day. Task completion estimation is an important skill, and I think it's perfectly valid to tell a chatty client or coworker that "My family's waiting, can you shoot me an email and I'll check it tonight/tomorrow?"
posted by muddgirl at 3:41 PM on January 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

She sounds like I used to be.

Early on, I took my husband coming home later than me as sort of a sign that he loved his work more than coming home to hang out with me. Which actually wasn't true, but I only understood this after I started working in a job with variable hours where I was far enough away from home that by the end of the day, I'd end up staying later just because I was too exhausted to get up from work and just dithered around on the internet or in the area unwinding a little. It was only then that I really "got it" and stopped worrying about whether he was not that fond of me.

Do you talk about your work to her? Do you call her spontaneously to check in with her? Or does she end up waiting for you at home, lonely? Just give her a call, tell her what's going on, ask her how she is (and be interested), and don't make it seem like you're trying to escape homelife with your job, that you like being at home with her and the kids.
posted by anniecat at 3:42 PM on January 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

Text her when you get in the car (but before you start driving) to come home? Is her stress because she needs to plan her evening and not knowing when you'll be home for dinner, for example, makes it hard for her to do what she needs to do? Can you talk to her about why it is important for her to know when you are coming home?

I like to know when my SO is coming home because I know when to start worrying that something happened to him! Also, I start to plan my evening in the afternoon (what's for dinner, do I have any errands to run, what do I need to do) which may be what your wife wants to do but not knowing when you will be home is making that planning process difficult.

I think if you find out WHY she wants to know you can come up with solutions. Like, if she wants to have dinner waiting for you when you get home, tell her to find a time for dinner that works with the kids schedules and not wait for you. Or maybe she is feeling isolated and wants your company so you could schedule some together time that you stick to. If someone stops you on the way out the door say, "I would love to discuss XYZ with you but I'm afraid I have another commitment I need to get to right now. Can we pick this up AT A SPECIFIC TIME IN THE FUTURE?" People will respect that answer and if you really do follow up it won't be a problem.

But, really, without knowing why she thinks the time you are coming home is so important, its hard to know what a good solution would be.
posted by rachums at 3:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dinner is impossible to plan. Evening activities are impossible to plan. If there are kids involved then that just doubles or triples the frustration.

Oh god I cannot tell you how many times I went dizzy from hunger because I thought I'd wait so he and I could eat together. I love him and wanted to unwind with him, or at least have dinner ready so I could feel helpful to him and show him that I loved him. And the days I was lucky and made something that could fare heating up in the microwave, he was happier. It's better than scrounging around in the kitchen for a box of crackers or having cereal.
posted by anniecat at 3:46 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

Same exact situation with my wife and I, except I work from home and she has the non-normal hours. It pisses me off to no end that she can't call and let me know so that I can plan dinner around when she's coming home. I cook and clean and take care of the house, as well as hold down a job, and she can't be bothered to call?! WTF!!!

Sorry, and now to my expectations of her. I expect a phone call around 5 pm every day, without fail. This is to acknowledge that she is thinking about what her day after work is going to look like, and to fill me in on how things are going so that I'm not sitting around waiting for her.

Part of the problem is we just moved here and I don't really have a life yet. If I were out doing things, or meeting people, the situation would be different, but I work from home and we've been here only for a couple of months, in a VERY small town.

She needs to get out more and stop relying on you so much, and you need to start keeping a routine schedule of when you are going to call her.
posted by TheBones at 3:47 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband calls me around 5 every day he's in the office to tell me what time he's coming home from work. This gives me enough time to have dinner ready at a reasonable hour (he cooks on the days he works from home). Maybe if you can make a schedule like that and keep it?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:49 PM on January 5, 2011

I'm basically your wife, but with freelance work instead of kids to deal with during the day.

Is there a specific reason why she wants to know when you'll be home? Is she expected to have dinner waiting? When you get home from work, do your take over childcare so she can have some time to herself, meaning your getting home late cuts into her break from the kids? Does she have other evening activities -- socializing outside the house, volunteer work, errands, etc -- the can't happen until you get home, and which she can't reliably schedule because of your unpredictable hours?

If it's impossible for you to reliably let her know when you'll be home, then it's impossible. But it sounds like it's more of an inconvenience, in which case the kind thing to do would be to accommodate her on this issue. Being at home all the time can be incredibly lonely and isolating, even more so if there are small children to take care of. Is this compromise really that big of a deal for you?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:50 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If her work experience is a government job, then she might think that the entire world works M-F 9am to 5pm and has every holiday off and never works late or on weekends. This type of job has always been very rare and is rapidly disappearing altogether, even from government work. In the entire history of human work, that period when there were set on/off work hours (for all except factory shift workers) is but a brief second. She's going to have to come to grips with that one way or another because it's reality.

But on the other hand, there could be several reasons why she wants to know when you're going to come home. Talk to her about why she's asking instead of stressing about not having an exact answer for her. Is she bored or lonely or needs human contact with an adult after dealing with kids all day? Or does she just want to know what to make for dinner and if you're going to be there to eat it?

If it's her choice to stay home with the children, then that means you have to work extra hours. The consequence of that is that you're not always going to be available to demand; it's your employer who has that power of you (as long as you need them more than they need you). One thing that I've seens come up a lot lately is that with the advent of mobile devices and telecommuting, people are at home, but still working. Being physically present but unable to to pay attention or otherwise being unavailable because they're still technically on the clock has caused more friction than just staying late at the office and not being at home at all. Watch out for that.

Can you make some arrangement with both your spouse and your employer, that they each get some dedicated time that is written in stone? I'm thinking of some kind of deal that on Monday and Tuesday you're off the clock at 5pm without fail and home for the night, Wednesday and Thursday your're going to be in the office until 6 or 7pm - don't wait up at home - and Fridays are anybody's guess? Then both your employer and your family know where you're going to be all week, and that they're going to get your full attention. And you're not stuck in the middle trying to be available to both, which is impossible.
posted by bartleby at 3:57 PM on January 5, 2011

I await solutions to this problem as well, as I have been plagued with this as well. On both sides of the issue.

I think if someone hasn't ever worked a job where the going home time depends completely on what is going on at the moment, they find it hard to understand. The "I enjoy the flexibility and non-routineness of my schedule" outlook on work-life makes them crazy. And rightly so: if someone is waiting for you, they really don't want to hear that you enjoy being unpredictable.

My work is unplannable- I respond to urgencies of varying importance, at multiple locations each day. Even though my services are rarely required after 5, I can end up with anywhere between a 15 - 120 minute ride home depending on the vagaries of the day. This makes after-work plans hard- the people I would meet have to understand that I have little control over what will happen. They often don't. (Especially if they have been done with their 7 hour work day since 3:00.)

Other side of the coin: I have acquaintances who make their own schedule. It galls me to no end that they cannot change their schedule to make room for 2 or 3 important things a year, simply because they don't care to roll into work until 11.


Is she just being curious? Or is there a dinner time that she needs to plan for?

Is your work really that unpredictable? Are you there late because the clients expect it, or because you get into a groove at the end of the day and don't want to stop for some artificial 5 o'clock bell?

Potential solution, which worked for me to some extent: start with a more concrete starting time. This will, at least, give the appearance of trying to meet the family halfway.

And not for nothing, those times are important family times. Kids go to bed early, so losing an hour of that time is losing a lot of time. I imagine it gets lonely in the house...
posted by gjc at 3:58 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is not the answer to the question that you asked, but it's the answer that occurs to me because it's after 6:00 here and I don't know when my husband's coming home this evening, and I'm kind of hungry and hope he texts that he's coming home soon so I can think about dinner: I deal with this a lot better now that his driving commute is 5 minutes and not 20 minutes with good traffic or 45+ with bad.

Nthing that you need to figure out why she wants you home (dinner planning, family time with kids, etc.) and deal with it. Most days, while I'd prefer that my husband came home at 5:00, it's not a big deal, but we don't have kids and I can call him if I need him to knock off to help me with something or because we have tickets somewhere. He respects my need to know because he knows why I'm asking, and I don't hassle him unless I have a reason why he should be available/ready at a specific time.
posted by immlass at 4:11 PM on January 5, 2011

....what time I got there in the morning, how long my lunch....

My only comment is that if the rest of your schedule is as subject to the needs of others as you say, I'm not sure why these two elements come into play unless you need additional time to finish things because of those two things.

Do you know what I mean? I got called three times on New Year's Eve with a crisis, and three times on New Year's Day. I am fine with that, and I am fine with the fact that I showed up at 10 AM yesterday because I wanted to go to the gym first.

This may have nothing to do with you and maybe I'm projecting, because I do have someone close to me who doesn't do these things and is mainly overworked and sort of resentful about it, but when you have a job with leaky personal boundaries, it's up to you to establish where they are and come to an internal understanding with yourself about what's fair.

As far as your wife -- man, I hated being alone when I was on maternity leave. I kind of wanted to throw the kid at Mr. Llama when he finally came home. When he was fifteen minutes late my brain was sort of on fire. Is there any small possibility that actually, coming home is a bit of a drag and you're avoiding it?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:12 PM on January 5, 2011 [17 favorites]

To me, there's an elephant in the thread that (I don't think) anybody has mentioned. Is she possibly jealous? Suspicious? Worried about your fidelity? Many times when a partner wants an answer to these questions, it is to have a sense of security and comfort when you say "6:00" - and you walk in at "6:00". If it's always being pushed back, even legitimately, there is often a high anxiety that can overcome a sensitive person and their mind begins to spin with all the reasons you might be "late." This may not be your situation at all, but I thought I would mention it as life is complicated and sometimes scary for people who don't have an innate sense of safety and security in their relationships - or maybe anything at all.

Good luck!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 4:19 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to remember, and remind yourself frequently, that staying home with small children is much -- much!! -- harder than almost any desk job. It is isolating, stressful, lonely, boring, strenuous, and soul sucking. Having another adult around is a huge weight off. It completely changes the dynamic in the house if every squeal from the kids isn't automatically your problem to deal with alone. So, yes, she probably does anxiously await your return; and when that waiting drags on and on it's really awful.

The suggestions above that you call her at a set time every evening, like 5, to chat briefly, let her know you're thinking about her, and let her know how the evening is looking, are excellent.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:21 PM on January 5, 2011 [26 favorites]

Would she accept an absolute latest time you will leave? Could you say "I will be leaving before 6pm" and stick to that? That way if you come home a little early it's okay but she knows the absolute latest you'll be staying.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:26 PM on January 5, 2011

I have a couple of questions, hopefully you're able to address them:

Why do you not have a set starting time? Is it dependent on what time the client's office opens? Is it because you want to be there before the client arrives? Since this is one of the factors that affect what time you leave, it might help to understand if there are other contributing factors to why your schedule is so varied.

Why do you not want to leave before the client? Is it because you do not want to give them an impression that you care less about them? Is it due to a clause in your company's contract with the client?

Maybe I'm reading too much between the lines, but it's beginning to look like you consider your job to be of a higher priority than your family. Given that your wife is unemployed, it's understandable that you are the only one with means to put food on the table, thanks to your client "who pays the bills." Perhaps this is part of the reason you seem to be making sacrifices for the client; by catering to the OEM you feel you ensure your job security and can continue to provide for your family?

You mention that you enjoy the flexibility of a non-rigid schedule, and I can understand that. I can also understand the need to remain at work longer than usual to take care of deadlines and other things, as would typically be required from a salaried position. However, you seem to indicate that you prefer the flexibility and are using the salaried position requirement as justification. Are there problems at home that perhaps you are trying to avoid? Is working from home on non-scheduled days really THAT necessary, or is it because you don't want to take care of the wife and kids (perhaps feeling that since wife is unemployed, it's all her responsibility)?

I think a good starting point towards addressing this situation between you and your wife is an honest discussion about why you prefer this working schedule and how you feel it contributes towards the family and household. By that I mean seriously considering the pros and cons of why work gets so much attention and how this impacts your wife and kids. This at least will establish some groundwork upon which you can see where you can compromise and make any changes that will keep both your clients and your family happy.
posted by CancerMan at 4:31 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

Your defensive stance "No, I cannot give you ANY definitive time" sounds strange to me. Surely, if your client asks you when you'll come in the morning, you'll tell him something like "I'll be in 9:30 at the latest!" (probably you'd even tell him an exact time, because that is the polite thing to do when people depend on you). Why not pay the same respect to your wife? She also depends on you, and you're working on a shared project (your kids). I'm sure she's scheduling stuff around you finally arriving, and just needs some structure in her (extremely unstructured, stressful) life situation. Try to help her out by at least giving her a "latest" time. If you arrive early, she'll be happy. And if, for any reason, you have to stay longer than your latest time some day - call her and apologize (the same way you would do with a work appointment), and make up for it some other day.

Also, remember how nice it is that someone, without fail, every afternoon, thinks of you and (I assume) misses you and asks you when you'll be home. Is that really something you want to be angry about? I know it can be hard when work and family obligations are tugging at you right and left and you just want to be left alone, but...try to frame and understand it in a more positive way, maybe.
posted by The Toad at 4:31 PM on January 5, 2011 [46 favorites]

Nthing everyone else's comments that it's important to know why she cares and that you should send her a text as you're leaving each day.

But I also have a job like yours, and I don't understand why by the afternoon you still don't know when you'll be leaving. Most of your factors are known at that point (when you got there in the morning, how long of a lunch you took, what you have to do and how busy you are). The only unknown is last-minute questions, and it doesn't sound like those are a major factor on a daily basis -- so on most days you should more or less be able to answer the question of when you'll be heading home.

If stuff comes up then stuff comes up, but for the most part it sounds like you simply don't want to be accountable to your wife in terms of what time you leave for home (or telling her when that's going to be). Maybe she's picking up on that and that's part of what's bothering her. "Do I need a set departure time every day even if its not what I want?" is up to you, but if you're just Peter Pan-ing this, you have to decide if this is a hill worth dying on.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:36 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Start at the same time every day. Have lunch at the same time every day. Finish at the same time every day. Soon enough, people are working around you, not the other way around. If you really don't have a schedule as you claim, then there's nothing to stop you from doing this. You say you enjoy your current flexibility. Your wife doesn't. Which is more important to you?

Nobody thinks any less of you when you go home at 5:30 - nobody important, anyway, and almost certainly nobody who'll say anything. To those that matter, you're reliable. You're dependable. They know where you are, and when. Do it properly, and you're efficient, a contrast to those who just hang around for reasons people don't really understand, because they want to feel needed, important.

Communication is essential: for example, at 2pm, "Steve, I'm heading off at five - anything you need urgently before then?" Any last minute requests - "thanks - can we get together at 9:30am to discuss?" You can hang around to put out a genuine fire when needed, but otherwise, these are your hours, and after a month or two, everybody will work around them without being asked. Be wary of vampires with no lives of their own who just want to talk, or being trapped in a 'I was last to leave' pissing contest.

Seriously, what value are you adding by waiting for somebody to finish looking at something at the end of the day, and then going home? If they actually need something to be done, can it really not wait until morning - you know, the mornings where you start whenever you feel like it? Why are you talking to clients for 45 minutes at 6pm? Don't you have a diary? Your 'start when I like' schedule and hours that depend on when you start and how long it takes to eat a sandwich seem to imply a distinct lack of urgency around what you do; rather, you just seem to stick around til you feel like you've done enough - or you think other people think you've done enough.

You repeatedly mention that you don't have a schedule. Manage yourself better and make one. Perhaps dividing your salary by the actual number of hours you work and working out your real hourly rate will give you an incentive to pack more into your day, make you more efficient and effective, and make both your client and your wife happier.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:40 PM on January 5, 2011 [16 favorites]

Nthing the likelihood that she needs to know so she can plan dinner, get help with kids, run that last errand to the store, etc. That said, given her work background, she may have the expectation that being able to judge when you will leave should be simpler for you than it necessarily is (I have a job that tends to be more like yours). So you guys are going to have to meet in the middle, as a team, and figure this out -- be solution-oriented, not blame-oriented. She needs to communicate the actual practical issues that are dependent on what time you come home -- this will allow her to feel heard, and will allow you to empathize more with her challenges at home. You need to communicate with her regularly from work -- a quick call or text around 5:00 is a good idea -- so that you're not feeling anxious and she's not feeling like a pest, and so that you can give her an estimate of what the latest time you'll be coming home will be.

Now, this may mean different things for different days; some days it may be possible for you to be coming home at a time that will make it easier for her to plan dinner together, some days you may be coming home late that she's going to have to feed the kids first (or whatever the situation will call for). That's OK. The goal is for you both to be a little more flexible with each other, so you're both being heard and getting your needs met.

Be on her side. Help her be on your side. That's where the fix resides.
posted by scody at 4:40 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't even get half way through your description before I thought "this has nothing to do with what time he leaves work."

Your wife is not a moron and you've given us no indication that she's suffering from some extreme mental illness preventing her from noticing that this discussion goes the same every time you have it.

Yet.... you are in this control battle over your departure time.

Are you not communicating that you feel strongly that you must do projects to a certain degree of completion every day to feel good about your job? Are you being so unpredictable that she's unable to make plans about her actions for a good two hour window? Is she having other issues in life that are making this her "hill to die on" because it's where she feels like maybe she can have an impact?

Or more briefly: your problem is not that you need to communicate better about what time you leave work. You need to communicate better so you can find out why you're really having this much trouble talking about this.
posted by phearlez at 4:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Can you make a point to leave at 5, no doubt, once a week? I work with OEM's...I think it is unreasonable for them to be there just longer than me every day. They should be there when I need them and when something is going on, but if I had a question (that could wait) and he said: "Gee, can we talk about this tomorrow..I'm trying to get home for dinner" wouldn't it be unreasonable for me to say: "ABSOLUTELY NOT!"?
posted by beachhead2 at 4:47 PM on January 5, 2011

Many good answers in here already. I just wanted to point out that you've phrased the question in terms of being able to communicate information to your wife -- information about your needs/desires/schedule/etc. It seems that you believe the problem is that she doesn't understand your situation well enough.

You'll notice that many commenters have been speculating about your wife's needs/desires etc, and I think it's telling that you didn't focus on those in your question. You're seeing the failure to communicate from you to her, but seem to be less aware of the failure of communication from her back to you. It may be that working on your listening will be more effective here than working on your speaking.

One concrete suggestion: make a commitment to call her at a fixed time every day and give her your best estimate. You're annoyed by her every time she asks, and that does a little bit of harm to your relationship every day. If you take it into your own hands, make it your choice to place that call every day, then you'll feel more in power and hopefully less frustrated by her.
posted by wyzewoman at 4:49 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and when you do have this conversation, here's a tip: hold hands while you do it. Seriously. Hold each other's hands and keep your bodies turned toward each other so that you're connected while you have this conversation, rather than closed off.

This will help you both to listen in good faith to each other, and will help discourage getting impatient, interrupting, digging your heels in, using trigger words like "you always" "you never" "you should/shouldn't," and -- my big thing to watch out for -- a seemingly positive statement followed by the word "BUT" (e.g. "I hear what you're saying, honey, BUT [xyx]"). All of those are like cutting a telephone line -- your ability to communicate productively will just go dead.
posted by scody at 4:56 PM on January 5, 2011 [13 favorites]

Your arrival time is going to make shifts in the kids schedule. If you'll be home at 5:30, then the family will eat early. The kids don't get a late afternoon snack; baths will be after dinner. If you're coming in at 7:30, it's the opposite. If she thinks 5:30 and you stroll in at 7:30, then she's stuck with two cranky, hungry, unbathed kids. So yes, you need to give your partner some indication of the time when you'll be home.

Both Mr. 26.2 and I have variable schedules. Every Sunday, we discuss the coming week...He's got a big submittal due Wednesday, so he'll work late Tuesday night. I'm be in San Francisco on Wednesday, but I'll be home by 7pm flight. That way, we both know what we think the week will look like. Is there no ability to forecast your week? These 2am shifts and weekend shifts, do you not have some inkling?

The other thing is to set a time to check in and do it. If you are simply staying to outlast your boss, then set a time after he usually leaves. Call and give an ETA. By 5:30 or 6 pm, it's just not that difficult to predict the end of the work day. Sometimes things will delay you, but you can be reasonably accurate more often than not.

So yeah, you need to give your partner an estimate so she can plan her schedule and the children's schedule. It's simple courtesy.
posted by 26.2 at 5:43 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Being a stay-at-home mom is quite often stressful. I often feel a strong need to know approximately when Mr. molasses is going to be home from work, so that I can start counting down the minutes. It helps me cope to be able to say to myself "The kids are driving me nuts but I only have to stand it for 25 more minutes and then I can go take a shower ALONE!"
posted by molasses at 5:56 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Is she possibly jealous? Suspicious? Worried about your fidelity? Many times when a partner wants an answer to these questions, it is to have a sense of security and comfort when you say "6:00" - and you walk in at "6:00". If it's always being pushed back, even legitimately, there is often a high anxiety that can overcome a sensitive person and their mind begins to spin with all the reasons you might be "late."

That's really unfair. Is it that easy to dismiss that she probably just loves him, is in love with him and wants to see and misses him, specifically him (not other moms on the block or neighbors or friends, but just uniquely him) and not turn something into her being some insane jealous harpy?

Your wife loves you, wants to continue loving you, misses you, wants to see you and have a relationship with you, and wants to look forward to knowing she'll see you at a certain time instead of being resigned to seeing you "whenever." Imagine if in your dating relationship you were like, "Oh, we'll see each other when we see each other." Or for two hours at the end of an exhausting day. Sure you're sleeping next to each other, but it's not the same. Is it that bad to want to spend quality time with your husband, parenting together, being a family, and also having enough time to spend alone with each other? Can it be done without being dismissed as an evil jealous wife trying to steal your work time?
posted by anniecat at 6:04 PM on January 5, 2011 [14 favorites]

When my daughter was a new teacher and often got caught on the treadmill of staying late to grade papers, write lesson plans, etc. while her husband picked up the kids and got dinner and baths started every evening, resentment started building up on his end. They ended up coming up with a plan where four days a week she leaves by a certain time no matter what, but one day a week she stays as late as she feels she needs to and catches up on everything. Best of all, no more resentment and she doesn't have to feel guilty, even if that one night ends up being seven or eight o'clock. Would something like that work for you?

I also remember being a stay at home mom and the highlight of my day was the mailman leaving the mail because oh God i can't watch Judge Judy even one more day and is it time for him to be home yet? On the other hand, I've had a job with a schedule similar to yours and understand what it's like to have family members calling to ask when am I coming home, and all I can think is that it would be sooner if I didn't have to answer all these dang questions everyday. So basically I'm echoing the advice to find out why she's wanting to know.

Another idea that comes to mind is that she get out of the house during that evening stretch...maybe take a class or join a gym that has babysitting so that those hours are filled for her too and she's not so basically planning the evening around your arrival.
posted by tamitang at 6:06 PM on January 5, 2011

oh, and, one more thing. this:

I enjoy the flexibility and non-routineness of my schedule.

is not the same as this:

I can't answer her question satisfactorily.

It's not that you can't. It's that it's not important enough for you to do it because you enjoy your spontaneous schedule. And on her end, it's not that she doesn't "understand" how unpredictable your job is; but rather than she perceives that it's more important to you to be spontaneous than it is to extend her the simple courtesy of letting her plan out the kids' evening.

Is she really so much less important than your co-workers?
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:17 PM on January 5, 2011 [36 favorites]

Childcare and dinner planning and prep is SO HARD.

Check in with your wife and give her a reliable ETA most of the time (I think this might be more possible than you seem to think it is--and texting is your friend here). Then, when something unusual crops up and you have to stay late, she'll be more understanding.

Participate in planning your evenings, including food preparation. Suggest something that might be good for dinner (my personal problem is that I hate having to come up with a menu every single %$#@ing night). Offer to pick up whatever is needed to make the menu work.

You're chafing against having to give an exact time for leaving work. Your wife is probably wondering when you'll be available to help with the kids. I don't know the ages of your children but... will you be home in time to help with dinner? homework? You can make your wife's life a LOT easier by letting her know.

"I enjoy the flexibility and non-routineness of my schedule."

That's awesome for you, but, um, your wife doesn't have this luxury. You have two children! The time you get home is, actually, pretty significant for your family.

"if I try to be vague or noncommittal about a time she gets upset."

Yeah, I'd be upset too, if this happened on a regular basis. Why do you need to be vague or noncommittal? Why can't you say, "I'm leaving at 5:30, unless Sally Q Client calls, in which case I'll text you and let you know asap"?

Just be in touch, and genuinely try to get home as soon as you can. Your "unemployed" wife needs you.

(Sorry if this sounds judgmental; I've been in your wife's shoes.)
posted by torticat at 6:27 PM on January 5, 2011 [22 favorites]

I am your wife as well and my husband does this too. For me, it actually makes it worse when he gives me the 5:30 give or take answer. To be honest, if he doesn't know, I'd rather him just say that. Because nothing is more freaking irritating than him saying 6-and I pull dinner out of the oven at 6 and he walks in at 6:45 to a dry, cold dinner and two kids who have been asking for the last half hour where he is and when they can eat.

When you give her a time and then ignore it, it makes her feel like your schedule is the only one you find important and that you expect her to move around to accomodate you because her time is not critical to anyone the way yours is. I'm not saying you feel this way but when you are consistently unable to be relied upon to be on time (whatever the reason) that's the way it seems to everyone else.

I don't mean to diminish your job but are you really such a critical member of the team that you can't at least say-"hey, I need to be in early and out early three days a week, I have responsibilities to my family." After all, if she worked and had to work late a couple days a week, you'd find a way to make it to daycare to pick up the kids on time, wouldn't you? It really comes down to how hard are you willing to try to make this easier on her? I think she is reasonable in asking that either you set days that you can pick a time and most of the time stick to it OR that you be able to tell her at say, 3:30, that you will be home at X time that day. If you can't do one of those two things, she is going to get increasingly pissed at you and I have to say, I see her point.
posted by supercapitalist at 6:44 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

I am that wife, only minus the kids. If I had kids I think I would be very, very lonely and tired.

My family always ate together and if we had kids I would feel it was even more important to have this as a set family time. And kids can't wait like grown-ups can. Was eating together something her family did and is important to her? This may say love to her and if so, what you are doing says the opposite to her (if that is an important value to her).

I want to know if he will be super late so I can know if I am free to NOT cook something big or involved and can have myself a bowl of cereal instead.

I want to know if he will be home at a certain time so I can start cooking things to be ready on time. My husband may say he's coming home "soon" but then gets caught up in something and the timing is all off. I want a call when actually he's in the car so I know for sure there is a more accurate estimate of what time he will arrive.

Also, I had friends ask us to dinner and I could never say yes because I couldn't count on my husband to be there on time. I had evening events I thought would be fun on occasion, but we could never do any of them because of his job. Honestly, that was a little embarrassing.

From my point of view, it hurts my feelings that it appears that he doesn't WANT to come home in time to have dinner with me and spend some family time together (share my values) more than he wants to keep his customers thinking he is devoted to them. I want him to like his job and want his clients to be happy with his work, but I also want him to put his foot down and say he can't stay past a given time at work (say it in the morning or at the beginning of a project or when a new item comes up late in the day) because he has family commitments. I think people respect that.

I am trying to understand that his getting caught up at work is not a sign that he does not love me, but there are days when I feel distinctly that I am not ever being chosen over work. That doesn't feel good.
For us, some couples counseling sessions better revealed each other's viewpoints and why we value the different kinds of schedules and expectations we have. It helped even though functionally we are mostly in the same boat. I would highly recommend you make an effort to understand your wife's need, where it comes from, and respect it. Respect her time and effort at home and value her as a working partner in your home. Don't keep your most important partner waiting every night!

What really helped me at one point was setting up a once a week dinner-at-home (on time) date with my husband. He made it a point to be home by a certain time on Wednesdays and it was pretty firm (until job got weird again-blah). But it was great. I knew I could at least count on one night of dinner "on time" and he made an effort to make it seem like he enjoyed our set dinner date night. I would suggest trying this.
posted by LilBit at 6:59 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am your wife. And I am asking because I have things I need to get done, and needs I have to have met. One is the need to have some idea of whether to make dinner now (because there's no way in Hell you'll be home before the kids go berserk with hunger), or to hold it (because it really would be nice to pretend to be a functional family unit from time to time, and if you're only going to be, say, 20 minutes late, I can reasonably stall that long. BUT NOT LONGER, SO I NEEEED AN ACCURATE IDEA OF WHAT TO EXPECT).

So (1) she's probably asking because she is the mother of 2 kids, who function best on a reasonably set schedule, and she needs to know on a day-to-day basis how to factor your timetables into theirs.

2. I am your wife. And I love my kids. They are amazing. But Dear God, they are exhausting me and my patience even as I love them to pieces. So when, WHEN???, is my relief pitcher coming home so that I can get 10 seconds to me, focus enough to accomplish *ANYTHING*?? I can't think, I can't move, I can't rest, without little bodies swarming me and little voices demanding my attention, and as the day draws towards the end, the return of my hubby, no matter how unrealistic my fantasies may be, is the Finish Line I long for as my stamina ebbs & my patience dwindles. Sure, I know from experience that it's still probably going to be mostly (all??) on me once you walk in the door, but Dear God how I long for the moment I can say, Honey, your ball! And when I think it's going to be in an hour, and it turns out to be two? Or better yet, I just...haven't...heard...? We're talking Chinese water torture! Every minute turns into an eternity, which is populated with seething, resentment that grows at a rate *COMPLETELY* disproportionate to the timetable delay.

I need to know. My sanity depends on it. Yours does too, if your post hasn't clued you in to that. I can adjust my timetables. I can adjust my expectations. But I have to have *something* as guide to calibrate my expectations & decisions. And even bad news is *FAR* easier to take than being left in the dark.

Pro tip: Overestimate the delay. That way, when you show up earlier than expected, it's a delight & relief. But please, for those of us who need to know, pick a plan & stick with it. If the plan looks like it is going irretrievably wrong, let us know as soon as you can, rather than AFTER the ETA has flown by. Yes, we will be annoyed and frustrated. It is a drop in the bucket compared to the annoyance & frustration we will feel if we are notified last minute or after the ETA.
posted by Ys at 7:21 PM on January 5, 2011 [31 favorites]

Here are my thoughts:

-- Have a set time when you call her with an estimate. If it's 5:00, you know when you got to work and how long your lunch was, and you have some idea how things are going. Make your best guess, add 15 minutes, and say, "I'm planning on leaving at ____."

-- Call with an update as soon as you know you'll be later than you estimated. So when you start something that's going to go later than your estimated departure time, call THEN and say something came up and you'll be late, but you'll call in another hour and let her know how it's looking.

Remember that your wife, far from having all this flexibility and control you value about your own job, has absolutely no control over the termination of her workday. She can't leave! And when people lack control, they value predictability. In a certain sense, you've delegated this shared task (child-rearing) to her for most of the children's waking hours, so think of it as being a good partner, to let her know when you'll be around to shoulder part of the work. It's hard work, no joke.
posted by palliser at 7:58 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Looking after kids is like running a marathon...the end line is your arrival home. You're expecting your wife to run that marathon every day without knowing how much energy she has to wrench from her soul to get to the finish line. I can only survive the last two or three hours of my day at home with the kids if I know EXACTLY when he will walk through the door. To the minute.

It's a marathon and YOU ate the finish line.
posted by taff at 8:38 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

My father was you. My mother was your wife. My siblings and I were your kids. I'll tell you flat out, that after a few years of this, my mother stopped caring what time my father came home, and we no longer had dinner together as a family, and my father missed most of my childhood. I'm still pretty pissed at him about it, even 20 years later, and it destroyed my parents' marriage.

This is not about you being able to give her an answer to her question. This is about you making your family a priority in your life and putting them ahead of chatting with your coworkers and feeling free to work the hours you feel like working. They will know where they rank on your priority list. You either need to figure out a way to get on a regular schedule so that people who love you feel loved by you, or you need to prepare for the possibility that they're going to stop loving you so that they stop getting hurt when you let them down. Being a workaholic is not compatible with having a healthy family; it's just not.
posted by decathecting at 8:39 PM on January 5, 2011 [45 favorites]

No, you didn't ate the finish line. Damnable iPhone. You ARE the finish line. Sorry.
posted by taff at 8:39 PM on January 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

What would happen if you thought of your family as being your first and most important job, and what you do at the office as being important but secondary?

Also, you say you work 35-50 hours/week. Are there really weeks when you only work 35 hours? Are there really days when you get home early?
posted by bluedaisy at 8:55 PM on January 5, 2011

Pre-empt her call, and keep her informed of your movements. Pre-emption will take the stress away.


This is about you making your family a priority in your life and putting them ahead of chatting with your coworkers and feeling free to work the hours you feel like working. bulllshit. I am in a similar position, my family is my ultimate responsibility - as is my need to be able to provide for them. I need to work long hours. I would be shitty if someone characterised my work activities as "chatting".

Also, is anyone watching the clock? I mean, does it matter if you get home early at least once a week? You can announce it to your client too, I doubt anyone will mind
posted by the noob at 9:03 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I hate to say it, but you sound an awful lot like my father. We couldn't count on him to be home for dinner at a specific time, and very often we would not see him before going to bed. The impression I always got was that work, and his colleagues, were much more important than we were, and that he would rather be at work than with us. My mother often pointed out to him that he was the only one in his office who ever stayed late. Thirty years later he and my mother were divorced, and he is estranged from all three children (never having had ANY sort of relationship with my younger brother, who now pretends he's dead).

I certainly do understand your need to work outside of normal office hours from time to time. My husband's a computational astrophysicist, and I'm sitting in a coffee shop typing this while, across the table, he is running simulations of exploding supernovae. It is 10:40 my time, and it's quite normal for him to be writing papers and proposals, debugging code, answering email from students, and preparing lecture notes at this time of night--academics do not work 9 to 5, for the most part. However, he does much of this at home, because it allows him to spend time with me (or, if he really needs to concentrate, in a coffee shop with me to keep him company). We don't have children, but many of his colleagues who do manage to be quite successful without having to be in their offices all evening, away from their families.

I'm going to hazard a guess that you probably don't NEED to be at your office after normal working hours. Really. With high-speed Internet, email, smartphones, IM, Skype, and all our other communication techologies, if a client absolutely must get hold of you after hours, there is no reason he or she cannot contact you at home. And unless you're in an industry full of douchebags who expect you to forgo your own home life in order to cater to their every need 24/7, your clients and coworkers will respect your quite reasonable need, as a family man, to keep regular hours...most likely, because they share that need.

So my emphatic suggestion is that you make your regular departure time 5:30 and sacrifice some of your own convenience and flexibility for your wife's sanity and your children's well-being. Please, please, please. Go in earlier in the morning, if you need quiet time. Don't take long lunches. Set up a workspace at home for those times when you need to do work at home after dinner (which should be infrequent). Even if you think your wife is being unreasonable, consider that your irregular hours are affecting your relationship (or lack thereof) with your children.

Don't end up like my father.
posted by tully_monster at 9:15 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

Well, I'm going against the majority of posters hers, but she's pretty out of line. "I don't know what time I'll be leaving tonight" is completely reasonable, and no one who doesn't have your job is in any postion to say otherwise. Her wanting to know is fine, but her reaction to the situation is, frankly, childish.

Yeah, childcare is hard. So is work; the guilt trip that's being shoved down your throat here is unfair and should not make this anything but what it is: two adults, neither inherently in the wrong, who need some better communication. The projecting here about "making family a priority", as if you do not, clouds this issue.

You, as you have stated, cannot give her definite times. However, you have a fairly long commute. What you can do is call or text her when you leave for home.

Whether that helps is dependent on why this is bothering her to near-irrational levels. Is she trying to plan dinner? Then, yeah, that will help. Is she sick of the kids? Then really, you need a discussion about the demands of childcare and the demands of your job, and what you guys can do about a sitter, a set "early day" for you, etc. Is she suspicious of jealous? Then you have a totally different problem.
posted by spaltavian at 9:34 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Does any one have any suggestions for managing the situation? Do I need a set departure time every day even if its not what I want? Other ideas or input or try this or anything at all? It's a minor issue, but causes me grief every single day.

Maybe this isn't actually the case, but you sound remarkably unconcerned about the impact of your decisions on your wife and kids and really focused on what it means for you. Maybe you do need a set departure time every day even if it's not what you want, or maybe you don't, but that depends on you and your wife both talking about your needs and wants (and the kids' needs and wants) and trying to figure out what works best for your family as a whole. I kind of feel like I'm getting the vibe from you that rather than as a family member, you're just thinking of yourself as an isolated individual, like you might as a single person back when you could make whatever decisions about your hours you wanted based on things like how much you enjoy a non-routine schedule and how long a lunch break you decide to take. And while having a wife and kids doesn't necessarily mean that all your preferences need to be sacrificed (let alone doing what you really do need to do to keep the job and support your family), I wonder if your wife is maybe getting a similar vibe from you, whether fairly or unfairly. Either way, it really wouldn't hurt to try to have some real conversations with her about why she wants to know and what things you two can figure out as a couple to address that.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 11:56 PM on January 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

It may help to have a discussion about what your wife's goals and needs are when she calls you. Many people value having dinner together and your wife may be have read some of the research on family dinners. She may also be trying to plan out what she does with the kids, whether she has to truck them all out to the store for toilet paper, whether she should make something you like or something she and the kids like, or whether she can make that dish that would go a lot more easily if someone else was there to keep the kids busy.

I'm intrigued by your statement that your wife is unemployed. Do you mean that she is a stay at home parent? Or do you mean that she is searching for a job and that, for some reason, the childcare has disappeared? If the childcare is gone, is she okay with that and the expectations attached to it? Does she have time to look for work or is she expected to juggle? If she is a stay at home parent, she is not unemployed and you need to work together to look at how that fits into your lives. It might help for the two of you to talk about this situation and your needs and expectations.
posted by acoutu at 1:12 AM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

as the daughter in this kind of situation, it may be that your kids have worked out that you aren't stepping up to the plate. I can vividly remember losing my shit at my mother because I was sick to death of cold food and waiting for tea because my father couldn't answer a simple bloody question like 'when will you be home'. Ever. Not 'sometimes', not just when he honestly couldn't say because something blew up, but every. Single. Day. It communicated very effectively to us that our needs, our comfort and our day to day lives didn't matter compared to him.

My schedule at work is less ridiculous and I am nowhere near as enamoured of 'freewheeling' but I drop my partner a line when I leave work every day. It's a small thing, but makes his life at a say at home dad SO much easier.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:55 AM on January 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

Dude. I agree with much of the above. This is not about what time you leave work.

She needs help with the kids. She needs attention. She needs to feel like she is a high priority among your other clients.

Find a way to acknowledge and respect the fact that while you're away she's carrying the whole load at home. Don't just recognize the fact that she might miss you, find a way to let her know that you are thinking about her while you're off working.

Clients will respect you for keeping commitments because they want you to do the same for them. It is acceptable to say, "Hey I have a hard stop at 5:30 because I have another commitment. Can we pick this up later?" A few times a week, make that other "commitment" your wife. For lunch. For a date. To just come home and play with the kids while she gets dinner on (or vice versa.)

They way I think of it, my family is like my ultimate "client". I have professional skills and tools I use to care for client relationships and manage my time. I can use those same things to make sure my family also feels like they're getting a professional level of care and attention from me as well.
posted by cross_impact at 6:54 AM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I am in a similar position, my family is my ultimate responsibility - as is my need to be able to provide for them. I need to work long hours. I would be shitty if someone characterised my work activities as "chatting".

This is true for some jobs, but not for others. I think that most people, if they tried, could leave work at a fixed time without repercussions. Maybe that fixed time is going to be after a 10 hour day, maybe it's going to be after an 8 hour day, but it's generally possible. The problem is that modern connectivity has made our days seem potentially endless, so we've lost the ability to focus on work while at work and put a clear end to the working day. On the flip side, technology also means we can leave at a fixed time then continue working later on in the evening.

Many, many working mothers put a full stop to their office hours and leave at a certain time every day to relieve the nanny or pick up the kids from day care. Working fathers can do this too, any in many cases it's actually better received than when women do it because there's not the same kneejerk prejudice that daddies are bad workers. In either case, this is often a personal choice because employees are afraid to stand up to employers and clients and set clear boundaries. This is choosing their own short-term personal comfort over their families' long-term needs.

Finally, if your job really does require super long, unpredictable hours, then this is something you need to discuss with your spouse. A lot of times people get so caught up in demanding career tracks (say, associate at a big law firm) that they don't realize that they actually DO have a long term choice about how to spend their time by choosing a wiser career path. They feel like they "have" to work that job, when it's really been a series of choices about prestige, money, and consumption that have led them their. In that case, especially if there are kids involved, it seems fair for both spouses to discuss long-term career choices and whether the path needs to be altered.
posted by yarly at 7:06 AM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

inally, if your job really does require super long, unpredictable hours, then this is something you need to discuss with your spouse.

That's true, but Christ, most of the above responses assumes that this guy isn't in one of these jobs, and that he is trying to escape his family.

I generally work 10 hour days. I can "estimate" for my partner on any given day that I will probably be home sometime between 7:30-8:30. But that estimate can easily change from 7:30 to 2 am at the will of one of my managers in my office.

The people above who are telling the OP that "he can leave at 5:30 and there won't be any repercussions" obvious work in a very, very different environment. I would love to see the look on my managers face if he told me to get something done for a client and I responded with "Okay, but since it is 6 pm, I'm going to just get to this in the morning."
posted by CharlieSue at 7:30 AM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would love to see the look on my managers face if he told me to get something done for a client and I responded with "Okay, but since it is 6 pm, I'm going to just get to this in the morning."

Sure, there are some jobs where you get last-minute assignments and don't have a stopping time. But there are also people in these jobs who say, "I have to go get my kid at day care at 6pm and I will work from home after that." The key is, you have to have a general conversation with your managers about work schedules, rather than refuse to do an assignment randomly, and you have to seek out "family friendly" workplaces. If your job offers *no* flexibility along those lines, then it might be the wrong job if you have family responsibilities. Respect for family responsibilities and fixed schedules has to do with the attitudes of managers and employees; it is much more rarely connected to actual job duties. I'm convinced that people can get just as much work done, if not more, if they work a strict 9-6 schedule (plus time at home as necessary) than if they work a fuzzier schedule.
posted by yarly at 7:42 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've "favourited" a few answers, because I am your wife too. But, I've read through this and I want to reiterate that you seem to want to manage the situation with your wife - but not with your work. If a client, or your boss asked the same question, would you be as irritated?

When I worked a salaried position, I used to have to reiterate this often with my employer, and I'll remind you of this -- the longer the hours you work, the less you're earning. Now I freelance, and also need to tell myself the same thing, not to put a hundred hours of time into $25 work. When you let your work expand to the fifty hours you've allowed in your post, you need to remember that you're robbing yourself and your family not just of a better salary, but of the most valuable commodity of all: your time, and your family's time. Work DOES tend to expand to fit the time allowed, so if you are indeed allowing yourself to come in earlier and stay later for various reasons, it will.

And a commute that can eat up to two hours a day? If you're not paying yourself for that too, or using that time in some way other than transportation, your wife is probably considering that as "downtime" or your "me time" - and you're probably trying to make that time up at work or at home, which builds the resentment for both you and your wife - and it's just got to be better accounted for. If you're not keen on getting home earlier because you're still carrying the stress from your workday and a long commute, and you're being thrown into the dinner/homework/bath/bedtime scrum upon your arrival, I can see where you'd be reluctant to give up the relative peace and quiet of the office. And dreading the commute would also add to this, I'm sure. You didn't mention if you're driving or using public transportation, but there must be a way to transform this time into something useful, productive, or connective.

cross_impact's answer is spot-on. My husband is pretty great about this, and his boss is actually aware of priorities in this regard so much so that "let's finish this and get home to our families" is a ringing cry at the office for them, because it's the single people at the office who enjoy the social aspect of the office so much so that they're reluctant to give it up. Tomorrow mrgood's moved his lunch to 2:15 so he can attend a special presentation at school, though it means he'll have to actually eat en route, and then have to go back to the office and then be late for dinner. Sure, he's our sole financial supporter, but it's emotional support that we need just as much and being able to count on him is invaluable.
posted by peagood at 8:02 AM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

CharlieSue - that's exactly the point. As you say, on most days you CAN estimate it. In all likelihood, on most days so can the OP. When an estimate is possible, then giving that is simple courtesy to his partner.

I certainly get that variations happen. There have days when I left for work thinking I'd be home by 6pm and instead had to make an emergency overnight trip somewhere. There are days when my partner is stuck at the office until 2am. It happens.

Here we have an OP who says that some of the factors are in his control: what time he showed up in the morning, how long his lunch is (Luxuries that his wife doesn't get BTW.) Some of the factors are not: client questions, monthly reporting. He could nips three of these problems in bud by getting to work at a set time, taking a standard lunch and explaining when the monthly reporting is going to impact his work day. That only leaves the outliers to deal with such as client questions, work emergencies, etc.

I'm not advocating a hard stop at 5 o'clock, that's not realistic for most of us. I'm saying, control what you can and explain what you can. When he gets home doesn't have to be DAILY crap shoot.
posted by 26.2 at 8:02 AM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Dude, your wife isn't dumb. It's not that she just doesn't get that you have a variable schedule. It isn't that you just need to find the right way to explain it to her so it finally makes sense. It's just that "gee, I just don't understand WHY you can't ever tell me when you'll be home" is what you say when you love someone and want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they're not being selfish about their time.

Because really, since you parent together, it's her time too. But you're making all the decisions about it without consulting her. You're clocking her in and out and not even letting her know when her break is. And then you're acting inconvenienced when she asks!

Text her on the way out, after all danger of getting caught up in a last-minute conversation has passed, and let her know you're leaving. Either of you can check traffic reports. It is absolutely your job as a co-parent to be available to her.
posted by pajamazon at 10:08 AM on January 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'll tell you flat out, that after a few years of this, my mother stopped caring what time my father came home, and we no longer had dinner together as a family, and my father missed most of my childhood

This. I get through a week best when I operate on the assumption that what my S.O. does with his time and whether or not he shows up are emotionally irrelevant. It's easier than making myself crazy over how to be a family with together. Do you want to be that man? Do you want to sideline yourself in your own relationship? Or are you willing to recognize there's a problem, and it isn't her hearing? Get creative. Find solutions that work within the restriction you have.

The family must go on, and it's the primary caretaker's role to make that happen. Whether or not you are included in that unit is not determined by where you sleep.
posted by Ys at 10:09 AM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

My husband, who has one of these jobs with variable hours where things absolutely positively cannot be done the next day (and who sometimes has to be up in the middle of the night or ungodly AM or whatever) and who is at the end of the food chain in his job so he always is stuck at the mercy of other people's deadlines and their failure to meet them, was late coming home last night; I had to text him at 7 PM to find out when he was coming home. But he immediately called me back to tell me when he was coming home, to arrange to get dinner, and, bluntly, to let me know that I'm important and he cares about me, even if he didn't say that.

We went to lunch today and, thinking of this question, I asked him about his flexible schedule and his start times and leaving times. The first thing out of his mouth was "Do I need to change my schedule? Because I can." And in the context of that question, we talked about how we'd handle it if we had kids and how that would change his work schedule and his priorities.

OP, the reason so many of us are focusing on how you communicate with your wife and what you're telling her (and what you're not asking her) is that it really does come off that she and your kids are a low priority in your life. It's not just your physical presence or the lack thereof; it's your attitude, and I can't disagree with the people who say you seem to value your free time and flexible schedule at work over your wife and kids. That's the communication problem you need to fix, and if what you are communicating is what you feel, maybe an attitude problem you need to consider.
posted by immlass at 12:22 PM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

The first time I read your question, I was totally on your side because my job is like yours, but with longer hours and even more flexibility. Like you, I enjoy the freedom to come and go at different times. But as I read others' replies to your question, I realized that a huge difference between you and me is that I live alone. Taking full advantage of your job's schedule flexibility is something that you can only do if no one else is depending on your schedule. I guess there are both good things and bad things about having your family depend on your schedule in this way. Regardless, it seems like you might run into problems if you continue approaching your schedule as if you're a single person.
posted by whitelily at 12:29 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here we have an OP who says that some of the factors are in his control: what time he showed up in the morning, how long his lunch is (Luxuries that his wife doesn't get BTW.) Some of the factors are not: client questions, monthly reporting. He could nips three of these problems in bud by getting to work at a set time, taking a standard lunch and explaining when the monthly reporting is going to impact his work day. That only leaves the outliers to deal with such as client questions, work emergencies, etc.

I just want to pull this out for the OP as a great comment -- it's a practical strategy to help you meet your wife somewhere in the middle. Make a commitment to control the factors that are within your reach, so that it's truly only the factors out of your control that are the ones making the impact on your arrival time at home.

This won't turn your job into the standard 9-5 gig, certainly (because the nature of some types of work just precludes that), but it could go an appreciable way to making sure you're not Schroedinger's Commuter on such a regular basis.

This way you are keeping up your side of the bargain with both your team at team at work and your team at home.
posted by scody at 1:38 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

heh, I think there's one too many teams in that last sentence
posted by scody at 1:40 PM on January 6, 2011

Sure, there are some jobs where you get last-minute assignments and don't have a stopping time. But there are also people in these jobs who say, "I have to go get my kid at day care at 6pm and I will work from home after that."

Note that those people are probably permanent employees, whereas OP stated he's an external contractor. Managers are far less flexible with outside contractors than they are with their own employees. You pay a contractor more than the equivalent employee because you expect to make greater demands of them, and it's easy to replace them with a contractor that will meet those demands. If you go to the client's manager with this, you are more likely to get your contract reassigned to a more flexible employee, if not cause your employer to lose the entire contract in favor of a company that hires people politically wise enough to recognize the power imbalance inherent in contracting. If the company hiring contractors wanted to deal with treating an employee as a human being, they would have hired you themselves. They hired a contractor because they want a predictable unit of work that they could use as needed.
posted by nomisxid at 1:42 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, what 26.2 said and what scody amplified upon: everyone who is emphasizing the thing about "oh, but the client NEEDS him to do the work, and otherwise he'll lose the gig" overlooks that first among the limiting factors he himself specifies are how long he takes for lunch and what time he gets there in the morning.

He can't necessarily change the clients' needs, but he can certainly change his own preferences about taking a long lunch and getting in late in the morning if he really wants to prioritize his family.

For that matter, he can call at 5 and and say "I'll be leaving within the next hour" or "Client just called a meeting, so I won't be home until at least 7; go ahead and have dinner without me" or whatever. It seems like he doesn't even want to do that, which makes me wonder if he really gives a rat's ass about changing or if he just wants us to pile on his wife for not catering to him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:57 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mean, if he came home for dinner and time with the kids during the days actually does have control over his own schedule, my guess is that the wife would be more understanding about the days when client emergencies come up.

This way, they're living like every day is an emergency, even when the "emergency" is that he wants to take a long lunch. Meanwhile, she's trying to figure out when to have dinner and the kids are all "When is Daddy coming home?" and there's no actual emergency, just him wanting to be Mr. Freewheeling McNoschedule. I can see how that would get old.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2011 [17 favorites]

Sidhedevil: "I mean, if he came home for dinner and time with the kids during the days actually does have control over his own schedule, my guess is that the wife would be more understanding about the days when client emergencies come up.

This way, they're living like every day is an emergency, even when the "emergency" is that he wants to take a long lunch. Meanwhile, she's trying to figure out when to have dinner and the kids are all "When is Daddy coming home?" and there's no actual emergency, just him wanting to be Mr. Freewheeling McNoschedule. I can see how that would get old.

Yes. This. I just had to text my husband, at 7:41 p.m., to find out when/if he'd be home tonight. Because I do eventually get tired of having to tell the kids "I don't know" when they ask when Daddy will be home. He did call me back and was all "I got wrapped up in [something something sequel query]", but at least he called me from the car.

About every six months, I end up having a come-to-Jesus talk with my husband about exactly this issue. I don't particularly *care* when he'll get home, most nights, but it helps beyond words to have some idea about when I can expect him. We're sliding toward another talk right now, because I am days away from delivering our third child, and he's going to have to get his home-front act together again. He's getting away with it more than usual because my parents are here, but once they've gone home, I am NOT doing three kids at bedtime by myself. Dinner, sure - I refuse to make my hungry kids wait until 7 p.m. for dinner every night. And here's a sad/telling thing my 4-year-old asked the other day - he asked "are we having a feast?" because Daddy was home and we were sitting down all together for a hot meal with, gasp, salad and bread! But mostly because Daddy was home at dinner.

Anyway, there have been many brilliant posts in this thread about exactly WHY a parent who is home all day with kid(s) wants to know when they can expect the other responsible adult to show their face in the house. As I explain to my husband, when I've got a kid or two home all day, there is NO break. Not to pee in privacy, not to eat without someone wanting to "share", not to have a phone conversation. I'll be honest - I get *jealous* about those things that he takes for granted as part of his work day.

OP, you wouldn't think a client who wanted to know when they could expect you to show up was being difficult or demanding. I - and your wife - deserve at least that respect. Believe me, I respect the work my husband does, and that it's not always 9-5. But he - and you - need to respect the work the front-line parent is doing every day, and respond to scheduling queries just as you would those from the people who sign your paycheck. Because I'll pretty much guarantee it'll be easier to find someone else to sign your paycheck than it will be to find someone else to raise your children.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 7:58 PM on January 6, 2011 [15 favorites]

Jumping in late because of something I didn't see mentioned yet, and that's got me really puzzled: The first thing that struck me about the question was how it seemed to be asked in a vacuum.

Almost every comment mentioned a totally reasonable and logical scenario about what may be going on (on both sides of the issue.) I gather the OP and Mrs. OP have had this problem for a while, but even if neither of them is communicating effectively there would be certainly be an inkling about why this is a problem for them, even if it's just non-verbal cues. From the wife's point of view, planning dinner and the stress of being a SAHM are equally valid concerns, but they are vastly different problems and could have very different negatives due to OPs work schedule. Has the wife never explained why she's doing this? Has the OP never noticed his wife is exhausted and dying for adult time, or that his dinner is cold (or non-existent) lately?

There's no mention of whether this is a new job for the OP and they're having trouble adjusting, or if he's had this kind of schedule since they first met. And no mention about his wife role as Executive Mom. Is she at home with 4 toddlers or are the kids older? Is she unemployed by choice (as most here are assuming) or is she recently laid-off, or in a depressing two-year job search? Is she (as another poster mentioned) jealous for some-or-no reason? Is she a control freak? Are you just insensitive and uncaring?

One one hand, I've worked plenty of jobs that were simply unpredictable, no matter how much I would try to keep to any kind of schedule. On the other hand, I'm pathologically punctual and understand wanting (but not expecting) to have current timelines on whatever is affecting me. OP, if you were to post another question with some of these details, I'm sure folks could help you resolve this issue. But without even a passing mention as to what the symptoms are I don't see how you can get your answer.

I do have one suggestion that may help alleviate your wife's anger/anxiety/whatever. I get that most people aren't always as timely as I am. And I get that stuff happens and people run late. But if we have plans at 6:30 and you're running late you probably knew at least a half-hour earlier that you wouldn't be on time, so call me then and tell me. To me it's like resetting the clock, and in my book you're still on time. So if you're not already doing that maybe a quick text when you first realize there's going to be a delay later on would help.

On preview, I'm giving all the dinner-related responses the Occam's Choice Award for Best Answer even though I have no idea what's really going on.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:41 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't have an answer, but I do want to add one point.

There are plenty of posts explaining the wife's point of view, but I don't think anyone has touched upon this particular point: Why is *that* question so particularly annoying? "What time are you going to be home" can just feel like pestering, even if your rational mind knows it is not. Why?

Because in a work world where you already have deadlines, too many goddamned deadlines, you definitely don't want yet another one from home. And that's what it feels like: another deadline, someone just piling on.

Of course the question wasn't intended that way, but the emotional response you have is strong and hard to overcome.
posted by IvyMike at 10:54 PM on January 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

"Sometimes I have no fucking idea what time I'm gonna get out of here. Sorry. It's what I do."
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:29 AM on January 7, 2011

This used to be a regular conversation at our place, too. My job requires longish hours that are somewhat at the whim of deadlines set by others. I used to get incredibly frustrated by constant complaints about being 'late' home and not leaving work at a 'reasonable' time ("what's a reasonable time?" "Earlier than this!" Aaaargh!). One of the problem factors was that my partner didn't (and still doesn't, really) understand what a 2.5 hour (two-way) commute does to your day. Still, I ended up more or less solving the problem in two ways- starting earlier (I leave home at 5:30 am) and not taking a lunch break. I now get to leave at 5:30 pretty much every day and being in early means that I can meet 'by COB today' deadlines just as effectively by finishing the work well before the person setting the deadline is in and my morning commute is a bit shorter and more comfortable. On days when I do need to work late, I try and take it home with me, then leave it until the kids are in bed and everything has settled down somewhat.

Also, the minute I step in the door at home, I take over the kids. Spending your day with young children is soul-crushing at times and your wife almost certainly needs some time to herself by the end of the day.

There are still days when I have to stay in the office until some ungodly hour, but I let her know as early as possible (and over-estimate the likely hour) . Because it's not all the time, it's not such an issue.
posted by dg at 12:50 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

My husband has a similarly variable schedule at the end of the day: he will leave work between 6PM and nearly 8PM just depending on what loose ends need wrapping up at the end of the day, and if he went in a bit late that day.

When I want to know when he's coming home, it's for three reasons:

1. I need to know when to start dinner.
2. I'm really hungry myself and I don't want to eat a snack if he's going to leave in ten minutes.
3. I just miss him more than usual.

If any of these apply to your situation:

The solution we developed for #1 is that he texts me when he is leaving, which means he will be home within twenty to thirty minutes. This means anything that I pre-prepare what I can for dinner and set it aside, then put it in the oven or whatever when I get the text. Crock pot meals get around the issue entirely. Most stuff I make is done within thirty minutes to an hour in the oven, so at worst dinner is served half an hour after he gets home. I can broil steaks and prepare a vegetable in ten minutes, so I just wait a little bit before starting on dinner those nights, or wait for him to get home entirely. I make extra and freeze it most nights, too, so sometimes I reheat a serving of casserole and don't have to be so frantic about timing. Some food keeps perfectly well if you just keep it warm for half an hour or so, which is a decent amount of wiggle room for most people.

If it takes you that long to get home or longer, or even slightly less time, a text when you're leaving can be a useful queue for your wife to adapt her cooking habits to. If you get home much faster, you'll probably have to text her earlier, but be sure you don't leave very much later than you told her you would.

#2 just kind of sucks. On days like that I will directly ask my husband when he's leaving instead of texting him, and sometimes despite his best estimation he gets wrapped up in something and leaves almost a full hour later than he said -- so I wait, incredibly hungry the whole time. This is a circumstance where overestimating isn't helpful either, though, because if you show up an hour early she'll have eaten a snack and may not be all that hungry for dinner yet.

The only real solution to this is to have relatively small snacks around, if you can remember to, and to not get bent out of shape about not being hungry at dinner and just save your food for later. Even though I rationally know these things, though, it's really difficult to convince myself to eat a snack. Not much to be done about it.

#3 a few texts back and forth help, and every now and then my husband will surprise me by leaving work early just to spend time with me. It's not easy to have that opportunity, so if it ever arises at least consider going home instead of spending unexpected surplus time on something else work-related. As long as it's feasible, I mean, because 99% of the time it's not. But even once or twice a year is really thoughtful.

Past that, make sure the time you do spend together is quality time.

Thankfully we don't have children, which definitely does complicate things more; she's probably really tired and craving your companionship more than she would otherwise, and dinner is more difficult when the kids probably need to eat earlier than the latest time you may come home. It depends on how old the kids are, but they might need to eat first and you guys reheat things, or maybe they can eat a snack with her, or maybe they're young enough that they're not eating exactly the same dinner foods so it's not a real issue yet.

The best thing you can do to deal with the rest is just sympathize and not get frustrated when she asks when you'll come home. When I miss my husband a lot and want him to be home earlier and he ends up leaving later than he estimated, when he gets home he just hugs me and coos that he's sorry and he knows that waiting must have been frustrating for me and he's glad to see me now. It makes a huge difference and makes me feel better just to know he understands how I feel and it's not like he doesn't care and he doesn't think it's unreasonable of me to be sad/frustrated about it sometimes, there's just not a lot he can do about it. I think it would make things worse if he reacted in a defensive or callous or angry way -- which is not to say that's what you're doing, because I don't know. But if you're not being effusively sympathetic and comforting about it either, try to be. I can't guarantee that it will work because there are some people that would respond to what my husband says with, "If you REALLY cared you'd come home earlier!" -- which is a whole other can of worms -- but at least give it a shot.
posted by Nattie at 4:23 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Er, *useful cue.
posted by Nattie at 4:25 AM on January 7, 2011

You're treating her like an employee, not a wife. That her time/effort/activity is at your disposal. That's why she asks, every day, because she can't quite believe it, and she keeps hoping it's not the truth.

While this may not be true if the kids are young, this came to mind as a possibility as well. She's home with two kids who ask her all day, 'where's daddy? When's daddy getting home?'. She either gives them an answer and is wrong, or has to keep putting them off all day - an exhausting and crazy-making thing, when you're alone with the kids all day. And I agree with the comments that gently urge you to fix it before she gives up and decides it's easier to leave you a plate in the oven (if that) and proceed with the family routine without you. Because if she and the kids get used to not having you around, that's just not a good road for a family to go down.
posted by lemniskate at 4:26 AM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

As with most such situations, this requires compromise. Firstly, you need to patiently explain to her the nature of your working conditions - as you have done here. She needs to understand that jobs like this require, by their very nature, some degree of flexibility in order to keep the client happy and to be professional. If you explain the factors that cause uncertainty in your leaving hours then she will better understand why you are not always able to predict precisely when you will leave.

However. As others have observed I think you could do better yourself. I spent many years working in circumstances similar to the ones you describe and, being the sort of person who really hates the "last-minute meeting" and the "unexpected" late phone call, I took steps to minimise those things. It is perfectly possible to manage a boss, even if that boss is a valued client. There is nothing wrong with explaining that you have family commitments that make it preferable - not essential - that you get away by a certain time most days. Let's take a look at the specific reasons you gave for your unpredictable leaving times:

1. what time I got there in the morning,

This is entirely within your control. Control it.

2. how long my lunch was

This is entirely within your control (unless it's a business lunch thing, and how often do they happen?) Control it.

3. workload

You can manage your workload. You are a professional. If you have a work plan (and you do, right?) then you can at the very least make a decent estimate of your leaving time.

4. what I'm working on at the end of the day

See previous point. What you are working on at the end of the day should not, usually, be coming as a huge surprise to you at around 4:00 pm. Plan and manage your work, as far as possible. If you have never done time management training I recommend you give it a shot.

5. last minute questions

If these are happening as a matter of regularity you need to manage the people asking them. If they are not super-urgent matters or crises do not be afraid to put them off until the morning. Also, do not be afraid to request that people try not to delay you like this near home time if there are specific troublesome culprits. I know such people exist, and they are frequently playing stupid power games by hassling you as you are about to leave. Manage them.

6. what my client's schedule is [don't want to leave before them consistently],

There should be a project plan. On that plan should be timelines and milestones that give you a broad idea of what to expect from your client's schedule, and the schedule of anyone else who works on your team/project. If this is not the case you might want to address that. Of course there will always be the occasional crisis or late development that requires deviation from the plan but the whole point of planning is to minimise such things. Leave fire-fighting to actual fire-fighters.

7. time of the month [busier at the beginning doing reporting for the previous month]

You are saying that this is a predictable factor. So why aren't you predicting it better?

Like I said: compromise. Explain the situation to your wife, clearly and patiently. Then take steps to improve the situation. Tell her you're doing that, too.
posted by Decani at 4:40 AM on January 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Look at it from her side: She works alone, and has no idea what time her shift ends. All she knows is that at some point you will walk through the door and say "I'm here". Doesn't she deserve a bit of notice about how long she's going to working as a full-time mom every day?
posted by blue_beetle at 5:38 AM on January 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Before you worry about why she wants to know, think about if you are bothered by this because it's too hard to give an answer or because you resent being forced to give an answer. If it's the former, then you can work out a compromise with your wife based on some of the excellent advice above. If it's the latter, you have some work to do on your own.

Marriage is teamwork. Being on the same team means using the same game plan. Spontaneity for one partner can mean uncertainty for the other. You may feel like you are giving up your independence or self-control by having to planning ahead and telling her your plans. To a very small extent, that may be true, but is that really a problem? Whether she's asking because she's building her plans around your schedule, or because she's just curious, your desire to make decisions on your own, on the fly, should not trump her desire to know what to expect.

If she were in the habit of taking the kids to her sister's house several evenings a week on the spur of the moment, it would not be unreasonable for you to ask her if she would be home when you get there tonight. It would not mean you were trying to control her relationship with her sister. It might not make any difference in your plans. It would just be nice to know.

She's probably stuck with more uncertainty than she wants due to the nature of your job. And you're probably stuck with less flexibility than you want due to the nature of your family. It's not ideal for either of you. But that's how marriage works. You have to give up some of your wants. But if you're doing it right, you get a whole lot more back in return.
posted by Dojie at 6:42 AM on January 7, 2011

Go in earlier. Take work home. Eat dinner with family and help with kid bedtime. Then work more.

(That's how I'm handling the same issues.)
posted by Mid at 7:53 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks to most everyone's very helpful responses, I must have hit a nerve or common experience or something. I'm going to start texting her at 430 every day without fail with the evening plan, even if it is a +/- 30 minute thing, and fix my morning departure time. The most helpful answers were those that pointed out/explained the things I can control and encouraged me to control them rather than letting them be part of the problem. Also helpful were the personal stories of similar inconsistent parents, which made me realize my dad was never around either (sparked one of those "won't be like my father" feelings).

To the specific questions/comments [sorry this is coming so late in the game]:

lunch schedule: It varies wildly because my day varies wildly. Believe me, if you got to work at 9am after a 2am-5am code deployment, and then work without looking up until 2pm, you might take more than 30 minutes to get your damn burger too. Also - lunches with clients.

sexism/contempt/whatever-that-is for my wife: She was employed by the government. She had a term position that ended. She is collecting unemployment and looking for a job. While she was employed the kids went to a sitter. While she is at home the kids are staying with her. When she is working again the kids will go back to a sitter. I am very very well aware that being a stay at home parent is a soul-sucking experience. Suffice it to say: I appreciate my wife very much [or at least enough to want to try to fix this problem, rather than just telling her "fuck off woman, get back in the kitchen and stop asking me when I'm coming home"]

"your work cant be like that seriously wtf?": Many thanks to everyone who understands and can empathize with any part of: what its like to work on-site with a client, especially an automotive OEM (especially in the market of the last 14 months), especially in a marketing/online/24-7-its-changing-and-has-to-work role, especially in an industry where you're lucky to have a job at all, especially for someone who has no other work experience and would likely have a hell of a hard time finding something else, let alone something else in automotive. To everyone else who can't imagine such a situation: it exists.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:56 AM on January 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Hey OP, it's great that you're finding a solution, but don't forget to talk to the spouse, let her air her thoughts and feelings, listen to them, and also express your thoughts, particularly the ones mentioned here about the industry you work in. Communication is a two way street and all that, yadda yadda!

Take it easy!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:20 PM on January 7, 2011

My answer is, without fail, "As usual, I won't know until the end of the day. Is there a particular time you need me home?" Usually she says no, and on the rare occasions she says yes, I make arrangements to get home by then.
posted by davejay at 1:28 PM on January 7, 2011

Thank you for giving me and my s.o. a neutral opening for talking about this as well. I made him sit down and read it (he doesn't know my screen name). Perhaps it will help us for him to know I'm not a lonely crazy on this issue.
posted by Ys at 4:21 PM on January 7, 2011

Honestly, my first thought was that this sounds like a problem my parents would've had 20 years ago on the farm. (They used a CB radio, fwiw, to plan dinner. My dad had one in the tractor, and we had one in the house.)

Obvious answer, from my perspective: Can you guys IM? Just talk online. It's super-easy, and then she knows what's up from 5:30 on. I haven't waited on a partner for dinner, or had supper plans messed up, for years.

Instant messenger. It's where it's at, dog.
posted by timoni at 12:31 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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