Jenna Park writes the incredible blog Sweet Fine Day (don’t you love her photographs?) and works as a freelance graphic designer. She lives with her pastry-chef husband and two young daughters in Brooklyn. Here’s how she attempts to find balance…
1. What’s your work schedule?
During the school year the mornings are quite hectic: getting lunches made and the girls dressed and fed and out the door by 8:20am for school. We also walk our neighbor kids to school two days a week, and it can be like herding cats getting four kids to two different schools. As soon as I get home at 9:20am from dropping the kids off, I have my cup of coffee and respond to emails. Then the work day begins, and it’s often a marathon to try and cram as much stuff into 4 1/2 hours as possible, until I have to pick up my youngest from preschool at 2pm. Mark used to have a more flexible kitchen schedule, but he’s been consistently leaving the house at 6am to start baking. Sometimes he’ll get home by 3pm to pick up our 7-year-old from school. It’s a lot of juggling everyday where we’re checking with each other’s schedules the night before to see which one of us can pick the kids up from school. After the kids go to bed,we’ll both work again often until late at night. Then it starts all over the next morning at 7:30am.
School vacations throw everything off. There’s a lot of stress, cursing, juggling, drop off playdates and late nights, but somehow things always get done.
2. How do you handle childcare?
We used to have a part-time nanny two days (totaling 16 hours a week) from the time our oldest was three months old up until last year. This enabled me to have two solid days where I could schedule meetings and errands. Mark and I would trade off on childcare the other days. When our youngest daughter started preschool four days a week last September, we reluctantly decided to say godbye to our nanny of six years because we couldn’t afford both. We now rely on a combination of school and tag-team childcare to get our work done. It will get a lot easier this September because both girls will be in the same school full time with the same schedules.
3. Where do you work during the day?
On the couch in the living room.
4. What do you like best about your current set-up?
There are quite a few things I learned about myself after I graduated from graduate school eleven years ago.
1) I don’t like working in an office situation every day and I feel lucky that I can work remotely from home.
2) Flexibility is really important to me, and it became necessary when we started having children. It was really the only way I could “afford” to work while not giving over the majority of my paycheck to childcare, and it allows me to spend as much time with my kids as possible while still working full-time hours. Because we value flexibility in our lives, we’ll do most anything to protect it.
5. What do you find tricky about your current set-up? What would you change if you had a magic wand?
The number-one thing I would change, hands down, is better, more affordable healthcare for freelancers and small businesses. It’s almost criminal what we pay a month for a family of four, and I hate having to choose between better healthcare vs. cheaper premiums, but this is exactly what I had to do this year because our healthcare became unaffordable. Everything else in our situation runs fairly smoothly, for the most part. We’ve had more than seven years to figure out how to maneuver the freelance life with children. It isn’t perfect, and we’ve lost some projects and found ourselves in some hairy situations (like miscommunication about who is picking up the kid from school which resulted in NO ONE picking her up), but now that both kids are school age, I feel like we’ve won the lottery and we’ve made it through to the other side.
6. How does your husband contribute to managing the juggle/house/childcare?
Mark does everything. I often joke that he is a better mom than me. He does all the cooking for the family and generally handles bath and bedtime too. Usually when he gets home from work it’s my turn to work, so most days we split childcare and house duties into morning shifts (me) and evening shifts (him).
7. Do you have time for yourself? What do you do during that time?
I really savor the late night hours. I’m a total night owl and will head to bed around 2am. It’s the only time in the day when it’s quiet from both clients and family. I can actually design work done, or I’ll watch a movie on Netflix while editing photos and writing blog posts.
8. What advice would you give to other moms about how to balance work and life?
I’m not sure I’ve found the balance myself yet, but I tell myself that whatever challenging situation I find myself in now, isn’t going to be forever.
9. Do you ever wonder how other women manage the juggle? Do you think people are open about it?
I didn’t meet very many people who were in the similar work/life situations when my kids were younger, but I’ve been meeting more and more freelance moms over the past two to three years. It helps immensely to have someone to talk to, who can relate to some of your struggles and experiences. I don’t feel there is enough open discussion about it, however, and it could be because we don’t want to appear vulnerable or weak or admit to ourselves or to others that juggling a career and parenthood is often really hard. I do think that women need to talk to each other more honestly about it–we can learn so much from each other.
Thank you, Jenna!