When Parents Lean In at Work, Do Kids Suffer at Home?

by Derek Loosvelt | April 03, 2013

In article after article in the aftermath of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer ending working-from-home options, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg publishing Lean In, about the only related subject I haven’t read much if anything about is children. That is, I’ve came across little about children whose parents' work/life balance tips more toward work than life. In fact, there’s such a void on the subject that I decided to hit the street, which is to say playground, where I came across two kids whose parents are Lean In-corporate types without the option of doing their "leaning in" at home. 

Generously, the kids agreed to take time out of their busy playdate and preschool schedules to speak with me. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call the two kids Jack and Jill. Jack is three; Jill is four-and-a-half. Jack and Jill are friends—well, acquaintances, according to Jill. Below is an excerpt from our conversation earlier this week (as we spoke, Jack was running up a slide barefoot and sliding down headfirst, and Jill was hanging from the monkey bars). 

VAULT: What do your parents do for a living? What are their jobs?
Jack: My mommy’s an insider trader.

VAULT: A what?
Jack: That’s what my daddy says. Mommy says she works for a hedge fun.

VAULT: Fun?
Jack: I guess. But it doesn’t sound like fun to me. I’d rather be in time-out than do mommy’s job.

VAULT: And your dad?
Jack: He’s a corporate liar.

VAULT: You mean lawyer?
Jack: Mommy calls him a corporate liar. She says business is booming.

VAULT: Jill, where do your parents work?
Jill: My mom’s an editor. She works for the newspaper. Well, the Internet. My dad works in TV. He’s a producer. But I’m not sure what that means. I don’t think he knows either.

VAULT: Jack, can you describe your morning routine for me?
Jack: Okay ... first Nadia comes into my room when I wake up and then she picks me up and hugs me and I hug her back and then we go downstairs and Nadia makes me oatmeal—I like the organic steel cut kind with lots of lumps and almond milk—and then I eat while Nadia and I play Coin Catcher on my iPad and then I watch "Yo Gabba Gabba!" on YouTube and after Nadia changes my diaper and gets me dressed we ride in a taxi to nursery school while I watch the little TV on the back of the seat and the driver stares at Nadia in the mirror and then the taxi stops and I get out and wave good-bye and then …

VAULT: You call your mommy by her first name, Nadia?
Jack: No, Nadia’s my nanny. She’s from Denmark. Mommy’s name is Jules.

VAULT: And what does your mommy do in the morning while you’re with Nadia?
Jack: She plays with her iPad, too, I think.

VAULT: You think?
Jack: Mommy wakes up before I do and then goes to spinning class and gets sweaty to work out her stress and rage—that’s what daddy says—and then she takes a taxi to work just like me and Nadia. Only mommy takes a black taxi. We take a yellow one.

VAULT: What about you, Jill? What’s your morning routine like?
Jill: My mommy makes me breakfast—usually scrambled eggs from the farmer’s market—and then we eat together. After that, she makes me lunch and puts it in a brown paper bag, which is 100 percent recyclable. Then I get dressed and she walks me to school.

VAULT: That sounds nice. Does your daddy eat breakfast with you, too?
Jill: I don’t think he eats breakfast. He’s still sleeping when we leave. He doesn’t get home until after midnight and so he sleeps later than me and mommy. Till noon sometimes.

VAULT: So when do you see your daddy?
Jill: Saturdays usually. Saturday afternoons. And sometimes Sundays too—when daddy’s TV show is in reruns, and if the Giants aren’t playing. I don’t like football. Do you?

VAULT: I do, but the European kind. Jack, when do you see your daddy?
Jack: Every night. My daddy cooks dinner and we eat together and then sometimes he reads me books on his Kindle—the pictures aren’t as good but daddy says it’s better for the trees—and then he puts me to bed. I love trees. Do you love trees?

VAULT: Very much. And so do you and your daddy eat dinner with your mommy, too?
Jack: Just on Mondays and Fridays. Other days she has dinner with clients. I’m not sure what those are, but Daddy says they’re old and boring but they pay the bills.

[At this point, Jack refused to speak English and started speaking Mandarin—he’s in a Mandarin immersion nursery school—and so I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. Meanwhile, Jill, perhaps not wanting to be upstaged, began speaking Spanish; she takes an after-school Spanish class four afternoons a week. However, after I bought them both lollipops, Jack and Jill agreed to answer one final question in English.]

VAULT: Do you wish your parents would spend more time at home and less time at work?
Jack: If Nadia can still be my nanny, then I guess so … but I don’t have to sell my iPad, do I?

VAULT: What about you, Jill?
Jill: We have something called a mortgage that mommy calls our ball and chain. So even if I wanted them to be home more it’s probably not possible. But I guess it would be nice. Anyway, can I have another lollipop? Mine fell on the ground and then Jack ate it.

Read more:
Lean In, Dad: How Shared Diaper Duty Could Stimulate the Economy (NYT)
Can Sheryl Sandberg Break Up the Old Boys' Club?
Is Yahoo Right to Ban Working From Home?
Can Marissa Mayer "Have It All"?
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's 11 Secrets to Succe$$

Filed Under: Finance | Salary & Benefits | Workplace Issues


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