Family dinner is incredibly important to me. That time with my husband and children (an 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son) is about more than nutrition. It’s about connection and instilling in my children habits and manners that will hopefully last them a lifetime.
My work is also incredibly important to me and I have the kind of work that doesn’t always neatly fold itself into the 9-to-5. The cultural and media narrative would make you believe that I have to make a wrenching choice — enjoy family meals or advance my career. Alas, I can’t have both.
But what if I can? Early on in my working motherhood I hit upon a rather simple solution — I leave my office at 5 p.m. in order to be home in time to enjoy dinner, read books, sing songs and get the kids into bed. I then head into my home office to finish up on work. I thought I was a genius that I figured this out, so I was both amused and surprised to read in I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam that a majority of the women she studied work this way.
But I was even more amused and surprised (and delighted!) to read that no less than President Obama works a split shift too! In a wonderful piece in yesterday’s New York Times Sunday Style section President Obama says:
“But ironically, being in the White House gave me more time with the girls because … I live above the store. We’ve been able to schedule, pretty religiously, dinner at 6:30 every night for the last eight years. If I had a trip, I might be gone for a few days. But as busy as I was, I was able to go upstairs, have dinner. They don’t want you for more than an hour once they hit teenage. Then I can always come back down here and work. It was a great and unexpected prize of this office.”
Now, working a split shift is pretty easy when your commute is walking down the hall to the residence and having a meal that is cooked for you. But I think it’s also fair to point out that if the Leader of the Free World can stop work for an hour, eat with his family, then get back to the business of running the country, that it’s a model that can work for many lesser-mortals, too.
It’s also worth noting that, like most work/life strategies, the split shift can be deployed strategically. I don’t work every single night — most weeks a few nights does it. But when you start to think of time in a more expansive way — whether that means working earlier, working some on the weekends, doing split shifts — you may well find that there is more than enough time to have a great family life and a great career.