Do I stay or do I go? (Jobs Edition)
January 4, 2020 12:03 AM   Subscribe

My maternity leave (at an American firm) ends this month. My Canadian partner is waiting for his American green card in Canada. Staying with my partner while we wait for his green card (likely around six months) makes sense for my family but requires me to leave my job. Separating my partner from our baby breaks my heart. Should I go back to my job? Citizenship, family, and job details under the fold.

Background Facts

* Our goal is to return to the USA as soon as Partner gets his American green card (around August 2020).
* I would be returning to work at the beginning of February in a major East Coast city.
* Partner is working in Canada on the West Coast.
* Baby is almost one year old. (I had an extended leave for Reasons.) He is very attached to Partner, and separating them would be very upsetting for all parties. I’m most concerned about the long-term effect on Baby.
* Visiting is possible but very difficult. Traveling requires 2+ flights. With a baby, by myself, it’s an exhausting trip. Partner can’t travel to the USA without getting special clearance until he gets his green card.
* My parents and sibling live in the city where my job is. They would pitch in to help with Baby, but I wouldn’t get nearly the same level of help as I get from Partner.

My Job
* Working remotely doesn’t appear to be an option. I asked my firm months ago and they haven’t provided an answer despite several reminders.
* If I go back to my job, I’m very concerned about hours. My professional services job requires working late, unpredictable hours. When a client wants something done tomorrow, you are expected to pull an all-nighter to get it done. I am junior and don’t have a lot of say in this.
* People at my firm have told me to manage this by (a) communicating boundaries clearly (“I have to leave at x time to pick up Baby from daycare”) and (b) being flexible (“…but I’ll be checking my email and will log on after Baby goes to sleep”). Logging on after Baby goes to sleep likely means working until 2am regularly. I’m not sure how I would keep working if Baby woke up in the middle of the night (which still happens with some frequency).
* Coworkers have suggested setting up four childcare options: (1) daycare / nanny share, (2) backup care, (3) nanny for picking up from daycare / nanny share, and (4) night nanny for when I have to work overnight. I (a) don’t think I can afford that and (b) think that sounds insane and absurd.
* I’ve considered going back part-time, but I’ve heard that part-time usually means that you work just as much for less pay. It’s the nature of the work.
* I am good at my job. I do not love it. Every day that I’m there, I feel like I’ve done something wrong (when I haven’t). I can power through short-term—it’s just not a healthy life choice.

Our Finances
* Partner’s salary is enough to sustain our family on a very tight budget, but I feel nervous and tight about money all the time. We’re saving very little. I think I would feel safer leaving my job if his salary was higher.
* I make over $200k at my job and am concerned about losing my paycheck for potentially a long time (especially if it takes me a while to find another job).
* We have a good chunk of savings to tide us over if we need it, but I am very, very hesitant about touching it.
* We both have a lot of graduate school debt. I am on Income-Based Repayment and he is on a repayment program, but I feel the debt hanging over me and feel financially tethered to getting a job that pays well because of this. I fear that my decision-making is clouded by my feelings about our debt.

Info About Me
* Have I mentioned that I want to spend time with Baby? I do. I love spending time with Baby.
* I have a professional degree in a specific field from a very well-regarded school. I want to leave my field but feel stuck—I don’t know what else I can/want to do with my career.
* I’m actively working on finding a different career path but am currently very lost. I’m working with a career coach and have interviewed with a few places. No good fits so far.
* I am scared to have a gap on my resume from February onwards. I’ve heard getting a job without a job is very difficult, and I’m not sure how I would explain the gap.
* I am 30. I know careers are long. I’m still scared that I’m about to step off a track and won’t be able to get back on another one—especially not with a salary above $120k+—and especially not one that I like.

The Q: Should I go back? Why or why not? What am I not thinking about that I should be? Is there something I haven’t said that you think I should consider?
posted by saltypup to Work & Money (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does your firm have an office on the West Coast, closer to your partner, where you could transfer temporarily or permanently? If your partner is in, eg, Vancouver and you’re in Seattle, you could at least spend the weekends together most of the time.

However, it really sounds to me like it’s not just a matter of not wanting to leave your partner behind—you simply don’t want to stay employed as a lawyer while your child is young. Yes? Because that advice is different (eg, my suggestion above wouldn’t actually solve your real problem).
posted by praemunire at 1:10 AM on January 4

(Ps: keep an emergency fund, but pay off your student loans rather than amassing larger non-retirement savings, unless you truly commit to leaving work medium-term. Your choices will always be badly constrained until you do.)
posted by praemunire at 1:13 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

There is an option you haven’t mentioned, and maybe haven’t considered. I don’t think you’ll like it but it may be better for Baby. Leave baby with Partner. I’m assuming (maybe incorrectly) that Partner has better work hours than you do and will be able to spend more time with Baby and spend less money on paid nanny care.

Obviously this will involve separating you from both Partner and Baby though from the sounds of it, work is doing this anyway, even if you live in the same city as your child, it sounds like you’ll mostly be at work. At least this way child gets to spend more time with one parent, even if that parent isn’t you.

In the meantime, go hard at work, pay down your debt, wait for the year to pass until Partner has green card and can join you and buy time until you figure out whether you should leave your job or not. But don’t take a career hit until you have a solid plan in place.

At the moment although your job isn’t family friendly at all, financially it’s still your best option until something else presents itself. In short, Baby should stay with the parent that has the most family friendly hours, for both Baby’s sake and financial reasons. I realise this isn’t the best thing for you personally but it may be the best thing for your family.
posted by Jubey at 1:43 AM on January 4 [24 favorites]

One option you didn't put on the table is for your partner to take leave and have the baby in Canada for the six months. I know you said you wanted to spend time with the baby, but it also sounds as if building your career in a direction you want will be a sound investment in your family, which could pay off if you can transition into something with less hours longer term.
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:47 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]

Yes, it seems you are not considering the option of leaving baby with Partner. Any reason why? Seems like they would be giving up their job anyway to come to the US, and your work does not seem particularly friendly or conducive to taking care of a child even part-time.
posted by moiraine at 2:11 AM on January 4

At first your question seemed difficult to me, but by the end it seemed, to me, somewhat clear -- with the caveat that you'll be making the financial tradeoffs so only you can be sure it's worth it.

A quick story from my life to share where I'm coming from. After my first baby, I went back to work part time after 5 months. While I know many women like returning to work and expected to be one of them, it was wrenching to be separated from my little one. I got through it, but in retrospect, I still remember the pain and wonder "why didn't I even ask whether more time at home would be possible? Why did I put myself through that??" In the context of a long career, I surely could've taken a few extra months -- and those months when my son was tiny passed quickly. So I'm now in the middle of the maternity leave for my second child, and it has been really nice. I took more time off completely, and I've gone back only half time. And this time, the return to work has not been painful. It's not that I'm crushed by regret over my first maternity leave or anything, but having seen the return to work from the second feel right and positive, I wish I'd believed that a happier balance was possible and sought it out when things were painful after the first baby. The other thing is that taking off this longer time and creating a sense of space here has allowed me to do a lot of thinking about my long term career trajectory, as well as identify other interests to explore.

Returning now to your story, here is what I see:

1. You would like more time home with your baby
2. You don't want to separate your baby from your partner, and also, not having your partner around will make your daily life logistically harder
3. Your job is ridiculously, untenably demanding
4. Furthermore, you don't love your career. You'd like to find something else. You've even begun to do so
5. You can afford this. You have your partners' salary and your savings

So (a) you're in a very particular and special moment of your life as a family, (b) your choices are unfortunately pretty stark there -- between really good togetherness with LOTS of time and spaciousness or separating the kid from your partner and also being away from the house a ton yourself, dealing with ridiculous childcare logistics and presumably a lot of stress. That's a lot on you, and a lot on your kid, and (c) you have the financial wherewithal to stay together as a family and avoid going through that.

If you said "I love my career. I studied forever to get accepted to this residency / clerkship / whatever, and the last thing I want to do is give it up," I'd say okay, hang in there, it sounds worth it to you. But you want to make a change. From that I hear that leaving your job would not detract from your career but instead give you space that could actually help you achieve long-term career goals. I personally found that having a longer maternity leave led my natural ambition to start seeking other outlets. I bet if you create the space for yourself, this time could help you make the career transition you want.

In short, it sounds like the right decision for everyone in your family, and for your career.

I understand the fears, I really do. It's easy to worry that you won't be able to get back on the career train. And long-term financial security (e.g., paying off student loans) is worth keeping in mind. But I think the risk of the resume gap is overblown (I'm not blaming you; I know it's a thing people warn about). But you can also try to minimize those risks -- can you work remotely part- or full-time for this or another firm? Could you undertake studies that fill the gap? I don't know if you'll find a new job that pays as much, but it seems like that depends on the career planning you do.
posted by slidell at 3:09 AM on January 4 [10 favorites]

I’ve heard getting a job without a job is very difficult, and I’m not sure how I would explain the gap.

You might ask a mentor, if you have one, to learn how this works in your field. When I've done hiring in my field I have found that it's challenging and most important to find the person with the right mix of skills and background. If that person weren't currently employed, I don't think it would be a barrier to hiring them.

There is some bias for people with up to date knowledge and connections in the field, but a 9-month gap shouldn't interfere with that.

I also find that people do want to understand the candidate's story. If they aren't employed, why not, and is it something that would impact their employment with us? (Example 1: They're not employed because they hate 9-5 hours, so they always quit and return to freelancing after three months. Example 2: They're not employed because they just graduated college but previously did well in steady employment.) You could certainly explain the Visa situation and that "it was important to me that our family stay together while the baby was young, and I was fortunate enough to have the savings to take a brief sabbatical. I used the time to do some freelance work, earn a certificate in XYZ, and/or pursue hobbies and volunteer work. Now our Visa issues are resolved and we have settled in permanently here in NY so I'm again looking for a full-time job."
posted by slidell at 3:30 AM on January 4 [12 favorites]

If you’re going to settle in the US eventually I think the plan to leave baby with your partner in Canada while you keep on your career path makes the most financial and logistical sense. Otherwise how does the green card scenario work, like do you have to show he has a means of support in the US, and what about health care for you, him, and Baby once he gets the green light to move? (I may not understand how it works, but is this a consideration?) because it seems like long term, getting the family back together securely ASAP will be the priority.

I also wonder if on $200k as a family, he could move to an inexpensive Canadian city with an embassy, or close to one, on the East Coast (like if Toronto does his kind of visa, to Hamilton or Kingston or if it’s Montreal, Montreal) so that all three of you can visit more, even drive halfway. (Again I don’t know if he has to complete the process in Vancouver.) Could he work remotely in that scenario?
posted by warriorqueen at 4:15 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]

Having done a cursory search, it looks to me like in the case where your partner is applying for a spousal visa (not sure this applies) you do have to show proof of income and there may be a US residency requirement for you, although from your current situation it sounds like that may not be the case. In any case I would definitely make sure you understand if there’s any relationship between your residency/income status and his application before you firm up plans. Also, what’s your status in Canada and do you have health coverage? It sounds like you might be a dual citizen but just another thing to think about.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:55 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]

I have a hunch we are in the same profession, so I vote for going part time with a clearly established billable requirement if you can make it work, that's low enough to give you time to find another job that's a little less soul sucking and a little more mom friendly.
posted by notjustthefish at 5:01 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]

Assuming you’re still in the profession mentioned in prior posts, which is also mine — does your firm have contract or non-partnership track status?
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:27 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]

If you're still in NYC, I don't understand why your coworkers didn't just say "get a good nanny" instead of that really complicated childcare schedule. A good nanny will pick up more than 40 hours a week (assuming of course that you pay them). Given that you also have family in the area, I would think that a good nanny plus family help plus possibly the occasional babysitter (there are good services in NYC) would make this doable if you want to keep the baby with you.
This is expensive but not impossibly so, and it doesn't need to go on forever. Just a few months while you wait for partner to return.
I also think you need to follow your colleagues advice on that boundary setting. I sometimes see people act reluctant to try setting boundaries at work because they assume it will be impossible, won't be respected, but really they're just scared to start doing it and worry about sticking out. It is a little bit scary to set these boundaries but it often works. If you go back part time you'll need this even more.
Otherwise I'm a fan of send baby to partner plan. That really does sound like a good option.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:31 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]

If money weren't a concern, you would quit this job so your family could be together, your baby could have more time with both parents and you could be less stressed. It sounds like that's what would be best for the emotional well-being of everyone in the family and what you personally want most. And it doesn't sound as if you're really risking financial ruin if you do it. In general I think maximizing your happiness and the happiness of your family members is a better goal than maximizing your income or savings.

As others have suggested, you should make sure you understand how your choices could affect your partner's green card application. If it seems like it will work for you to live in Canada and not have a job in the US, then I would get a definitive answer about whether you can work remotely, which may not come until you say, "I'm going to quit unless I can work remotely." If they will let you do it, that would probably be a good idea. If not, if I were in your place I would quit and go to Canada without a job.
posted by Redstart at 7:11 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]

You make a lot of money, use it. Get a live-in au pair for the year who understands that she'll be doing super-duty (pick-ups, nights etc.). Contact a service, they have someone wonderful for you. Get your partner to travel to an east coast Canadian city that is a one hour flight from your east coast US city every other weekend, rent an airbnb, have visits. Consider bringing au pair, if needed. It's 6 months. It's expensive. In the long term, you all win.
posted by Toddles at 7:19 AM on January 4 [9 favorites]

I think all of your concerns about getting off the career track without a plan to get back on are completely valid and you’re not overvaluing them. On the other hand, having your family broken up with for six months or more also sounds beyond miserable — your job sounds pretty unworkable as a single parent.

Have you thought about asking for another six months of unpaid leave, so your job would still be there when you got back? If you can’t do that, I’d go part time until your partner could join you in the US.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:47 AM on January 4

I was recently in a similar situation. I requested that they expedite my husband's visa and they did so. It's somewhat at their discretion, but a citizen returning for work who would otherwise loose their job is one of the things they'll expedite for. MeMail me for more info. From first email to visa in hand was 8 weeks, through the Melbourne consulate. YMMV, of course.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:55 AM on January 4 [7 favorites]

I would ask for temporary part-time status at work and explain the green card situation. Lean on your in-town family for help as much as possible and/or employ a live-in au pair (instead of hiring different people in shifts). Ramp back up to full-time once your partner is back in the house, stay at that level for a few months, and then use that as a springboard to a job you like better. I do think the conventional wisdom is true that it’s easier to find a job if you currently have one, especially in the legal field.

I don’t think there will be a permanent negative impact on your baby from being away from partner for less than a year, especially at such a young age. It will be much tougher on your partner and you than on your kid, who won’t remember this time. Lots of kids have parents who have to be apart for extended periods of time (think military families).
posted by sallybrown at 7:57 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

One thing to add - if you’re a lawyer at a firm but don’t care about being partner track at that firm, it’s a lot (A LOT) easier to just say no to overtime/inconvenient work. Have hours during which you’re not available and communicate those clearly, then don’t even check your work phone. You get added to a project that you can foresee will include after-hours work? “So glad to join this, I just want to let you know I have a hard stop at 6 PM.” Something comes in the door while you’re walking out of the office to get home? “Sorry, I’m not available after 6 PM, as we discussed.” Do not explain why, that opens up a negotiation. It will for sure come up in your annual review or other “advice” from partners (“You need to log more hours / you need to be available for clients if you want to make partner / if you keep this up you won’t make partner here”) and you can nod along, knowing you don’t care about making partner and that you plan to leave this job when it’s convenient for you and your family. I watched so many attorneys bend over backwards, sleeping in their offices, in service to firms that didn’t ever make them partner. Feel absolutely no guilt about refusing to work superhuman hours when you need to be at home for your family.
posted by sallybrown at 8:22 AM on January 4 [8 favorites]

You say "partner" -- are you married? If not, a fiance visa may be a quicker route than a green card (even a spousal green card) and is an option for same-sex couples as well as hetero couples. You do have to register a marriage within 90 days of your partner entering the US. I don't know if this is still an option with the green card application in process, but maybe it is?

You can also contact your Senator or Representative and ask if they will write a request for expedited processing due to family hardship. They are often willing to do this because it wins a LOT of points with constituents -- my very liberal parents were deeply grateful to a hardline Republican for 30+ years because he helped expedite my mom's green card application when he was a first-term Congressman.
posted by basalganglia at 9:31 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]

“ will for sure come up in your annual review or other “advice” from partners”

Unless she’s somebody’s niece, it will get her fired, if she is, as it seems, a junior at a large law firm. This is not an endorsement of the (terrible) system or encouragement to submit mentally to its outrageous demands as so many do, but they aren’t paying her north of 200k to walk out the door at 6 pm and never look back. Her value as a junior is almost exclusively in the hours she can bill—she is correct in her understanding of what boundaries mean in this context (“have to be OOO from 5 to 6:30 every day, still going to bill ten hours today though through working into the night”). There’s not a lot they’ll fire a junior over, but just not billing is one of them.
posted by praemunire at 10:45 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]

Thanks for all the input so far. Just wanted to note a few things:

* Consider leaving Baby with Partner while I work in the USA a non-option. It does seem to make sense logistically. I would just break if I did that, and I’d be concerned about long-term effects on Baby.
* My going back to work means we wouldn’t be saving much because I would be paying for both of our student loans ($5k+ per month) and very expensive childcare ($3k+ per month). Going back part-time (and being paid at a lower rate) means zero savings. The benefit is having a steady something to hold on to in the USA when Partner gets his green card.
* I think what I want is to not work in my current job while my child is young. That’s become clearer to me as I’ve read these responses—thank you.
* We are married.
* We’ve tried to get the green card application expedited but with no luck.
* We’re aware of the effect on the green card application if I stop working and have planned for it.
* I’ve asked about working remotely (from another office) with no luck.
* My work will not grant a temporary leave.
posted by saltypup at 12:15 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine joined a prestigious law firm and discovered as soon as she had a child that she did not want to be that kind of attorney. She ended up opening a private practice and specializing in family law and trusts. Her children are now grown and it was a choice that worked well for her. This was in California, not in New York but message me if you would like more info. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:38 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]

Consider leaving Baby with Partner while I work in the USA a non-option. It does seem to make sense logistically. I would just break if I did that, and I’d be concerned about long-term effects on Baby.
While it might break your heart to be separated from Baby, I imagine it would be very hard on Partner if Baby stays with you. The tie breaker needs to be what is best for Baby. A single parent mother who is working all hours, exhausted during the little time she is available and subject to an assortment of caregivers and caregiving settings (day care, after hours care, overnight care plus sitters who sudden quit or get sick so substitutes have to be called) means that you are compounding the problem of one parent being missing with a relatively unstable home life.

So, a very strong vote against trying to keep the baby with you and going back to work full time. Regardless of what it does to you and your partner, it sounds like a pretty poor option for Baby. If you had no other choice, then clearly you would do the best you could to make it work. But you clearly have options that are better for Baby so please make the stability and attachment needs (on day to day basis, not just protecting the existing attachment with parents) a priority.
posted by metahawk at 2:37 PM on January 4 [8 favorites]

Unless she’s somebody’s niece, it will get her fired, if she is, as it seems, a junior at a large law firm.

Not in my experience and that of many other lawyers I know. (My read of this question is the asker would want to stay there at most another year or two, which is about what this would buy her unless she’s a fifth or sixth year associate.)
posted by sallybrown at 2:43 PM on January 4

I see that several people have mentioned hiring an au pair to live in and provide child care, with the idea that (usually) she would be available at all hours and could be a solo in-house caregiver (besides you).

I understand the idea there, but please be aware that au pairs have limited work hours that are established by the program that allows them to come to the US to work, and an au pair would expect also to spend time socializing with peers, maybe taking a language class, or doing some other personal enrichment activity related to their time in the US. That program is supposed to be a win for both parties, the au pair is meant to experience living in a family in the US, not to experience the child care equivalent of your all-consuming law firm job.

If you want a live-in caregiver who will consistently do 50+ hours per week, you're going to need to hire a regular nanny and be willing to pay quite well to make up for the schedule.
posted by mccxxiii at 6:16 PM on January 4 [3 favorites]

You’ve mentioned a few times being concerned about the long-term effects on the baby if separated either from you or partner for 6 months. I’m curious the effects you’re talking about—is this based on data or literature you’ve reviewed? Or consultation with an expert in child development? As someone mentioned above, many families end up in this situation for myriad reasons, and I’m truly not aware of what the long-term effects may be.

I think meta hawk makes some excellent points above, and wonder if you’re maybe more concerned about what the long-term effects could be for you.

Good luck. Such a difficult choice either way.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 7:40 PM on January 4

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