I’m traveling with my son, which means I’m reading USA Today, which is distributed liberally throughout hotels in the US.

I usually love USA Today. It’s like eye candy with all the photos and it’s nice that I get the same paper no matter what city we’re visiting. My favorite spot in the paper is the upper right-hand corner because it’s got celebrity news. I must be typical of all women because today there’s a women can have it all article in that corner.

Of course, the women who read this paper are traveling, so it’s likely that they’ll love that article because it’s likely they are leaving kids at home and they want to feel like it’s a good decision.

I am not so felicitous with my decisions. I am traveling with one boy, for a cello seminar, and I have one boy at home with my husband, and I am torn. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea.

What I am sure about, though, is that I can’t make things better by being a good time manager. Which is what the women in the article talk about. They talk about how they can “have it all” because they can “outsource everything,” they can “micromanage school schedules” from Bangladesh, they run the families like they run companies—“efficiently”.

But people who stay home with kids all day know that life is unpredictable, always-changing, and not goal oriented. There is no way to fix this with good time management because kids are not such clearly defined projects, and kids want you, not you managing them. Kids just want to be with their parents. Whereas projects and teams want to be managed. In business, the presence of the CEO for no apparent reason is unnerving. In the land of kids, the presence of the parent for no apparent reason is normal. It’s what feels good.

So managing time is impossible—the benefits of being present for the kids is unlimited. There is no project end-game.

So it insults me that women say they can have it all just by being good time managers. The implication is that women who do not have big jobs are not as good at time management. But time management is not always about projects and goals. Often, time management is about priorities, and a good time manager is someone who stares at the wall waiting for the kids to start fighting.

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18 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    This will sound Bill Clinton-esque, but I wonder at what “all” means in “having it all.” Having every *thing* one wants? Getting every task on your list ticked off? Earning a substantial income and being the head of housekeeping, as in hiring/firing/managing your personal staff?

    I have been one of those personal staff workers for over ten years. I do not envy these women. They ones I knew/know were/are frazzled.

    One would come to her weekend home to decompress. Her bookshelves were filled with self-help books; she had a stack of yoga pose cards (shuffle your way to bliss?). This woman radiated nervous energy, so despite having this retreat, she never “came down.” Further, she was tied to her work to sustain the staff/households/lifestyle. Financially, she no choice but to stay put. How is that progress from having to “stay home”?

    Another came home at lunch to fit in a few more tasks between bites of lunch before heading back to the office. She had a kitchen worthy of Better Homes & Gardens and a pantry full of convenience foods.

    My days are full, but not so full I’m trapped or turning my family into a corporation. I just shared this comment with a friend today; it seems apropos of today’s post. I changed the gender to fit the topic.

    Someone once asked the Dalai Lama what surprises him most. This was his response:

    “woman, because she sacrifices her health in order to make money. Then she sacrifices money to recuperate her health. And then she is so anxious about the future that she does not enjoy the present; the result being that she does not live in the present or the future; she lives as if she is never going to die, and then she dies having never really lived.”


    • BC
      BC says:

      I think you do a disservice by selective changing the Dalai Lama’s quotation, which was directed generally to “man” as in “mankind.” Changing the quotation to “women” in this debate makes it seem as though WOMEN, as opposed to men, have unbalanced priorities. That was not the point of the Dalai Lama’s quotation.

        • Tim
          Tim says:

          Read the one you prefer? Are you for real?

          It is highly disingenuous to offer a comment that you have edited and then not disclose said edit. You can’t hide behind “I linked to the original” because the fact is that most people aren’t going to follow your link. They will read the quote and falsely believe that is what is said.

          Imagine that your method became the accepted practice. It would take me forever to get through Penelope’s blog because I would have to follow through on every.single.thing she linked just to make sure it wasn’t altered in a misleading way.

          Actually, that’s false, it wouldn’t take me long at all. I’d just stop reading her blog.

  2. karelys
    karelys says:

    “In business, the presence of the CEO for no apparent reason is unnerving. In the land of kids, the presence of the parent for no apparent reason is normal. It’s what feels good.”

    I love this! it makes me smile :)

    This whole running a family like a business: efficiently, reminds me of the time when I was sure that if “disciplined” myself enough and made my body my machine I’d be awesome.

    Guess what happened? I crashed. Bad. I disconnected from my body. It was a horror story. Depression, the really bad kind, overstayed it’s welcome to the point I figure I’d better learn to live with it. I never knew what it was like to live without it because I forgot of a time I didn’t have it.

    My way, right now, to have it all is to redo my priorities and make sure that what’s important to me it’s within the realm of what my resources can cover (resources being time, energy, emotional capabilities, and sometimes money. But money can be stretched or made somehow. Not energy and emotional strength).

    So I’ll be super poor for a while if need be but my baby will be with me. And there will be days when I wonder “what if this or that?” Whatever. I never knew I was poor when I was a kid because my parents were always around and playing with dirt was satisfying. Also, we had no tv so we had no idea we were supposed to want crazy toys/gadgets.

  3. Cristen H
    Cristen H says:

    Well put. We just got back from 2 months away from home. My to do list around the house (I’m a SAHM unschooler) is long. So when I got to the vacuuming, the kids, who had been occupying themselves, wanted in on the fun. One rug took over an hour, what with my 4.5 year old son and 22 month old daughter taking turns pushing the vacuum, turning it on and off, emptying the canister. They had a blast, and I relaxed on the couch (20 weeks pregnant). This is how it goes. I have learned to slow way down, and include them in all the chores, from chopping veggies to getting the money out of the ATM. To me, this is socialization. As in, how to be a functioning member of society. Who wants to live with a roommate who doesn’t know how to clean, cook, or manage money?

  4. CM
    CM says:

    “What I am sure about, though, is that I can’t make things better by being a good time manager.” Really? I think you miss some of the most basic benefits of time management. You are quick to jump to the extreme scenario that time management leads to micro managing your family and children with no project end-game. Trust me when I say that every parent “know that life is unpredictable, always-changing”, it is not a concept reserved for the stay at home. However, most actions whether at work or at home are goal oriented. The goal may be something as simple as lunch at the park with your kids, but it is still your goal for that moment.

    One of the major benefits of time-management is the ability to allow you more time to do what you want. A single working mother who has a cleaning lady just added at least an hour more to her week to spend with her kids. A parent who uses online financial tools to pay bills and manage finances gained more time they can spend with their kids, say in Boston bike riding rather than sitting in a cab waiting for someone else to deposit money into their drained account. There will always be the parent who over manages their kids schedule and their own, but those parents exist both inside and outside the home. Type A-micro managing is a personality trait that you are going to put to use anywhere you see your “job”.

    “managing time is impossible—the benefits of being present for the kids is unlimited. There is no project end-game.” As a working mother who loves her job and also “outsources” some home projects so she can spend Saturdays with her kids rather than doing laundry is in fact keeping her eye on the end-game….to spend her time away from the job she loves to be with those she loves the most. Time management helps us balance all of the balls we have in the air so when we are with our kids we can be present.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Time management in a corporate scenario is totally different than time management running a household.

      For one thing, if you make a mistake you don’t lose your job.

      But more importantly, corporate time management is a thousand times less flexible. Its’ a different ballgame, which is why women say what they most want from work is flexibility. People feel control over their lives running their household and out of control working in an inflexible corporate job.

      So this post is about corporate time management techniques, that assume a fixed schedule, co-owned by many adults who are equal decision makers. The women who say they are able to do a corporate job and be a hands-on parent with good time management are talking about corporate time management.

      I think the time management you are talking about is actually executive function. There is a difference.


  5. Monica
    Monica says:

    Some days you just make me feel good! It is why I read you. Today was one of those days. Today you were a gift.

    I get it… I didn’t need to over analyze it. I didn’t need to correct you. I don’t have to justify anything.

    You gave me the answer to my guilt monkey of late. And for that, I thank you!!!!

    In the end we die. Well managed or not. I will take days of wonder over a schedule any day. I had that life, (before kids) and do not want it back.

    Go sit with a dying person… they will never ask for a schedule.

  6. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I like the sentence about the parent being present all the time and its what feels good. I think this must be true. I remember feeling so sad when my mom had to go to work doing the graveyard shift at the hospital so many nights of the week and for virtually my entire childhood. This makes me realize why – I wanted her with me as much as possible for no specific reason but just because I loved her and love made me happy.

  7. RachH
    RachH says:

    This article said what I’ve known in my gut since I was a child. As a result, I’m unsure if I ever want to have kids, because I’m not good at open-ended, never-ending projects, and parenting would surely be one (in fact, as an INTP I often start projects and lose interest immediately, but the fact that I even start them now is progress since I used to just come up with ideas and discard them immediately). Are INTPs horrible parents? I’ve tried to find answers on this somewhere to see if it’s even a possibility, because I like the idea of having a kid, but I’m terrified I’d be awful at it. My husband thinks I’d be great at it because I had the same fears about having a pet and now I can’t imagine life without our cat, but I’m still worried about this.

    • stef
      stef says:

      My mom is an INTP. I feel like some of her INTP traits that played out in her role as a parent are that she: could be emotionally and physically distant, and has a big requirement for time alone (she’s pretty much a loner); encouraged us to think, ask questions, and solve problem (sometimes she would play with us and it would usually be a puzzle or some sort of logic game like Pente or Mastermind); often got frustrated with us when we didn’t grasp her way of thinking fast enough if she thought something was logical and should be obvious (math homework with her was a nightmare because for her it’s second nature, and for me, it isn’t!); would continually be generating ideas and improvements for thing (she’d decide to dig a koi pond in the back yard one day, or rearrange all the furniture, or move us all into the finished basement and rent out the rooms upstairs to students, etc. and these projects would be in various states of completion at any given time) so there was a constant sense of instability and upheaval.

      None of these makes for a horrible parent, but if any of it sounds like you, maybe you could try to work on being more emotionally available and affectionate, more consistant with routines, and more patient when your children’s brains don’t work like calculators.

      And also understand that by teaching your children to reason and use logic, you are giving them a gift that will last forever — even if you regret having done it when they are in their rebellious teenage years and begin questioning you!

      All types have their strengths and weaknesses.

      • RachH
        RachH says:

        That is such a fantastic and helpful comment! I will take that advice to heart across the board with everyone I care about. I feel it’s a herculean effort to be consistent and emotionally available, but I’ve been working very hard at it since I got married a couple years ago. Thanks for the insight–I really appreciate hearing what it’s like to have an INTP parent and the tips are invaluable.

  8. Cassie Boorn
    Cassie Boorn says:

    Someone once told me that being a parent is like being a mentor.

    Our job is to mentor our children at life.

    This post is interesting because I don’t think anyone would ever argue that a good mentor is someone who can efficiently outsource all of work involved with mentoring someone in their career.

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