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Does the work-life juggle get harder as kids get older?

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk


While on vacation week before last (by the way, how is it possible that it now seems so far away?) we met a couple whose girls became fast friends with our daughter. Sitting by the pool, sipping all sorts of tropical drinks, the mom and I got to chatting about juggling full-time work and motherhood. She has worked full-time for most of the time after her kids were born, although she did take a year off earlier on to stay at home. As we were comparing our commutes (my 25-minute drive started to seem like an absolute dream compared to her 1.5 hour train commute each way) she told me something I didn’t expect:

“When we get back from vacation, I think I am going to quit.”

Her older daughter is now in kindergarten and her younger will be there next year. She told me that when they were younger, she was absolutely fine with having an awesome full-time nanny and being there with her kids at night and on weekends. But as they get to be school-age she is having a harder time missing all of the day-time events (she can’t get there mid-day and go back to the office because of her long commute) and outsourcing homework and all post-school activities to another caretaker.

“For me, juggling full-time work with being a mother has gotten a lot harder as my kids got older,” she told me.

This gave me serious pause for thought because to be honest, I’ve had similar feelings often since my daughter started kindergarten. When she was little, I missed her a lot during the day, but I trusted our nanny completely and let’s be honest, her needs were pretty simple and limited: She needed to sleep, eat, and play. Sure, it would have been great to do all that with her, but our nanny was great and our daughter was totally happy. Now her needs are much more complex and I don’t just mean getting around to tons of after-school activities. I mean things like her asking a lot of questions that I would love to be there for vs. our wonderful babysitter, her needing encouragement and support with her piano and other practice that I would love to be the one to give, and so on. (We practice piano every morning, before work and school — it makes the morning routine a bit insane but it’s the one thing I’m committed to doing myself.)

The woman we met on vacation has a husband who can support the family and thus the luxury to opt out of working. I have zero judgment for her but I realize that it’s not a realistic scenario for most of us. In my case, my work isn’t the kind of work that can be done part-time, so that doesn’t seem to be the answer.

What do you think about the work-life juggle and kids’ ages - does it get easier or harder as they get older? I’m curious to hear your perspectives, so sound off in the comments!

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27 comments so far...

  • YES! I have always felt this way - that the early years are so important and physically exhausting, but that others could take care of my kids as well, or probably even better, than I could. As they get older the pressure to do-be-see more gets stronger and stronger, and all of my justifications for “un-scheduling” the little ones don’t hold up as well for older kids (mostly because the older kids *want* to do more activities and social events, rather than a must-take-French-lessons-at age-7-so-you-can-go-to-Harvard situation). And so many life lessons and teachable moments and all that I’m missing … Difficult.

    Molly  |  April 26th, 2010 at 6:05 am

  • I have to say, you must have read my mind! I have 4 kids, ages 11, 9, almost 6, and 3. We are completely insanely busy with afterschool, evening baseball, homework, and whatever else. I work 3 days a week, 12 hr shifts, and usually don’t get home until 7:30pm. So I miss some things but I try to plan my work schedule around the baseball games. 3 of my 4 play baseball/softball year round. My husband is helpful when I can’t be there and they goto Grandma’s when I work so homework gets done. Why then do I freak out about the struggle I have with work and life? Because I want to be there for it all. Things just run smoother when the mommy is home. There, I said it! And it does get harder the older and more involved they are. It’s a guilt trip beyond your wildest dreams. If my income was imparative to our paying the bills and surviving, I’d quit in a heart beat. I feel the kids need me MORE now that they are older. They have bigger problems and can get into bigger trouble the bigger they get. It’s that simple. What am I going to do about it? For now, my hands are tied. I have to keep trusting that they are well adjusted and can handle having a working mother. Besides, if I quit, then they have to quit all the extra activities too because of lack of funds. We have to try not to beat ourselves up for decisions beyond out control. We are doing good things every chance we get, even if we can’t be there as much as we’d like. Just my 2 cents.

    Belinda  |  April 26th, 2010 at 7:51 am

  • Totally agree. A friend with kids older than mine told me this years ago, when I was sad about having mine in daycare. She said, “They’ll need you more when they’re in school.” And it’s SO TRUE. My oldest is in Kindergarten and WOW, there have been a lot of things I’ve missed out on. I’d like to be able to adjust my schedule to accomodate this shift, but… not sure how.

    Going to have to mull it over this summer, for sure.

    Lee  |  April 26th, 2010 at 8:07 am

  • I can see this becoming an issue. Right now, my kids have most of their “activities” (soccer, gymnastics, etc.) during the “school day” at the daycare facility. Their daycare goes up through KG. At that point, I don’t know how I’ll be able to keep them involved; something will have to give. I’ll probably have them go to an after-school program and hopefully they will be able to do their homework there. And try to schedule “activities” for Saturday mornings (currently a work shift for me). I guess we’ll manage somehow - we always do. The good thing about having 2 close in age is that at least they can go to the same activities at the same times.

    SKL  |  April 26th, 2010 at 8:50 am

  • Both of my kids will be in school this coming September and I’m wondering how I am going to manage. The school hours, the activities make it very hard to juggle. I am faced with possibly losing my job in the coming year and I have thought recently that it might be better if I stayed home. Even though I’ve worked for the entire 8 years since I’ve had children.

    Sharon  |  April 26th, 2010 at 9:09 am

  • I quit working f/t last year when my oldest entered kindergarten. I definitely felt like I would be missing out on too much important stuff and want to be more available now that the kids are older. I had a long commute and sometimes very long hours and it was bothering me to let my husband handle 100% of the afterschool/evening. Luckily I am now working for myself and doing it from home. I need to ramp up the work side of things, but family-wise I am much happier with this arrangement.

    ksr  |  April 26th, 2010 at 11:43 am

  • I’ve found it very true. Trying to juggle her friendships and their activities is much harder than when she was younger. And not having the daytime hours like the other families means she misses out so much on those afterschool things.
    I’m fortunate that her school offers a lot of afterschool activities (dance, art, theater, languages) but if she wants to really learn dance, it would have to be Saturday. How to do sports with the afterschool practices? How to….Just really difficult now. And I only have a one-to-one ratio, don’t know how you do it with more.
    My mother started working 4 days a week (reduction of 1/5th pay in exchange). Even scheduling so that I were working later 4 days in return for earlier one day a week would alleviate a lot. I’d have an afternoon for orthodontia appointments and a play date reciprocation. On the other hand, too scared to request that in today’s economy. Better to see when the economy improves and there are fewer than 12 waiting replacements.

    Mich  |  April 26th, 2010 at 12:59 pm

  • I am one of those rare women who has the privilege of having a husband whose salary supports all of our needs. So I don’t know if it gets harder or easier to juggle work and children as they age.

    What I do know is that I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve been so fortunate to spend with my 2-year-old daughter as a stay-at-home mom for a 9-5. My husband and I actually cut our expenses - got cheaper cable, eat at home frequently, etc. - so that I could quit working for a newspaper 3 years ago. We’ve done well with this arrangement.

    I feel like I’ve personally gotten to witness all of my daughter’s milestones. I encourage women who are able to rethink the household budget by dividing needs from wants to do it!

    Now, I’ve started a small, home-based business. I work when my daughter sleeps or watches her favorite cartoons. I love it, and I think she likes getting to play with Mama all day.

    Terez  |  April 26th, 2010 at 7:02 pm

  • So True! I have a 12 and 5 year old.

    I almost made the ultimate working-mom screw-up this week. I scheduled a trip for a day-long conference that was going to cause me to miss my son’s 6th grade graduation. At first, I thought no big deal. 6th grade graduation is kind of like a Hallmark-created holiday and he’s a stinky 12 year old boy who doesn’t need his mama anyway. I told him, and he was really bummed. He asked if I could reschedule, so I did! I’ve usually put work first in the past, but no more.

    AJB  |  April 27th, 2010 at 6:54 am

  • Honestly, I have thought of the same. As my daughter gets older, I would like to get on a part time schedule just to be able to enjoy her formative years and be more involved in her after school activities. Like you said, the scenario is not realistic yet, but we are trying to make it achievable in a year plus from now.

    GNSD  |  April 27th, 2010 at 8:24 am

  • At the moment, I am more concerned about the middle school years (our SD has full day KG, and the elementary end time is right when I get home - middle school? Yeah, two o’clock; my bosses ARE pretty decent, and may consider letting me we from home so that I can get him on the bus in the mornings but we’ll cross that particular bridge when we get to it. Similarly, anything we’d do lesson-wise or sports-wise would likely be through the school district, and even if it weren’t, they seem to line up with the schedules for our district) but we’ve given a little bit of thought to this as well.

    CV  |  April 27th, 2010 at 11:47 am

  • UGH! ONE MORE THING TO AGONIZE OVER! I wish I never read this…


    Mommy Lisa  |  April 27th, 2010 at 12:54 pm

  • I have twins, and everybody kept telling me that I will gain my life back when the kids were 3 years old. What happened is that I took on hundred of activities close to their entrance to kindergarden…and VOILA…I just found out that its the same..if not more work. What to do? I really really really want some intellectual challenges, but it is so hard to get all these emails of dissappointed stakeholders after years of being an A+ employee, student, friend, etc. I have learnt to deal with B’s and C’s…but it seems that lately the F’s are accumulating big time.
    ….God knows I love my family…I just wish it was easier….a lot easier.

    milliondollarbaby  |  April 28th, 2010 at 10:35 am

  • Oh, working with school age kids is much more complicated, in many ways, than having kids in daycare or with a nanny. And let’s not forget summer time - exponentially more complicated and expensive for working moms of school age kids than really little ones — 9am swim team, early afternoon sports practices, and the desire to have sleepovers every night with friends. I work a crazy and complicated schedule so that I can pick my kids up from school 3-4 days a week most weeks during the school year, and it’s totally worth all of the hassle.

    Sarah  |  April 28th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

  • I’ve gone through it all…

    As a baby with my son in day-care, I had a meltdown one day when he announced in his little 2.5 year old voice, “All you do is work!” So I went to 4-days a week for as long as I could.

    Then, when he was older and in school, I couldn’t handle the dejected child I picked up from the after-school care every day, so I re-arranged so I could be done when all the kids were off school.

    And now, they’re all totally self-sufficient with school and need no “babysitting”…but heavens, I can’t keep up with their lives! As they make friends, join clubs, join bands and take ballroom, I almost put more miles on my car than when I had the power job with the nasty commute.

    Nothing is static, and every time I think “whew, ok now I can breathe…” something else to do/worry about/help with comes merrily over the horizon.

    Maybe when we retire…

    Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points  |  April 29th, 2010 at 9:09 am

  • I am quitting my full-time job of ten years in a few weeks for exactly this reason. I am a mother to five-year-old twins who have attended full-time daycare since they were 11 weeks old. It was never a problem until they started kindergarten this year, and it was killing me to explain to them that we had to wait until the weekend to go sledding, and a huge struggle to get them to do even the most basic homework assignments in the few short minutes between dinner and bedtime. They have friends in after-school activities that I never signed them up for because my schedule (and my husband’s—he travels a lot) didn’t allow for it. I realized I wanted to be there to pick the boys up after school and be there for them. I didn’t want the daycare teachers doing their homework with them. I realize I am very lucky to even have the option to quit. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. It was interesting to hear that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. I think the boys are so much more fun and interesting than they were as babies, and I don’t want to miss it!

    Jill  |  May 1st, 2010 at 3:29 pm

  • I worked only part time when my kids were in elementary school (they are teens now) and I’ll tell you all a dirty little secret - the parents who are always at the school volunteering and know which teachers are great and which aren’t, and have a relationship with the powers that be, have the pull to get their kids into the best classrooms. I hated that dynamic but don’t know how to fight it, especially since principals usually maintain that all our teachers are equally fantastic.

    I do hate to see women quit altogether - don’t forget that if you can afford to quit, you probably can afford to work part time, closer to the house, and/or at a more flexible job.

    Nora  |  May 2nd, 2010 at 6:46 am

  • It’s a catch-22. Without my salary, we can’t afford the after-school activities and classes. My son takes a Lego class, swimming, creative movement and chess. My daughter just started ice skating and swimming. Eight weeks fo swim lessons for two kids were about $400! I can totally relate to Nora’s comment. My son’s school announced a little after-school ice cream fundraiser for 8 kids in his class who wanted to sign up. Because of the strong interest in this event, they doubled the party to 16 and the e-mail stated they had “help” for the party. It turns out several SAHM stepped up to volunteer for the event, even though there wasn’t a call for volunteers. They were at the right place at the right time (school) and I wasn’t (work).

    Tina  |  May 11th, 2010 at 11:31 am

  • Yes, I am finding that it is harder. I thought as my children got older they would need me less but I am finding that they need my time more. Granted they can’t drive and I have to get them to and from different activities. I have one starting middle school this year and one still in elementary school. I work part-time and still I feel that I need two of me most days.

    My Mom commented on how parents over schedule their children now. I was thinking about that and how different the world is now compared to when I was young. In 5th and 6th grade I had so much freedom compared to kids now. Our park was three blocks from our house and I was gone with friends until dinner time, especially in the summer. My parents went hours without seeing me. Could you imagine now dropping your child at the park for hours? We have to have our children in organized activities to keep them active and busy and that does require that we as parents are involved with them.

    Shel E.  |  July 29th, 2010 at 5:11 pm

  • This is a very hard topic to discuss. There are always going to be those that think they know what people should be doing with their lives. The hard part is trying to figure it out for yourself. I have 2 kids. One in grade 3 and one in grade 1. I felt very sad this year to see my son walked out the door knowing he would be gone all day. I have been home nearly eight years and I am now torn with my identity.
    My solution, I enrolled myself in school. Thought this would be perfect. I could get educated while they are ;.)
    Let me tell you it is turning out to be a lot harder than I had anticipated. Guess I thought that if I went to school to further my education for the good of the family and eventually the income of the family, that everyone else would pitch in. “WRONG” I have a great husband who is busy running his own successful business. He is to tired to come home and do anything. So that leaves me running between school and home and picking the kids up. I then have to still run them to their activities, get the house work done, bills paid, yard work done! It is never ending. My husband has bragged about how I am going back to school and not sitting at home being “LAZY, LIKE THOSE OTHER MOMS!” The idea of a stay home Mom’s being lazy makes me so mad. I think it is the stay home Mom’s who’s husbands have it good. We do a lot to help out. We may not bring home a paycheque but we pick up a lot of slack all day long.
    My goal is eventually to be back at work but for now I am torn. I don’t know how those working Mom’s do it but they sure deserve a lot of credit. I don’t think any situation is ideal when it comes to balancing being a Mom.
    Wish I had the all the answers!

    Kari-Lynn  |  September 24th, 2010 at 5:03 pm

  • My eldest just started nursery this year and I’m having this same feelings. To top it off, work has gotten more stressful so I’ve been spending less time with my two kids. After careful consideration, and too many missed school activities, I decided to quit my full-time job. It’ll be a little hard on our finances but at least I can attend to my kids needs more.

    Gin  |  October 27th, 2010 at 1:18 am

  • I am the mother of two teenage daughters and the work-life juggle is still challenging. I often visit the idea of working full time, because we could use the income, but my part-time job allows me to be available to my girls as much as possible. I can be there for school activities and sports. I feel really blessed that my employer is very flexible and I can be there when my daughters are sick. Even though they are older now, it doesn’t get easier. Teens are a special breed and still require a lot of attention. My new school of thought , “when they start driving, then I’ll go back to work full-time.” I’ll have to wait and see.

    Renee  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 1:13 pm

  • I have four daughters–ages almost 13, 10, 8 and 6. The youngest is in K this year. I stayed home those first 12 years and then couldn’t wait to get back into the work force part time! I even found that perfect 9-2 job that I didn’t even know existed and have been at it for 8 months now.

    It became evident pretty quickly that even though I have the “perfect” set up, it’s still very demanding. I no longer have those 9-2 hours to clean, grocery shop, etc etc and now it all gets pushed to evenings and weekends. It can all be balanced if life runs as it “should”, but that rarely happens. School delays, closings, sickness, and a horrible family tragedy has happened since I have been back to work this short time. Needless to say, it’s been messy and not worth me being back at work.

    I literally lose money when I hire a sitter for those days I need one. That means for at least 3 months out of a year, I work for free (or less!) That does not even count spring break, cancellations, etc. And now we’re at the point that I’m hiring a 16 year old to watch my 13 year old. Yet, I’m not comfortable enough to leave my 13 year old with her 3 younger sisters for any extended period of time–let alone, every day for 3 months.

    And yes, they need you as infants. They need you as toddlers. They need that bonding time with Mom. But now, they need your advice, your guidance and your presence. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what others think. Let them think you stay home all day and eat bons bons. You know and I know that is not the truth at all. We are there as support for our families. To be there when we are needed.

    Thankfully, I have a husband that does well and my income is just extra. So me leaving my job here in the near future will not impact our family finances. If this is the case with you, I urge you to rethink the future with your teens. They will need you more than ever to help keep them out of trouble and be there when those “teen emergencies” occur. I truly believe my husband, I nor our children will regret this decision. We brought these kids into this world and now it is OUR responsibility to make sure they are raised properly and to the best of our ability. We cannot do that if we are not present for them.

    Susan  |  March 8th, 2011 at 11:19 pm

  • I am having that current dilemma. I have not been working for the last seven years w/part-time job on occasion and 1 full-time job for about 5 months. I have found myself in this predicament once again. Accepted a great job opportunity w/ great pay however I am already in tears with the thought of not being here for my girls (5,10 &14) .I will be working 9-6pm and 11-8 horrible hours to say the least but thought I’d be dumb for passing up the great salary they offered me (mid forties) . I have 2 weeks before my start day and not sure what to do ? Need to rearrange piano and guitar lessons and will be missing some of their sport activities. Stuck in a hard place… didn;t even start yet and feel like this is impossible. Need some motivation or advice …

    Sheri  |  April 4th, 2011 at 10:57 am

  • I find myself in this very situation right now! With three kids, one entering 3rd grade, one entering middle school and one entering high school, I am just about to quit my “perfect”, as most people would describe it, part time job at a big company that I have been at for 20 years, to be a stay at home mom. It is a tough decision (I have been anicipating telling my boss for 3 days but cannot seem to do it!), not because I love my job so much (but I do love my co-workers and have a great boss) and feel the need to work but just the nervousness of walking away from a very nice situation that brings in money to my family to do fun things and drive through Starbucks and stop by Target for something and have the money to pay for it. But the need to stop the craziness and the digging for matched socks as we head out the door and the buying a birthday gift on the way to the birthday party and the shopping at the grocery store at 10 pm for breakfast and lunch for the next day, since we just got home from my son’s baseball game or a performance at the school or a family event. I want peace for my kids. I want peace in my house. I want peace for my husband and I. I feel that time is ticking and I only have a few precious years to not be running around crazy trying to get everything done. And I only work part-time so it must be less hectic than most!! We are very involved in our childrens’ activities and schools which does make us extra extra booked up. We thrive on that though and is part of the fabric of our family. Tough decisions, none of the answers will be wrong and each made with the desire to make our own families stronger and happier. ual families.

    Corinne S.  |  July 13th, 2011 at 12:49 am

  • We have 4 children. Ages 15,14,8 and 6. With my 2 oldest I worked full time from the time they were born until they were in 1st and 2nd grade. When I had my 3rd child we could not make sense of the daycare expense and me being gone all day. I was literally working to pay daycare. My husband went through truck driving school and became a over the road truck driver. I have been home for 9 years now and have gotten adjusted to only seeing my husband twice a month for the blessing of being able to be home with the kids. I have always said that once they were all school age that I would go back to school and get a job but like many of you I am so torn. Anytime I mention getting a job it is my older kids that act like they are going to have an anxiety attack not the younger ones. My husband tells me that the kids need me now more than ever and so does he. He does not want me to work. We have been just making it financially by the skin of our teeth for 9 years, I have a huge amount of guilt when start struggling financially that I should be working and contributing more but the whole family wants to me to continue to stay home. It seems to me that us Mom’s are in a catch 22 regardless of staying home or working. It kind of reminds me of that saying, “You cannot please everyone”. So after much debate I have decided to stay home for my family maybe a door will open up for a little part time job but who knows. Family must come first in my situation. I think all us Moms whether working or staying home we all have a tough job as Moms and we just have to accept the fact that we cannot be everywhere and do everything there are going to be things that we miss out on but there are also going to be things that we don’t. Just have to try to be content with what we can do and stop focusing on what we cannot. May the Lord Bless and Keep all you Awesome Mom’s out there that love your children so much whether you are working or at home YOU ARE AN AWESOME MOM!!! :-)

    Jenn  |  October 1st, 2011 at 7:42 am

  • Juggling kids and work seems to be much harder as the kids get older. I have a first grader and a 4 year-old. I am usually missing out on something somewhere. Feeling like I am falling short at work. Not getting my paperwork done at time. Nearly forgetting to get my daughter’s Science Form filled out on the due date. Calling a friend to wait with my son for 10 minutes as I am going to be late picking him up from from preschool as I am coming from work. Older kids do so many more things.

    Kathryn  |  March 8th, 2012 at 3:24 am