how do you balance two “big” jobs in a family?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

How do you sensibly balance two “big” jobs in a relationship? My husband is an executive at a high-profile company, and I am the head of a small but very busy specialist department at my firm. Both our jobs are slightly flexible, but less and less (from the height of flexibility during the pandemic shutdowns) so we both need to be in the office most of the time. We have two little kids (4 and 2), one with additional needs.

We have two different philosophies. I think that we just work and parent and balance the two as best we can. If a conflict comes up (sick kid being the main example) then the person with the less busy day can take it off, or try to juggle working from home with the sick kid and make it up in the evening. My husband thinks you need to go in to each period or phase (or year or quarter, until Big Project is complete, etc.) with a philosophy of whose work takes priority during that period, so that at the moment if one of the kids is sick he would take the day off because it’s my “turn” to take priority, or if I need to work late then he will leave on time to make daycare pick-up.

This approach makes me uncomfortable! What if he has the busier day? I understand wanting a guiding principle but I think this is too firm. Up until now, I have usually been the one to take a sick day or work from home with the kids (my preference) but now he has a lot more accrued leave than I do. I took maternity leave with both kids with the full support of my job. I also think it’s hard to agree to any blanket rule; if it was his “turn” but I had a really important meeting, I don’t think it makes sense for me to miss that or reschedule just because we had tried to guess in advance who would have the busier or more important quarter.

We have thankfully never had to test the situation with, for example, both of us having all-day board meetings while one of the kids is unwell.

So, what’s the better approach? Do you or the readers have a view? We both grew up with a breadwinner parent and a part-time-work parent (who would default to picking up kids), and none of our friends are in this exact situation (also I feel like “we’re both critical at work” is a slightly obnoxious topic to raise with friends during a cost-of-living crisis). I also don’t think we should disclose any arrangement to our workplaces; this is more about the agreement about prioritization we have between ourselves.

I think that, like most working parents, we are just doing our best and muddling through, but if there’s a better way we want to know! How about the kids of these “two big job” relationships? What did your parents do right (or wrong)?

Readers, please share your thoughts in the comments.

{ 603 comments… read them below }

  1. lunchtime caller*

    I know someone who has worked as a regular nanny for exactly this kind of couple, and that seems to work the best. Instead of fighting over who can stretch themselves more thin that day, if you can afford extra help (grocery delivery, housecleaner, trustworthy and beloved nanny) then you should take advantage of it.

    1. Woodswoman*

      This is exactly what I came here to say! Instead of prioritizing the time of one parent over the other, it may make more sense to prioritize the financial expense of extra help when budgeting.

      1. FormerTVGirl*

        I agree that having a nanny can help — but it is not a panacea. Nannies call out sick. Nannies have to leave early. Nannies take vacation. Nannies have family emergencies. It can be extremely hard to find backup childcare with only a few hours’ notice. Nannies are great. We love having a nanny! But we still struggle with some of the issues in LW’s note.

        1. Kjinsea*

          Yes. To be honest, daycare is much more reliable than having a nanny was. I loved our nanny. But a nanny can’t solve this.

        2. BubbleTea*

          It increases the number of adults available and makes the “argh, who will look after the kids today?!” situation less likely to occur. The only way to really ensure that you never have childcare issues is to not have children.

    2. Magpie*

      It sounds like they have regular childcare already and need to handle days that childcare is unavailable, like when kids are sick. It’s extremely difficult to find childcare for a sick child at the last second. Most daycares will not accept sick children and nannies and babysitters are often not available last minute, and many of them will also not care for sick children. That’s why most working parents end up in this situation trying to juggle their jobs around unexpected illness.

      1. goducks*

        Right. Unless you have family who can jump in, it can be extremely difficult to find babysitters last minute and for a sick child. Even if you already have a relationship with the sitter.
        And if that child needs to see a doctor because of the illness, it pretty much has to be a parent taking the day off.

        1. Sue*

          We had a non live-in nanny with ours but we have several l friends who had au pairs (they were all European young adults) who lived in, drove and became part of the family. I know 2 families that very successfully did this but I don’t know the cost involved for that program.

          1. goducks*

            I know someone who had one. They have very hard caps on the number of hours they can work in a week (40? 45? and that includes ALL hours not just workday hours). You need to have appropriate spare bedrooms in your house. You need to be okay having a stranger living in your space all the time…

            They can be a solution for somebody, but they’re not a wide-spread solution.

            1. Anon for this...*

              We had an “au pair” that was not part of any official program. She was a cousin’s daughter who wanted to work on her English (16/17 years old to 20/21) She spent the summers with us while the kid was younger (I worked from home so I was also available if needed), we had a spare room with bathroom en suite for her, all meals paid, any trips we took, we paid for her to join us. We also paid her a weekly stipend. There wasnt a specific minimum or maximum number of hours but generally it worked out to around 6 hours a day with some days being more and some days off for her. We also paid for an English as as second language class for her in our local community college. She paid travel costs to come to us and any other travelling she wanted to do on her own/time off.

            2. Green Goose*

              One of my very close friends has an au pair at the moment and it honestly sounds like kind of a stressful nightmare (to me). They did it through an official program but after the au pair arrived it was clear she didn’t have experience/comfort with babies, is not intuitive, and my friend needs to basically tell her everything so when she was expecting to be able to work for eight hours a day she’ll have to heavily manage the au pair.
              Examples she gave me is she was working and she heard her baby crying…and crying…and crying…and no other sound. She left her meeting and went to investigate and her baby was on the floor crying hysterically crying and the au pair was in the room just staring at the baby crying doing nothing. This happens often and my friend needs to “suggest” that the au pair pick up the baby, comfort the baby etc. She also said if she is driving and the baby and au pair are in the backseat the au pair just stares out the window and ignores the baby crying/fussing.
              And yes, the hours are very strict. I just provide this example because I had originally assumed au pairs would be experienced like nannies, but it can also just be a person who signed up for the program with limited experience and you can’t try them out first because they are far away, and it feels extreme to cancel their assignment.

              Their au pair also declines to do anything outside the house (au pair meet ups, events, classes, etc.) so she is literally always there which would be hard for me, but my friend doesn’t mind.

              1. LJ*

                We’ll never know, but one does wonder what brings a person to sign up to be an au pair abroad but yet never leaves the house to go out and doesn’t seem to have any affinity to babies

                1. goddessoftransitory*

                  It reminds me of someone I trained at my job–taking pizza orders over the phone–who went through the entire week of training and then quit. Her given reason? “I didn’t realize I’d be talking on the phone so much.”

                  It really astounds me how much people can fool themselves about, or convince themselves they can handle.

                2. CowWhisperer*

                  I’ve read before that the marketing materials for au pairs is very different than the marketing materials given to the hosting family. The au pairs are being sold on exploring a different culture, country and language in exchange for living with a family and “helping out” like they do at home while the families are being sold on a live in nanny. What English based au pair literature I’ve found tends to sell something more like a mother’s helper – someone who minds a child and does light housework while a parent is on site – than a true live in nanny.

                  I’d be even more concerned about someone whose best language isn’t English because I am not fluent in any other language to verify that the person placed in my home was sold on nannying instead of learning about American culture as part of a family….

                3. Kiitemso*

                  Experience abroad, learning the local language, meeting other young people while out.

                  The young people who don’t have an affinity to kids are expecting a working holiday with light work and plenty of free time for leisure.

                4. Lynn Whitehat*

                  I once hired a lady who had considered being an au pair. We had considered hiring an official au pair. We had both saved our brochures from the agencies. If you put them side-by-side, other than the logos, you would never know that these are 2 halves of the same service. To the parents, they advertise young women happily playing with your children all day. To the au pairs, they advertise walking on the beach in Hawaii and skiing in Vail. Not a child in sight. Also, the agencies keep over half the money.

              2. münchner kindl*

                The whole point of Au-pairs through the official program is that they are young adults, often right out of school – hence the age limit of 16 years to ca. 25 – who are taking this job to learn the foreign language through immersion and regular school, and get some experience and education.

                Because they are not full Nannies, they are not paid the same wage, just pocket money and the language school. Because they are young and not working full-time, their hours are capped.
                Because they are meant to be educated, they live with the family and eat with them, so they can learn middle-class behaviour.

                This person sounds spectacularly clueless, and the usual solution is to go to the program representative quickly and tell them that this specific person is so clueless, it’s not working out.

                But doing it through the program protects both sides by having a formal agreement and a representative to call on when there are problems.

                If you signed up to a program expecting Nannies, then either the program was not official or you didn’t listen, because official programs will explain to you right at the start why they are not Nannies.

      2. Bruce*

        It may be that a regular nanny would work better than using child care and trying to cover for emergencies.

        1. Magpie*

          Having a nanny doesn’t guarantee uninterrupted child care. Nannies get sick too, so the parents would likely have to take time off last minute to cover those situations. Most nannies also have time off agreements where they get a few weeks off a year, so the parents would have to figure out backup child care for those times as well.

          1. a good mouse*

            My sister and BIL had that issue. They went through two nannies, both of which had days when they called out last minute not letting them know until the morning of, or would need to take a week off because of a possible covid exposure, etc. They put my niece in preschool earlier than they would have liked because it was at least consistently open and would keep them from regularly scrambling the way the OP is worried about.

        2. goducks*

          When my kids were little, we specifically did not use a nanny because while it was easier for sick days (maybe), it was less reliable the rest of the time. Daycare centers are open every day except for holidays. They don’t close down because the teacher is sick or has an appointment or is taking a vacation. Most big centers had the same days closure as we had days off work, so the only days we needed to fill in were days when a kid was sick. They also are open 6am to 6pm, so we could count on them being available for 12 hours a day so we could use the hours we needed.

          Even if a nanny is never sick themselves they still need scheduled days off. They don’t have endless availability in a day, they want to work just 8 hours (entirely reasonable!)

          Nannies can be a good solution for some people, but for me and my spouse trying to manage two careers that were pretty demanding, knowing that care was always there except for the days when the kids were sick was a much better solution all around.

          1. sofar*

            Yes. Also, managing the business relationship with a nanny can get more complicated and time consuming than many people realize. Not that day care isn’t complicated, but it often “feels” less complicated to handle things with a business than handling conflict/payment/background checks/other things with an individual nanny.

            There’s a daily lift with day care (drop-offs, packing what your kid needs), but when things go sideways with a nanny, it can get even more complicated.

            1. not a mom boss*

              So much this! We’re all here at the “Ask a Manager” website advising someone that hiring and overseeing a direct report (who’ll have keys to your house!) will somehow be straightforward

        3. Kjinsea*

          If you have a nanny and they are sick or out, you have no childcare. And most nannies won’t take care of sick kids. Nannies are not a solution for this; day care has been much more reliable than having a nanny for me and most people I knew.

      3. SpaceySteph*

        Nannies in theory provide less exposure to viruses than group childcare so it might still help to minimize the number of outages.

    3. CR*

      Yup, I worked as a nanny for years for two BigLaw lawyers and a big part of my job was to stay late, stay with the kids when they were sick or had a day off from school, etc.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      If the budget exists for it, a nanny may be a better solution than daycare. That said, for many dual income households, a nanny is unaffordable.

      Personally, I would say that you can’t realistically plan out for months ahead which spouse will have the busier schedule. Work just doesn’t work like that, for most people. It would make sense to regularly discuss how heavy each spouse’s workload will be for the next 3-4 months, but daily flexibility is going to be necessary. Even with a heavy workload, one spouse might have a day when they are less heavily scheduled than the other, or perhaps the other has urgent deadlines, etc. You have to be able to divide up the work beyond the emergencies, too – eg. if one parent is always doing the emergency coverage, the other really has to pick up things like daycare drop-off/pickup or something that events out the workload.

      1. Anonym*

        I’m watching this thread with great interest as we’re beginning to encounter this situation with our first child.

        I do want to note that aside from cost, there are other reasons a nanny might not be ideal. For our child, who really does best with a lot of stimulation, daycare provides that much better than a single adult ever could! Kiddo thrives being around other kids and large groups. Even if we wanted the specific advantages of nanny for ourselves, it wouldn’t be best for our particular little one.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          I do not have kids but did have a nanny growing up and I can say that there’s a lot of flexibility in the role. I think that if you have the budget to cover costs (and it’s something you’re comfortable with!) it’s worth assessing what the pain points are. For instance, if your major problem is that you can do daycare drop-offs but not pickups on a regular schedule, maybe the solution is hiring someone just to do daycare pickups. The perfect solution is going to look different for every family.

          I’ll also say that we didn’t go to daycare but that didn’t stop us from interacting with other kids! I think one summer we made it a mission to visit every playpark in local area. We had a map with pins and everything.

        2. Bear Expert*

          We stayed with a nanny because our kid needed so much more movement and individual attention than a daycare (or preschool, but that was half day) provided. So the nanny did a lot of playgroups and playdates for social stuff, and adventures the rest of the time.

          My kid needs a massive amount of gross motor though, and always has. She did 10 mile hikes daily for a week at age 5 and on day 4 she sighed happily to me and said, “This is so nice. I wish we did this every day. I get to stretch my legs.” Ah yes, child, 50 miles of walking is like a little yoga break.

        3. BlueRiver*

          Nanny doesn’t necessarily mean kiddo spending all their time with a single adult. A good professional nanny will recognize kiddo’s need for stimulation and groups and set up a schedule of group activities with other kids for them to attend together. Playgroups, library story times, classes, etc..

        4. Grith*

          Au Pairs / Nannies can also be responsible for taking kids to daycare and school, carrying out playdates with other parents or Au Pairs etc. Having an Au Pair doesn’t mean they sit in your living room staring at the kids for 8 hours until you finish work!

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        I mean, I get why the husband wants to plan—the chaos surrounding sick days and such can be so damn stressful and feeling unable or inadequate to meet that challenge makes it ten times worse. Having a set of instructions to fall back on can be invaluable.

        But as the saying goes, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Like a budget, plans have to be flexible, regularly reviewed, and altered according to what’s working and what isn’t, or you end up enslaved to ” we said we’d do it THIS way” even when it cannot work in the circumstances that arise.

    5. Warrior Princess Xena*

      My parents were very similar when I was growing up and they took the nanny step – she was there full time with us when both parents were gone and then on weekdays one of them wasn’t working (they did not both work M-F), she’d still come as a parent’s helper. You will still get the odd sick day/work schedule incompatibility, but it goes from being 2-3 times a month to 2-3 times a year.

    6. Hills to Die on*

      This. Take turns if you can, and go by ‘busier day’. Nanny, housekeeper, landscaper, grocery delivery help when you need it if you can. It’s worth it. I am a single mom now and even though I have a big-ish job, my finances aren’t what they used to be back then. I still pay for a housecleaning once a month and it’s worth it.

      1. Artemesia*

        This kind of life means multiple stragegies:
        Since this husband seems like a reliable partner, using his quarterly approach PLUS adding the busy day rider might work best. Mostly you do your quarter, but if once or twice you have a crushing day the other steps up even though it is not their turn. This would not work with a man who always had the busier more important day (in his mind) but that doens’t seem to be the issue here. So quarterly for consistency BUT emergency negotiation.

        And all the household help you can afford. Hope you have a cleaner at least every two weeks, preferably weekly. Hope you have a meal approach that is as easy as possible. (we incorporated quality time with the kids into cooking dinner starting at about 2.5 — but the time they were 5, they were actually helpful and by the time they were ten then could get dinner).

        This couple sounds together and thoughtful.

        1. mkl*

          This. And the advice that you’ll need a multiprong approach.
          1) Divide the year into periods to establish the first choice/default role but with 5 overrides available. Thank god you’re both not Accountants- I nannied for a pair of accountants and both careers went nuts Jan-April.
          2) If your kids run healthy, you generally will have fewer disruptions with a well run daycare. But in that case, hire an after care nanny to start dinner/do daycare pick up/provide extra optional backup when day care is closed.
          3) If you need the flexibility of evening coverage or your kids are getting sick in day care too often, hire a nanny from a nanny agency and ask them specifically about sick day coverage for when your nanny isn’t available. Covid exposures did cause more disruption than usual to nanny care but I think we’re trending back to where a nanny is more expensive but more consistent than daycare.
          4) Consider for extra coverage when one of you has to travel

          1. Hedgehog O'Brien*

            “Thank god you’re both not Accountants- I nannied for a pair of accountants and both careers went nuts Jan-April.”

            This is me and my husband. We’re not both accountants, but we both have jobs that are EXTREMELY intense from about Setpember/October through May/June, and more reasonable in the summer. So, the summers are fine but October through the end of May is like, grit your teeth and get through it and hope we all make it out alive type of a situation. I’m actually considering changing careers and/or seeing if I can cut back to part time because I’m not sure how much longer we are going to be able to function like this.

            Balancing work and kids with two intense jobs is kind of impossible, I think, especially if you’re not able to hire a nanny. It’s been difficult enough with preschoolers/toddlers, but I’m actually even more worried about how we’ll handle it as they get older, and the activities start to ramp up – soccer, music lessons, play practice etc. The balance between work life/family life/sanity is extremely precarious and it doesn’t seem like there is a great answer.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I kinda like the approach of figuring it out day by day. Maybe it’s just because of the nature of my job, but I can’t predict what demands I’m going to have in 2 months. Case in point, we got told at the start of the week that the next 3 weeks are going to be absolutely bananas. I wouldn’t have been able to predict this 2 weeks ago. Maybe it’s different when you’re senior and have some influence over timelines and deliverables, which I do not.

          Perhaps a modified version of what the spouse suggests, just with a much shorter time period. Like 1-2 weeks. That way, you’re making decisions with up-to-date information and one person isn’t consistently in the primary parent role for months at a time.

          1. Green Goose*

            I usually give my husband a heads up on the Sunday night/Monday if there are certain days that are really challenging. We also divvy up daycare drop-off/pick-up based on what our week’s look like.

          2. Fawn*

            I generally agree with the OP’s philosophy, but with pre-planned strategies for determining the outcome. My job has predictable busy days of the week and weeks of the year that are really busy. There are days that taking off causes so much more work for me and messes up so many things. For the most part, though, I’m way more flexible and therefore pick up almost all emergencies. My husband’s job is predictably unpredictable. We know that he’ll take care of the emergencies during my busy times unless he has a really serious work issue. When our kids were younger, we had a nanny, and we had way fewer childcare emergencies than anyone we know doing daycare.

          3. LPUK*

            This approach would also have the advantage that the school didn’t default to an ‘always call Mom/Dad’ as might be the case if it was only the one parent they saw for a term

        3. Certaintroublemaker*

          “using his quarterly approach PLUS adding the busy day rider might work best”

          Yes, this. At first, I was thinking the same as she was and his idea didn’t make sense. But I can see the appeal of knowing who’s on call if both are having “regular” days. But the on-call parent has to have flexibility when they are having a big overtime day.

          1. Ame*

            Letter writer’s proposed approach has worked for our family. Whoever has the lighter schedule that day stays home. And we give each other a heads up if there’s something major coming down the pipeline. If I have something like an in person presentation that cannot be missed, I’ll give my husband a heads up, “hey next Monday, I have zero flexibility. You’re prob on deck, what’s your schedule looking like” There’s been multiple times we’ve divided a single day just because it was the only way. I might be in the minority (and it’s really, really hard when they go through that constant sickness cycle when starting daycare,) but I feel strongly it’s our responsibility to manage our sick kids. I don’t want sick people coming to my office spreading illness so I wouldn’t expect a nanny to risk exposure to come to my home.

          2. Employee of the Bearimy*

            This is also what we do, although we go by whose job is more flexible at the time. When my husband had a job that wasn’t particularly high-powered but had no flexibility regarding time off or work hours, I always covered even though my job was more “important,” unless I had a can’t-miss type of day. But now he works from home and so he covers every time unless he has a high-priority assignment on one particular day.

        4. LW*

          Thanks for this! We are a team and the reason we’re trying to think about this stuff in advance (as much as possible) is to try and take the best care of the kids and each other during a hectic season of life. I’m trying to keep up with this very valuable thread while just wrestling a Bluey onesie off a 2yo.

      2. David's Skirt-Pants*

        This. Former single parent (although with lots of helpful family nearby!), now partnered. Take turns based upon what’s going on that particular day. It’ll change. Flexibility is key.

        Any task/errand/chore that can be outsourced, do that too to free up some bandwidth.

        9 times out of 10 when my kid is sick, I’m able to WFH so I’m lucky. But there are lots of times I just can’t swing a pickup at a certain time on a certain day, so partner handles it.

        The bigger issue is that you don’t seem to be on the same page with how to handle it. Find common ground, whatever that looks like for you, and do what works for your family, not ours.

    7. Thatoneoverthere*

      A nanny may be good, for the child that has additional needs. If those additional needs require frequent doctor (or other provider) visits a Nanny can take the child to those. Of course this is dependent on if that is something you are comfortable with. Our childcare providers often bring our kids to the dentist, ENT, therapy etc. Sometimes its just possible myself or my husband do EVERY appoitment.

    8. Evelyn*

      One thing that might help is to create some sort of shared calendar (paper or digital) where you can track anticipated crunch times or days that would be really bad for you to take off (the board meeting, the big presentation, the launch, whatever) and then periodically review and see if there are conflicts where you both have “can’t miss days” and see if you can make some changes or come up with a plan in advance.
      You will still need to decide on the day who is taking point, and that might be influenced by the daily work schedule, but you will be more aware of each other’s rhythms and work priorities in advance, so you will know “okay, Spouse 1 has a Big Presentation on Wednesday, so if kid gets sick this week, Spouse 2 is on point.” Sort of a middle ground between your two approaches.

      1. Well...*

        This is the only clear advantage I see to husband’s plan. Kids are totally unpredictable, but the big crunch times might be somewhat negotiable. At the very least LW or husband can set up some expectations at work when they know both are crunching (ex: I know it’s an emergency, but I didn’t plan for backup childcare this week and I actually will have to be at this Dr’s appointment on Tuesday for Child).

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      This is the first thing that came into my mind. It would also let parents focus on quality time with the kids when they are well, instead of needing to do operational work.

      The one caveat: you will need to carve out time for the kids, consciously prioritize them through the year. Don’t just save it for week-long vacations; take a day off for the zoo, or set up regular kid-dates.

    10. Laser99*

      I am a gig worker and delivery services are an absolute godsend for working parents. You order on the app, get your groceries, paper towels, detergent, etc delivered to your door. If you are on the fence about the cost, try keeping track of the time spent weekly on driving to and fro, plus the actual shopping part. You will be unpleasantly surprised.

    11. LW*

      LW here! We have run the numbers and crunched costs on nanny a few times and at the moment it’s still about double the cost of daycare. We will see what happens in the next few years to see if the math changes or if there are too many pain points! Nannies are also very scarce where we live but I know that the “godsend” ones do exist. My son would almost definitely prefer a 1:1 (or 1:2 nanny, as he would have to share with little brother at least) but daycare settings have also been recommended for him so he would need to continue to go to the centre as well. Housecleaning we have a team come fortnightly and we do have a meal plan and a well stocked freezer.

    12. Stan Dev*

      This is what I came to reply. It is expensive to pay for childcare & household help, but where I have seen families balance two demanding jobs this is how they did it. Some went so far as to move grandparents into the area to take on childcare.

    13. CheerfulPM*

      Best of Both Worlds podcast has talked about this pretty extensively. You need to have layers of childcare for this situation. Layer 1 – daycare/school, Layer 2 – Nanny on full-time on retainer. (yes, you might be paying for their 40hr a week availability but only using them for 20-25/non daycare. Layer 3 – family if available, a slew if possible babysitters. Prepandemic many law firms offered a babysitter service where the firm picked up the check. Layer 4 – whichever parent can conceivably take a sick day.

      Another option is to have a live in au pair. I am close with a family who just onboarded one for their school age kids because they both have some excellent career opportunities right now and want to maximize the quality time with kids.

      1. goducks*

        In what world is this a realistic solution? Daycare plus a FT nanny? And a fleet of babysitters on standby? Are billionaires the only people who can effectively have kids?

        And all that expense to deal with covering a sick kid. I’ve yet to meet a feverish toddler that doesn’t just want Mommy/Daddy, forcing an infrequent babysitter on them is not a good solution. And most nannys/babysitters/neighbors/etc can’t take your sick kid to the pediatrician, anyway.

    14. Mimsie*

      A nanny doesn’t really help in this situation imo. Assuming these kids already have childcare during the day (the parents work full time) so they must go to nursery or something like that, like mine.

      My kids LOVE the nursery. They love their friends and carers, the activities and stimulation. They are thriving!

      Yes we could afford a nanny but why would I do that to my kids just so I could keep working when they’re sick? And if they are poorly, I would actually prefer it me or my husband taking care of them. One – why would I inflict a sick person on someone I employ and Two – personally I think it’s my (and my husband’s) job to comfort our child if they are sick.

      And a nanny doesn’t make sense once they are in school. You can’t get a nanny to just take care of a sick kid lol…

    15. münchner kindl*

      There was an article in Guardian describing how Au-Pairs are used a lot by Doctors and Nurses – not because they’re snobbish and rich, those 1% hire full nannies – and not because they’re exploiting cheap labour: but because they need somebody who lives in the house if an emergency shift comes up and so can watch the kids. Because arranging babysitters suddenly is difficult to impossible, but with overlapping shifts, a full-time nanny is not necesseary and too expensive.

      So because the Au-Pair is already at home, but not needed 24/7, the restriction of not more than x hours per week and free afternoon for paid language lessons, are not a problem.

      Maybe an alternative to full Nanny.

  2. Elle*

    It has to be a day by day thing. Kid wakes up sick and you have to make a quick decision of who can be more flexible on that day. That’s how we do it.

    1. Adultier adult*

      Our philosophy is to take turns with each day that we would need to miss- however, logic rules- if one of us has a day that would be worse to miss, we absolutely don’t hold fast to a hard rule. When the kids were babies, I was the default more- now we genuinely rotate. Works for us with good communication.

      1. Elizabeth*

        100% this. I generally did more when the kids were really small, but when I had to attend 6 weeks of mandatory training 3 years in a row, he took the whole 6 weeks of issues each year.

    2. FellowWorkingParent*

      Yes this is what we do. And we often split the day. You have a meeting in the morning and then i have something i need to do in the afternoon. We both have jobs where our schedule isn’t always as fixed and we have a lot of ad hoc calls so we just figure it out as we go and make a big point to communicate. We are also lucky that we both are now full time remote and do have family in town who can help.

      But when our kids are sick, they honestly want mom or dad. I like to keep them close so I can get them to the Dr if things are more than the usual cold virus or just snuggle them up and make sure they’re comfortable. If they’re better but can’t go back to school the next day (24 hours after a fever) sometimes we have a grandparent help out.

      1. Artemesia*

        I had a lot more flexibility than my husband, but there were a few times during the week when I could not miss — so I often did more of the sick kid duty, but he was always there for the ours I absolutely needed to be at work. This might mean he did morning of a day and I came home and did the afternoon; or I did the day, but he had to be there by 3 so I could do my unmissable thing from 4-7.

      2. Meaghan Halligan*

        Yes, that’s what my husband and I did. He would do morning with the kid (s), I would do after lunch. He works in tech (later meetings starts) and I work in construction so that was our compromise.

    3. Anonynonybooboo*

      This is how we did it when the kids were small. If someone woke up sick, we talked through who could take that particular day; if we got a call from daycare/school we’d tell them a parent would be there soon, then call each other and talk through who could more easily shuffle their day around.

      We made it slightly easier by looking at the calendar Sunday night together too – if I was going to be at an off-site meeting on Tuesday, for example, and something came up Tuesday my husband was on deck and didn’t need to talk to me about if it if happened. He’d just handle whatever and I’d usually just a get a text update about what happened (“X is sick and I’m taking him to the doctor at 2pm, think he has an ear infection.”)

      1. ferrina*

        Love the approach of looking at the calendar each Sunday night. I do this each week just to keep myself organized!

    4. ursula*

      I do appreciate having some level of plan-ability within the unplannable chaos. My partner and I have balanced the need for flexibility with the need for some planning by having certain days of the week where, by default, we are responsible for being the flexible person. So I may have Mondays and Wednesdays, he may have Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Fridays we work out on the fly. This means that where possible, I can try to avoid scheduling mission-critial work on M/W but know I’m relatively safe to put those on T/Th, and he can do the opposite. Of course sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way, so we are always communicating about when we’re coming into a crunch period and will have less capcity, when we have had to schedule a sensitive meeting on a day when we’re typically “on call”, etc. It doesn’t always work, and I would say at least 1/3 of the time we end up deviating from whose ‘day’ it is supposed to be, but it has helped in three specific ways: (1) it gives us some security for when we really need our time at work, and (2) it prevents us from defaulting to having one person always step up and do it (which would probably be me – not because I have a less demanding job, but because I’m a woman and I tend to be quicker to volunteer to make sacrifices for various (unhealthy) reasons). It’s hard!!

      1. Ashley*

        I think this is a good middle ground. You could still do periods, but he has a day where he actively avoids major things so you can try and schedule your major things. This is also assuming you have control over your schedule. I have a role where I can choose 20% of my meeting times and the rest are thrust upon me by people outside of my org and I don’t have a say. (And when I have conflicts emergencies I am relying on colleagues.) For times when you know both of your will have bad schedules having a solid alternate person in your life will help tremendously.

      2. LW*

        This is a good approach, and definitely would help for stuff where we were the drivers, and a lot of “big” stuff (board meetings etc) we know in advance!

    5. Tio*

      I think you can split it up a little more than day to day MOST of the time. Sit down at the end of the week and look at schedules, and see who has a busy week this week, and say the less busy person is in charge of the kids this week unless there’s an emergency. It’s like a smaller version of what the husband wants to do, but still most likely workable.

      But basically, just more frequent communication about schedules, and perhaps a shared calendar where you can look at it and mark it ahead of time “Mom’s day” or “dad’s day” for when things come up.

      1. LW*

        This would be great, and also kind of an extension of what we already do for extracurriculars and meals (on the fridge). I e can just add a layer of “crazy work day” that we know, and discuss on Sunday.

    6. Number Blocks*

      I’m also wondering if one parent is taking sick leave, if the other parent can work from home on those days (if feasible). That’s what we do. I’m a fed so I have a more generous leave policy, but we both work from my home. If kiddo is sick, my husband is still in the house helping. If need be, we both straddle work and meetings and I’ll just take an few hours of leave scattered throughout the day.

    7. Engineering Mom*

      Yep, this one. It’s usually the first thing we discuss when he’s sick.

      I’m the “morning duty” parent and the “emergency” parent since I work from home five minutes from daycare, so I typically handle the immediate care when our two year old wakes up sick or falls ill during daycare hours. Then my husband and I discuss current work schedules and priorities and figure out what works best for the next couple days/week/however long we think he’ll be home.

    8. Parenting is complicated*

      This is what my parents did. They both own their own businesses and would just make day-of decisions. I think unless you both have different busy seasons, it would be very hard to set this up in advance. My work is very busy 6 months of the year, calm 3 months of the year and normal 3 months of the year, but my husband’s work is more busy one week, less busy the next, so we will be making day by day decisions with our children.

  3. lurkyloo*

    Wow, tough one! I’d lean more towards your thinking in that it’s hard to predict ahead of time who’s role will have the biggest conflict! The day it happens, you check in with each other and figure it out. I think that’s the best way to go.
    Sick kids = need for flexibility and his plan sounds super rigid.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I think if the husband has a lot of leave banked, and OP doesn’t, it’s okay for him to take “point” this quarter – he takes on the mental load and is the default one to deal with it for a while, but he may have days he needs to delegate to OP if his schedule is packed. Both parents should observe how often this comes up in the husband’s “quarter.”

      1. Ponyprincess*

        Sloanicota makes a good point. Your way will probably default to you being the one to decide each and every time who’s day is more unmissable and, if the answer is that nobody can miss work, you will be the one coming up with an alternate plan.

        Your husband’s idea about phasing it according to who is having the busier season doesn’t mean that the person who is having a slow day in the middle of a busy season can’t pinch hit if the other parent needs it. It could just mean that you each take charge of the decision making responsibility for a set length of time.

        1. Sloanicota*

          If the husband is eager to try this idea and volunteering to go first, I say let him! My guess is that he may quickly realize he sometimes needs a backup and the plan needs to be flexible.

          1. a good mouse*

            Good point! I think once it’s put to practice if he’s in charge he’ll figure out the fuzzy edges pretty quickly. But if she’s the one in charge first it seems like a recipe for disaster.

            1. Sloanicota*

              If the proposal was, “you be primary this quarter and I’ll take the next shift,” I would say the idea was not worth trying. But since he’s offering to take the first quarter under this scheme, great, let’s try that and see how it goes. I don’t believe he’ll be able to do it 100%. I could be wrong. There is difficulty if he does actually manage to do it during his slow season, and then it’s her turn and she doesn’t have as much flexibility, but maybe that’s when they up their childcare assistance or something.

        2. ferrina*

          Agree! It’s also nice because if both parents have an unmissable day, you know who has to take the hit. It’s also a good way to take gender roles out of it- there’s a lot of societal messages that say that the woman should be the default to take care of the kids. But by having equal set time for “Parent 1 is the default”, it balances this out. Parent 2 can always step in when they can, but it avoids this becoming a competition between whose day is busier or whose work is more important.

      2. Melicious*

        This sounds like reasonable middle ground if that’s what you’re looking for. Take turns by season who is “default” take the kids with the understanding that “this is a terrible day for me to take off, can you do it?” is going to happen. Just shifting the mental load of figuring it out might be helpful. That is an exhausting part of parenting, especially the littles.

      3. Jackalope*

        I think this is the key to what the OP’s husband is suggesting. Having one parent who has the admin responsibility of being the primary decision-maker for a set period of time makes sense to me. Even if he isn’t the person who always does emergency child duty, having him know that he’s the default person for that time period and that it’s his job to communicate if that won’t work, in addition to knowing when it’s on OP that he needs to be open to covering but it isn’t something he will have to make the main judgment call on, makes sense to me. My spouse and I don’t have kids yet, but we’ve definitely had times where we’ve split mental load responsibilities and it’s much easier having someone else to help take care of that.

      4. Sylvia*

        Sloanicota, I love that you’re factoring the mental load into this arrangement. It’s a big part of sharing responsibility that frequently gets overlooked.

        1. LW*

          This is an excellent point! I think even leading the thought process / decision making is itself so involved even taking turns doing that is so valuable! We will discuss tonight!

      5. Quinalla*

        It’s hard to tell from what the OP posted, but this is how I would take it and approach it that way and let him go first. I don’t know that he is saying for sure that person ALWAYS would take time off, but that they would be the one in charge of figuring it out.

        Honestly OP it sounds like right now you ARE the point parent all the time, no? Yes, you do discuss with your husband and figure out who has the worst day and go from there, but you are getting the call yet? You are organizing this, yes?

        The hardest part of doing it in quarters is probably going to be getting the school/daycare to call the correct person especially since folks often default to mom if the other parent is dad.

        As far as the general question of how to do this crap, I will say my husband and I are in a similar situation where both of us have been and continue to climb the career ladder and I guess I’ll let you know when we fully figure it out. It is day by day, but it is ALSO splitting the mental load more evenly so it doesn’t all fall on me which if we didn’t talk about it and figure it out, it would because we both grew up in this sexist society that expects mom to do it all.

    2. Beth*

      Agreed! I understand his wanting to have a plan–there’s a lot of comfort in feeling like you know what to expect. But the day to day is going to throw wrenches in even the best laid plans. Maybe you’ve got the busier quarter, but the kids happen to get the flu on the one day where he has an important, un-cancellable meeting. Maybe you both have a big, high priority project starting at the same time and it’s unclear who should be the on-call parent for the month. Maybe you’re the on-call parent but you also get sick along with the kids and more help is needed. Who knows?

      If it makes him feel better to have an overall plan of “barring extra difficult circumstances, I’m the on-call parent for daycare pickup and sick days this month and you’ve got it next month,” then I don’t see any harm in that. It could even be a way to balance out the impact of parenting on career progression, to ensure that both parents are absorbing at least some of the parenting labor. But it can’t be a rigid plan. There will always have to be some flexibility for what’s necessary on the specific day in question.

      1. Sloanicota*

        It’s also like, “I’ll be the one to get the call and have to look at both our calendars and figure out who is free, and make the plan, even if I have to ask you to implement it. And if we both have un-missable days, then this quarter I will have to be the one whose schedule is affected” (even if that means calling in backup).

      2. Meera*

        Also, in my experience, one or both parents also get sick from those special daycare bugs an unavoidable percentage of those times. So one of you and the sick kid(s) have to be home anyway. There’s no foolproof way to have guaranteed office availability all of the time – gastro doesn’t care if you have a big meeting or not!

    1. Overeducated*

      I was thinking this! It’s very dependent on the rhythms of the job. For example, I’m in a year-round office job, and most of my projects are medium to long term, but I have crunch weeks and crunch days when things pile up at the same time or there are big meetings, so quarterly planning would be pretty useless for me. My work isn’t predictable on that scale, I would want to go day by day. On the other hand, I’m married to an academic, and teaching is the major obligation you can’t reschedule – so I do take more time off during the semesters when kids are sick, and my partner takes more time off during summer and school breaks. It’s all about the timelines

    2. Yorick*

      It kinda sounds to me like the husband wants to have periods where he doesn’t have to think about or do child care.

      1. Jackalope*

        Or maybe he’s trying to make sure they *both* have that option for an extended period of time.

      2. DiplomaJill*

        hard agree. a contributing, active parent doesn’t “hand off” parenting for three months. that’s absolutely wild and infuriating that he could even suggest it.

        I can absolutely predict how that would go— dad gets “his” quarter off first, and mom gets touched out, burnt out, demoralized, and sick several times a month while dad tuts faux sympathetically and goes about his business.

        then it’s mom’s quarter and dad is a total manchild / leverages weaponized incompetence, mom can’t let the kids suffer, and picks up dad’s slack, becoming the de facto parent and prioritizing his career.

        when she points out how unfair this is, he says all the right things and makes temporary changes before backsliding over and over again to his preferred mode of being the “fun” parent.

  4. SSC*

    Hi – I feel you. My spouse and I are in a similar situation. We definitely figure these things out on a case-by-case basis. As with you, our schedules change, and I can’t predict for a set of a few weeks how busy I’ll be at work. I’m a professor, so my days vary a lot with what is flexible (days set aside for scholarship, online meetings) and what is set in stone (classes).

    One thing that has helped us is keeping 2-3 babysitters “on the bench”, who are willing in general to provide sick care. About once a year, I put a post on one of the sitter sites that is up front re: looking for occasional date nights and potential sick days. When we meet to chat the first time, I clarify that we’re looking for someone who may be willing in general to help on sick days, unless our kid has something obviously contagious (COVID, norovirus, etc). We have those sitters over at least once a month for planned date nights, so that we stay in touch with them. Knowing that I’ve got 2-3 possible solutions before it comes to my spouse or I needing to take sick leave/WFH has reduced my anxiety about these pop-up days a good bit.

    1. The Coolest Clown Around*

      I’ve was the other end of this arrangement and it seems to work really well for busy couples. Even having just one person available to call that you know can be flexible might also help on the Case of the Double Boardmeeting

      1. LW*

        I’m going to have an event scenario in our plan called “The Case of the Double Boardmeeting”, I love it

    2. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      Former babysitter here! This is a great approach in theory, but one caveat — be very transparent with those babysitters that you are specifically looking for occasional sick coverage, and check in with them on what level of sickness they’re comfortable taking care of. I and many former babysitters I know would have policies of NOT watching sick kids, because I often couldn’t book work if I was sick with something I might spread to other kids and their families — coming down with the sniffles could derail my entire month of income and/or damage my relationship with other families, so I was very, very careful about it. Not every babysitter will feel the same way I did of course, but it’s something to keep in mind.

      It sounds like your partner is trying to cut down on the stress of negotiating the stay-at-home parent each time a kid falls ill, while you’re trying to aim for a practical approach that’s tailored to everyone’s needs in a given moment. Unfortunately for your partner, navigating sick kids and a busy work schedule isn’t really something you can plan for completely in advance. Maybe there’s a middle ground where the two of you can determine exactly what the who-stays-home conversation looks like each time so there’s some predictability in the pattern even if there’s not a predetermined answer?

    3. Panicked*

      There are also sick care specific nannies/babysitters/companies/etc… that are available at the last minute. You’ll pay them a premium, but it’s worth it if you both have days you can’t flex. I *highly* encourage you to fill out all their paperwork and get into their system ahead of time, so when you do need them, it’s a quick process.

      1. Scandinavian Vacationer*

        Yes! We did this a few times where the sitter would come to our house. Check if one of your employers has this sick child care as a perk/occasional benefit. Getting on their list before the crisis hits is highly recommended.

    4. Jennifer in FL*

      As a former full-time nanny (seven years with one family), I was going to suggest something like this, but with the added idea of putting a sitter on “retainer” i.e. paying someone to be on call and make your family a priority.

      In my situation, once all the children were in school full-time, the family didn’t need me for traditional childcare, but as both parents had “big” jobs with varying degrees of flexibility, they still needed coverage at times (when they were both traveling, big meetings, sick kiddos, drs appts- whenever the kids needed an adult and they couldn’t be there). So the arrangement we came up with is that they paid me $x to stay available for them on weekdays and then paid me $x amount more when they needed me. Since I was also substitute teaching at the time, this worked out just fine, because I was able to pick and choose when I wanted to do that. They school knew my first obligation was to the family, and they were fine with it. So if there was a last minute sick kid, they just called and said they needed me and I did what was needed. I also helped get the kids to and from school/sports/dance/whatever as needed.

      They paid to make me their priority, so I did. It was a win/win situation, because by that time I wasn’t interested in working a full-time job, the kids knew me (I had been with them since they were babies), and the parents trusted me. I rarely had any conflicts (and if I did I let them know ASAP) and in the 7 years I was with them I was sick enough to call out *maybe* half a dozen times, so that wasn’t really an issue (and they knew my track record).

      This might be a lot of work to set up initially, but in the long run I think it could be the best choice.

    5. LW*

      This is genius and had not occurred to me at all! We tend to use family for planned date nights but of course everyone works. Having benched babysitters that can be called is a great idea as a backup.

      1. Iyana*

        One thing to consider here is that, at least for my kiddo who doesn’t do great around people she’s not totally familiar with, even a grandparent is sometimes an iffy bet if she’s sick, so she might be pretty miserable if she was sick and left with a babysitter she only sees once a month.

  5. clueless*

    Should we assume that there is no third option, i.e. a relative or grandparent that can help with the kids? None were mentioned in the letter but I figure it’s best to ask. (I have absolutely zero experience being a parent, but growing up in a Slavic immigrant family, with both parents working a 30 minute commute away, my grandma was always the one taking care of me and my siblings.)

    1. Anon in Canada*

      People with such highly senior-level jobs most likely had to move for their jobs, so there’s high likelihood that the grandparents aren’t close enough to help.

      There’s also the possibility that the grandparents aren’t retired yet.

      1. Per my previous email*

        It surprises me how many people just assume Gramma (almost never Grampa) is retired and has an open schedule on being the childcare provider.

        1. Anon in Canada*

          It’s a relic from the Greatest Generation (and early Silent), when most married women didn’t work outside the home. Today’s middle-aged adults (if lived near at least one set of grandparents) were most likely watched by Grandma when they were kids, even when Grandma was in her 50s/early 60s.

          Some people haven’t caught on with the times and haven’t realized that today’s grandparents of small children are boomers/early Gen X’ers, generations in which virtually all women have jobs and can’t retire until 60-something.

          1. CL*

            I’m in my 40s with elementary age kids. Even 2 of my 3 grandparents were not retired when I was little and the other was not capable of providing childcare. My parents and in-laws are not capable of watching grandkids due to their own age/health.

          2. alienor*

            Both of my (divorced boomer) parents occasionally watched my daughter when she was elementary age, but my dad had a job with weird hours and my mom lived too far away for a daily commute, so it had to be a “spend the entire week of spring break at grandma’s house” type of situation. We did that a couple of times when there was absolutely no other option, but my daughter hated being away from home for that long, even though she loved grandma, and would spend most of the time barely eating and crying herself to sleep. It definitely wasn’t a cure-all.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes. My mother is in her late 70s and still working, and my in-laws live 8 hours away and are also the same age and only recently retired (my kids are teenagers now). All are also some degree of medically fragile/high-risk, so having them around a sick child is a bad idea. Our only local family is my yuppie aunt and uncle who are not kid people and literally only babysat for us when I was in labor and we needed to head to the hospital before my mom could get here.

          When my children were toddlers, my mom and mother-in-law both graciously took a “vacation” to come and stay with them when our daycare provider took her annual vacation and both my husband and I had work stuff we couldn’t miss. My kids are fairly chill, and both grandmas were worn out and in bed by 6:30 PM every night. I cannot imagine them having the energy to provide routine or on-call childcare.

      2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

        If I tried to get either of my parents to provide childcare, they would back away, first slowly, and then with increasing speed…

        I was babysat by my grandmother occasionally, but it became an issue when she became physically frailer.

      3. Bear Expert*

        Stop reading my mail!

        This is my family – two senior jobs, no local family, grandparents on my side in big jobs of their own.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      If the OP didn’t offer this we can assume it’s off the table. Two of my grandparents died before I was born and the other two lived several states away, and one of those was in fragile health. We moved for my dad’s job so we didn’t have any other relatives around. Frankly, given how my parents handle vet visits with my cats when I just can’t get off of work, I’d rather take my theoretical children myself, anyway–my parents never ask enough questions and I end up calling the vet back to fill in the information.

    3. BK*

      I wouldn’t assume grandparents would be available to watch sick kids. My MIL has watched my nieces and nephews almost every day since they were babies, but if they’re sick she expects their parents to take the day off work. She would prefer not to get sick, and also if she does get sick, she won’t be able to watch her other grandchildren or help with the care of her elderly parents.

    4. ferrina*

      Ideally it would be an option, but there’s a long list of reasons why it may not be. Hopefully LW has thought about if this is an option to have a family member watch them.

      I don’t have that option with my kids, but I’m hoping if they have kids of their own, that I can be that option for them. It’s really, really hard to not have this kind of social network support.

      1. clueless*

        Yeah, I’m constantly reminded how incredibly lucky my parents and by extension I/my siblings are to have grandma living in the house and acting as a full-time caretaker.

    5. LW*

      We are lucky to have family support and both our parents can help but also work themselves so it’s the unplanned work days that are a curve ball. When folks retire maybe this aspect will be easier! Our parents actually love their jobs though so not sure when this will be!

      1. allathian*

        This is so common. We were very fortunate in that my MIL had taken early retirement at 60, two years before our son was born, and lived near enough (5 minute drive, easily walkable even for her, at least in good weather) to help out often. When our son went to daycare, she was the third person to contact if our son got sick and had to be picked up in the middle of the day. She was a retired nurse, so we trusted her ability to decide if a visit to the pediatrician was necessary. If it was, she’d call us and either I or my husband would take the half day off.

        I’m in Finland, where fairly long maternity and parental leave is the norm. This means that daycare for kids younger than 11 months is practically impossible to find, often the only option is a nanny. For toddlers and kids up to school age we have a good and affordable (hundreds rather than thousands of euros per month, and low-income families get a discount) municipal daycare system, although even they are suffering from a lack of employees willing to work for the low salary. I have no idea how the self-employed who can’t afford to take a lot of time off or risk losing their business altogether if they do deal with this.

  6. EBStarr*

    Only half kidding here: Maybe suggest that he takes the sick days for the next five years. That way he’s got a philosophy to stick to and you get to go to your important meetings every time. Win-win!

    (Also, men are often rewarded for prioritizing family with raises and promotions, while the opposite happens to women, so if you are a woman — it wasn’t clear from the question — this philosophy probably also makes more financial sense than any other. You can always cover as a one-off if he really does have board meetings all day.)

    1. anony*

      Caveat: not a parent.
      What I’m hearing from the parents commenting is that your way is the better one overall for most families (flexibility is needed when it comes to kids!) but that your husband struggles with that amount of of unknowns and last-minute decision-making and upheaval. If he takes ALL the sick days, it is actually less for him to manage, even though he will have more interrupted days. And if you are better at going with the flow, you can step in last-minute (with much less disruption to your well-being or to the family) when he absolutely can’t take on a particular day.
      But I’d propose this as an “until the youngest is in kindergarten” plan rather than a 5-year plan… check in during the first few months to see if it’s working, then re-evaluate all of it when the kids are in elementary school.

      1. Ama*

        I think you’re right that part of the issue here is that the husband wants to be able to know in advance whether he’s on sick day coverage or not. I wonder if one of the possibilities here would be to sit down either once a month or every weekend (whatever time period makes most sense to the OP and her husband) and just talk to each other about their schedules, and what days each person has flexibility and what days are “I absolutely have to be in the office” days. That way it’s not something you are deciding on the morning someone wakes up sick, but everyone knows a little further in advance “oh if there’s a sick day M-W this week I’m taking it, but she’ll take Th-F because I have that big presentation.”

    2. Generic Name*

      Yup. If husband wants certainty of who will take the kids, they can plan for it to be him. With the alternating months or quarters, I would worry husband decides that his work just so happens to take priority ever time, but maybe I’m just being cynical.

      1. ferrina*

        I actually like this. Make the default be the husband, with the OP stepping in when they have a day that allows for the flexibility.

        This way husband can plan accordingly, and (assuming OP is female) he won’t be professionally penalized in the same way women often are. It will also help counter-act subconscious social bias.

        My (now-ex) husband and I never did figure this out. We tried to take OP’s approach of “whoever’s day is quieter” and planned to split about 50-50. But somehow his day was never quiet. Eventually I realized that he was applying different standards than I was. At one point he wanted me to reschedule 6 meetings (including 2 key client meetings) so I could stay home with the kid, because he was “busy” with a single meeting that he was optional for (his attendance was fyi, so they wouldn’t reschedule it). His mental default was that I should be the one to stay home with the kids unless it was convenient for him to take a sick day. He was unconsciously copying the model his parents had done, without consciously considering that his mom was a sah and I was working 50+ hours at my job. The brain wants to copy familiar patterns, so try to compensate for this.

      2. Wanda*

        I was just about to say this. he wants there to be a designated priority person so that he can always say there’s some big project and he could be that person. it’s so easy for the mother to be the default person, and schools and daycares reinforce this. so if you don’t want to be that person, you have to very consciously push back.

    3. Camelid coordinator*

      Even if you don’t make it for a number of years, I think it is worth suggesting to your husband that he take the next six months. I worry that it will be easier and more comfortable for him to protect his schedule, and easier for you to put yourself last.

      When kiddo was little my husband did daycare dropoff and I did pickup. Then my husband’s job changed in a way that made it more intense and added a very long daily commute so I did both during the years he was in that role. When he went back to a faculty role he wanted to hash out who was doing pickup and dropoff each day. I laughed and said he owed me five years of pickup and dropoff, which he had not even thought to take into consideration!

    4. LW*

      Haha I like this! Certainly meets the need for certainty. I actually think he would go for this (he definitely thinks it’s my “turn” to have priority) but maybe not for whole years at a time.

    5. just my experience*

      Where I work, men are definitely penalized for taking time off at least as often as women. If a married man calls in sick for the kid’s illness, the first question is always Why isn’t your wife doing this?

      We don’t call it a “mommy track” but the damage done to the husband’s career due to kids-based absenteeism is a visible thing.

      Whereas, when mothers call in with a sick kid, they are never asked Why isn’t your husband doing this? The expectation seems to be that of course mom should stay home.

      I am a woman, no kids, worked here for seven years.

  7. mouse*

    IMO any sort of blanket rule is going to be too rigid. A general idea of when each other’s busy periods at work at (financial year end etc) might help to establish a guideline but as you say if it’s technically your turn to take the day off but you have a crucial meeting and his day is largely free it doesn’t make sense to stick to an arbitary rule. This seems more a case of requiring consistent and open communication than a hard and fast set of rules.

  8. Per my previous email*

    So – it sounds like your husband is worried about in-the-moment arguments about whose schedule is “busier” or “more important”.

    But his approach is not good either, both because it’s vague (how long is a ‘period’ or phase) and because it will not lead to both of you taking equal “turns”. What happens when his “turn” falls in the middle of a slow period for you and an all-hands-on-deck project for him (or vice versa)

    Also and with apologies for shouting – the “I have usually been the one to take a sick day or work from home with the kids” thing HAS TO STOP. You are already setting up a dynamic where you are the default parent and your job is the one that takes the hit. It also harms his ability to be an equal, fair-share parent because you are the one putting in more time learning how to deal with sick kids, arrange doctor visits, juggle working from home, etc. It’s not good for your marriage or the kids.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      Agree on the HAS TO STOP!
      Article in Slate yesterday (I think?) about how moms are almost always the first call from schools talks about this type of bias and how ingrained it is – and we moms can sometimes fall into the trap of perpetuating it unknowingly!

      1. H*

        I agree with the general sentiment but just FYI, the study cited in that Slate article found that the mom was the first call 59% of the time. So more than half and statistically significant, but not “almost always.”

        1. snoopythedog*

          However, when it was indicated that dad had more availability, mom was still called first 26% of the time. When it said mom had more availability, they were called first 90% of the time. Together, the whole study, looking at the baseline and both treatment arms show that the mom is called first more often. And that was just a call about administration, not even about a sick kid. The main takeaway is that there *is* a gender imbalance. The amount of imbalance I would say is probably highly cultural and varies from region to region.

      2. Anonym*

        Oof, this hits. I default to taking on more because my partner is more stressed by missing work (we have very different approaches to coping with stress – I’m both more stoic and generally optimistic – and he currently has a pretty excessive workload). The second to last line in particular; he’s started asking me to run through all this stuff with him because he feels out of the loop and might not know how certain things are handled. Alarming how these dynamics can creep up even when all parties genuinely want things to be balanced.

        OP’s husband’s approach is too rigid, but it can be used as a starting point with some flexibility and taking a long view. Presume that for X time, Parent A is on call, but if the day demands otherwise it can go to Parent B. Periodically look at whether one person has been taking more of a hit lately or overall and adjust accordingly.

      3. non-parent*

        I love that (years ago) Ruth Bader Ginsberg told her kid’s (kids’?) school the kid(s) had two parents, and the school needed to alternate calls to the father.

    2. DJ Hymnotic*

      The internets ate my initial post, but I came here to say pretty much this. My spouse and I have a young child and we both work in healthcare, so unusual hours are the norm. However, we still have to take this sort of thing day by day because the question of who has the most flexibility to spare can vary on a daily basis depending on time of day, call coverage responsibilities, and much more. We do try to check in with each other at the end/beginning of the week to see who we think will have more flexibility when, and that has helped.

      And, as you note, this approach of being the default “on call” parent can lead to a negative dynamic, and I’d worry that the OP having to be “on call” for an entire quarter or **year** could very easily lead to burnout (including for the spouse who can’t be pried from the office) and resentment.

    3. meggus*

      THIS. Even if it’s one’s “preference” to do so…especially if, in fact. If one takes it on every time, that becomes the expectation. If her husband can make her believe his stuff is more important every time, he will. She’ll take things on every time happily and he’ll allow it evetry time (it’s her preference! it makes her happy!). This “suggestion” screams of a way to continue avoiding having to step up as a parent….sure work is busy but that doesn’t mean anyone gets to avoid parenting, and an exec should a) theoretically have less trouble taking time off for it and b) consider the example he’s setting for the staff and company as a whole in regard to taking needed time for family issues. What takes priority every time, every “period” isn’t WORK, it’s the well-being of your KIDS and SPOUSE. his suggestion prioritizes HIMSELF.

      1. ferrina*

        Sounds like you’ve met my ex! This was his approach- I was “better with the kids”, I enjoyed spending time with them, my work hours were “flexible” (i.e., I didn’t have a time clock), therefore he was doing me a “favor” by “encouraging” me to take a sick day with the kids.

        In reality, I was working 50-60 hrs/wk at a toxic job with a horrible boss, I could barely find 4 hours per week to apply to other jobs, and any time I could find went to taking care of the kids or doing housework. I literally had no hobbies because I had no time.
        Meanwhile, he was working 30 hr/wk from home, had a really supportive boss, and spent his downtime playing video games. He was also doing 2 hr/wk of housework with 2 kids under 5, because he “wasn’t good at housework” and I was so much better, and “no one ever taught him” how to do it therefore it was just too much and he couldn’t. Or he magically had a headache or hadn’t slept well, and I would be such a monster to demand he do housework at a time like that.

        1. LW*

          Ughhh! I am so sorry that sounds terrible! And like ex boyfriends I ran a mile from because I had this sinking feeling they would be terrible dads. I PROMISE all commenters that I am an extremely switched on equal opportunity woman and as sensitive to the gender politics of this as I can be without that becoming a separate source of exhaustion and my husband is genuinely committed to lightening my load and being an equal co parent. He hasn’t played a video game since our oldest was born, and spends every moment of his spare time with the kids and doing housework and home projects. With this knowledge I’m not worried he’s trying to shift or get out of anything.

          1. Per my previous email*

            That is wonderful – but you are going to undermine his commitment to fairness if you keep jumping in to take sick days and work at home every time.

            1. Boof*

              I just want to push back on this a little – LW is not every woman and whatever arrangement ends up working for them is not a referendum on feminism, gender politics, etc.
              I say this because everyone is different but there’s a certain amount of biological reality that just *is* and it’s not that weird for the birth/nursing parent to do more parenting, it just has to be appropriately valued and compensated for by other partners if that’s what works for everyone.
              The gender politics are worth being mindful of more in a “speak up, advocate for yourself if something isn’t working, a good partner will listen/work with you”. It’s easy for divided responsibilities to become invisible to the other partner, but if it’s obvious one person has a lot more free time than another, that’s a red flag. If one gets in the habit of complaining and the other rushes to compensate, that becomes off balance quickly. (and yes my partner is the one who tends to complain a lot and I have to check my impulse to try to rush in and Solve the Problem Myself; for us I’ve found a certain amount of letting him vent and a certain amount of saying “ok, how can I help” and then “hey this is starting to get to be a lot, can you find another outlet to vent if that’s all you need or fix the underlying issue” in stages depending on what’s going on tends to work best. IDK kids are stressful, things are always changing, you got to talk and readjust and advocate for yourself as well as be considerate of others.

    4. Wren_Song*

      While I agree that women should not be the default parent and that there are significant cultural and societal ramifications of assuming that women will be the ones to sacrifice professional opportunities for the sake of parenting, I also think that shouting this has to stop at someone who has specifically stated that this was their preference is completely inappropriate. Their choice as a family to have one parent perform that work is perfectly valid and reasonable. It worked best for the calculus of their family. Their choice is changing because their circumstances are changing, but they do not need to be shouted at that their choice is somehow against your standards of gender equality.

      1. meggus*

        Except there is no choice to have one parent perform all the work. If that were the case, this letter wouldn’t have been written in the first place. The entire premise of the dilemma is balancing parenting responsibilities between two parents with big jobs. The choice isn’t to have one parent handle everything, that’s been clearly stated. Finding balance means both parties have to consider everyone’s needs in the moment.

      2. Per my previous email*

        I don’t understand why you are trying to pick a Mommy Wars fight? The LW and her husband are not making a choice that LW will be primary caregiver and her career will take a backseat to his. She specifically says that they want to share childcare fairly and take ‘turns’ because they both have demanding jobs. For this particular LW’s situation, her repeatedly stepping in makes it difficult for them to take ‘turns’ and also isn’t fair to her husband.

      3. Yorick*

        Sure it may be OP’s and many women’s preference, but that could be because societal expectations have shaped our lives in such a way that we form these preferences.

        1. Iyana*

          There also are sometimes specific and real needs that play into this. My husband and I work hard to be relatively equal parents and gender stuff still sneaks in… but there are also very real non gendered reasons that can impact care needs. For example, when my daughter had a severe ear infection, she was improving and I went to work while my husband stayed with her, but she was refusing bottles and was at risk of getting dehydrated so I (breastfeeding parent) had to come home so she would nurse. Husband also has way more sick time available, but has a job where if he takes a sick day or vacation day or whatever, the work is still there for him to do the next day (no coverage) whereas my work is more of a type where if I’m not there someone else has to deal with it, so it’s less a catch-up thing the day after.

  9. Owler*

    “Up until now, I have usually been the one to take a sick day or work from home with the kids.” Your husband is giving you the opportunity to really embrace the idea that both of your jobs deserve to be prioritized! Trust him that if he had the busier day, *he can figure it out.* it’s what you would do, right?

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      Yes – I think there is some merit to the idea of deciding beforehand who’s going to step up because I feel like when it’s decided in the moment, the same person will usually end up staying with the kids. In this case it’s OP.

      Maybe agreeing with the husband “Ok Husband has the sick days stocked up so unless it’s a critical meeting, he’ll be the default on kid sick duty for the next three months” would give OP the permission she needs to prioritize her work.

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly. My (ex) husband and I decided when the kid was born that we would split the sick duty 50-50, but we never made a plan to handle it because we didn’t think we needed it. Cue a couple years later, when I had taken 80-90% of the sick time with the kids. When we decided in the moment, he always had a meeting that couldn’t be moved, because he was support staff and couldn’t move meetings. I was at a higher level in my org, so I had more flexibility to move my meetings. But I also didn’t have colleagues who could cover my work the way he did, so I always ended up working while also dealing with a sick kid. It meant I had more stress to deal with on a regular basis, and my work was being constantly deprioritized in our relationship (compared to his work).
        Now a legal document prescribes which parent needs to take a sick day with the kid, and it’s much more equal.

        OP, if the sick time isn’t naturally falling out as an equal amount, set clear expectations. You can always change them later, but it gives you a place to start from (and permission to tell your husband to miss his unmissable meeting because you have an unmissable meeting too). Your husband is trying to make things more equal. Whether it’s a week by week thing or a month by month thing, give it a try!

      2. LW*

        This is a really good point that I don’t think I had paid enough attention to. I would just handle it, and frequently do, so I should trust that the support is there for me too!

  10. Judge Judy and Executioner*

    Honestly reading this my impression is that he’s planning on having the lion’s share of “important projects” so he can abdicate responsibility of the sick kid based on the special rules he chose. There is no room for rigid blanked mandates when it comes to taking off work for sick children, flexibility is the answer.

    1. WellRed*

      This was my sense. It makes no sense to plan the way he has proposed. Nothing is more unpredictable than a kid.

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I got that impression too. Especially since he is an executive at a high profile company and OP is head of a small department.
      Who is going to say whose day is more busy or what is more important?

      Im not a parent but I think they need to look at it on a case by case basis ranking who has more time off (sounds like husband) and is there anything critical. Like if the CEO is flying in to meet with everyone and is only going to be there that day, then that is very critical for the husband.
      I do see the husband’s point though with the periods of time. Like could they do a bit of both? like take it day by day but also if there is a specific time that is a no go then the other person has to figure it out. For example if the OP was an accountant than February and March probably wouldn’t be a good time for them to take off because its tax time.

      1. LW*

        Sorry I should have clarified in the letter that Head of my department is an exec role, so we are “equal” in that regard. I really don’t think he’s trying to get out of anything, in fact I think he’s trying to take things off my plate and use more of his leave! I appreciate the backup but we are on the same page and I am very supported in my career, and home life!

        1. Judge Judy and Executioner*

          Thank you for clarifying! It’s wonderful that the two of you are both coming at this as a way to help your children and each other.

    3. Jiminy Cricket*

      Yep. Yep. Yep.

      Since this is already what is happening, we can assume it will keep happening.

      Also, not all jobs are cyclical by “big quarter” or “big month” or even “big project.” What if one of your jobs runs in day-to-day or week-to-week heavy cycles that are less predictable, and the other has predictably busy quarters? It doesn’t line up.

      Also, I can’t imagine either my husband or I would ever just toss it to the other one, “Sorry! This is your quarter. You figure it out.” We’re a team, day to day.

      Finally: I know those negotiations suck. I remember the early morning, “Okay, so what do you have? Here’s what I have.” conversations. I remember taking the “early shift,” heading into the office 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., so my husband could work in the office 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., because we didn’t have coverage. IT SUCKED. But we did it together.

      1. Jiminy Cricket*

        You know, I’m rereading my comment and regretting making any assumptions I made. OP, I’m assuming best intentions on both your and your husband’s part! It’s hard, but it’s doable. You can figure out a way that works for your family, and it may not be what it looks like for any other family.

        1. Anonym*

          Yeah, it could be that, but it also could be that the husband prefers having a system in place and is perhaps stressed by lots of last minute decision making. I know people like this and there’s nothing wrong with it. As long as they’re going to be realistic and flexible about applying it, it could be very reasonable. Being rigid or selfish about it would be a no go, of course.

          1. LW*

            THIS. He honestly just wants a game plan, and we are figuring out what that game plan looks like!

    4. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I read it the other way — going on a case by case basis, OP has been defaulting to take all the sick days and he’s proposing a structure where he will participate more. He doesn’t need any fancy new system to continue not being the one to do the sick days.

      1. ferrina*

        This is how I read it. OP is currently taking too many sick days, and husband is trying to find a way to equalize it with minimal impact to his work. I think his actual plan could use some work (maybe every other week instead of quarters?), but kudos to him for realizing it’s an issue and genuinely taking steps to fix it.

    5. Niffler*

      That was my first impression, too. I’m also a little baffled that someone with kids would think that this quarterly availability/flexibility plan would be in any way fair or equitable to the parent that gets stuck with, say, Q4 – my kids are perpetually sick in the winter. You have to be more flexible than that or one parent is going to get screwed.

      1. LW*

        This is an excellent point but thankfully our winters are very mild, so the kids (touch wood) don’t have an extreme sick season.

    6. lilyp*

      Huh, I didn’t read it this way at all. I’m also assuming it would NOT be a rigid blanket “busier partner has 0 responsibility other partner just has to deal with it every time” mandate, more like a “less busy partner generally steps up to handle things by default, but we can be flexible around specific circumstances”. In general, I think that keeping track on a larger time scale of who is taking on heavier parenting responsibilities vs who is prioritizing their career would make it easier to see if that is getting divided equally (and adjust accordingly if it’s not), whereas going completely day-to-day makes it harder to spot patterns (like if you were covering 65% of sick days would you even notice that it’s not entirely equal?)

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was sure it’s my past experience making me jaded, but I had the same thought as I read: Ohhh, he’s an executive and she’s a head of a small department and he says that whoever is in a less busy period gets to be “on call” – that sounds a lot like him setting the stage up for the other parent always being on call because come on, when can an exec ever truly say they are not the busier one? I agree that flexibility and case-by-case approach are the answer. This on-call schedule thing will not work and will just lead to arguments about whose busy period is busier.

      (I will freely admit that my past marriage left me feeling very cynical in that regard. he was not an exec, he made less than I, he worked fewer hours than I, with lower visibility than mine and I still ended up doing everything or having the family cover (my parents thankfully lived close by and loved to dote on and spoil their grandkids). He’d regularly forgotten what grades his kids were in, what schools they were in, had no idea where the schools were, sent one of the kids to daycare in his PJs the one time he had to drop him off, forgot to pick up the other kid from afterschool the other one time he needed to do the pickup, eventually I just stopped asking. In the end I took the kids and left, because if I was, for all intents and purposes, a single parent anyway, then why did I even need to share a home, and my life, with that man. Like I said, ABSOLUTELY NOT OP’S SITUATION, just explaining what made me think that way. Also, he has since improved a lot and really stepped up, both at work and as a parent :) )

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        And now I have read LW’s answers on this thread and am relieved to hear that my worries were unfounded!

        1. LW*

          Yes, I’m sorry about your ex! I have been in a relationship (prior to kids) where I had a lot going on at work and *magically* ended up doing all the housework, cooking, bills, holiday planning…it sucked that he was just unenthusiastic about life so I left! Hubby is my equal in every way and this question comes out of trying to make it more equal!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Yes you two do sound like you are on the right track and I’m excited for your family!

            My ex used to come to me asking for information like his parents’ birthdays. When leaving for the US, we had to fill out a ton of forms and he needed my help filling out anything about his parents, full names, DOB, place of birth… I look back today and have a hard time grasping how we’d gotten to that ridiculous point! Like I said, I saw a lot of improvement from him lately when one of the kids had a crisis situation. I’m proud of him for his growth.

  11. Marine (not a Marine)*

    Your way is best! Definitely work around who has the busiest schedule that day. My husband and I have this issue and we always put things in our mutual diary so that there aren’t too many clashes, and we warn each other if meetings might run late etc…

    It’s exhausting to be constantly communicating but it’s really the only way, although I don’t blame your husband for trying to hack it. Maybe he feels calmer being more aware of whether it’s his turn or not, maybe he feels this makes for a more equitable partnership – but I’m never for letting the equitable get in the way of the efficient.

    Having said that, if you review at the end of the year and it’s always your job taking a back seat, it’s worth having another look.

    1. CM*

      I do not think the husband’s approach would be equitable in practice. The OP already says she prefers taking sick days. When it’s her “work priority” quarter my guess is she would still take kid-related time off whenever she could, and then when it’s his “work priority” quarter he would assume she would handle everything.

      Also, “big jobs” just do not work this way! At least in my experience. You can’t predict what’s going to happen and many workplaces will not be pleased if you say “for the next 3 months, if my kid needs something I will drop everything and go to them.” (I wish that was an OK thing to say at work! But it’s often not.)

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        Also, Kids tend to get more sick at specific times of the year. So I can totally see the husband picking say summer months when the OP has the december-march where kids get more sick with colds and such. So he might only have a few days where the OP would have more.

        1. ferrina*

          If they do every-other month, it would equal out. Or if he takes Q4 (Oct-Dec) and OP takes Q1 (Jan-Mar). Those both have a lot of colds in them.

      2. Dark Macadamia*

        Yeah his approach combined with the fact that LW has already been doing the majority of the work (and prefers it this way) is just a recipe for him to always “happen” to be the “important” one no matter whose turn it’s supposed to be.

  12. Veryanon*

    I think flexibility is the key, and continually checking in with each other so that neither party feels overburdened or burned out. If Kid wakes up sick, you triage to see who has the busier day and make your call based on that, or split the day if you can.
    Also, frankly, if both of your jobs are that demanding, it might be worthwhile to hire a nanny or some other plan where you have in-home care, at least while your kids are little. That won’t eliminate having to take time off when the kid is sick, but at least it will reduce the instances.

    1. Clisby*

      I was wondering whether this would be a possibility. One advantage to a regular daycare, of course, is that if one of the staff members is ill, that doesn’t have to disrupt care for all of the kids. A nanny getting sick would mean you don’t have care. On the other hand, kids likely get sick more often at a daycare than if they were home with a nanny.

  13. Mila*

    Use your husbands approach as the default and your approach to deal with the specific day. So for example, it’s husbands quarter, but he has an extra busy day, then it’s his responsibility to take the extra step to see what your situation is and if you’re not available, it’s his responsibility to arrange outside childcare if possible.

    1. RachelTW*

      I too think this might be a viable approach for them. And it would help balance which parent is carrying the mental load of worrying about childcare.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I think this is a great point, and really gets to the heart of this: it’s rarely just the *actual taking time off*, but being the person on whom the admin and responsibility falls, and where the buck actually stops. And it’s *really* hard to keep this equal. You can fully embrace an equal parenting philosophy, but somehow it keeps being Parent A who steps up, whose meetings are not quite as important as Parent B’s, or who gets “important meeting time” respected but then dashes home to make sure they’re still there to cover for Less Important Meeting and doesn’t get to send the follow up emails and add all the actions to their to-do list.

      My kids are a little older than yours, LW, but as the birthing parent who did the majority of parental leave, followed by 2-3 years of part-time work, I had to put a fair amount of energy into NOT being the default parent and being willing to say, “Well, it sounds like you’re just going to have to cancel that.” (In some ways, that pandemic lockdowns probably helped with this because it was such an extreme situation that it forced us to do more of a re-set than we might have done if 2020-2022 had been more normal. When we started doing weird things like “going to work” again, I claimed back a much greater share of time than I had in 2019!)

      So I would go with your husband’s plan, and say that for the next 6-12 months, he’s the Default Parent. That doesn’t mean you won’t cover any sick days, but he’s the one that nursery calls first, and if he can’t just leave, he needs to get in touch with you and find out if you can. If one child wakes up feeling rotten, he’s the one who does the Calpol and takes their temperature and makes the decision about whether someone needs to stay home, and that doesn’t work with his schedule, he brings the decision to you to find out how easy it would be for you to stay home.

      If you’ve been the Default Parent for most of the last four years, you are both going to find this a pretty major switch! I wouldn’t recommend doing it for less than 6 months and ideally 12, because it’ll take at least 4-6 months for both of you to get your heads around it. If you’re like me, you’ll find there’s going to be a lot of times when it feels *really* hard to go, “well, let me know how you get on!”, and it’ll feel like it would be easier to just do the thing and figure out your emails later.

      To be honest, I suspect that by the end of whatever your husband’s first period what you’ll actually have is a 50:50 split of both *mental* responsibilities and *actual* time spent off work– but if you don’t, you’ll have a much clearer data for figuring out whether this works for the next period!

      1. LW*

        This is a really good idea, and I imagine will be very hard for me, but good for our marriage and family. Why do the most worthwhile things need to be so emotionally difficult!

        1. Iyana*

          I feel this in my soul! Working so so hard to equalize it, and fighting against what I “want” to get what I actually want!

    3. Ally McBeal*

      Gosh, what an elegant solution to mental load broadly as well as this specific scenario.

    4. Janine*

      That was exactly what I was thinking. It’s less about who is actually staying with kiddos (Mom, Dad, alternate caregiver per many suggestions in these comments) and more about who is responsible for the emotional labor of figuring out and implementing the solution.

    5. Thistle Pie*

      I agree that this is probably the most effective solution. I think people are kind of piling on the husband here, but I totally get what he means. Rather than each situation popping up and requiring a half hour of back and forth texts during meetings there is just a default person who will handle it at that time. Your proposed combination meets both of their needs: a default responder to a situation and flexibility if someone has a tight deadline that day, etc.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, I think there’s two ways to read the husband here– this could be a “actually my quarters are always busier / longer than yours” or it could be that he recognises how much of the decision-making and work has been done *before LW even gets to the point of saying, “she’s really not feeling well, what’s your schedule like today?”* and wants to rectify the balance!

      2. Anemones*

        I especially think that this is a good solution as LW says she’s already doing more while using her system – there’s no reason to read the husband as trying to avoid taking responsibility instead of trying to share responsibility.

      3. Budgie Buddy*

        Yes – I think people are leaning into “Kids are unpredictable! That’s just how it is! Husband needs to get over himself and stop trying to make plans and systems to be an active parent!”

        I don’t think husband’s need for structure is bad – they just need to figure out what kind of structure actually fits their family. OP May be very good at making plans on the fly, and husband might be better at thinking proactively before a situation comes up. Those are both good skills.

        This solution that’s arranged around who does the admin work kind of takes the best of both approaches. Husband has some structure in place so he knows what the next step is when a kid is sick, and there’s still the flexibility OP needs.

        1. LW*

          This describes it exactly! He is trying to balance and wants a more specific game plan. I think life with kids is pure chaos. Meeting in the middle is a very good idea!

    6. EmilyClimbs*

      This but husband definitely needs to go first and the quarters need to be split legitimately 50/50 (or less for OP who’s been default for years.) Like, maaaaaybe OP could do 2 quarters in a row if husband is in a legit busier-than-usual stretch with an expected end date, but if it continues longer, it needs to switch back to husband even if he’s still “the busier one.”

    7. LW*

      This is a really good idea, and I imagine will be very hard for me, but good for our marriage and family. Why do the most worthwhile things need to be so emotionally difficult!

    8. LW*

      Update following discussion: we’re doing this with a couple of fun tweaks, a monthly “planning” brunch or dinner with weekly check ins on Sundays and just generally tending to almost over communicate with our shared calendar. Exciting!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Monthly planning brunches, weekly check ins, *and* a shared calendar! That sounds pretty perfect to be honest.

  14. CM*

    Yeah, your husband’s proposal makes no sense. The thing with “big” jobs is that you never know when you might have to drop everything. So both of you need to be flexible.

    We had a lot of resentment about whose job felt more “important” and a key to getting past that was to drop all judgment and trust each other to communicate our priorities honestly. Do you REALLY need to be at that meeting or could you miss it?

    Also make contingency plans for when a sick kid needs to be picked up, or you both have an unskippable commitment. In a pinch, could one of you bring the kid with you? Is there a neighbor who could watch them if there’s only a small gap when a parent won’t be home?

    Also, you absolutely 100% need multiple childcare resources! Nannies, babysitters, ideally family if you have some around. There will inevitably be times when you both have work commitments you cannot drop. Backup childcare is critical.

    1. LW*

      Yes I am thinking we need to extend our family requests to broader “if X is sick could you watch her if you can wfh” to our parents as well. Between 6 people it’s more likely someone will have a quieter work day, right??

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this sounds absolutely reasonable, especially if your parents are fairly young and don’t have any health conditions that would make it risky for them to care for a sick and infectious child.

  15. Also-ADHD*

    I think women often bear the brunt of this and so do their careers so if LW has done “more” childcare especially so far, it should be her husband looking to step up as much as possible since it sounds like LW has his back when she can anyway. Does he have hers? I think his philosophy is a potential gotcha. Both parents should be willing to jump in and sacrifice for the other in a case where both careers are high priority and no one has actively chosen a “low key, put kids first so my partner can career focus” career intentionally for the family.

  16. I edit everything*

    Yeah, it has to be a day-to-day thing. Kids’ needs are, as you know, impossible to predict. If it ever happens that you both have important things going on for a particular day, then maybe you agree that the next time, the roles swap. But take notes, because you’ll forget whose turn it is.

    The other option is to hire a nanny. With two kids, a single nanny may be less expensive than daycare for two (or at least not much more expensive).

  17. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

    My husband and I are in similar situations! He has more accrued leave than I do (thanks, maternity leave); I’m a director in my organization; he’s a senior team lead in his organization.

    We do what you suggested; if one of the kids is sick (early elementary school and almost one-year-old), whichever one of us has the ‘easier’ day either WFH, takes leave, or (in my case) flexes to work early in the day, during nap time, and then after husband gets home at the end of the day.

    Your husband’s plan only works if you assume that for one period of time (a month, a quarter, a project, whatever), that person will never have slower/down days and the other person will never have big meetings or urgent business needs.

    The breakdown for us is that I am usually the parent who WFH or takes leave (nursing baby, more flexibility in my job), but there have been days that I have a meeting I can’t push, can’t take remotely, and have to be in the office for, and then he takes leave to manage it.

    Your husband needs to understand that both of you are equally critical at work, albeit in different ways and at different times.

  18. shuu_iam*

    I don’t have wider advice about the situation, but wanted to point out an advantage to your husband’s approach: by deliberately taking turns like that, you avoid a situation where one of you gradually slides into the default caregiver role and help equalize the career impacts. It’s really common in relationships between a man and a woman for the woman’s career to be disproportionately impacted by having kids, partially because of her taking on a greater percentage of the kinds of childcare that involve leaving work to pick up a sick kid and so forth; I think it’s a really good sign that your husband is trying to come up with solutions that avoid that problem. The fact that so far, you “have usually been the one to take a sick day or work from home with the kids” makes it seem more important to watch out for equality in this, especially right now before your default handling is too fully ingrained.

    Good luck as you work out your division; it sounds like you’re both going into this with a lot of trust and respect for each other and each other’s careers, which is really great.

    (And I’m assuming genders by the mention of you having a husband and taking maternity leave; if I’m wrong, this advice might be less relevant.)

    1. LW*

      This is exactly the intention and thank you for seeing his intent and commitment. I appreciate it and having read all these comments I am going to give his plan a go with a couple of riders.

  19. Katrina*

    We have roughly equivalent jobs in terms of pay, “importance”, etc, and 3 kids 10 and under. Pre-pandemic, when we both worked in an office full time, we handled these things on a case by case basis, considering each person’s schedule/load that day, who handled it last time or has handled the most recently, and what’s going on in a larger sense at each person’s work. It was a certain amount of negotiation. Now I work from home full time so I’m more able to handle these kinds of things, but if I’m not for whatever reason, my husband volunteers to handle it knowing how much I am able to handle most of the time. It takes communication and balancing all of the competing priorities.

  20. Code monkey manager*

    Neither. Hire help. Whether you’re arguing daily or quarterly about whose job is more important, that’s an argument that no one ever “wins”. You need a third adult (or more) whose priority is kids/household, so the two of you can give your jobs the focus they need. Source: have been a working mom for 11 years, married for 14.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      That’s easy to say but from the parents I’ve talked to there is a childcare shortage. Even just for babysitters. And from my understanding that its hard to find a sometimes Nanny. It doesnt sound like they have issues with the everyday childcare. So finding someone who can watch the kids at last minute because they are sick is not going to be easy.

      1. Jennifer in FL*

        Let me correct this idea:
        There is a childcare shortage for people *who aren’t willing to pay fairly for it*. I get approached all the time by people who know I worked as a nanny and currently a preschool teacher, looking for childcare (whether it be in home, at a center, whatever). The amounts being offered are laughable if they weren’t insulting.

        1. Anonymouse*

          I understand your view of being paid fairly – and it is legitimate, but to criticize parents’ issue with a childcare shortage due to being “cheap” is not fair. Yes, you should be paid fairly but there is also an issue with working parents having an inability to make enough to pay for childcare. The solution lies with wages not with childcare workers decreasing their fees but there is a bigger picture here.

          It’s frustrating and sad that working parents are stuck in that cycle of needing childcare to work but only make just enough (or maybe barely enough) to cover the childcare, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

      2. Code monkey manager*

        “it’s easy to say” Yes, I am very well aware, on a very personal level, of how difficult it is to find childcare. I’ll tell you what’s more difficult: choosing whether to prioritize your child’s health or a crucial work task. I have personally been in both situations, of struggling to find help and of struggling how to balance family and work needs without help, and there’s no contest which is harder.

        I mean, it’s all hard, right? Being a parent is hard. Being a parent with a full time job is hard. Having all household adults working full time is hard. Hiring help is hard. Living in a society that deprioritizes parents and children is difficult every day, and there’s no easy or simple solution to that. But I have tried, over and over, in many ways, to be both primary parent and primary worker, and I will very confidently say that you will lose your health, your relationships, or your job, and if you’re very lucky it won’t be all three.

    2. C@t L@dy*

      How do you hire help on days where your kiddo is sick and can’t go to daycare &/or can’t have a nanny come to the home (ex: covid)? This has been such a challenge in recent years and would love any solutions or ideas — we are plum out!

      1. Waffles*

        In my local nanny page on Facebook there are a fair number of nurses who are early career looking for babysitting jobs that fit with their hours, and they are sometimes willing to come caregiver when it is something like COVID.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is what most people I know with dual “priority” careers do. They have a nanny or nanny share with flexibility and a cleaning service (the more affluent have a live-in nanny/housekeeper). There is less of a childcare shortage when you are willing to pay above market or provide housing to an au pair.

    4. LW*

      Following this thread I am going to try and source a couple of benched Nannies but there is genuinely a shortage where we live, and we’re more than happy paying well above market for the right person with qualifications. One of my kids really needs to be in a daycare setting for their development so will keep daycare but have some more backup care options.

      1. Jules the First*

        As a single working mom with a big career, I’d push gently back on the idea that a nanny can’t meet your kid’s need for social development. My *very* extrovert toddler has spent the last six months with a pair of part time nannies (also an option in your shoes, by the way – neither of our nannies is interested in full time work but they have both been happy to pick up extra hours when he has been ill) and they have been fantastic about getting him plenty of social time: he now has more friends in our neighbourhood than I do because he goes with them to play groups and activity classes and parks and library open sessions etc. Both of our nannies are also ex-daycare professionals so both hold certifications in early childhood education. It costs money, sure (which is why we will be transitioning back to a daycare setting soon), but they are absolutely out there. You might also find that even a part time nanny (a few days a week or a few hours a day, with flexibility to occasionally take a full day or few days if the kids are sick) takes load off that you weren’t aware you are carrying – ours does bath time, kid laundry and meal prep, tidies and rotates our toys, and cleans the kid’s room, and will also handle things like making doctor and dentist appointments and taking him to routine ones. I didn’t think it would make this much difference, but it absolutely does.

        1. LW*

          That’s a really good point and I think if we kept having issues an option that works for us and his paed and speech therapist as it’s the social communication he needs.

  21. goducks*

    While it may be possible to have a sort of rough quarterly hand-off of who is the primary all other things being equal, when it comes to things like a kid needing to stay home sick, it has to be a consideration of whose day has more flexibility. When my kids were little and needed a sick day, my spouse and I would always compare notes and figure out who had the easier to adjust schedule. Sometimes that meant one of us did the morning, one the afternoon and it was just a half day for each of us.

    If the day was equally difficult or easy we’d defer to whomever had been less impacted recently. So if I’d done the last two, my spouse would do this one. I think that’s a way that the idea of a primary by quarter can be helpful, if both spouses are equally able/not able to make the sick day work, then the one whose quarter it is will be the one who stays home.

    At the end of the day, you have to have a system that works for both of you. Any system that rigidly assigns duties to either parent when both are trying to juggle career and family is likely to not work for one or both parents. You can have some general principals for how you operate, but you need to be willing to take things as they come.

    1. LW*

      Yes lightly trading off is what we currently do, but he thinks it’s skewing my way to do more childcare so that’s what we’re grappling with! Sounds like your system works!

  22. Justin C*

    I don’t think it matters as much which approach you choose, day-to-day or seasonal, so long as you each get the peace of mind of knowing that the kids are all right. Maybe you do need to mix in a nanny or other professional child care to make it work, but I’m not hearing that in your question. If you can’t work it out, consider taking it to a couples counselor who can help you get on the same page. Sometimes a third party brings the authority of objectivity and that gets things moving where they were stuck before.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      I second this; you both have specific reasons for preferring your philosophies, so this issue isn’t about which philosophy is better but what anxieties/concerns/priorities each philosophy addresses.

      For example, it makes sense to me, based on my life experience, that your philosophy is more realistic, but just saying that doesn’t actually address whatever concerns your husband is having about that setup. Having a trained person guide you through that conversation could be more helpful.

  23. MiddleManagementMama*

    Ooof! Personally I prefer your approach. I have a fairly rigid job with lots of meetings and important hands on situations, but some flexibility with WFH and hours. My husband is a regional truck driver who has flexibility to call in, but can’t necessarily leave mid-day if he’s out on a run. We take each day as it comes and do our best to plan ahead each week/day.

    We also have a trusted friend who’s allowed to pick up our kid from daycare in an emergency. We do our best not to abuse that friendship and make sure it’s reciprocal, we take care of their kid sometimes.

    Being a parent and working is hard! Each family is going to have a different situation that works best for them. Good luck finding the balance that works for you!

  24. Samwise*

    Your husband needs to get real. Would he be this inflexible at work? This is a marriage, with small children, and a child with special needs. Not an aircraft carrier or air traffic control where you follow strict protocols.

    If you can afford it, a nanny or au pair will help a lot, but remember that such help is also human and you (both of you) need to have a backup plan — a FLEXIBLE back up plan.

    1. Samwise*

      I will add — when our child was very ill, we traded semesters on leave at first, then decided to have me do the leave because 1. My husband earned about twice my salary, so it was more of a hit to the family finances if he ended up on leave without pay 2. I am exceptionally good at case managing, as it turns out, and he is not 3. Fulltime caretaking and not working substantially harmed my husband’s mental health, whereas therapy and medication helped me very quickly.

      In between such times, we went with whoever had the more flexible day and/or enough leave available.

    2. Calpurrnia*

      Kind of funny you mention ATC, since growing up with an air traffic controller parent, I saw a bit of this from the kids’ perspective. What was great for us was that my dad’s schedule varied a lot day to day and period to period (might have been quarterly or yearly, I don’t remember). For example, there were stretches of time when we knew Dad was working 6am-3pm every Wednesday but then home all day Thursday until 8pm because he had a mid shift. There were periods when he always had Mondays off because he worked Saturdays.

      And there was basically always the understanding of “emergencies happen” – they wouldn’t be in their jobs if they couldn’t handle responding to crises in the moment – so in the event my mom couldn’t leave an important meeting, there was a coworker that my dad could get to come in for OT to cover for him for a few hours if something happened in the middle of his shift. Since the job is 24/7 and there’s rarely any fully “down” time, ATC has protocols for a shift change where you overlap for a few minutes, continuing to work but handing off everything you have going on to another person who then takes over in the moment. If that has to happen a bit early, it makes no difference to the pilots on the other end of the radio.

      So ATC is actually really flexible compared to some other “strictly 9-5 M-F in the office” jobs – and, in my experience, also better at coverage and problem-solving in emergencies.

      That attitude might help the LW here. So many commenters are suggesting “you should hire a nanny/backup childcare!”… but nobody has yet said “consider having a colleague/deputy on call that can cover those important meetings when you need to be home with the kids”.

      1. LW*

        Yes. This. We are both as flexible as we can be at work, but neither of us has a deputy at the moment (separate work headache!). I would honestly love a second “me” at work, even a “me” in training. I think we are going to think more laterally and problem solve this issue. Basically use my husband’s approach as a guide (and that person is “it” for sorting it out) and then share the care as best we can for what makes sense. We’re a team.

  25. tired nerd*

    Gotta be day by day. But having a shared calendar would be useful – also maybe you can go over each week and designate who’s going to be “on call” on each day

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This. I have an acquaintance where both they and their partner have demanding “big” jobs with awful hours and basically the only way to deal with it was to have their in-laws move in to help with the kids. Not an option for everyone, obviously, but “additional adult(s) in the home” is the takeaway piece here. If your job is “big” but doesn’t have an appropriately “big” salary to let you afford additional help, then that’s another data point about how you handle this situation.

      1. FellowWorkingParent*

        I do not have a nanny or an au pair. I’ve always used traditional daycare. It’s a lot when kids are sick and you have to figure it out on the fly, and have care most of the other times. And having an au pair is someone who lives in your home, it’s remarkably intimate. We have friends who have had great experiences and also who have had to scramble when someone quits and they have to start over.

        Let’s be kind to working parents and not just tell them to use their wealth to outsource parenting their own kids. This line of thinking really bugs me as a mom (with a great co parent who also works!) who hates having to choose between work and a sick kid who wants me. I relate to this question a lot!

        1. Marine (not a Marine)*

          I agree – it doesn’t seem like there are situations where neither of them can flex, they’re just trying to find an equitable way to figure out who does it. To suggest they pay someone else to take care of the kids is insane if between them they can do it just fine.

        2. Looper*

          I think it’s unfair to working parents to consider daycare or nannies as “outsourcing parenting”. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in hiring professionals to assist in the health and happiness of your family.

          1. Marine (not a Marine)*

            But they do use daycare – this is just for the times daycare fails. There is no shame in paying for childcare but it’s also a massive expense and advising people to just pay for more when all they want to do is figure out which one will cover the off times is not necessarily going to help.

          2. amoeba*

            I understood it more to mean that work should also be flexible and tolerant to the needs of people with (small) children, not expect them to be basically always available like somebody with no caregiving duties! I mean, I have no problem with au pairs, nanny, or whatever, but apart from the fact that that just shifts the care work to other people (less privileged women, mostly), I still would be annoyed if my boss expected me to leave everything to the nanny instead of giving me flexibility.

        3. Samwise*

          Please don’t call it “outsource parenting their own kids.”

          For thousands of years, parenting has been “outsourced” to the village, you know. Mostly female members of the village, but still not just the parent all alone.

        4. Ali + Nino*

          Please don’t call it “outsource parenting their own kids.”

          Thank you!!! OP is literally talking about taking kids to doctor’s appointments or staying home with them when they’re sick. Didn’t realize that’s both the pinnacle and entirety of parenting. We working parents have enough challenges without your judgment.

          1. FellowWorkingParent*

            I meant the commenters saying “hire an au pair” and be done with it we’re treating it like that. I do not believe an au pair or any sort of daycare is outsourcing parenting. I’m a working mom with two kids who have always been in daycare.

            I apologize for the confusion.

            What’s tough for me is people who say “just hire someone” and my kid is sick. I want to be with them but also have work stuff and don’t want to derail my career. This stuff is hard! I bristle at people who just answer with telling someone to hire help and move on. This feels more nuanced to me as a mom.

            1. Caramel & Cheddar*

              No one is saying “hire an au pair and be done with it,” though, and specifically I didn’t (since you were responding to my comment). We’re saying that in scenarios where both parents have “big” jobs that make dropping everything to attend to sudden kid stuff difficult, having another adult around is helpful.

              People should do what works for their families; in yours, it’s having your kids in daycare. In LW’s scenario, it sounds like daycare wouldn’t help since a sick kid is going to get sent home (either from daycare or school), so they need an alternate solution.

              1. amoeba*

                Well, Stuart Foote (the top comment in this thread) did actually say that, almost verbatim:

                “I think this is the point where you get an au pair and let them figure it out.”

                And yeah, a world where my employer expects that of me is not a world I’d like to live in.

        5. Countess of Shrewsbury*

          Yikes. This seems a bit judgmental. Parenting is a lot more than staying home when they’re sick. Working parents today have it really rough because (especially in the US) we get basically NO support. People are just trying to do what they can with what they can. As long as the kid is loved, fed, and safe, let’s just support each other, yeah? It’s rough out there.

        6. AnotherFellowWorkingParent*

          I’m also a working parent, with a working spouse, and kids in daycare. I have never used a nanny, au pair, or family to regularly care for my kids, so it sounds like we’re in a similar situation. I’m used to hearing the “outsourcing parenting” comment from stay at home parents, but my jaw dropped when I read it from a fellow working parent.

          I get what you’re saying — people think it must be easy or simple to solve the unpredictability of kids’ illnesses, etc that break our general day to day childcare arrangement, and want us to come up with some foolproof solution (like live in help) that means that our work lives are never ever disrupted by normal parenting things. Another way to say it would just be to say that: “Let’s be kind to working parents and not assume that there’s some straightforward solution they just haven’t thought of yet, that would make it so their lives are never disrupted by their kids.”

        7. Gyne*

          What’s unkind is suggesting working parents who hire help aren’t “parenting” their kids, in my opinion.

          1. Iyana*

            I didn’t get that sense from this comment- more that hiring someone doesn’t necessarily solve the problem when a kiddo is sick. My kiddo would be miserable with anyone other than her parents (mayyyybe she will accept grandparents) when she’s sick.

    2. LW*

      Following this thread we are going to look at some backup care options but we don’t have room for an au pair (or the need, really, during “normal” times) and daycare serves us well most of the time and is a recommended setting for one of my kids (and beneficial for the other!)

      I’m all for hired help but we are definitely not at the live in help stage at the minute!

  26. Rapunzel Rider*

    I unfortunately, have not been in this situation but would be curious of the genders of those commenting to see any existing biases or if people who identify one way would more often suggest the daily fluidity vs. having longer “priority” periods vs. the comments I already saw about hiring outside help.

    1. clueless*

      That would be fascinating, though I also wonder about experience with children/being a parent. I would hope those commenting have at least some experience and aren’t just blindly throwing advice out there (thus why I mentioned my lack of experience in my comment). Also I’m nonbinary if that helps at all.

  27. Office Sweater Lady*

    Most couples I know who both maintain two “big jobs” outsource a lot of things, like hiring cleaners, and even someone to meal prep. Have you considered a nanny or an au pair? I understand that you may have reasons you don’t want to do this, but part of the idea of sacrificing for these elite positions is that they should pay you so well that you can afford to outsource some of the home work. If you find that the money isn’t enough or you just don’t like this idea, one parent might consider temporarily downshifting to a more accommodating job. You only have a few more years before your children become more independent, so any change you make could be for just a few years.

  28. Mellie Bellie*

    I think it has to be an on-the-fly call of whichever parent can best accommodate this issue today thing. You can’t really plan for illness, so you can’t really schedule who is going to handle it months or weeks in advance. Plus what if it’s your “turn” but an important meeting pops up unexpectedly at the same time the school calls and says you need to come get your kid who’s vomiting profusely? Should you miss the meeting even though your husband has a clear “can work from home” afternoon just because y’all wrote whose turn it is on the calendar? Doesn’t make sense to me.

  29. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I prefer your way by far. I’m having a hard time figuring out what benefit his way provides. Predictability to the person whose turn it is? If so, that’s not the way I see either work or parenting. It feels pretty rigid, too, and unnecessarily so.

    Plus, the fact that you have done the bulk of it so far makes me think he should pick up the bulk of it going forward.

    Is there an undercurrent of control on your husband’s part here?

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      The benefit I see is that having clear right of way means less cognitive load for every single decision.

      Right now, events have to be individually litigated and decided quickly. With a default setting, you start with an answer then adjust from there. (That’s my recommendation — set a default but be ready for ongoing exceptions based on the day/kid/situation.) And, right now he doesn’t do any of the sick days because there IS a default setting, and that’s her. I don’t know how hard he’s tried, maybe he hasn’t at all or maybe he has but feels like it’s too easy for him to slide out of it. His plan would force a change to that dynamic.

      I’m not saying his way will work in practice. It probably won’t! But the thinking resonates with me. (A ND type who likes clarity and struggles with decision fatigue and executive function.)

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Ah that makes sense, thank you!

        In that case I’d like to agreement to be ‘this is your month/week but if you have an important thing and I don’t, I’ll be available to take it’

      2. LW*

        The decision fatigue is real! This is definitely the benefit of his approach where we’re not starting from scratch on a morning that we’ve been up in the night with a sick kid. He’s actively trying to share more and I’m trying to actively get away from always saying I will do it (because my kid is sick and I genuinely just want to comfort them, which he can do just as well).

  30. Honest Puck*

    From what I’ve seen of my friends who are married with kids (with both parents working full-time jobs, there are no stay-at-home or part-time working parents), they go with the Letter Writer’s solution of communicating in the moment to see who is less busy/has more leave to spare. Your husband’s logic is far too rigid. It’s one thing to say “I have a major project that will last all week and cannot be budged so you have to take any kid emergencies”. But a longer period of months or more seems inflexible and stubborn.

    Parenting is a team effort and needs communication; I hope you can convey this to your husband.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is how we’ve always handled it. I know he can’t move a particular monthly event his team is responsible for, and he knows that my c-suite meetings are nigh impossible to reschedule. We work together and figure it out. I don’t recall it ever taking more than 10 minutes – we’re doing this for tomorrow because we have three things that need to happen all at the same time and there are only two of us.

      The ones that drove me batshit were the schools, who always insist on calling me first, even though he’s listed as the primary emergency contact since he mostly works from home. They’d call me, and I’d be like, “Well, I’m in DC, and their dad is about 1000 yards away and listed first on the call sheet, so…”.

  31. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I think for practical reasons it has to be the day-to-day approach.

    But I understand the husband’s perspective, too. He may be wired such that he feels he needs that level of certainty in order to focus and perform. Of course there are plenty of things in life that can’t provide you that level of certainty – including things at his work. But maybe he’s just trying to eliminate one source of chaos among many.

    1. Per my previous email*

      He may also be worried that they’re going to be stressed and argue about whose day is busier or has the “more important” commitment that has to yield – under his plan, they just go by whose “turn” it is.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        That’s my interpretation, through my own lens. Every single time the kids need something, they have to review who has what time and who did it last and who has more banked PTO. Even if it doesn’t turn into arguments (lol) that’s a lot of cognitive load. Not saying the plan would work, but I get the upside.

      2. Breaking Dishes*

        They could just take turns: mom does one, dad does one, if they want to avoid arguing or figuring it out.
        In my experience however, this needs to be negotiated on a case by case basis-which partner is able to best handle it.

        1. amoeba*

          I like that one! Seems easier than dividing weekdays or months or whatever. Just for figuring out who’d be the “default” in case both can make it work, obviously – I’m sure you’d still have to shift it often enough based on availability, but probably good to have a first idea “whose turn it is”?

          Or just have a counter/tally and whoever’s behind is the “default” (and again, if that doesn’t work, you change)…

  32. Tabitha*

    I don’t suppose this will be popular but I think it’s not possible – or fair to your kids – for both parents to have the kind of full-time demanding jobs you describe. If you both want that kind of job, then you should get a nanny or an au pair so the kids have consistency. Children’s lives are complicated and extremely changeable at the best of times – and you mention one of your children has additional needs. It doesn’t sounds like you’re centering them sufficiently. My husband has the kind of job you describe so when our first child was born I transitioned to work part time. We used formal childcare before they started school but I have remained part time so one of us is always better placed to flex to meet their needs when required.

    1. Juniantara*

      Can we please not accuse people of failing their children or being bad parents based on childcare arrangements?

      1. LW*

        Thank you I appreciate the support. Parenting is 100% the centre of my life but we need to work (and like working!) so we are (as a team) trying to find a solution for when the “normal” plan doesn’t work. I don’t work “long” hours (I never work 5-8pm so I can get the kids and have our evening and put them to bed, for example). My kids are so loved and I don’t think either of us need to change jobs.

    2. Ali + Nino*

      I’m going to try not to rant but I’ll just say I would really like to see the conversation around balancing/separating work and life adjust to the reality that most families with two working parents are set up that way because they HAVE to, in order to afford to live a decent lifestyle. It’s not necessarily a flex, it’s literally parents making the best choices they can to provide for their families. This set-up, with two working parents, is the current norm for a reason, and it’s not just “feminism” or some other straw-man.

      OP doesn’t say anything about the kids not having consistency. As you yourself point out, kids’ lives are “extremely changeable.” My understanding is that this is about needs that pop up from time to time, not stuff that can be anticipated and planned for in detail (i.e., “Timmy will have the flu Nov 11-14…”). How about we aim for employers to be more understanding about families’ needs, rather than women (and we know that for many reasons it’s usually the women going part-time, declining certain projects, finding themselves passed over for promotions) taking the hit?

      NB: I myself am a working mom and I also chose to work part-time once my oldest was born. But since then I have had to work full-time, back to part-time now. There are no easy answers but I know the solution isn’t blaming individuals or families. This is a systemic issue; we need an overhaul of our policies and attitudes.

    3. Countess of Shrewsbury*

      Can we not be judgy about parents with jobs? Seriously. This is really unkind and so much judgment like this is thrown specifically at working moms, in particular. Working parents are doing the best they can and I think it’s good for kids to see both parents succeeding at work (if that’s what the parents wish to do). Different strokes for different folks.

    4. Jiminy Cricket*

      Oof. Right in the gut. Please do not make assumptions or accusations about the OP’s parenting. Or, rather, let’s assume the highest levels of parental love and devotion and desire to meet their needs.

      Also, a transition to part-time work is a huge privilege and a huge risk. Not everyone — even those in “big” jobs — can do take that risk or wants to.

    5. boo*

      Another perspective is that it’s not fair to kids to have parents who choose not to live up to their full career potential.

      I don’t agree with either that or Tabitha’s perspective, but these are challenging decisions that I think everyone should have the right to make for their families without needless judgment from internet strangers.

      Both my parents are immigrants who worked and still do work demanding jobs. When I was young, most of my friends at school were multigeneration American with moms who were homemakers. I know I didn’t get as much time with my parents as they did, but I never doubted their love and support for me, which they showed in other ways. And I am extremely grateful to have role models in both of my parents for how to manage demanding careers and family at the same time.

    6. anonarama*

      This is wildly offensive and rude to every family where both parents have to or choose to work full time with small children or single parents

    7. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

      The argument about “kids needing consistency” is often really taken out of context, like you are doing here. Most children are fine if they have at least one caring adult presence in their lives, and it sounds like these children have both of their parents (yes, even if they are working full time!) and presumably the teachers at their daycare. They don’t need everything else to be “consistent” and exactly the same all the time.

    8. doreen*

      It kind of depends on exactly how the full-time demanding jobs work. ” Demanding” doesn’t always mean lots of hours. My husband and I both always worked full-time , demanding jobs when our kids were young and neither one of us could work from home – but we both had flexibility in when we worked and I can’t think of a time when he and I both had inflexible days but one of us needed to provide childcare. It seems like the same is true for the OP. It also seems like the OP isn’t looking to hire a babysitter when daycare is not available for some reason ( sick kid or the daycare is closed ) but rather is seeking an approach to determine which parent takes off. I don’t like the idea of one person’s job taking priority for a specified period of time if that period is as long as a year , or a period that depends on how long a Big Project will take ( and will that parent immediately have another Big Project?) My husband and I used a variety of factors – depending on the job, one or both of us may have had specific days that were difficult to take off , so if it was difficult for me to be out Mondays and for him to be out Thursdays that usually determined who stayed home. There were of course exceptions – if he had a big meeting on Monday, I would stay home and the reverse. Other days depended on who was busier. If it was a Tuesday and both of our days were the same ( either both of us or neither of us had a big day ) then I would take off . But not because I’m a woman – it was specifically because I had a civil service job and that meant I had much more leave time and fewer consequences for taking it than my husband had in his private sector job.

    9. Turquoisecow*

      1. Wow judgmental. Plenty of kids have 2 working full time parents and grow up fine – in fact it’s increasingly common and NECESSARY in this expensive world. Having economic stability is important also. I don’t think you can judge whether OP and her husband are “centering” their children based on this very short letter.

      2. Let’s be real – the expectation is that MOM will be the one to transition to part-time work- which will pay a lot less and potentially lead to a lot less financial stability for the family. She may feel resentful about this and the parents might end up fighting about money. So that’s not an ideal situation, either.

      3. There are clear solutions to this issue – plenty of commenters have made some excellent suggestions- the key is that OP and their spouse need to communicate.

    10. Ann O'Nemity*

      You are very privileged to afford the choice of scaling back to part-time. Not everyone is in the same boat.

    11. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

      What was the point of this comment other than to be judgmental and take a jab at working moms (because even though you say parent we all know it is overwhelmingly the mom who will be the one to take a step back in this scenario)?

    12. Ellis Bell*

      These kids have daycare for when they are well and two adults fighting over the honour of being there for when they are sick! They have plenty of care, it’s simply a matter of making sure it’s equal and doesn’t all fall on one parent. That’s not just about making sure one person doesn’t miss out on career stuff, it’s also about making sure the other parent doesn’t miss out on the little things involved in being a parent. So, no, one parent going part time would not solve that; it would just be an obvious fail if they’re trying to avoid it all falling on one parent.

    13. amoeba*

      I think it very much depends on the jobs. There are definitely positions in which it would be very, very hard (like, I’m thinking big law style, 80 h week in office). I’d still argue that in those cases it’s not the parents who are failing but capitalism who’s failing parents! (And, honestly, most people who have caregiving responsibilities or other things beside work in their lives…)

      I do wish shorter hours and more flexibility were more normalised in “high-flying” jobs as well. Having care work and 40+ (or 50+. etc.) hours in a week and hobbies and a relationship and friends and everything is just brutal and I think the system needs to change.

      None of which is blaming parents who want both a career and a family, I’m very much all for that!

  33. Liz*

    Generally I think you are correct: I’d also add that how often would either of you really know if a work priority will pop up several months from now, when that person is the one on call?
    Otoh, I can foresee, if you do it your way, that there will be a lot of fights about whose day is more important , and in those cases, I’d bet he’d win, and your days will never be as important as his.
    Sorry for being cynical, but I’ve seen too many men claim to be egalitarian, until they have to actually do something.
    I’d seriously consider finding another option, like on call childcare, if it is financially possible, or consider a nanny (I’m assuming the kids are in day care now), so you have more flexible coverage.
    I wish there was a better answer.

    1. All Het Up About It*

      So I actually wondered a similar thing, but for different reasons.

      The OP actually states that Up until now, I have usually been the one to take a sick day or work from home with the kids (my preference). Sooooo… is Dad tired of having the conversations and the OP always winning to take care of the kids? I’m not saying that caring for sick kiddos is fun, but there’s something to be said for being allowed to actually prioritize parenting over your job sometimes instead of the illusion of a division of labor.

      It’s true that still many men’s careers are prioritized and women are expected to pick up the household/childcare slack FAR too often in this world. But I have experienced more than one Mom who lives in the “Dad won’t do it right” world and tries to either purposefully or subconsciously throw up roadblocks to Dad being in charge of the kids alone.

  34. f_fairford*

    I think your case-by-case basis makes the most sense.

    That said, one of my friends has an arrangement that seems to work really well for them: unless one of them has a full, extremely hectic day ahead, they split the sick day. As in, each takes off half a day so that immediate work priorities can be dealt with. They do both work reasonably close to home, which makes this practical for them, and has really helped them ensure that it’s not just the mom handling the sick kids.

    1. LW*

      This is a great idea as it’s often not the WHOLE
      day that has the critical meeting or whatever

  35. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

    My husband and I raised 2 kids with both of us working full-time “important” jobs. We did it your way. If my day was more flexible, I worked from home or took time off, and vice versa. It usually ended up being me because my job in general was more suited to remote work, but it worked out very fairly in my estimation. Your husband’s way seems like it would just invite unnecessary conflict.

  36. RachelTW*

    I think your approach makes much more sense on the outside than your husband’s. How can you really determine who will have the more important quarter ahead of time? Week maybe… but not that far out.

    How would your husband handle a critical, unexpected work responsibility cropping up between himself and a peer? Presumably, he would see who had the immediate bandwidth, not who had the long-term bandwidth if it was an immediate issue, not a long-term project. To that end, maybe schedule responsibilities by the quarter (like who is taking Child A to archery lessons this term), but decide who will stay home with a sick child on a case-by-case basis.

    I work full time and my husband works more than full-time. He is the breadwinner by far, but I definitely have a good career and good income. I am lucky to be hourly and have had jobs that are mostly flexible with schedule. I have taken it upon myself in the past to help more when I could when it came to being available for evening chauffeur duties for the kids so he could work later into the evening, but he’s taken on much more when it comes to taking them to mid-day appointments/staying home with them when they’re sick and such. And we’re always respectful of who has a Big Work Thing on any given day. It’s been very rare for us to both have something simultaneously though, and it sounds like that would be a bigger issue for you OP than it is for us.

    1. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

      That’s a good point about long-term agreement on who will do some of the routine stuff. Our household agreement was my husband always did daycare drop-off unless he legitimately couldn’t, and I always did pick-up and made sure the kids got to where they needed to go if it was something that was scheduled in the late afternoon (unless I legitimately couldn’t). Over time it all evened out.

      1. Adultier adult*

        This part i agree with! In the spring, my husband has more head coaching duties- so I do much more childcare in the spring- In the fall, when my work load is more stressful, he actively makes decisions at work to ensure he is available more to take on after school childcare

  37. LB*

    It sounds like you want flexibility, and he wants some type of structure, so perhaps there’s an in-between solution. You guys can agree who has the “preference” for focusing on work something over a set period, but with the caveat that there’s flexibility to renegotiate on a case-by-case basis (like a big meeting that day).

    As long as the person consistently deciding to take time off work isn’t always the same one, i think a combination of structural and flexibility sounds fair and doable.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Right – you can both be right, and work both plans together. I think this is the fairest approach. You can agree that your work is going to be more stressful, in general, this set period, so by default he will be the one to cover emergencies. But when he’s got a super important meeting in the midst of his less busy period, that is also acknowledged, and that flexibility allows you both to know you are caring for each other as well as the kids.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        Yes. This.
        It seems like a very obvious solution and I’m not sure why it wasn’t used unless 1) Dad is so rigid that he couldn’t pivot last minute or 2) as I mentioned above, you don’t feel comfortable allowing Dad to be point person with the children because you like being the point person.

        If it’s 2) – you’ve got to let it go. That’s not fair to your husband. He’s allowed to want the kids to have memories of him making them his priority too.

  38. Looper*

    Pay for as much child care as you can afford. Also, you know your husband best, but it doesn’t seem like he’s been “point person” yet. Maybe try his method for the next quarter or whatever but make sure YOU go first in prioritizing your work and see how things shake out. All the best intentions in the world can crumble in the face of centuries of gender expectations.

  39. TeaGirl*

    My household is in a similar situation, though my one kiddo is older (9). Both of us have “big” jobs and we have a kid to take care of. In general, we work off the who is busier methodology for most emergency situations, such as a kid who is sick. But, we also try and spread the load as evenly as we can. That means that for school drop-off (we have aftercare for pick-up) we try and make sure that we each do that equal amounts. One week I will drop him off twice, the next week three times. The days won’t always be the same though. If someone has a morning meeting, then we juggle and swap days around. This is achieved by both of us having blocks on our calendars for walking to school and every week (usually Sunday, sometimes earlier) reviewing and talking through what will work that week.

    Now, all that said, we also try to account for busy times. My job is incredibly ugly in January, due to reporting requirements. During that month, my husband is more likely to try and deal with an emergency, because he knows I’m stretched thin. I do the same for him when he’s in high-demand times. If we are both in that situation, we do our best to balance, share and be graceful.

    The big thing about all of this, that we had to really work on was communicating clearly and getting a core understanding that BOTH of our jobs are important and we need to work together to make things happen.

  40. Juniantara*

    How about a combination of approaches? You agree generally for a month/quarter at a time who is the “default lead” for that time period – that person takes the call/makes the appointments, checks their calendar first, etc, but can ask for and expect backup for any sick day/appointment? So in July, if dad is lead, he schedules the checkups and stuff around his work activities, but if on Tuesday baby Fergus is sick he can check with mom if her schedule is better.

    The other thing I would say is that with two young children, especially if one has additional needs, as well as two big careers, I would invest some serious effort and money into flexible, reliable childcare with backup options. Can you have a rotating stable of babysitters? Family you can call on in a pinch? Does an au pair or dedicated nanny make more sense?

    1. Gyne*

      I LOVE this suggestion. Kind of a take on Fair Play – alternate (months/quarters/etc) who is the decision maker about who stays home. Not *who* stays home, but if it’s Mom’s month to be Decider and kiddo A is sick, Mom chooses who stays home that day.

  41. ScruffyInternHerder*

    From my POV, now currently removed from the depths of little kid chaos by a few years:

    Blanket policies are still going to need adjustments on an as-needed basis. It sounds great that you’ll assess each period of time (quarterly, lets say) and assign the primary parent.

    1. Things could be absolutely insane for me at work two months ago (it was), all the while it was fiscal year end for my husband’s business (which he owns). Which is “more important”? All that goes into accounting and fiscal year end? Or the quarter during which my performance is going to steer the overall direction of my (not small) annual bonus?
    2. Once school starts, are you physically equidistant from the location of the school (we are not)? And trust me, the school is NOT going to flip who the number one contact is multiple times a school year; we’re still attempting to beat it into someone’s head (year 5 of this guys, its ridiculous) that Dad is contact 1 because he’s not over an hour away, while Mom is.
    3. Do you have an imbalance of leave? Do you now not get to take a family vacation because you’ve gone through your leave on “your turn” while your husband still has multiple weeks to use?
    4. Things come up. I’ve had to travel cross country on less than 24 hours notice before, with the added bonus of my husband being on the opposite side of the state at the time.

    I say this in acknowledging that none of has an easy, one sized fits all answer. I will say that clear communication, a little grace in dealing with the plot twists of life, the willingness to be flexible, and (probably most importantly) making sure you have a viable village of which you’re a part, are all going to be things that will get you through the most difficult times. We do not have biological family within two hours, but we’ve made our own family of sorts with friends and neighbors. That “village” goes in all directions, and it creates additional support for all of our families.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      And proving that I am indeed removed from the preschool aged and younger trenches: Yes. Hire a nanny. Ours is still more like family than not to us, though she’s not been in charge of the younger Scruffs since pre-panini times! Our nanny was very essential to us in those early years, while the village I mention came into play much later.

      1. Jennifer in FL*

        I made a comment up above about my experience as a nanny, from when they were all tiny babies till they all got in school full time and I went on retainer, but this is exactly what my experience was/is. I love those children only second to my own, and their parents are dear, dear friends. I have since moved to a different state, but all the kiddos (the oldest in now 15!) come and stay with me for a week every summer. I thought for sure the oldest would bail this summer, but he told his mom he was ABSOLUTELY coming to see me. Being part f a village is a wonderful thing.

  42. PotteryYarn*

    My partner is the primary breadwinner (though I do earn a sizeable share of our income), but he also has more flexibility baked into his job. We both have the ability to work from home and work flex schedules, but he doesn’t need to take PTO if he works a short day and doesn’t have anyone reporting to him. We definitely fly by the seat of our pants most days. Even something like “Who has to leave early to pick up the kids from camp?” is part of our daily routine. Sometimes something comes up at the last minute and what would normally be one person’s job gets shifted to the other. Flexibility is key because there really is no way of knowing what’s going to be the big priority next month for both of you. We barely know what today’s big priority is going to be sometimes, so we work it out in the moment and try to be accommodating of one another’s needs whenever possible.

    1. RachelTW*

      This is my experience too. I am hourly, but my husband is salaried, so he can take a short day when I can’t. Meanwhile, I know when my day ends, so it’s much easier for me to be available for evening-hours errands.

  43. AnotherSarah*

    Neither I not my husband are so critical at work, but we’re in the situation where I have the more “important” job but a bit more flexibility, and he has much more of a 9-5. I can take off almost as much time as I want (but my work will suffer a lot), whereas he has limited PTO. So not the same situation, but also not so clear how to balance things. We do the day-by-day–it depends on who has more/important meetings or other things we can’t miss.

    I know a lot of people don’t like her, but I might recommend Emily Oster’s The Family Firm as a way of thinking about decision making in families. And perhaps Fair Play as well, to think about gendered division of labor….

    1. I like hound dogs*

      This is the case with my husband and me. He is more important and has a bigger, more demanding job, but he’s also been there forever and so has a lot more flexibility. We’re both salaried now, but for years I was hourly and he’d virtually always take the early pick-ups and sick days so I could still earn my money that day.

      Our kid is now old enough to walk home from school, but over the summer we definitely do the daily or weekly “you wanna pick him up or should I?” talks.

      Also … I’m the mom in this relationship and I’m feeling super grateful to have a (male) partner willing to be the point person a lot of the time!

  44. Annae*

    We do family meetings, once a month over brunch on the last Sunday of the month, where we go over our calendars, flag up all the big events (parent teacher conferences and other school events, trips/vacations, medical stuff, significant work deadlines etc) and put them on the shared family calendar. As part of that process, we divide up any big responsibilities and decide who does what, and discuss what our work schedules look like for the next few weeks. That way, we all know who’s most likely to have the time and ability to handle things that come up. Some stuff inevitably has to be reshuffled on the fly as things change, but having that big picture of the month ahead really helps us prioritise and judge and plan, so we aren’t caught out as often, and we both feel like we get heard and considered. Our kids also get to contribute, and as they get older they are able to do so more and more.

    We like the routine of it, and feel that it models good habits and communication skills for our kids.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I like this – we do more weekly or on the fly checkins, but the general point is a great one. Especially as my kids get older, it’s not just the kid waking up sick and needing to stay home. That last-minute adjustment is in the context of the dentist appointment earlier in the week, the fact that it’s soccer season so someone is doing pickup early on Tuesdays for two months, the half school day next Friday, and so on.

      Both parents need an overall picture of the family calendar and the general ups and downs of each others’ work, even as things change last-minute. It’s easier to negotiate the illnesses when you’re working in sync on the scheduled stuff (it’s often obvious whose turn it is or whose work takes priority that day if you’re in sync at the weekly and monthly level), and when you’re not treating the dentist appointment as last-minute because you each thought the other was handling it.

      (I say this as a parent of elementary schoolers – we had some periods in the daycare years where the last-minute illness component was a much bigger part of the equation. That aspect often does get better! Even if someone needs to work from home when one of my kids is sick, the WFH parent can usually get most of a normal work day in with a sick kid who just wants to watch tv and sleep, in a way that wasn’t possible when they were littler.)

  45. OrdinaryJoe*

    Good friends are in this situation and they split up by days of the week. This allows them to schedule, as much as possible, meetings, deadlines, etc. For example, she never schedules Board Meetings on Fridays, he never schedules Board Meetings on Thursdays … It allows allows their staff and offices to know/plan meetings and schedules a month or two in advance.

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      I like this. It helps the husband’s need for a little more certainty and the OP’s need for a little more flexibility.

  46. Pocket Mouse*

    It’s gotta be day by day, but ideally you can largely assign days ahead of time. For example, you’re on call Monday and Tuesday because he’s got the board meeting, then he’s on call Wednesday through Friday morning because you need to buckle down on a major project, then you’re on call Friday afternoon because your work’s policy is to not schedule meetings on Friday afternoons, then he’s on call all of next week because of your major project and now that the board meeting is over he has a bit of a lull. So basically, yes to your husband’s method of assigning by time period, but also yes to your method of having those time periods being really short in duration.

    As an aside… I was a bit confused while reading the letter because when LW said ‘my turn’ I thought that meant the LW’s turn to be on call with the kids. Interesting to realize that phrase meant LW’s turn for their work to take priority.

    1. LW*

      Haha yes, I think that is a reflection that I love my job so I would see it as a benefit to hunker down and work while the kids were unwell (though would I actually be able to focus?). This is what we’re working on.

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        I think that’s what most people would prefer! It was more the framing of ‘my turn to live my dream’ versus ‘my turn to do the drudgery’ – like I imagine more people think of taking turns in the context of cleaning the bathroom than having a night out with friends (for example).

        I hope you would be able to focus when it’s your turn to live the dream – though that’s something to maintain an awareness of as you move forward. It’s not just an equitable division of who’s on call, it’s also making sure whoever’s not on is actually off. If he’s fully off when you’re on call, but you’re not fully off when he’s on call, that’s not cool.

        I was also going to include a mention of fair division on free time as a measure of division of labor. Both you and your husband should have equal amounts of free time to do as you wish. So if you’re on call the same amount, and the other is actually off during that time, but your evenings on those days consist of you making up work hours and his evening are kicking up his feet, that’s another way the system could be unfair to you.

  47. UsedtobeYoung*

    I think day to day is the best approach. We are in a similar but slightly different scenario. We both have “big” jobs, but mine cannot be done from home, and his can (though it is sort of weirdly frowned upon in his company). But my job has much more sick/personal time. So it depends on the scenario of the day. Is the kid sick and just going to be watching TV all day? Then dad can work from home and I go in. Is it because the nanny is sick and we have 3 healthy and active kids to care for all day? Makes more sense for me just to take the whole day off.
    I get where your husband is coming from, but I can envision that not working out well in practice.

  48. Ginger Baker*

    I personally would do the following: Make sure the the non-parent coverage is set up (with additional backups if possible) first. There’s this idea that only parents “matter” and I think that is fundamentally flawed and that the focus on nuclear family only harms all of us (including kids!). My kids were raised to a fairly significant degree by other family members as well and it has been a benefit to them in multiple ways (and paid help can also be not only helpful but sometimes quite meaningful relationships if it is longer term and a good fit – I didn’t have that option but would happily have taken it).

    Anyway, I would get that solid and then decide on a shared escalation tier. Basically, what sorts of meetings and such are “cannot miss”, what are “would rather not miss” and what are “I can skip this with zero repercussions”. And, I don’t think the quarterly check-in is a bad idea per se: it definitely helps to know that hey, these next three months by default Person A is going to be pretty pressed at work while the Poodle Project is going on – but I do think there needs to be still an individual event assessment every time. “Hey, I know the Poodle Project is only a month from completion but I have a board meeting tomorrow, any chance you have some flexibility to pick up the kids from that school canoeing trip? And if not, I will call Cousin Sandy and Paid Assistance Jamie to see if either of them can handle.” (And this is a great time to also check for any backup childcare perks available to either/both of you through work, which could be the “Sandy and Jamie are both not available, EMERGENCY TIME” lever if that’s an option.)

    I personally would recommend probably a more frequent (weekly?) discussion of both your calendars and work urgencies because even with big overall planning, things change rapidly and each week might not be what was predicted two months ago. I also would suggest that you keep track on a calendar of who has provided which coverage – for two reasons. One, to make sure things are relatively even (i.e. not all childcare duties fall to any one person, especially if for gendered reasons they otherwise might) and two, you can explicitly flag this as a test period of three months after which you can sit down (with your data!) and evaluate how this approach has been working (and maybe at that point, you both decide you need full-time paid help/put the kids in an after-school program/whatever other options).

    Good luck! These conversations can be fraught but it’s worthwhile to have them and I hope you both find a balance and solutions that work for you both and your family.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      Wanted to add, you can each week designate who is “on” (aka in charge of taking the kid-issue and solving it either by taking time off OR being the person who finds outside help to cover) for that week (or even each day specifically) that way every, say, Sunday, each person knows EXACTLY which days they are the Parent In Charge Of Kid Emergencies and can go into the week knowing that and planning for it (and also, again, highly suggest tracking this so you can make sure it is relatively even!). That will keep you both from having to have “which meeting is more important??” discussions *in the stressful moment of the Kid Emergency* and having to add to that stress by arguing over who handles. “It’s Wednesday, Spouse has this day, I don’t need to think about this further” is super freeing (or the converse “Oh, it’s Tuesday, ok…I have this day, now that NewMeeting has come up, let me first call Cousin Sandy otherwise I will just tell folks at work I need to reschedule…”)

    2. LW*

      I think we are essentially going to do exactly this, and be more explicit with our “village” that we might need sick day coverage. I am hoping that between about 6 adults that someone will have a quieter work day!

  49. Kay Zee*

    When my child, now an adult, was little, my husband and I would negotiate. His job involved seeing clients and mine was more of a support job. But there were times when I had to coordinate a meeting or something so he’d take the day. This was before WFH.

  50. Zoe Karvounopsina*

    Weirdly, I was just reading a murder mystery series in which the characters discuss this (McLeish and Wilson series, by Janet Neel, individual book is To Die For). I’m not sure their conclusions would help, though… (In book, they have a nanny and a semi-available grandmother, and they both have to be ruthless in ensuring they only let work be a problem when absolutely necessary, and even then, it is a career issue for the husband. Also, spoiler events for the book)

  51. Link*

    From what was given in the description of your jobs, no matter which way this goes, it’s always going to be a tough thing to juggle both kids and the fact you both have critical positions within your respective firms.

    I wouldn’t normally suggest this, but is it remotely possible that you can find a nanny service or something similar, like a family member or friend, that can provide help on short notice once in a while? I’m not incredibly thrilled with either method of taking leave that you described, but your method compared to your husbands seems the better of the two. Because like you said, it entirely depends on how each of your days go on any particular day of the week and you can’t really guess what’s going to happen within any given quarter (usually).

    I don’t really see a nice way of putting a bow on this if I’m being honest. Every methodology is going to have it’s own benefits and set of drawbacks. It might be worth disclosing certain aspects of your situation to your respective HR departments, or specific trusted individuals at work, if necessary to help with any emergency situation that may crop up so neither of you leave your respective teams in the lurch or without explanation (which admittedly isn’t required to give in your cases I think) or guidance.

  52. Dual Working Spouses*

    Why not adopt both approaches? You take it day by day, but on an equally bad/good day for both the “tie” goes to the one who is “on” for the quarter? That said, don’t forget to look back and see whether one person keeps getting more of these and if that’s impacting their job performance.

    Also consider nanny, those in the area who can pitch in when there is a rare crisis (friends, relatives, backup emergency daycare centers, etc.)

  53. NotJen*

    To be honest, there are too many unknowns here to adequately advise, so I can only comment on my own experiences.

    When one of us has had a job that is solely or can be done remotely, whoever is at home is the default parent for the sick child(ren) that day. For a couple of years that was my husband.

    However, my current role is only rarely WFH and although I’m much higher up in my organisation than my husband is in his, and therefore have the capital for a bit more flexibility, his job cannot be done from home at all, and his earnings are now greater than mine, therefore I’m now the default parent to stay at home in these instances. We don’t have anyone else to help us (the only people who can are my parents, and both are not well enough to care for their grandchildren) and we can’t afford additional assistance.

    Added to the mix are both my kids have additional needs, and with the growing pressures of my toxic job, we’ve actually decided that I’ll now stay at home for a short while, recover, and once my husband’s built up capital in his job (he recently changed employer) for things like readily using dependency leave, we can reassess and I’ll try to find something that either I can 100% do remotely, or is out of the home but only within school hours and not toxic!!!!

    1. Miss Muffet*

      This is a good example of taking a longer view – my kids are teens now but not all are fully independent (ie, driving) so there’s often still negotiation happening. My marriage is very egalitarian, but certain phases of life have not always looked that way. But when I look back on the span of our parenting journey, I think it’s mostly worked out to be shared pretty equitably. But there have definitely been years when I took on more as the “default”. So maybe a part of the calculus is thinking about how fair will look over the course of their childhoods?

    2. LW*

      This is very true! Tis a hectic season but of course they will need us in different ways their whole lives!

  54. jacob*

    I dont know the answer. If you want my opinion, I think you might find the answer that would work best for you by reading some buddist teachings about balance and prioritization. That has helped me make tough decisions in the past.

    1. NeutralJanet*

      With respect, I’m not sure that saying, “Try religion,” is a particularly useful piece of advice, especially when you don’t know if the person you’re speaking to is religious.

  55. KToo*

    When our kids were young, it basically came down to had the most flexibility on the given day. I had the ability to work from home so I took more of the emergency days, but husband had more flexibility for planning days off so he took more of the no-school days or scheduled appointments. There were times it was difficult – both of us had equally important issues for the day – and it would often come down to who had had more turns staying home or running appointments recently. Being a parent means prioritizing the child even if work suffers occasionally, but that has to be equal for both parents.

  56. TootsNYC*

    In a way, I like his approach, of having one person able to plan that they’ll likely be the one needed at home.

    (1) it’s too long. I’d say. month by month, or fortnight by fortnight.
    (2) it’s too rigid.

    Saying, “I’m supposed to be on call, but this particular day is a problem,” ought not to be a problem.
    But it could also be restful to be able to say, “I’m the on-call parent, and I’ll see if I can figure that out before I create more movement and potential chaos.”

    1. BellyButton*

      I like the idea of sitting down together and looking at the next two weeks and deciding who has more flexibility during that time. If I know I need to be more available, I can try to keep my schedule more open. Week by week or every 2 weeks is much more doable.

      1. Lauren19*

        This is what we do. Each Sunday we sit down to plan drop off, pick up, any appointments, etc., and which days/parts of days are non-negotiables for each of us. I note EVERYTHING in my calendar so as things come up throughout the week I already have noted which things I can be flexible on and which things I need to hold firm – or know it requires an additional conversation before comitting.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          Yes, a week at a time seems much more feasible – you know much more precisely what you have on, so you can plan accordingly. A quarter ahead is going to have too many times when the freer person ends up being busy on the specific day the kids are sick, which will throw out the system. It’s also a much quicker conversation over Sunday night dinner than having to put aside a chunk of time to argue out the whole quarter.

          I do think some planning is worth doing, because the current system is seeing OP take on a disproportionate amount of the childcare, and it’s positive that their partner wants to change that. But start small!

  57. Guacamole Bob*

    We mostly do a day by day, but we also have a general understanding of when there’s a particular project/case/meeting coming up and one person is less flexible.

    One thing that helps our family is that I put together a two-week lookahead doc with notes. It’s basically an annotated calendar, and it makes me stop and think about who is taking the kid to the doctor, whether we need to switch kid responsibilities if there’s a happy hour that night, etc. in a way we might not have worked through when scheduling the thing weeks or months ago. Doing that and talking about it roughly weekly helps us trade back and forth based on what’s going on for each of us at work.

    1. Darkangel*

      My partner and i I co-own our company. We are both managers. I get a decent salary despite the salary drop, but he took a bigger cut than me and got an extra teaching job to compensate. This mean I am normaly easier to liberate if our kid is sick because canceling his class is more complicated. We have the chance to work from home the rest of the time and we will become hybrid soon. But for us it’s essential to keep that kind of flexibility, and offer it to our employee too!

      To compensate, we often split the day, he works am while I am on “mom duty”, and we switch the afternoon. We can both get thing done. If there are medical appointment schedule and he can easily get free, then he is the one going. So I end up with the moment where it necesserily has to be me. But I must admit that it’s not super even, our situations end up with me getting more time off just because it make more sense with our obligations, and I am fine with it.

      I guess the key is to communicate and find what is the situation that you are both confortable with. There is no magic recipe here!

  58. Dust Bunny*

    I think you have to do it on a case-by-case basis. Summer is theoretically the slow time for my job but right now we’ve got like four intense projects looming over us, purely by chance. (I don’t have kids, but I really don’t see how you can assume there won’t be exceptions/hiccups in a blanket rule.)

  59. BellyButton*

    I think your husband’s solution is too rigid. It may sound good in theory, but it just doesn’t work! Some days are busier than others, some days there are meetings that can’t be rescheduled or canceled. Part of being a partners is working together to be flexible and meet the needs of your family and your work. No one parent’s job is more important, no one parent is more capable of caring for the children than the other.

    Just yesterday I was the one who was supposed to do {critical appointment} one hour before my boss said they needed me to fill in for them in BIG IMPORTANT MEETING. I couldn’t say no and the critical appointment needed to be kept. My husband was annoyed, but it’s life- we have to work together to get all the things done we have to do.

  60. Countess of Shrewsbury*

    So, I don’t like the husband’s suggestion of having “turns” or periods of time where one parent is always the ‘go-to’ parent for a few reasons:

    -Oftentimes, this kind of arrangement defaults to the mother being the one who is always on call. Yes, you’re supposed to switch off for the other parent, but it happens SO SO often that “it’s just not a good time” for the father for some reason or “my job just won’t be as supportive of that.” That may not be the case in your relationship, but it’s a major trend and often is a contributing factor to women being sidelined at work, or feeling like they need to leave the workforce altogether.

    -There is an incredible risk of burnout on the ‘on call’ partner here. Fall/winter, kids get sick more often. If it’s an extended illness, you may have to take a week off at a time when it would probably be better for everyone to split that up.

    -It’s really difficult to determine whose project/period of time/whatever is more important and for how long, especially if you’re in different industries. I think it’s better to have an open/honest conversation as these situations come up. This is with the caveat that the same thing can happen in scenario 1 where one parent is taking on more of the day-of emergencies than another, and if you notice this pattern, you ABSOLUTELY MUST speak up.

    I think ultimately you need to make sure you’re having really open, honest conversations about what you can take on and where you might need extra help. If you’re both too busy at any given time, it’s good to look for external help if you can (family, hired help, etc.).

    Structure is great for kids, but rigidity is not. I think being as flexible as possible is key here.

    Do what works best for the two of you, but please make sure that you’re conscious of not falling into the gender trap of being the “default parent” if you’re a mother. People can do this unintentionally because these stereotypes were burned into us at an early age, but it’s important to recognize when it’s happening and openly address the trend.

  61. Indigo*

    I also have a 4 year old and a 2 year old!

    My husband’s job is cyclical- first and last week of the month are super busy, middle of the month is slower. I take point the first and last week of the month, he’s one point the middle weeks, which means we are essentially 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off.

    We are extremely lucky to have family that is able to help with childcare- whomever is on point is the one texting Grandma for help! We also have a couple of high school and college age neighbors we can call- which has been a lifesaver on snow days when the roads are impassable.

    Our system isn’t perfect- I have big deadlines that fall during his busy weeks. We handle these on a case by case basis and usually add work stuff to the family calendar so we are both aware. The thing that makes it work is we both respect each other’s careers and understand the other’s job is very important. When I say “I have X important thing”, my husband bends over backwards to make sure it happens, and I do the same for him. Also acknowledge that this is hard! Little kids get sick a lot, childcare is expensive, and that’s not mentioning all the extras (Swim lessons! Soccer! Dentist appointments!) Give yourself some grace, this phase won’t last forever.

  62. Manager1*

    I think this is a really good thoughtful question, without a clear answer. Instead of seeing it as what is the right answer maybe reframe it to what answers work for you and your husband. It sounds like he is saying that it is too hard for him to make a real time decision of who has the responsibility. Maybe he is concerned that will always be you taking on most of the load- this is what happens at my house if we don’t have a plan going in. Equally his chunks of time for those settings don’t seem reasonable for you.
    We use a wall calendar for coordinating work travel between us- you could try something like that for noting who is picking up unplanned items for kids. Ahead of time mark of days you have high work needs. And then once a week or month assign the rest of the days between the two of you. This could allow you enough definition about who is responsible on any given day and also greater flexibility around your two schedules.

    1. LW*

      I am definitely going to invest in a wall calendar and do more careful time planning. The weekly one on the fridge isn’t cutting it anymore!

  63. Usually Lurking*

    We have a bit of a hybrid. It’s usually day by day. But my husband works in tax and we all know that he is HIGHLY unlikely to be available during season. So I am always the default in those months and my job is aware that my family responsibilities are higher than usual in that timeframe. During the rest of the year, he typically has more flexibility in a lot of ways and he tends to pick up more than I do in terms of appointments and other needs. My mom is retired and nearby so she is usually available to fill gaps in the rare occasions when we both have critical meetings at the same time.

  64. Irish Teacher*

    I am not a parent so probably not best placed to advise, but would a compromise be possible? Decide on a weekly basis? Avoids the “oh gosh, our child is sick. Which of us is busier today?” while also avoiding the need to figure out how busy one will be a long time in advance.

    And it could even include stuff like “I can do this week with the exception of Wednesday as I have an important meeting that day.”

    1. DEEngineer*

      I was about to suggest this also. I often have easy weeks and harder weeks, and potentially you could do it week by week if that works for the husband. You might come to a understanding or compromise if you find out why he thinks his solution will be better.

  65. Elaine*

    When my husband and I were raising our children, my husband was launching a new business and I had a demanding job and was furthering my education. This made for some difficult days when the children were unwell. We approached it like this: since my husband was starting his business, if taking a day off would impact a customers experience, I stayed home with the child UNLESS I had a large project at work or unusual heavy school workload. If neither of us would be severely impacted, my husband would take off so I could save my paid time off. Setting those boundaries made it a little easier to decide the day of the occurrence. IF we both were impacted equally, then I usually was the default parent (only because I had paid time off and he did not).

  66. Michael*

    We do it like you do. My job is less flexible so often my husband does take the hit. But sometimes I miss something important when he’s been so flexible so many times and it’s starting to affect his work. What I think you both understand is the need for honest communication—I think one part of your husbands plan is really helpful: sitting down ahead of time and talking about what you’ve got going on in the next month/quarter. Knowing roughly how busy it is for your spouse before the kid gets sick makes it easier to make the right call when it happens. With the caveat that there is sometimes no right call, just losing parties. (I agree with other commenters that I’d invest in getting good back up into place!)

  67. Jenn*

    I like the hybrid approach above. We did it your style but I felt like I was the one coordinating.

    I did want to highlight this: “Also, men are often rewarded for prioritizing family with raises and promotions, while the opposite happens to women”

    That’s really true and so we kept a rule that if we both had big things going on, he would take the hit. It worked out well I think (for the same reason, he did more of the daycare pick up so that I could be visibility in the office later.)

    We tried to keep babysitters lined up for sick care, but in our highly competitive and high-cost area of living, they were almost never available because they had to accept more regular work to pay their bills (I get it!!). But I agree that if you can afford to throw money at this, that’s also a really good idea.

  68. poutinerie*

    Hi! We’re living through this as well.

    My work is a bit more flexible with hours and sick days, but we are more like your perspective – whoever’s day is less busy/more flexible takes the kid. Since returning back to work this past January, I have taken on the majority of the sick days because it happens to shake out that way. To offset that, we try to schedule planned things (vaccines, daycare closures) in advance with dad’s schedule so that doesn’t also land on me. As all things in partnerships, communication is key!

    I also find as the mother, I have some unlearning to do and stop assuming it will be me.

    1. Meep*


      Either way, it seems like she has been taking the hit right now. She needs to be less hands-on and he needs to be more hands-on.

    2. LW*

      Yep solidarity! Unlearning is a great word for what I need to do to share parenting more equally without interfering or continually checking in!

  69. DI1K*

    When days are preplanned, such as doctor’s appointments, daycare complete closures and daycare earlier closures, we take turns. When it is unexpected, we figure it out day off, sometimes that literally means splitting the day if we both have necessary in person days. When we’re figuring it out day off, we consider workload and who has covered last time/recently. This is a situation where preplanning really work and communication day of is the best solution.

    I will say, my spouse’s job is “bigger” than mine, they’re a team lead whereas I’m an individual contributor but of us are committed to our careers.

  70. The Coolest Clown Around*

    Why not just try it for a quarter and see what happens? Make sure you schedule some specific check in points, and if you decide to do this long term I’d advise tracking sick days/who’s taking more of the brunt over time so it doesn’t end up sliding around weirdly. If it doesn’t work, then you’ll have tried it and you know for sure now.

  71. H.Regalis*

    Your husband’s way is too rigid. That’s not going to work in practice.

    Balancing is hard, because the system is stacked against you. The way work expectations are set up is still based around a system of having a stay-at-home mom who does 95% of the childcare. Nothing is built to accommodate working parents.

  72. Ann Onymous*

    Whatever you do, make sure you’ve got a good system in place to keep everybody on the same page about schedules – especially if the kids start getting into more activities as they get older. That way you avoid yelling at your teenager because they were where they said they were going to be, but you forgot. (Yes, I was the teenager, and yes, I’m still salty about it 17 years later.)

    1. NeedRain47*

      How dare you need to be picked up at the place and time I forgot about! (yes, me too, still salty)

    2. Industry Behemoth*

      That reminds me of the time our carpool driver wouldn’t let a kid go to a planned after-school play date. Kid’s mom forgot to tell driver she didn’t need to pick up kid that day.

      This was way before the technology/mobile phone age.

  73. falling_forward*

    We are a software engineer and a nurse, so it’s a little different. We do a hybrid approach. We each take about half of the call-outs, and are flexible about it. However, I also identify days in advance where I can expect to have important commitments (large meetings, launches), and my spouse tries to avoid working at the hospital on those days. Where I can, I move my workload around a little to match his schedule. Basically, we do a little pre-planning to avoid both having big commitments on the same day in the first place.

  74. NeedRain47*

    Try his (IMO not great) plan and assign him the first “quarter”. I bet he will quickly agree to the more flexible plan.

    I do like the idea of not winging it as far as to who’s turn it to step up, but maybe decide going into each week instead of a months long period, that’s too rigid.

    1. C@t L@dy*

      Love this idea! We follow the day by day approach for our 5 & 3 year olds and sometimes breaking up the day (partner has a super important morning meeting but a slow afternoon and i have client calls in the PM for example).

  75. PuffinAlong*

    I love the “default time period” idea, but it may be too much for school to keep up with, because ideally daycare/school would contact the default parent.

    I do think quarters may be too long (but maybe that would be for our family) and instead would do even / odd months, but it depends on your schedule and what your work flow looks like. I know for our family, if my spouse could be default during our big annual fundraiser and during audit prep, that would be helpful, where they have a busy report season that takes place a different time each year where it would be beneficial for me to be the default.

    Not easy. But I think the “default period” way would lead to less stress and quicker pick ups. Otherwise someone gets a call, and then you guys need to have a discussion about who is busier and why that day.

  76. Ann O'Nemity*

    The balance is in the middle of your approaches!

    1. Communicate often about your workloads and calendars so you have a general idea of each other’s availability. Identify and communicate your big work priorities – e.g. can’t miss quarterly board meetings, project deadlines, etc.
    2. Build your village. Family, friends, neighbors, nannies, and on-demand childcare options.
    3. Identify all the scheduled daycare closures and divide them up in advance. If your husband currently has more leave accrued, let him take more of the scheduled closures that he can plan for in advance. If one of your job’s has more flexibility for unexpected absences, let the other take more of the scheduled days off.
    4. On the day of an unexpected absence, you still may end up debating who is in a better position to take off time but the convo should be easier if you’ve done the above. There may be some compromise here – dividing up the day and/or dividing up a multi-day illness.

    The other thing I’d warmly suggest is giving each other a lot of grace right now! You’re in the thick of it with toddlers. They are little Petri dishes of germs and there will be a lot of illnesses. But that phase only lasts a few years and I promise it gets better.

  77. Serious Silly Putty*

    We don’t have “big” jobs, but we both work full time. We default to both working half-days from home. This helps in a few ways:
    1. If kiddo is particularly high maintenance, we can trade off in two-hour chunks of time
    2. If an urgent work thing comes up when I’m “on duty” I can quickly hand kiddo off to husband to trouble-shoot.
    3. Not commuting to the office buys us some extra time to get stuff done.
    4. Our kiddo still naps, so being “on duty” the second half of the day would be a lower responsibility.
    5. As long as we can arrange to not have meetings at the EXACT same time, we can both meet our most pressing duties.

    But sometimes we need to adjust that. I was teaching a class all day last Friday, so when kiddo threw up on the way to daycare, husband met me at work collected kiddo, and stayed home with him all day. If he has a big deadline coming up I try to do more.

    Also, I think it’s important to consider gender dynamics. It’s we’ll know that women tend to be the default parent, and men who do their share of parent duties are more likely to be honored for them. (“Wow, what a guy; he’s a CEO AND he puts his family first” as opposed to “Hmm, is she really committed to being CEO if she also has all these family commitments?”) So what’s truly *fair* may NOT be what’s *even*. FAIR will be an arrangement that harms both people’s careers a similar amount, which I would argue probably requires a man in a heterosexual relationship to be the MORE flexible one.

    1. LW*

      This is a really good approach, we haven’t BOTH wfh when a kid is sick but this system works to trade off and balance. Also 100% agree about the balance and gender politics!

  78. Turanga Leela*

    My partner and I do a combination for our kids (now 8 and 2). My partner is a teacher, and I’m a lawyer. There are seasons where one of us is less busy–my partner is almost always the point person in the summer; my schedule is more flexible than his the rest of the year, but I also tell him when I have a big deadline or unusually busy period coming up.

    But we also check in with each other on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes during the school year, I have hearings that I can’t move, so he needs to take a day off to get to the kids to the dentist (or alternatively, we need to reschedule the appointment). Sometimes I’ve been taking off a lot of time for the kids, and I can’t push my work off indefinitely. Sometimes he has a meeting or conference during the summer. Every weekend, we try to plan out the week ahead, and then we deal with whatever comes up.

    Our 50-50, no-one’s-in-charge approach requires a lot of communication and is not efficient. It’s easier in many ways to have a default person in charge. The upside, though, is that we don’t resent each other, and our kids don’t assume that mothers are always the caretakers. That means a lot to me.

    The only place we used an almost hard-and-fast rule was with sleep. When our kids were still waking up a lot at night, we used a shift system for who got up. 10pm to 2am was my responsibility; 2am to 6am was my partner’s. In the middle of the night, it’s easier not to negotiate or argue about whose turn it is.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      We did a kind of similar sleeping arrangement . Since Husband had the more demanding job (I work part time from home, he’s full time from home and in meetings all day), I usually got up with the baby at night and then he’d take her in the morning and let me sleep in, to catch up on what I’d lost, then we’d switch around noon. We’re on the east coast and most of his colleagues were in California so he didn’t have a lot of early meetings, so he could handle breakfast and stuff like that, then I’d get up and take her the rest of the day while he had the more serious work meetings he had to really pay attention to.

      She’s almost 3 now so gets up less in the middle of the night, and it’s more often whichever one of us hears her (usually me), and then we do the switch off earlier because he has European colleagues so earlier meetings nowadays. But he still does breakfast which is great for me.

      And in the fall she’ll start school at 9 instead of 1:00pm so we’ll have to completely rearrange our days.

  79. Meep*

    “Up until now, I have usually been the one to take a sick day or work from home with the kids (my preference) but now he has a lot more accrued leave than I do.”

    This sentence really stood out to me. Is by chance he trying to wiggle out of taking care of your children because he will always have “bigger and more important” projects? It sounds like it from this sentence alone.

    Men usually are more successful with their careers – not because they work extra hard (it has been proven women will work much harder). But because women are expected to take time off during child care. Therefore men are more likely to be promoted and get “bigger and more important projects.”

    Honestly, account for how much time you have taken off and WFH due to child care and then make him start handling part of the load required of being in a family and having kids. I presume he agreed to it after all. So now it is time to make him step up and start putting your family first.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      I actually read his motivation differently – that he wants to do more childcare, and is looking for a mechanism to stop it defaulting to OP every time. I do wonder if he’s thinking in quarters like he’s expecting the daycare to remember which one of them to call (they won’t), but as long as he’s aware that even if he takes on more childcare he may have to balance out some of the other logistical challenges separately, I think it’s positive.

      (practically, I think a week by week basis makes a lot more sense, because you know what you’ve actually got coming up and can divide the days up accordingly, instead of having a mostly free quarter but a can’t-miss meeting landing on the one day the kids are sick, and potentially settle into a broad routine where you can plan your meetings based on the days you’re most likely to be off duty)

    2. LW*

      I actually think he’s really trying to take more off my plate and encourage me to focus on work for a while!

  80. Falling Diphthong*

    So, back in my days of four-year-old birthday parties (in the US, wealthyish suburb) I observed the following:

    • Most families had one person in a high-paying, benefits-providing job and one person with more flexibility.
    • This was pointed out to me by a woman with a wife, so it was about the realities of working with young kids in the US rather than gender alone.
    • Families with two big jobs often had a nanny, combined with some part-time daycare for socialization, and to give the nanny free time during the day so working the occasional late evening or school holiday or child sick day wasn’t a big deal.

    This is not to say “hire a nanny” but that often the key to people who seem to make this work effortlessly is something like a spry retired grandparent who lives around the corner specifically so they can pinch hit with childcare. Sometimes the flexible person pinch hitting is a family member, and sometimes they’re someone you hire since those family members aren’t handed out for the birth of each child.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I want to commend you and your husband for trying to take a communicative, problem-solving approach to this, with no AITA framing.

      For practical reasons I am with you on scheduling, but I do recall the real difference when I was “on call” versus “someone else is definitely handling everything and my full focus can be elsewhere.” I suspect that’s what your husband’s getting at with his preference, and figuring out a way to address that would help the eventual solution feel more comfortable all around.

  81. Voodoo Priestess*

    I’m in a similar situation – I’m a technical manager for an engineering form and my husband is a program director at a university. Our kids are 8 and 10, so we’ve been doing this a while. We also have no grandparents close and while we are comfortable, having an on-call nanny for this stuff is unfeasible.

    One thing we’ve started doing is having weekly “Family Board Meetings” where we pull out our work calendars and the family calendar and plan the week. Who is doing pick up/drop off? Who has the dentist appt? Who has a conference/big meeting/out of town work visitors that is absolutely Immovable? Then you’ll both know who should be responsible if something comes up on a Tuesday.

    We try to get a babysitter and do this with dinner and a drink, so it helps us as a couple. This has helped us understand the stress of the other person and keeps resentment of unequal work at bay. You’ll see patterns – maybe your partner is super busy and you get stuck with all of the kids duties for 4 weeks straight. Then it’s easier for your partner to say “Hey, this is a light week for me. I’ve got the kids, you take care of you.”

    We also use our Board Meetings to plan vacations, discuss budgets, and other household stuff that usually falls to the mom. It’s been really helpful. Part of it is the act of being deliberate – we have a plan, we’ve agreed to the plan, and we know how to communicate if we need to make changes.

    Good luck!

    1. LW*

      I love this idea! It’s a slight challenge to have time with the toddlers, well, toddling but I think we can do a walk and coffee and park date and figure this out! What I’m really seeing here and understanding better is that hubby wants some more rails on decision making and I’ve just leaned into pure chaos so there is 100% room to compromise.

  82. legal rugby*

    I think theres a potential underlying issue here that you need to look at – potentially the traditional assumption of the man as the breadwinner and the woman as the caregiver. Even well meaning folks can unintentionally fall into this role. I will tell you that I make over 2x what my wife does, but I frequently end up being the one who stays home with the baby because I can earn more leave, and because I can flex my stuff on short notice more often than her. Its concerning to me that your husband is essentially saying that if his job is busy, you job has to suffer.

  83. Childof2Docs*

    I am the child of two parents who had high-level jobs, both at the same place. When one of us was sick we would get put into an empty office or meeting room, or, when my parents made their own private practice they had a small storage room big enough for a cot to fit if needed and we would get put there when sick. As I recall it worked when we were 5 and older. My parents now telework so when my kids are sick they go to their grandparents with a tablet and a bag of activities and medicine and get checked on in-between appointments.

  84. Freelance Historian*

    I’m adding to the chorus of “you have to be flexible.” Oddly, I found that things were easier when the kids were small and in daycare 8 am – 5 pm. Now that they’re older, it is more crazy with schools and their different drop-off and pick-up times, afterschool activities, etc. Before we both worked from home, we had them in after-school programs. There is also the added wrinkle of a child who needs a bit more care (apologies if I’m not reading that right). I have a kid who has ADHD, and have had meetings with the school, evaluations, etc. That can take up a lot of time, and I would also encourage both parents to attend these, as there is a lot that should be agreed upon. We both do, and it puts us both on the same playing field for understanding our son. While I know one parents can report to another, sometimes it’s helpful to both be there to ask questions.

    1. LW*

      Yes that is 100% us! My son has a couple of additional things going on but is thankfully healthy and happy overall but all the appointments and checkups and speech and occupational therapy is very real!

  85. mom of young kid*

    Context: mom of a 3 year old; I’m the primary earner in a 9-5 job and spouse is a working artist; I have unlimited paid sick leave; spouse stayed home w kiddo for 1st 2 years until kids could be vaccinated for COVID.

    1. A quarter is WAY too long to designate who’s busier, at least with the cadence of my work. Maybe a month at most.
    2. If your kid with additional needs = more dr/other appointments that are set up in advance, pre-specifying who’s on point that month & has to block them on their schedule possibly makes sense. (Alternatively, if your husband has more banked sick time, maybe he’s on appointment duty until he’s drawn that down)
    3. BC of my paid time/my spouse having totally put a career on hold for a couple years, I’m the default for sick care, but can call an audible based on schedule– “I have a major presentation Friday so I need you to cover this illness all week if needed” or “I can hang out with him until noon but need you to take over for the afternoon so that I can be on an important call this afternoon” or whatever.

    1. mom of young kid*

      Also want to add that we do have local family (grandparents) but given their medical situation caring for an infectious kid is not something we’re comfortable asking for.

  86. Consulting panda*

    We have priority days of the week as a rule of thumb, then make exceptions as needed.

    So, Monday/Tuesdays the default is that he will deal with kids crises (unless I have a particularly slow week/he has a busy week). Thursday/Friday it is me, and then Wednesday we negotiate at the time.

    I like this method because it ensures actual equality (not just “the person Who is best at arguing always wins” and we can organize meetings and work obligations more on the days we have “work priority.”

    Also, fwiw, my husband does not work a high powered job (I bring in the bulk of the income). But it doesn’t matter. He loves his work and has obligations there. Letting $$ rule these conversations is a recipe for disaster.

    1. LW*

      Yes I agree with this completely. Technically I earn more but I value my marriage too much to ever invoke that!

  87. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    a) have emergency help even if you don’t go the nanny route. Be prepared to pay a higher rate for one-off care.

    b) we, in general, split the week – M&W are my days “from home” even though I actually go in most of the time T, Th & F are his (he has 3 because his job has a higher degree of flexibility most often and a greater ability to work at home). A quarter is a huge amount of time to plan and unrealistic to think you could never have variation in that 13 weeks.

    If a kid thing comes up on my “at home” day generally I cover it – this includes arranging for afterschool activities, etc. We also divide the planned things up, I get the pediatrician well checks so they are scheduled on my day, he gets the dentist so they are scheduled on his day.

    The benefit of this is because I know I COULD be on call on Mondays and Wednesdays, I plan my meetings and tasks around that. It has actually provided great structure to my weeks with those days being largely reserved for me to get stuff done undisturbed and meetings with people who I know to be flexible and non-judgy about childcare.

    Now this isn’t to say we never switch it up. Last week my husband had out of town client meetings so I was “on call” all week. When his projects reach the implementation stage he tends to have 1-2 weeks where he can not be at home. I have 3 weeks a year that my work is a blackout for time off and those are his weeks. Occasionally a REALLY IMPORTANT MEETING comes up and we swap.

    “Who has the bigger quarter” really just sounds like a way to fight over whose job is more important.

    1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      and just warning that schedule wise things get HARDER when your kids reach school age, not easier. Between all the random days off the schools have and sports or other activities the need for either extra help or flexibility will just increase.

  88. MrsBuddyLee*

    I’ve been on both sides of this.

    Growing up, both of my parents had “big jobs”. Before my brother and I were both in full day school, we had a live in nanny that made things very simple. When we started school, they went back to a summer nanny with some availability during the school year as back up (e.g. – military wife or college student).

    Now my husband and I have “big jobs” and two kids the same age as yours. We don’t really have the space in our house for a nanny, so we have to deal with the “who stays home” question. When one of our kids is sick, we have a quick discussion about what our days look like. Due to the nature of our respective jobs, it’s much easier for my husband to work remotely than it is for me, so he tends to be the “default.”

    It probably helps that the company we both work for is very flexible and family friendly. Plus both of our bosses have kids around the same ages (and mine also has a wife with a big job), so they are especially understanding.

    1. LW*

      A nanny sounds great but we also don’t have the room / space! Plus daycare is the recommended setting for one of my kids, so that has taken away some of my parent guilt about daycare!

  89. Jen*

    I’m a teacher, and sick days are VERY difficult for teachers (“sub plans” must be written, but may not be followed, and often sick days are “covered” by our already overworked colleagues). A lot of my colleagues are in two-educator families. I’ve never met a couple who decided child care over the long term in the way your husband is suggesting. I talked to my husband day to day. Everyone I know, when you ask “is Little Guy feeling better?”, might say something like “No, but I really needed to teach differentials myself, and hubby has an entire day of videos or quizzes scheduled already.” It just seems impossible for us to predict, over a period of months, whose job to prioritize. I imagine it might be different in fields that are more seasonal, like accountancy.

    I would really lean in to the idea of using money to solve this problem, if that’s possible for you. Having a full-time, dedicated nanny, rather than a daycare center, might be worth making some short-term financial sacrifices.

    Also, it sounds like your husband is anxious about tense, late-night, last-minute discussions, and who wouldn’t be? I like other folks’s idea of sitting down every week or two, ahead of time, and figuring out who has busy days coming up. Building that habit now can also help you in the future. You’re going to have lots to divvy up, between sports games and school meetings and clicking ‘enroll’ at the exact moment that the popular summer camp enrollment starts. Getting in the habit of planning ahead might make everything easier for a long time.

    1. LW*

      You hit the nail on the head with his preference! I don’t mind hashing it out in the moment but it’s definitely not his preference, particularly as it’s often after we’ve both been up in the night with said sick kid!

  90. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    I think either is okay! We don’t have this specific problem per se, but in my household we’ve found that it’s nice to know whose “turn” it is for things because stopping to discuss who is going to do what (even if it’s truly just a calm discussion and neither has strong feelings) can become fraught and also result in the toddler having a loud opinion that derails the situation. From my perspective there are already too many decisions in parenting so I like having a default. As long as you can both really trust the other parent to say “I know you have Big Project this month but it turns out I have Critical Meeting for next quarter’s Big Project today, can you take over?” or “I know it’s my night for bedtime but I have a headache, can we swap” AND to really share Default Parent status in a way that works for your family, your husband’s approach is what I would prefer. If you find that planning in advance is too stressful or whatever, that could be fine too.

    If you’re the one who always somehow ends up taking the sick kid (and if that doesn’t work for your family – which it sounds like it doesn’t), then the problem is bigger than your system.

  91. just another manager*

    We always did it day-by-day. Sick kids are inevitable — and kids can be sick off and on for long stretches (or both kids!). Your husband’s plan for “equalizing” things would be, in my opinion, a recipe for resentment. What if *I* got sick during his “priority” time? Or I had an emergent issue at work that needed my attention? I would feel as if both my career and my person were automatically less important, and that I shouldn’t ask him for help because I’d agreed to handle things. And wouldn’t he feel the same during my “priority” time?

    If you can find and afford a nanny, try it. We never could. I was very grateful when our kids reached elementary age, but even then there will be weeks here and there when neither of you feel like you’re getting anything done because someone’s sick. The good/bad news is, the kids will grow out of it and need you a LOT less than they do now. And, you know, a job is a job, not a life partner. Prioritize solutions now that preserve your relationship for the long-term.

  92. Rebecca*

    I recently discovered the “emergency childcare” that’s available on many nannying sites. My husband’s company actually offers it as a benefit, buried in the fine print of some benefits documents. I’ve used it a few times, and while it is expensive without the company picking up the majority (I pay a $5/hour copay up to a certain number of days per year, but the actual rate is something like $30-35/hour), it’s been a lifesaver.

    This is really a situation where, if you can afford it, it’s best to just pay to make the problem go away. So long as you’re not losing money to go to work, I’d try the emergency childcare.

    1. mom of young kid*

      Can I ask where you are (e.g., major coastal city, small city in Midwest, etc.) and what sites you’ve used for this?

      1. jes*

        We have used Care dot com for this backup childcare service. If you need it on really short notice (e.g. our nanny got covid so we needed someone for the very next day), they might not be able to provide anyone, it’s a crapshoot. With more advance notice it has worked well for us.

      2. Rebecca*

        I’m in Chicago. We are forced to use care dot com to get the copay benefit, and we’ve genuinely had really good luck with it. It’s almost always a college student or a retired person looking for a few extra bucks, because it’s not consistent work. (These are great providers, because they don’t have the burnout.)

        My biggest advice is to put yourself out there with other moms. I offer to watch friend’s kids so they can have a night out or drive them to school on late start or whatever. It pays dividends most of the time, and I’ve made friends in the process. Last time I needed emergency childcare, a friend with the day off took my toddler. I had just taken her 2 kids for a day so she could run errands by herself and squeeze in a manicure. Just offer! And be honest; most people feel awkward about it at first, but come to be your friend.

  93. BellyButton*

    After reading all these comments I just want to say – I don’t know how you all do it, I am in awe. :)

    1. LW*

      I am extremely impressed (but not surprised) by the AAM community’s problem solving capacity!

  94. Kate*

    This is very dependent on commute times, but I am still surprised not to see it on here:

    You *can* choose to think of it not as a DAY, but as CHUNKS OF A DAY. This is how my ex and I, both with “big” jobs, handle it. We can sometimes move our schedules up or down a bit if necessary, so each of us only has to take a 1/2 day to cover.

    Full disclosure: we sometimes have to make that 1/3 day and pull in a neighbour/cousin for the 3pm to dinner shift.

    1. Kate*

      Another tactic we use: if either of us KNOWS we have a big day coming up (a court date, an incoming delegation, etc.) we put it on the shared calendar right away, and the other parent knows in advance that they are the default parent that day *and schedules accordingly*.

  95. This Old House*

    While I don’t think that his solution is fully workable, it does seem like to some extent, it’s been “your turn” for years now. I’d suggest that for some period of time (a year?), you default to him being the at-home parent when necessary, except when his schedule precludes it. You still end up needing that last-minute negotiation and flexibility to account for particularly busy days and important meetings, but it starts to even things out from the way it has been.

    To some extent, this may be the worst of both worlds, but it’s been that way thus far, too, just with a different default parent.

    1. LW*

      Yes I think this is what he is trying to achieve, because if it’s not explicitly my “turn” I just volunteer.

  96. There's a G&T with my name on it*

    We have a relatively similar situation – although my partner is the major breadwinner, his time is also much more flexible than mine and he has greater opportunities to WFH than me. So I tend to try and schedule the appointments etc for days he’s able to WFH. When there are emergencies that all flies out the window and we juggle whoever is most able to take off/WFH that day.
    Additionally this is separate from the overnight visits with child 2 to A&E/hospital (which occur roughly 6-10 times a year at the moment) – we absolutely take these in turn because they’re so miserable. Not yet had a situation where one of us simply couldn’t go and the other had to take an extra turn, but as you know, no plan survives first contact with children! Flexibility is definitely the key, and ultimately we feel that no work is more important than the health and wellbeing of family – fortunately we both work in places which understand that.

    1. LW*

      I’m so sorry about the hospital visits, my son has been in hospital a few times (all okay now) but “miserable” is definitely the word. Sending snack-vibes and solidarity.

      1. There's a G&T with my name on it*

        Aww thank you! It’s never been more than overnight thankfully and the hospital staff are amazing, but still you don’t want to be there!

  97. Just Here for the Snacks*

    In the same boat and agree with the majority of folks that more flexible is better, but with one caveat. Whenever hubby or I know we are going to have a really busy week and we see one of the kids start to sniffle we will let each other know – “if the kids have to stay home this week I will not be able to take off Tuesday or Wednesday because I have stuff I can’t miss, but I could do Thursday.” This lets the other parent start to mentally prepare how to shift things around/prioritize so that if it happens it is not as disruptive. Planning a quarter out is not do-able, but a week often is.

    We also tend to trade days – because they are always out for at least a couple days – “if you stay home today, I can take tomorrow” – again, really helps make it less disruptive.

  98. SometimesMaybe*

    Find a support system, whether that be relatives, neighbors, or other parents. Keep in mind while it does seems like childcare will be a problem forever, in your situation consider it a 10-12 year problem. And while the amount of care a 2 and 4 year old require is a lot, 12 and 14 year old kids will not require the same level of care. I returned to work when my kids were 2 and 4, when they could not go to daycare it was a HUGE deal even if I worked from home. Now they are 11 and 9, once I had them chill on my sister’s couch and once shut them in their room to rest while I work from home. I know being a working parent can sometimes feel impossible, but remember whatever you and your husband decide, you will need to reevaluate every year or so.

  99. Kidsarehard*

    On Sundays, we go through each parent’s work week and see who has the “busier” week. The other parent is “on-call” that week. Also, we take into consideration whose job is more flexible. If I take care of the kid(s) during the day, I can more easily catch up at night than my husband. His job requires set hours and mine I just need to be available for certain people. Because of my job kid stuff usually falls on me. Luckily we both can easily work from home, so house stuff is easy. On those tough kid weeks where I am point, he will take the kids out for hours during the weekend to give me a break and time to catch up on missed work. The key is outsourcing what you can and hopefully having at least one flexible job. It gets easier when the kids get bigger!

  100. Risha*

    I would suggest a nanny if you can afford one. Or if you live close to a college, hire a student who is majoring in childhood education to work part time for you (it also gives them some great experience and references). You can hire the nanny for part time, it doesn’t have to be a full 8 hr shift. And even if your kids don’t need any extra help that day, having a nanny would be very helpful since they can prepare light meals/snacks and entertain the kids for a bit until you’re off work. Having extra hands around the house is always great!

    If a nanny isn’t in your budget, look online for emergency childcare in your area. In my area, you can hire a sitter for emergencies-they’ll be at your home/school/daycare to pick up kids within 90 minutes. Of course, you pay premium price for that, but overall it’s cheaper than a daily nanny, since you’ll only pay for the time you actually need.

    My husband and I have a similar view to your husband-that whoever is “less” priority at that moment will do whatever needs to be done for our kids. We do both work from home fulltime, but each of our jobs is pretty busy (with periods of downtime). It works for us since we cannot afford a nanny right now (but we are budgeting for one). Maybe try your way and his way for a certain period of time and see which one works better for your family.

  101. Generic Name*

    My friend is a c-suite executive for a Fortune 500 company. When they had trouble juggling both their jobs and their childcare responsibilities, my friend’s husband quit his job to be the stay at home parent. :)

  102. Penny*

    Long time reader, first-time commenter. My husband and I are in a similar situation – I am the CFO of my organization and he is an EVP and in charge of an entire team of content creators and the marketing department at his company… and we have 3 kids. We absolutely could not do it without a full-time nanny. And we also have a trusted housekeeper who has been with us since before we had kids who is flexible enough to be able to step in when the nanny is sick or unavailable. That is to say – you need reliable back-up care in place – whether that is a friend, family, a date-night babysitter who can help with days occasionally.
    When it comes to how we split our time – my husband and I definitely employ the “who has a less busy day” technique when balancing sick kids, sick nanny, doctor’s appointments, carpool, and anything else that can’t otherwise be juggled by the people who help us.

    1. LW*

      Yes we are definitely expanding our network of family and paid support. This was my first letter after reading AAM for YEARS. Thanks for commenting!

  103. Sneaky Squirrel*

    I don’t like this idea of whose work takes priority – how is that decided? Will it always be the higher earner whenever you both have big projects going on? Task urgency? Impact to the company’s bottom line? This seems like you’re opening yourselves up to arguing about whose job is more important.

    I like the idea more of the less busy parent trying to take off on the day but then you’re spending a lot of time negotiating who is the less busy parent on a daily basis. And then in the instance that a kid needs to be pulled from daycare/school, you’ll have to plan for that daily.

    If you’re truly trying to be equal parents, you could alternate days, weeks, or months, where you’re responsible for being the primary parent with some understanding from each other that some days just won’t work and occasionally you might need to ask for help. But the goal would be to try to stick to a normal schedule that works and is fair and isnt requiring too many exceptions.

  104. Yep*

    My husband is an attorney and I am the PD of a media company. We use your method, whoever has an easier day. It’s usually him, b/c he can work from home more than I’m able. Yesterday, day care closed last minute due to illness, but our kid is fine, so he spent a few hours in my office with his Switch.

  105. ecnaseener*

    I see the benefit to having it decided beforehand – you can build your work schedule around the knowledge that your spouse has childcare this quarter and vice versa, you have a default answer ready instead of hashing it out every time from scratch – but yeah, I think you need to be able to adjust on the fly sometimes.

  106. The Other Evil HR Lady*

    I’ve seen it work “your” way quite well. One of the VPs (male) at my company has a wife that is a pharmacist. Obviously, having a pharmacist at a pharmacy is critical. But if she can, she takes the day off if their kids are sick. If she can’t then our VP takes the day, and WFH if he can do so. Sometimes one of their parents steps in, but I don’t think that’s an option for you, or you would have mentioned it. Anyway, those are my 2 cents.

  107. The Person from the Resume*

    His position doesn’t make sense to me. “Who has the busier quarter?” doesn’t really reflect the day to day realities. Maybe “next week there’s no way I can take off” is understandable, but I can’t see having to lock in the answer of who’s on sick kid duty so far in advance especially since you two are not deconflicting your schedules (is he doing that with coworkers somehow maybe?) so the more busy partner doesn’t mean the less busy partner still doesn’t have requirements and meetings during that period that that’d much prefer not to miss. The kid could get sick on the the one day the less busy partner has a meeting with the CIO and it wouldn’t make sense for them is take off that day.

    Why is he pushing for you two to make a determination so far in advance?

    1. LW*

      I think he’s not so attached to the length of the time period but is trying to do some of the groundwork of a decision so we’re not starting from scratch on a chaotic morning. There are so many helpful strategies here that I think a hybrid approach will work.

  108. Turquoisecow*

    Maybe your jobs are much more structured than any I’ve had, but I would not be able to plan an entire quarter or even a week this way. There are times for both husband and I where we think we will have an easy week but then, last minute, one of us has a big project or an important meeting we can’t skip.

    I work part-time from home so realistically most of that extra childcare for sick days or whatever falls on me, but if I have an important meeting in a time where I’d usually be watching the kid, he steps in. Our day to day schedule varies based on whether he has some early morning or late evening meeting, I can’t even tell you who will drive her to school or pick her up tomorrow because there’s a slight chance a meeting will be added to husband’s calendar between now and then so while he intends to do drop off, he may not.

    It sounds like your husband is trying to build more structure and predictability into his life, but in my experience that’s not how life with kids works, and I only have one toddler. As the kids get older this will be harder and harder to manage for him. I don’t want to be the person who suggests therapy for this, but if he’s the sort of person who thrives with routines and structure, it sounds like he might benefit from some help in that respect, because I don’t think he’s going to be able to be both a successful coparent AND have a very structure and predictable schedule.

  109. Immortal for a limited time*

    LW’s philosophy is the only one that makes sense, and that’s how most parents seem to handle these things. The husband’s philosophy — “…a philosophy of *whose work takes priority during that period*…” seems custom-crafted to enable him to deem his own career as higher priority for any/all arbitrary periods to ensure he gets the get-out-of-jail-free card. I’m sorry this is not a charitable reading, but that’s how it comes across to me.

  110. B*

    Great question! If you figure out a good answer, you will make so much money selling it to working parents that you will never have to worry about this again.

    My wife and I are both attorneys and parents to two kids the same age as the OP. We have each at times been the one with the more lucrative and/or senior role, but we both have jobs that are busy and often inflexible. We’re not in a financial position to hire a nanny.

    The OP’s model is closer to what we do: we assess who can best handle a work disruption on short notice and that person is on primary kid duty. If we are both equally able to handle it, whoever has been on kid duty less recently will take it. Occasionally–especially if we have some advance notice or the kid will be out for more than a day–we hire from a small stable of babysitters, backup care providers, or family.

    This has always “worked” in the sense that everyone is alive and we remain married and employed. But it is a constant juggling act, it’s stressful, and it makes everyone a little unhappy. I chalk that up to the irreducible cost of choosing to arrange our lives this way.

    The single biggest lesson I have learned is this: accept that you cannot give 200% of yourself. That means you cannot give 100% at home and 100% at work. You may not get promoted, you may get a worse performance evaluation than you are used to, you may not be able to do dance class and gymnastics and swim lessons at the same time. Life is full of seasons, and the “working parents of pre-school age children” season is not the “both parents grind 24/7 and climb the ladder” season.

    This can be a tough pill to swallow for type A high achievers who are used to accomplishing whatever they set their minds to with enough time and effort. But it has been the first step to establishing any kind of sustainability and satisfaction in our work-life balance.

    1. LW*

      I am a lawyer and this resonates so much!

      Also: “This has always “worked” in the sense that everyone is alive and we remain married and employed.” Is the best and this is my new standard!

      But yes, Type A giving myself over to toddlers is a whole thing!

  111. bunniferous*

    Honestly I would ditch the daycare and hire a nanny. Less exposure to the germs of others, plus someone regular who can give full attention to the children. I’m assuming with both of you with big jobs, this is affordable. If you are concerned about socialization I assume playdates can be arranged or maybe a part time daycare schedule if the preschool portion is that important to you. My own values would be to take some time to be at home till they were school aged but I understand that in today’s world that can wreak havoc with career paths. You do the best you can with what you have to work with.

    If you are committed to using your present daycare then your way of flexibility is the way to go EXCEPT I would set this week by week-so in other words your husband’s idea of set times on a micro scale. But ideally I think you two should consider a nanny.

    1. Countess of Shrewsbury*

      I disagree. All daycares are different, but ours is wonderful and provides socialization (with the same kids each day so they actually make friends and have more opportunities to learn to get along and resolve conflict) that kids aren’t going to get from playdates alone. It’s also generally significantly less expensive than a dedicated nanny, and you don’t have to worry about what teacher is off on any given day (nannies need time off themselves on occasion, and you become their employer so you have to manage all the aspects of that as well). Daycare has a consistent schedule, a curriculum, and kids often adjust to big school better coming from daycare. Also, in the case of germs/viruses — if you avoid them now, that immune system is going to have a shock when they get to big school and they’re exposed to them there.

      Nothing at all wrong with having a nanny, but I don’t believe it provides the stability that you’re suggesting considering you’re relying on just one person to provide all the childcare. Good daycares are great.

    2. anonarama*

      i found daycare to be infinitely more flexible than nannies/au pairs. Daycare was open from 6:00am – 6:30pm and I could use whatever hours I needed with that time. If one caregiver was out sick, they had subs they could call in so with rare exceptions, caregiver illness didn’t result in lack of childcare. the idea that nannies are a solution to needing maximal flexibility just does not track with my experience at all.

  112. My Name is Mudd*

    We flexed, and it sucked. But we survived and you will too. If there was a sick kid, we generally knew around 3 AM. Which meant I would get up at 3 AM, and be at work by 4 AM, so I could do a reasonable amount of hours in office, and come home early, so he could go in late and work a reasonable amount of hours in office.

    We had a nanny for a year, and that was wonderful. But expensive. So it was only for a year.

  113. Megan*

    My husband and I are in this situation, but our jobs are pretty flexible and mostly work from home. If kid is sick, and one of us had a hard conflict (e.g., travel, has to be in the office that day, important meeting) the other sucks it up and takes point. Otherwise, if we’re both working from home we coordinate together around important meetings and reschedule ones we can (e.g., one on ones are usually easier to move, meetings with managers or higher ups are prioritized). Usually this works fine, but this past fall almost broke us when we sent our kiddo to daycare and he was sick literally from September to January. We almost pulled him out in favor of a nanny because while nannies also get sick, the exposure is so much less than at daycare. We had a nanny for the summer and he didn’t get sick once. But when we were in the thick of it we had to have a hard conversation about who could afford the professional hit more. I (a woman) have a generally more flexible job but I also make more than twice my husband. So we decided that it was more important to protect my income when I felt I had used up goodwill on my team from being out so much. it’s very hard though! we also have support from my mom, who is relatively local, but she also helps watch my brother’s kids so we don’t really want to get her sick either.

  114. marketing lady*

    Preschool with after care option + after school nanny who has a flexible schedule (college or grad students are great for this role). This is what worked for us for our 3 kids. After school nanny worked 2-6 and would pick up kids from their schools, which all had an aftercare option if the nanny was sick. And nanny was often available for the full day when school was closed but we were not off from work.
    But either way, you both have to be flexible and jump in if there’s an issue with childcare. The idea of taking the quarter off from that role is something I’ve never heard of and can’t even envision that.

  115. Seriously*

    This is a relationship question, not a work question.

    You need to sit down with your partner and discuss in full what this means to each of you, and your concerns.

    1. Aelfwynn*

      It’s a “how to balance work and life” question which many folks on this blog will find relevant. They don’t exist in completely separate spheres.

      I think Alison can judge what is a work question that belongs here and what is not.

    2. Green Worm*

      Figuring out work/life balance is a valid question that is especially relevant to working parents. Work does not exist in a vacuum.

      Also, if you’re not interested in the question, you don’t need to comment.

  116. Essess*

    The husband’s idea is completely ignoring actual life events and facts. Point out that according to his “rule”, if you took a PTO day for fun during his turn, and if your kid got sick at school on that day, then you’d be expected to be able to continue to sit around and do nothing all day on your day and your husband would be obligated to leave work and get the child since it’s his turn, even though you would have had all the free time to do it.

    The most reasonable way is for the person with the least impact at that moment to perform any unexpected additional work needed.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      That’s a really good framing.

      Or, you could say ‘oh well, good luck honey’ and grab your keys and head out to the beach/library/museum/spa, because it’s his day.

  117. V*

    Sounds like it’s time for the husband to take a step back from his big job so he can be there more for the kids.

  118. I don’t post often*

    I have not read all the comments, simply speaking from personal experience.
    Husband, for 10

  119. Anon Librarian*

    My parents both worked “big jobs” and I asked about this once. My dad, a lawyer, billed by the hour, so it was harder for him to take time off. My mom, on the other hand, a state administrator, had more day to day flexibility. So, she took point on most of the dr. appts, sick kids, etc. However, she traveled for her work a lot more than my Dad, and so he took point when she was traveling. They never hired a full time nanny, but they did have several regular on-call babysitters who they relied on.

  120. Thursday*

    I think you’re right, LW. Whoever has the most flexibility on any given day should take care of the childcare issue. Maybe the ambiguity of never really knowing when it will be his turn is what’s bothering your husband. Does he generally have more flexibility than you? Maybe he’s afraid most of the child care will fall on him if you leave it to chance? You could meet in the middle – as an example, Q1 is his coverage period, Q2 is yours, but if either of you have a major work conflict when the kids need you, you have freedom to call an audible.

  121. Florp*

    We do it day by day, or week by week, with a fair amount of planning ahead. My husband and I are each involved in more than one business, and I also volunteer for a non-profit. He works crazy hours, but in the past 5 years or so many of his hours have been at home. But so much of his time is spent on Zoom or the phone that it’s like he’s not really here.

    I’ve been working from home for 10 years. Most of my work is solitary, punctuated by can’t-miss meetings or trips. It doesn’t matter if I do my work at 11 am or 11 pm, as long as it gets done.

    When the kids were little, I kept my work hours down and I was much more likely to be the go to for doctors appointments, lacrosse practice rides, snow days, etc. Once they hit school, there’s a flurry of activity in the after school hours. I can’t count the number of times my kids needed to be in two different places at the same time. If we both had something important, we’d have to loop in Grandma or get one of their teammates parents to give them a ride. We almost never knew about all of it more than a week in advance.

    For years now, we have kept one master Calendar linked to all the family calendars (my kids are old enough to keep their own now; they drive and have jobs). Everyone has their own color, and the calendar looks like a damn crazy quilt. Business trips get blocked out ASAP so that the other spouse knows not to be out of town at the same time. Every week, we look at the calendar and warn each other about work events we could not miss, important personal appointments, etc.–the implication being that the other spouse would have to be available for emergencies on those days. If you didn’t bother to put your stuff in the calendar, good luck to you.

    I guess two things bother me about the quarterly plan. One, and maybe it’s just our crazy lives, but who on earth can actually plan a quarter in advance that reliably? Things change, employees quit, customers change orders, new projects pop up, new executives change goals, new school clubs start, a kid’s team wins enough games that now you’ve got statewide playoffs, someone gets a part in the school play and suddenly has rehearsal every night, a pipe leak damages your ceiling and now you need to manage insurance and contractors, the dog throws up…life throws a lot at you that you can’t plan for. It sucks when it happens while you have a big work project, but that doesn’t make you or anyone else less responsible for handling it. I guarantee you will not know about the All Hands On Deck Days three months in advance!

    Two, it sounds like the dad here is applying project management skills that are effective for him at work to his family life. Families are not businesses. Trading off being the default parent for large periods of time is like assigning resources in project management software. (And I dislike the concept of the default parent, maybe because it’s more often me…) Obviously, there will be days or weeks where one parent is super busy at work (or one of the parents is sick, or a Grandparent needs care, and so on) and the other spouse is going to have to step in. But all of that requires *more* flexibility, not a rigid months-long plan. The idea that you can divide parenting like a pie chart for a large chunk of time (in Spring, it’s 60% mom/40% dad, in Summer we reverse and split it 65%/35%) ignores the cold hard reality that both are parents 100% of the time forever and ever Amen. If Dad needs a business term to relate parenting to, it’s more like a series of Adapt or Die Scrums than a Gantt Chart!

  122. Working Mom*

    My husband and I do something akin to what your husband suggested. It works for us, but only because our jobs have very obvious seasonal ebbs and flows due to various industry deadlines. For example, my schedule is almost completely inflexible from December 1 through mid March each year, so he is responsible for sick kids, etc. His schedule is very,very busy in the Spring and Fall, so I’m point person during those times. Summer is a little bit more of a free-for-all.

    I just want to point this out for those saying that your husband’s suggested approach can’t work. It’s not the solution for all, especially if your jobs aren’t predictable at all. But for me, this makes it much, much easier to “plan” for the unpredictable.

  123. IntheSameBoat*

    This doesn’t address the question directly, but came up in a few comments I read. Many people are referring to the habit of schools/daycares to always call mom first when kids are sick, and how annoying it is when they call the mother even when the dad is listed first.

    My husband and I have him listed first, and at first they did call me, but I just DO NOT PICK UP. I listen to the message right after they call, in which they’ll tell me if they already called my husband and didn’t reach him, but will also say if it’s an emergency (literally never) or not. I then give it 15 minutes before I respond in any way. My husband is also on board with this, and knows it’s his task to manage comms with daycare.

    Obviously if he’s traveling and literally out of state I will pick up if they call me, but they always call him first now so generally he still handles comms even when he’s out of state, and then texts me what I need to do (pick up the kid, bring a new outfit, whatever it is).

    Just…be bad at being reachable by your kids’ school, and tell them repeatedly, every time, to call your husband first and that you’re generally less responsive than he is during the day.

    I also have notifications turned off for the messaging daycare app, while my husband has them turned on. I check in a couple of times a day, but he responds much faster and again will text me if I need to do something that he can’t do. I work from home every day, he works from home two days a week, so I am definitely the default for picking up sick kids, bringing forgotten stuff, etc, and that’s totally fine with me since I don’t have to handle any of the comms or have my day interrupted until it’s absolutely necessary.

    My husband also handles all doctor comms, btw, and scheduling, including for sick visits when needed, and then texts me exactly what I need to do and when (or adds it to my calendar after checking with me). This kind of divide works for us — it’s way less disruptive for me to take an hour out of my day to take my kid to the dr in the morning vs managing another messaging app/phone calls every day. He also handles tuition payment, getting vaccine paperwork from the doctor to the school every year, scheduling parent/teacher conferences after checking my schedule, etc. It’s his strength, and just going and doing the task is mine.

    There are other ways to think about dividing the work, maybe something in here sparks some ideas for you.

    1. IntheSameBoat*

      This is also a bit of a “harsh” exercise, but you might think through, collaboratively, how you would handle it if you were divorced with equal time with the kids. What would he do when he had the kids, but they got sick, and calling you wasn’t an option because…you’re divorced? What would you do? If that solution is that you would each end up finding backup care (search “backup childcare + your city” if you haven’t already) or a rotating stable of 2-3 babysitters you could call, then that’s likely the solution you should employ here.

      Or, I would go along with what he’s proposing, and just make sure that you have equal lengths of time where you are “off” and “on,” regardless of your jobs, position, or income. Then set a date to review how its actually gone, with room for feedback and review. If he wants to tackle this problem like a business problem, why not let him and see how it goes?

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      This is really helpful — there may be other ways to create the clarity and structure the husband appears to be seeking! Maybe it’s not “everything for a time period” it’s “everything related to medical appointments” or “all communications from x provider” all the time

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      Search: Slate The Secret Culprit Turning American Moms Into the Default Parent

      Research proved recently that the school is more likely to call Mom than Dad.

      IntheSameBoat, I love that you circumvent this sexist habit by ignoring the calls.

  124. Ari*

    If both jobs are important and have some flexibility, then I think you have two “good” options. One is to have a nanny or babysitter who can be on call. That may be hard to find since the circumstances would mean being exposed to illness. The other is to care for them yourselves. I do think your husband’s approach is not the best. There just is no way to predict the future either for work projects or when children will be sick. I get new projects dropped in my lap every week, some more urgent than others. Your idea makes the most sense to me—make a decision that day/week based on the actual current workload you each have. Though maybe have a backup plan just in case.

  125. Snoflinga*

    If you have money, and it sounds like you do, the obvious solution would be to hire someone to be on call for unexpected childcare needs. This would be a perfect very-part-time job for a lot of older people. Pay them a retainer, and then pay them hourly for any times they have to pick a sick kid up and care for them until one of you can leave. Then no one has to fight about whose job is more important that day.

  126. LegalDude*

    I’m a child of parents who both had big jobs — both were C-suite execs at fortune 100 companies. I’m now 40, married with a child of my own, and my wife and I also have big jobs. My parents recognized how much gender plays into the sick-kid/work scenario and did the opposite of what was “normal”. My sibling and I were your kids’ ages in the late 80’s and 90’s, but unfortunately not much has changed for women’s workload at home — there are just now more also in the workforce.

    I would strongly recommend your husband become the default “sick-kid” parent for a year. Daycares and schools call him first if a kid is sick. He tries to rearrange his day/reschedule his meetings to pick up/stay home with sick kid. If he absolutely cannot, then he asks you for help. Not only will he likely have way fewer professional consequences than you for being out with your kids, but you said yourself “up until now, I have usually been the one to take a sick day or work from home with the kids (my preference) but now he has a lot more accrued leave than I do.” Accrued leave is literal money. Wage disparities already make it likely you earn less than your husband, but because you’ve been the default sick-kid parent, you’ve lost money that he hasn’t. Truth be told, if you rely on his plan of knowing who has busier “phases”, it’s likely you’ll continue to be the default parent. Having children often means that (even the most incredible) husbands revert to gendered norms in their marriages, and their wives end up doing more housework, caregiving, mental labor etc. This is one thing he can do to try and rebalance the scales. (Emily Oster just wrote an article about that here:

    I said my wife and I both have big jobs. I’m an elected official, she runs a non-profit. I have committee, bills to write, constituent meetings, and voting. We made me the default sick-kid parent. My wife pays more of a professional consequence than I do for rearranging my schedule to be home with our kiddo and I’m not okay with participating in her having those consequences. She already took maternity leave after giving birth, it felt ridiculous to have her keep taking off of work every time our kid gets sick. And our kid gets sick all the time, thank you daycare. If there’s a day I can’t miss — which does happen — I ask her what her day looks like, what things she can’t miss/reschedule, and then work around her schedule for care coverage.

    There’s so much invisible labor that moms are doing. I try to be an equal partner in our household and in parenting, but we’re working against a lot of gendered socialization and I know it’s not as equitable as it could be. But being the default sick-kid parent really helped balance the scales. I highly suggest it!

  127. Tali*

    the night before our workweek starts, we review our weekly calendar – who is doing dropoff, who is doing pickup, who has an event they need to go to, etc. One way of merging your perspective with your spouse’s is maybe to add an “on call” person for each day (by Sunday night, you should known which are your busier days). The on call person would be the default parent for that day, if anything pops up. This way you’re not scrambling to figure it out the morning someone wakes up sick, but you’re also not deciding 6 months in advance.

  128. CommentKoi*

    A more rigid policy like your husband’s suggestion is less realistic and will inevitably result in an unfair division of at-home labor. Dealing with unexpected circumstances in raising kids isn’t something you can have a one-size-fits-all approach to, even on a seasonal basis, because that’s just not how it goes. You make a good point – what if you’re in the busier “season”, but he has the busier day? What if you have an equally busy season at the same time? I think it’s got to be a day to day decision – 1, because that’s more realistic, and 2, because that’s more equitable.

  129. Rosengilmom*

    my employer partners with a firm specifically to provide backup child and elder care. You may want to ask your company if they have a similar benefit

    1. LW*

      Sadly not! This was offered when I was in BigLaw but not at my current firm. No luck for hubby either.

  130. Sciencer*

    My husband and I both work in leadership roles, not as “big” as the jobs you’re describing, but with busier periods and lighter periods and some days/tasks that are near-impossible to miss or reschedule. I’m on the academic schedule so I work part-time (and fully flexible) in the summers, then have a smattering of weeks throughout the school year where things are really busy for me (start of term + grading-heavy times), and it is a Big Deal if I have to miss certain class days. My husband’s busy times are less predictable, but end of fiscal year is always a crunch, and when he has big deadlines coming he knows a couple of months in advance.

    So our approach is basically a blend of what you described, OP. There are periods where the default is that I will be the one to step out and parent our sick kid, and periods where he does that. But we always have a quick chat when the situation arises and check our calendars to see what can/can’t be moved. And always we try to help each other out – it’s not like one parent is totally on their own (he will come home an hour early to start dinner or I will leave late to make sure they are off to a good start with the day, etc.). I think that would be especially important with multiple kids, when one might be sick but the other still needs to get to daycare/school on time.

    I wonder if your husband likes the quarterly plan because it takes some of the guesswork and back-and-forth out of it. It can be exhausting to have the same conversation over and over, especially in winter when the colds just keep coming and it seems like you lose a day or two of daycare every other week. Having a broad plan going in can cut down on the redundancy. But the seasonality thing highlights why a strict quarterly approach would be unfair – whoever is “on” during peak cold/flu season is likely going to miss a lot more work. Even if that same person gets the less-sick summer duty, they had to get through a really rough stretch that could have been more equally shared. IMO, a broad quarterly (or whatever timeline) plan with the agreement that you’ll still do a quick check-in each time and be flexible when needed is a good compromise.

    I’ll add that some child care centers offer sick day coverage, where you can get a one-off nanny to come watch your sick kid when they’re not allowed to go to daycare. I get access to this at a slight discount through work (my university is partnered with a major child-care chain in the area) but there might be other ways to gain access if your current daycare doesn’t provide this. Could be worth calling around or making sure your two workplaces don’t have similar kinds of coverage.

  131. SpringIsForPlanting!*

    Does your work offer a back-up care benefit? It can get lost in the benefits package but I just used mine twice in two weeks and it was a lifesaver. My particular version offers up to 5 days a year of subsidized and, more importantly, vetted and easy-to-book last-minute care in either a center or with an individual providers. The individual providers will take sick kids (in the range of “too gross to go to school, but not bad enough to need a doctor”)

    Unrelatedly, make sure your husband doesn’t secretly think his career is more important than yours :(

  132. Caroline*

    That’s quite a concerning attitude for the husband to have, given his position: completely inflexible, potentially will work out extremely unfairly, rigid… all of it. It’s got it all.

    I’d say get a nanny to be honest, but if not, then… obviously sit down at the beginning of each *short* time period, such as weekly or maybe fortnightly, to map out days you definitely cannot take off / you could potentially / work from home options if needs be. How do you know in March that at the end of May WHEN IT’S YOUR TURN you might really battle to be available when junior gets a two week dose of Chicken Pox?

  133. Melissa*

    1: Hire as much help as you possibly can. With two “big” jobs, you can probably afford quite a bit of help. If it means you don’t take vacations for a few years, then so be it– hiring a house-cleaner and babysitters and a yard guy will pay off much more in terms of happiness.

    2: Beyond that, I tend to agree with you. My husband and I play it day-by-day. So if my kid wakes up with a fever, we have a crisis meeting of “Who has what going on today?” and we negotiate who has to cancel what. I feel like that’s easier than trying it your husband’s way– it seems like even if it is Dad’s quarter, there could still be a particular Tuesday that he absolutely can not miss, and you might be called upon to cover child needs on that Tuesday.

    1. Melissa*

      To add to my own comment: It sounds like you have a good partnership and mutual respect, which means that each of you WOULD step in on that Tuesday and pinch-hit. I can’t imagine a circumstance in which you’d say, “Well it’s your quarter. I don’t have anything important at all today, but ah well, you’ll have to figure it out”

  134. Pandemic Parenting is Miserable*

    You need to either live near grandparents willing and able to help you as back-up support when the full-time childcare you’re paying for isn’t available (due to illness or closure, daycares are closed more than the typical American worker has vacation. Elementary schools are closed a TON more than the typical American working calendar so this is a problem that gets worse, not better, as kids age.) Or your two big jobs need to have salaries that pay for both a live-in au pair and full time childcare for both your kids, so the au pair covers daycare closures, school vacations and early release, illness/dr. appt etc etc. Best bet is the double childcare coverage AND grandparents. Triple coverage is really the only way to avoid taking a huge career hit.

    And if you’re a wife, I urge you to hold firm on the day to day decision making about whose work is more important because if you go by your husband’s preference your job will never ever take priority and you’ll pay professionally and get resentful. My husband has a demanding inflexible job and I have a demanding flexible job and I have to cover EVERYTHING even tho now I outearn him significantly. It’s absurd and I may honestly get divorced over it. American parenting is gladiator shi*t especially the last few years. Good luck.

    1. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

      Personal experience so ymmv, but I’ve found it to get easier as my kid gets older. While there are more days off of school my oldest has aged into all the park district camps and day camps so we tend to register her for those when she’s the only one with a day off. When daycare is closed we either need to take a day or find another sitter. It’s still extra money, but a lot less than daycare or a full day sitter, plus she gets to do hang out with friends, do craft projects and go on field trips.

    2. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

      I do absolutely agree that American parenting and support is broken though.

  135. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    You can’t really do it ahead of time the way he wants. There are too many variables for it to work. The best I’ve seen is going week by week, but that has still had hiccups when some deadline or client meeting gets moved up.

    But also, work doesn’t work like that. How often will your and his projects have the same start/end times? If it’s something like quarterly, it ignores that projects ramp up and down independent of that. Heck, what if the one whose turn it is has a hard to schedule medical appointment of their own – would the expectation be to cancel?

    My recommendation is to either look for a sitter or nanny to help on those occasions of you can or to go week by week… while looking at your work calendars. It could be that it’s your turn on Tuesday if it’s after 11 AM, it doesn’t even have to be ‘your day’ but if your spouse needs a plan making one based on the calendar in question is best.

  136. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I understand mom’s focus on flexibility, but I can also see that dad’s version lets the “off” parent not put much brain power into the topic of coverage. I do well with the flexible part but over time, I value the “not thinking about it for a quarter” option.

    Like dad, I just want to focus on work for a block of time, not on balancing both till the end of time. So maybe for OP, Dad’s plan could be reframed to be more about who will do the planning and figuring out for a quarter (and most of the coverage) rather than one person doing all the coverage for one quarter?

    1. Green Worm*

      Balancing both is kind of the name of the game when it comes to working and being a parent. You can’t just ‘opt-out’ for a time (as nice as it sounds). There are way too many variables and you have to have flexibility in any arrangement.

      1. Iyana*

        Check out Fair Play. The idea is that the planning and mental load is real work, so it’s not that you’re uninvolved but that the other partner is in charge of a particular thing for a period of time and you don’t have to worry about it.

  137. Ranon*

    My husband gets separate sick days so he’s the default sick day parent even though he’s also the breadwinner. Our priority is making sure the PTO stays even so we can take it together!

    If he’s absolutely unable to take a day or if the kiddo is sick for days on end then I fill in, so it’s not that I never do sick kid care, but I certainly do less.

    (we probably both care about our jobs somewhat less than it sounds like you both do which certainly makes deciding to be out easier!)

  138. WonderWoman*

    My husband and I have jobs that are at times very demanding. My husband also has a disability that limits the degree to which he can look after our toddler.

    After our daughter was born, we moved into my in-laws’ home. My in-laws also have “big jobs,” but they are able to help look after our daughter, and we all share in the chores. Obviously, this set up won’t work for everyone, but we know some families who have hired au pairs to live with them and provide similar assistance.

    When childcare falls through, or our daughter is sick, there are more adults around who might be able to take a day off on short notice, and this significantly helps lessen the burden. We also have a roster of babysitters we can call on. We don’t have a “rule” or defined periods/phases. We’re flexible, and we do our best to juggle competing priorities every day.

    I am well aware that all of this requires immense privilege, and we are very very lucky. But it’s an honest account of how we manage 2 “big” jobs and a family, and I hope it will be useful to you and other readers.

  139. Formerly Ella Vader*

    My personal experience isn’t directly relevant, just a few thoughts.

    The idea of explicitly assigning a default on-call parent by month or quarter, and NOT having it always be Parent M, is a good step towards fairness. It also has the advantage of being able to look back and say, okay, you were on-call during the 8 months of the academic year and I was on-call during the 4 months of the non-teaching term, so how did that work and is there anything we can do to make things more fair next year. It also means fewer days when there’s emotional labour in the morning because the default works. It does still require both/all adults on the rota to negotiate in good faith.

    Including flexibility/exceptions is also reasonable. Partner M: “D, I know it’s tax season for you so I’m on call. But I have a sinus headache and Murgatroyd has ballet this aft. Can you deal with that?” Ideally, D knows that “deal with that” means choosing whether to leave work early and make it up in the evening, make the calls to find someone to drive him, or explain to Murgatroyd that they can’t go to ballet this week and instead they will come to Parent D’s work and have fast food/ipad time. Ideally M will disengage and let D make those choices. Ideally, partner D already knows the other ballet mums, knows where the ballet outfit is kept, knows how to reassure Murgatroyd that it’s okay to go to ballet just this once without parent M doing their hair, and is able to make the decision to cancel and take Murgatroyd to McDonalds and the accounting office. With parents who switch off regularly, Partner M gets to go right back to bed without having to coach Partner D through the tasks.

    If the person proposing the strict rota is expecting that there will be no exceptions, then when the other partner would like to have an exception this is even more emotional labour than before. This seems potentially problematic to me.

    Making it work requires that the parent who previously took all the default tasks doesn’t gatekeep. It also requires that both parents stick consistently to customs of not letting the kid interrupt a parent who is Not On Call but trying to work at home or whatever. It is very much worth demonstrating to kids that all parents’ time/attention is valuable and that egalitarian partners figure out routines that work for everyone. And those parts I do have experience with.

  140. Anonymoose*

    I feel like the parents are both overthinking this. It’s REALLY hard to anticipate when something is going to come up and saying in advance, “you’ll be responsible for all call outs this month because I’m working BIG PROJECT” is probably not sustainable, because what happens when the other parent gets assigned EQUALLY BIG PROJECT in the middle of the month, or has an important meeting, or has to travel for work? Get decent back up daycare from a family member or friend/neighbor who’s willing to accept an 8am “oh crap” call. Know that one of you may have to stay home when child is sick and base it on your individual schedules ON THAT DAY. The kids are 2 and 4, so presumably, you’ve made it work for approximately 4 years already!

  141. grrlpup*

    Since I haven’t seen this suggestion… what if you BOTH did what many single parents at your companies probably have to do, and took the time to care for the sick kid? As executives and leaders, you have way more power than the average worker to shift the norm on how your companies accommodate the fact that their workers are humans with families. Send the message to the people who work for you that these things happen and it’s understandable. Any email or zooming you can do on those days is a pleasant bonus; otherwise the wheels will just have to turn a little slower. Take a break from thinking about how big and executive and very busy your jobs are.

    1. Green Worm*

      You’re suggesting that both parents take time off work at the same time? Why? To prove a point?

      1. Garlic Microwaver*

        No. Commenter is saying that either of the parents, on any given sick day, should “take a day” for the purpose of caring for their sick kid instead of trying to work through it, lead meetings or multi-task while said child is miserable on couch. As leaders, they’d set a better work-life-family precedent to their respective teams.

        1. Bear Expert*

          A+ on modeling expectations for how to handle life as leaders.

          Half day swaps have worked very well for my family. We each get some work time to hit the highlights, and then we are pretty publicly “Available by cell if needed” for the other half of the day.

          Kid gets needed care and attention, both jobs get needed care and attention, staff see leadership ditching out when needed/delegating what can be/handling what absolutely needs attention today.

  142. She of Many Hats*

    If a nanny or a Nana isn’t a feasible option, you both need to sit down and negotiate a new way of covering unexpected childcare needs. Such as during month one you take the sick days, month two he does or Monday & Tuesday, you’re on call, Thursday & Friday he is and Wednesday, flip a coin or the least meetings win. Then one career isn’t valued more than the other, one gender isn’t the default one and/or penalized professionally.

  143. Garlic Microwaver*

    I had to read this five times to try to understand the two opposing philosophies. I’m lost. Can someone clearly, succinctly, with bullet points, outline the differences?

    1. Bear Expert*

      – deal with emergencies when one appears by comparing calendars and drawing straws, reactive only.
      – In Q1, all emergencies will be handled by Parent A. In Q2, all emergencies will be handled by Parent B. Emergency came up Feb 19? Parent A, clear your deck.

      The first option can require too much discussion and comparison and fiddling to respond to the school calling about projectile vomit when they really just need someone to go get the kid.

      The second option can mean that the day of your big board presentation, you call out because it’s Feb 19.

      I don’t think either is an evil approach, but I can see someone who is very fast and loose in style really hating the second option, and I can see someone who is inclined toward the second option getting very itchy with the idea that They Don’t Have A Plan.

    2. Anonymoose*

      It’s really not that complicated. Instead of trying to anticipate who’ll be busy when, just make decisions as they arise. The parents work together to decide who will take the day off base on the needs of that day. Trying to decide in advance who will be the “designated parent” on a given day is a recipe for disaster.

  144. Bear Expert*

    My husband and I have a similar set up – both of us have big jobs, and kid stuff happens.

    We aim for flexibility, with enough communication to kind of know who is in a big push right now. (Sometimes its both of us! And if we’re both gearing up for something big we know we need more than usual external support available!) We have no local family, which is another make or break point.

    We had planned on using a full time nanny for just the first year until the daycare rates dropped from infant rates to toddler rates. First kid is headed into third grade and we still keep a part time nanny – if you can find someone you can work with and works well with your family, a third trusted adult with flexibility is VITAL. Extra coverage for travel, ability to take a sick kid even half a day, a third set of eyes on when shoes are getting outgrown or soccer sign ups are coming up… its expensive and dealing with the taxes is hard and it keeps being worth it.

    Its A LOT easier to make half day swaps where you only need to clear your calendar until 2/after lunch or whatever work than losing entire days. This is how we did most of the deep horrible part of Covid, we shifted our schedules and handed off child care over lunch. It suuuuucked, but we managed to work mostly full time and keep mostly full care for the short set. Sanity took a hit, but well… so did everyone’s.

    We work out a general rule of thumb about by season/quarterly. Both work and kid stuff have seasons and need to find new workarounds about that often. I try to keep my big meetings in the morning, partially because I work a lot with Europe and my husband works a lot with the West Coast. So right now, he is generally on kid morning duty and I am on pick up and afternoon chaos, Plus the nanny for a few hours every afternoon for running around to sports and stuff. When an emergency happens – either work or home, we do a quick check in for who has the best resources to handle it. School starting late due to snow? He’s probably in a better position, but not always. Kid vomiting in the morning? We both pull out our calendars and make a plan, even if part of it is “I guess the iPad holds down the fort from 11:30-noon” Kid vomiting at school? If its after lunch, its almost certainly me.

    So we have a loose default for both regular days and emergencies, but that default gets revisited about quarterly (“My big project with the German team is ending, so I could start doing Tuesday mornings, if that frees anything up for you.”) and actual emergency response is double checked with current conditions.

    It works because we’re not keeping a tight score of who handled the last one or who’s job is more important, we really do come at it as a team with shared goals. We have to get Teammember A to at least these 4 meetings, and Teammember B to these 2 meetings, and Teammember C needs a bucket and some Pedialyte. What resources does the team have available and how can we get everyone’s needs met? If either my husband or I was going to get rigid about rescheduling or moving work stuff for family stuff (and sometimes vice versa) it wouldn’t work at all. Its not a negotiation, we’re not on different sides.

  145. Rae*

    My spouse and I were in this situation until 6 months ago. We divided up the days of the week so that I always had priority on Tues and Thurs and he always had priority Mon and Wed. I was an independent team leader and my spouse is a dept manager so we had a lot of flexibility to book trainings, meetings, etc. I booked everything important on my days, anything I booked on Mon or Wed had to be tentative or moveable. We also occasionally split the day, I’d work 8-2 and he’d work 3-8. And we were lucky to have two babysitters we trusted nearby. Even with all that the strain was too much after 6 yrs of juggling two kids. I moved to a super flexible telework position and it’s been great!

  146. UncleFrank*

    My husband and I definitely don’t have particularly high powered jobs, but I am an assistant professor on the tenure track so my job does have up-or-out pressure. We do a seasons approach to this, but that’s really due to the nature of my job. When our poor nanny was out sick for a week (she totally got it from us) in between semesters, I stayed home with baby and moved the few uncancleable meetings to zoom. When she requested two days off to visit family during the semester, my husband took the days. In general, if I’m in my flexible times I do it so he save his PTO for anything that comes up otherwise (and for fun!). If both of us had more traditional jobs where you can have a sick day, etc I think we would do it on a case to case basis.

  147. Berto*

    Look at the senior executive staff of any major (or even many minor) companies and you will see a common thread:

    – Divorced
    – Estrangement from their adult children
    – Never had children

    You can’t make it work. I’ve tried. Someone has to make the sacrifice. Your other option is to pay for childcare (Nannies, drivers). Outsourcing child rearing is not an option most will take, even if they can.

    Good luck.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I will say, talking with my straight female friends – all of us in high-powered fields or demanding jobs – it is (IMO) an unfortunate relict of past eras that most women are still seeking out similarly high-status men as partners when they want kids. If she’s an ER doc, then he’s a surgeon. If she’s Big Law, he’s a CEO. Since you’re already making the money, why is it so hard for us to find men who have a more laid-back, less-demanding schedule? That’s what high-powered men used to do when they wanted families. Why don’t female CEOs marry male retail workers or preschool teachers (not that I’m saying either job is easy at all by the way)? A lot of is cultural I think – our ideas of what a successful partner looks like and how important that is, is still pretty twisted by history. Plenty of women would have to think twice about fully supporting their spouse, I’d argue. I just find it really unfortunate. And I recognize doesn’t help OP.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I laughed at your post because I did just what you suggested. I married someone with no substantial career aspirations, and he was a stay-at-home dad until our daughter finished middle school. He now works retail and is content to have a job that isn’t demanding in the same way that mine is. Mind you, we were both young when we got together but it was always clear that I would likely have a successful career and he was content to sit at home…..sorta. To your point of why women don’t “marry down”, I think that most hetero men have a hard time with that role. It’s just not in the DNA. My husband has admitted that at times he found it demeaning and hated having to ask me if he could spend part of the budget on lunch or an outing. I now make 4.5 times his salary and he still likes to buy me gifts, cover the bill at dinner and pay certain bills, even though his financial position doesn’t really allow for it in the way that mine does.

        1. Meep*


          My dad was a traveling insurance salesman until I was 8 years old while my mom worked HR for a medication distribution company. They always took turns traveling. Once he lost his job, he eventually got his teaching license and taught middle school math, but there was definitely a period he was moppy about it.

          For me, it was normal that the man was doing the traditional mother’s tasks like taxes, laundry, etc. My husband also struggled with me paying for things when we first got together. And I struggled with why it irked him because again, it was normal for me! I make twice what he makes and he has long gotten over it. But it definitely takes a strong man to let a woman be “better” than him at anything.

        2. Sloanicota*

          Yeah our expectations of gender roles in this society are definitely at play. It can be hard for the men to subvert and hard for their wives too. I just find it interesting that my high-powered executive friends have overcome lots of gender messaging already – they’re tough, they’re aggressive, they’re in control – but not this messaging about who the right partner is for them.

  148. Fed Up*

    Okay, general call out — if you have an issue with working mothers, maybe sit this discussion out, yeah? No one needs your judgmental BS.

  149. Orion*

    Since one of you works at a large company, check if back up care is offered. it’s a little published benefit in big companies, but often you can call a company to send somebody to your house up to a certain number of days a year.

    Second, when my wife and I can’t call out we will set blocks where the kids watch TV. 2 and 4 would be a little young for this but close.

  150. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

    I wonder if this could be reframed as one parent carrying the mental load of child care per season – so whoever is in their less busy quarter is the one to take the lead figuring it out? That might make them the default person to say home, but if they have a busier day or have taken one too many sick days recently (cold/flu season can be brutal) they can also ask the other parent to step in.

  151. Former Retail Manager*

    No time to read all of the previous comments, so I’m sure it’s been mentioned already, but stop trying to work it out between yourselves and hire someone. Maybe it’s a family member with a flexible schedule who could use a little extra financial help, maybe a close friend, neighbor, or even an on-call nanny arrangement, but stop trying to juggle between yourselves. Inevitably a situation will eventually arise in which one of you will feel slighted, deprioritized, disrespected or any number of similar adjectives. This likelihood is amplified considering the child with additional needs. If you have to cut costs elsewhere to afford hired help, cut the costs.

    Once you start doing damage to your relationship, even if advertently, it can be hard to recover from. One or both parties feel resentful of the other and like their dreams or aspirations have been back-burnered. If you can prevent that by paying someone, then do it.

  152. Posilutely*

    We don’t do it like this. I’m the one with the ‘small job’ if what that means is that I’m lower status and less important at my workplace. I also earn only a third of my husband’s salary, so I’m not the breadwinner either. But I’m the person whose work comes first because I’m a healthcare worker and me not being there causes more direct harm, and we are both fine with that. I love my ‘small job’ and I always will.

  153. Anon Today*

    So, I grew up in a family doing this, and the answer kind of has to be a blending of the two.

    I had one parent in Tax (accounting/audits), and the other in Supply Chain management, and I can say they made it work (including two years of homeschooling me and my sibling), but they had the benefit of decent employers, and better than average neighborly help.

    To make it work, there were certain understood times (mainly related to tax deadlines), when one parent was flat out unavailable (they typically worked 100 hour work weeks for the three weeks up to each major filing deadlines). The other party had to handle anything in those times, and that sometimes meant teleworking while we were sick.

    Outside of those times, it went by who had the more flexible day.

    And when no one could be flexible (usually happened 2 to 3 times a year), they relied on our neighbors who had similarly aged children and a cattle farm- neighbors got cash and access to our vacations, as well as my sibling and I to work on their farm during harvest/planting/calving time (really, whenever they said they needed us), and my parents got supports that neither of their families were in a position to provide.

  154. mom_on_the_other_side_of_this_one*

    I haven’t read everything, but keep in mind this will get easier as the kids get older. Mine are now 10 and 8, but those younger years were tough. What ever your plan is, be ready for it to change. I would talk to my spouse that life doesn’t happen in quarters and honestly, I wouldn’t want to get stuck with the winter time when most of the cold/ flu starts to spread.

    What worked for my family was really specific to us, and it took a while to figure this out. I worked closer to the school/daycare so I was the point parent for things that happened during the day because i could get there quickly. My husband has more flexibility in where he can work so if the kids can’t go to school, or need to stay home, he takes care of it. Is it even? No, but in the end we really take it one issue at a time.

    The biggest thing to remember is that once they get to even 6 or 7, they can sleep/watch tv/ read while ill, and you can work from home if you are able. Make sure big work events are shared with the family, and when things happen, do what you need to do. I’ve even sent the kids to school saying, “if it happens before 1 pm call your dad” or ” dad’s in meetings all day, your teacher needs to call me”. It’s about communication, and even with a perfect schedule of which parent is on call, you will always have exceptions.

    Good luck!

  155. JustKnope*

    Most relationship questions are not so black and white that you can consistently “take turns” and make it a 50/50 split. What happens if you both have super important projects that fall within a 2-week timespan? A compromise that may be helpful for you both is to have a weekly 15-minute touch point where you map out who’s got what going on at work and who may not have flexibility that week. And near the beginning of the month you can take a longer-term view. The emergency situations still have to be handled on a case-by-case basis, but you each at any given moment have an idea of what the other has on their plate and who may make the most sense to sacrifice a day off.

  156. higheredadmin*

    OK, here’s how we work it. First, COMMUNICATION! Second, as folks have suggested above what about half days. One of you has the sick kid in the am, the other in the afternoon. This worked really well for us when our kids were little (also fun – who will get the nap, who will get the vomit. It’s like sick kid roulette). You can clear out a lot in a four-hour focused stretch. We have a “black day” system in our shared calendar. If you have an activity that you have to attend you put in a black day, and that is yours no matter what. This is not general deadline driven, more I can’t miss the quarterly meeting with all the head people or I’m travelling for work. With that in place,, the rule is very simple – we take turns. If kid is sick and it is your turn, good luck to you. If you want to swap turns, then it means you are up two times the next time. Also – this is very intense when kids are the ages your kids are. They seem to be sick all the dang time and (obviously) can’t be left alone. At 9 and 12, if my kids are home sick they sit in their room listening to audiobooks and I work remotely, taking the time to check on them and make them lunch etc. So remember this is for a very brief period of your life and a foundational period for your kids – they need to know that you love them and are there for them. It’s not forever.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      +1 on the intensity of the kids being little. I posted our story below but right now it gets a lot easier because one of our kids can be self-contained all day. The other one, not yet, but each year it gets easier and easier.

  157. KareninHR*

    I agree that it should be handled day-by-day (whoever has the least busy day takes the kids). My job is such that I need to be available during business hours as much as possible. My husband has more flexibility to work after hours.. Due to the nature of my job, the beginning of the week is much busier than the end of the week, so we do kind of use that as the dividing line. If it’s a Monday or Tuesday, he usually steps in. If it’s the end of the week, then it’s my turn. Of course we have a discussion, though. We have also split days before. He works from home in the morning, then I work from home in the afternoon. But of course you should be aware of who is “taking one for the team” more often and don’t let that become an issue.

  158. MCR*

    Hi! Dual big-job, two-kid family here. Below is how we made it work before my parents moved to be nearby us to help on sick days, and how we still make it work for things like appointments and school events or when a kid is too sick to expose them to the grandparents:

    1) As others suggested, we are in constant communication about our work schedules. Can’t-miss work events outside of working hours and travel go on the calendar as soon as we know about them. Every Sunday we talk about what our schedules are that week, and we are in constant communication throughout the week as things come up. There’s no “assignment” of duties, but whoever is less busy tends to try to take care of more kid stuff that week. If either of us were away on work travel or at events the previous week, we try to make it up when we get back by taking on more of the load.
    2) If we both are “normal busy,” we try to switch off who takes the kids (and our dog) to appointments or attends school events.
    3) If one of us is very busy, the other makes a real effort to step it up to give the other leeway – with the expectation that the busy one will try to make it up a bit with increased childcare responsibility later.
    4) If both of us are very busy, we lean on a) school-provided “day off” camps (for the older one) or backup care provided through my husband’s work (for the younger one) or b) in a pinch, local nanny services that will do sick care.
    5) We try to evenly divide childcare and household responsibilities during non-working hours at all times no matter what our workload so that if one person has to do childcare during the day, it’s not like they are stuck doing EVERYTHING around the house.
    6) We occasionally hired a babysitter (now it’s the grandparents) to watch the kids for half a day on the weekends if we had to make up work at that time from being out to watch the kids during the week.

  159. nnn*

    A thought without a conclusion:

    I wonder if it makes sense in terms of your husband’s relationship with his own job to be able to tell his job “It’s my turn to be on call for the kids this month” – like maybe it would come across as more credible in his job’s eyes to say “We officially have a system and I’m officially on duty and have to officially take my turn being on duty because that’s only fair.” And maybe that doesn’t make sense for OP’s job because of differences in culture or job specifics.

    I’m not sure what the next steps would be in resolving this, but it would be useful to know if he’s proposing this idea because this framing would give him credibility/capital at work

  160. MusicalManager*

    my husband and I are in this situation too. I have the bigger/more demanding/higher paying job but it is also remote and a little more flexible. husband’s job is in person with rigid hours.

    generally we try to “alternate” whose turn it is to stay home with sick kiddo, or do the doctors appt, or cover a childcare gap (caregiver on vacation or sick) but we give each other grace and use common sense – for example a few months ago my husband covered 2 sick days in a row because I had a really busy day and an important meeting that would have been really difficult to reschedule.

    I’ll also add it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, we informally have a thing where I handle most things that require flexibility but have advance notice (doctors appts, etc) while he will take more sick days. then when we have care gaps we rally our networks to cover what we can and then he and I make a game plan for that specific instance based on what is going on.

    it isn’t easy and it can be frustrating esp when everyone else at my level is either child free or has a wife who is a stay at home mom, so I feel like my work doesn’t always understand that I can’t just drop everything and fly across the country for a week tomorrow. but I do the best I can.

  161. Massive Dynamic*

    This is Spouse and I. Both big jobs, no family whatsoever living around us to help. We have an advantage that we have a thorough understanding of each others’ jobs because we work at the same place. But way more often than not, we need to play random sick days by ear on who’s got more going on that day. It’s easier for us both to WFH with our younger kid unless younger kid is really knocked down (energy for DAYS, that one, even when sick) so we can give cover to each other for meetings and each get a nearly full, albeit longer, workday on the books.

    Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it is really hard, but at least we know that whichever one of us “won” out on not having to tote a kid to the pediatrician right then, we owe it to each other to let the other person carve out the make-up time needed to mitigate the interruption to the workday. We are in this together no matter what.

  162. Forever_sleepy_mom*

    My husband and I are in this situation (BigLaw partners at the same firm and with the same crazy workload) and we do it on a day-by-day basis (or even an hour by hour basis on particularly work-heavy days!). Whoever has crucial meetings gets priority and if both have crucial meetings, whoever has the more trustworthy replacement (for the work meeting) defaults to looking after our son. If we are working from home because our son is ill, for instance, we try to schedule calls and meetings so that they don’t overlap. And we have a wonderful trusted nanny who has cared for him for the past 6 years.

    The issue I see with trying to have blackout or priority periods is that (in our case) it doesn’t recognise the exigencies of our jobs – professional services are very client dependent, and the default caregiver in one month may have an urgent deliverable for a client which can’t be adjusted in this model.

  163. TG*

    If you both have big jobs I assume the pay is commiserate so I’d hire a nanny/moms helper. If the kids are sick you can ask to extend their day and if you both have scheduled projects, ask for more support during those times.
    If you’re not up for that than having some kind of last minute backup at least would probably help you.
    And I have to say your use of “big” job triggered me a bit; people don’t have to have “big” jobs to ask this question and need support. I’m divorced with a child and may not be an exec but my job is everything for us so I’d say it’s “big” to me.

    1. Temperance*

      OP was asking about their specific personal situation, not insinuating that people who have jobs that aren’t “big” don’t also deal with these issues.

    2. Boof*

      It is redic hard to find childcare for random emergencies unless you have very dedicated family/friends willing to help out in a pinch. The internet says I am in the 92nd income bracket and the only way we’ve made it work is a combination of preschool/school, grandma, husband doesn’t work, nanny – and I still help out in a pinch when I can (and yes I am the “big job” main / practically only source of income). There’s no way to find someone who will randomly work for a day here or there. Everyone else you’d probably want to take care of your kids has lives/jobs too.

    3. Raida*

      I think when they say ‘big jobs’ they mean ‘both of us are bringing in the money, both of us are busy, both of us respect the importance of the jobs’ so it’s clear they aren’t in a situation where the obvious solution – lower income partner/shorter career track partner looks after the kids – is available

  164. Rachel*

    If your husband’s company is high profile, he s should be pulling in enough money for a nanny and housekeeper, not to mention your own salary, which is nothing to sneeze at.

    People solve this problem with money, not juggling.

  165. about four months ago*

    No plan survives first contact with reality. So I’m with you; figure it out day by day. Because a long term plan is likely to fall apart.

  166. Anon.*

    I think a combination of the two approaches probably makes the most sense; that’s what we do in my household.

    For example, if one of us has a major project coming up, we’ll flag for the other, with the intent that the less busy person will plan to run point on kid stuff. BUT, if there’s an unexpected issue, like a sick kid who can’t do childcare, the person who is less busy that day takes over and/or we prioritize based on timing.

    it’s worked out so far, but we have a toddler who is pretty chill.

  167. SpaceySteph*

    It sounds to me that you and your husband maybe have different paces at work, where maybe it makes more sense to him to have protected “sprints” where he can be heads down, while maybe you don’t have these sprints but have some days more demanding than others. My husband and I are in similar boats– I have periods of time in my job where I need to be ON all the time, while he has days he can more easily miss than others sprinkled throughout.

    We do a hybrid solution. If its a “sprint” for me, then he knows he’s basically on kid duty all the time. Then when that block of time ends for me, we go back to taking it day by day. Sometimes it happens that someone is sick and he has a really busy day even though I’m in a sprint and those days are really hard and one of us has to take the hit and its a negotiation based on the exact circumstances.

    Overall…it’s hard. It’s always hard, no matter how you set it up.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It sounds to me that you and your husband maybe have different paces at work, where maybe it makes more sense to him to have protected “sprints” where he can be heads down, while maybe you don’t have these sprints but have some days more demanding than others.

      That’s the one concern I have with the “each day as it comes” plan; if one spouse’s job is just inherently more flexible than the other’s, even slightly, it’s a short road to that spouse becoming the de facto default. That individual needs breaks and some time prioritized as well.

      Ostensibly, the rotating spouse on point guarantees the spouse with more habitual flexibility some time as the priority, if done in bona fide. If it’s just a ruse (e.g. every week/month/period is “Hell week” for one spouse and the other is always on point), that’s a different situation.

      1. LW*

        It’s very true, my work is more reactive than his (though of course stuff comes up for both of us all.the.time).

  168. Boof*

    Absolute number one rule: whatever you decide, you HAVE TO schedule regular check ins to revisit what is working well and not working well. Like, maybe 2-4 times a year (quarterly, ha!). So if you want to go with the “small company” parent takes kids first choice and “high-profile ex” only if absolutely needed approach (or whatever language you prefer) then the onus is not on LW to forcibly revisit it if LW is exhausted/stressed (and presumably husband is probably feeling like everything is fine) but instead expecting it to be revisited. Because things change, they can change a lot. Also, if you do go with some theme of LW is the one to first attempt to handle any kid urgent changes, they trust their husband to step in and say “Actually I have a lot of leave / it’s a super light day, let me handle it!” And if not, have a real conversation about that; presumably you’d be uncomfortable being the default then because you’re worried you’re husband isn’t going to try to help out even when it makes sense for them to, and so the address it in the moment system works better (or husband has to agree to be the primary taker at least one quarter per year, or every other quarter, or whatever feels right to you/with your personal preferences)

    1. Boof*

      I think all the folks who think it’s easy just to throw more money at this problem haven’t experienced it themselves, either.

  169. Green Goose*

    Thanks for asking this question, OP! I am in a similar situation and will be combing through the comments for tips. I’m actually typing this amid my busy season (liken it to tax season for accountants) and my oldest (2 years) is home with the stomach flu.
    It’s so hard. I basically cease being a human for the months of July and August because we’re so slammed at work, and even though I remind my husband about this and he knows it, there is still resentment (on both sides) during this time. I feel so underwater with work stuff that there is virtually no time to shop, clean up the house, and my husband is really against having people clean for us after an expensive, bad experience and thinks its a waste of money to order Instacart. We have not found a solution because my solution is “hire some help” and his rebuttal is “that’s a waste of money” and then he does everything and gets resentful. I try to help when I can but I’m so beyond drained and working so much overtime during the summer that I only do about 10%-20% of the household chores during that time.
    Summers are also a perfect storm because my mom, who is our only childcare outside of daycare, leaves for about two months during my busy period so we don’t have backup. I’ve spent days of my life looking into babysitting/childcare options but nothing has ever worked out.
    I’ve definitely wished into the universe that I could have a job that pays the same that I get now but I only have to work a handful of non-stressful hours, this exists right?? Haha.

    I hope we both can figure out something that works.

    1. Boof*

      Sounds like you need to find some middle ground on the “throw money at it” problem; maybe working on a joint budget where X amount is devoted to “stress relief” – and if it isn’t spent on getting help with chores etc, IDK, you can go halfies on buying something purely fun?

      1. Raida*

        Hell, if they can decide it’s My Job to do grocery shopping and I do it via online ordering & delivery = if it gets done within budget to an acceptable level of quality then discussion over.
        I had a task.
        I did it.
        I accept the cost.

        But arguing in favour of doing the thing that pisses him off and resent the person arguing in favour of an arrangement that would not result in pissing him off? lemme just put my Reddit commenter hat on here and say ‘couple’s counselling’ because that’s not working as a team, it’s not respectful, it’s not solutions based, it includes blame, and it’s angry.

    2. WorkingMom*

      FWIW, we order all of our groceries from Aldi on Instacart and after many tests have found that it’s significantly cheaper than our grocery stores closer by.

      Can you split the difference and do pick up, with your husband taking on the pick up task?

      Overall though, your husband doesn’t get to limit your solutions like this. He just doesn’t. It’s not your job to work within the confines of your husband’s money anxiety like this. It sounds like it’s time for a come to Jesus talk with your husband – like: you are causing so much strife and unhappiness for our family, and it’s not sustainable, and this is an emergency we need to fix.

      Make him face the fact that he’s not letting you outsource some help (after ONE mishap?! How many times has his way been miserable and you’re still trying it!!) and then he’s somehow feeling justified being resentful to YOU when HIS plan doesn’t work well?? That’s not ok, you don’t deserve it, and there is no magic solution you haven’t considered here. He needs to get onboard that this phase of life requires solutions that might not be his fave,

      Personally, I would be scheduling house cleaning, meal delivery, etc in advance for every July/August without getting his input at this point. If someone refuses to actually collaborate, then it’s no longer a group project.

  170. Zennish*

    The reason your husband likes the priority plan is probably because it lends an illusion of control and predictability to an inherently unpredictable situation. The reality is that the actual decision will be made in the moment based on the situation at hand, who has a meeting they can’t move, who is able to leave early that day, and so on. Given that, it makes the most sense to me to just accept it, and not add another layer of complexity.

  171. MountainGirl19*

    My husband and I were in the exact same situation w/ two kids less than two years apart in daycare and illness in the little ones is inevitable and seems like someone in our family was sick every week for a while there :). We planned week to week so every weekend we’d look at our upcoming schedules and determine ‘In case X happens’ what days we were available/flexible vs. what days were an absolute no-go between the two of us due to critical meeting/project/deadline. It worked out pretty evenly and we were less stressed about the upcoming week knowing I could cover M/W and spouse could cover the other days or however it worked out. And of course, if meetings/projects got pushed we would tell each other ‘hey, I can cover Thursday now after all in case X happens.’ Planning months in advance is not realistic to me and day to day flying by the seat of your pants is way too stressful for me, so the week-to-week thing worked well for us. And it won’t last forever! :).

  172. HannahS*

    My partner and I have done a little bit of both approaches, though never deciding the day of. That way lies disaster! Justifying your busy days to each other at 7:30 in the morning while cleaning up vomit from one child and trying to get the other ready sounds incredibly stressful. For reference, I’m a resident physician, my partner works in government. We can’t afford a nanny.

    Currently, we review our schedules every week and see which days each of us has unmissable work. Our work-weeks have a somewhat predictable rhythm–he’s almost always in critical meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays and works from home the other days; I have call shifts and family meetings that I can’t miss. So there’s a give-and-take in each week. And we’ve deliberately tried to invert our schedules where possible; I work a rougher schedule to be available on days when he’s not; he tries to put all of his important in-person work at the same days each week.

    At the same time, I think there’s value to thinking about the broader time periods, too. When my partner started a new job and was in his probationary period, I was working on a team where someone could see my patients if I was away. For those six months, we agreed that I would take care of our daughter when she was sick as much as I possibly could. The next year, there was a four-month period where I worked with no coverage, so we agreed that my husband would do as much as he could. We still reviewed our schedules every week, but unless I happened to not have patients on a certain day, I expected my partner to rearrange his work to suit mine for those months.

    It’s hard. It’s all hard. As a woman in a heterosexual relationship, I know I have to put boundaries around my career, because it’s easy for both my partner and I slip into seeing me as the default parent. That’s why we don’t decide day-of. Anyway, I hope that helps :)

    1. Raida*

      This I like – weekly time dedicated to running the household as a team, planning ahead and making decisions when it’s not an emergency

    2. LW*

      Yes this is exactly where my husband is coming from, I do appreciate that he is trying to impose more order where chaos lies.

  173. I should really pick a name*

    I think if you were to go with your husbands approach, the time period for each “turn” would have to be much shorter.
    Yearly or quarterly just doesn’t seem practical. Monthly might work.

    That being said, I’d personally prefer the arrangement that you described.

  174. gracie*

    This topic has been on my mind lately. My husband wants me to take a long leave of absence (5 years) or quit my job altogether so our son has a present parent all the time in order to schedule activities during the weekdays so they’re not all piled on the weekends. I hate feeling like a complainer because we are fortunate that my husband has a job where we would be financially in a decent place with him as the solo breadwinner as his salary is more than double mine. He is not saying my career is “less than” but that I don’t HAVE TO work and our child could benefit from me being at home/available more. But… I like my job and having a career gives me joy and meaning in my life. When I was on maternity leave, I felt like my brain was mush just doing parenting stuff 24/7. Being a working mom comes with many feelings of guilt and shame. It’s so hard to navigate.

    1. Boof*

      It’s ultimately up to you, but if you decide not to do full time work, you should do part time or at least a solid volunteer gig for sanity sake. Not sure what you’ve discussed already, but sometimes the assumption is the one who is working does “the job” and the stay at home parent does childcare + houskeeping aka everything else. In that arrangement, one person has 40 hrs of work a week, and one person has 24/7 work; not a fair trade / not balanced / that way lies madness! It’s super hard the first year or two but generally there should be an agreement/priority that you get enough time to do things other than looking after others; whether that’s work, hobbies, whatever depends on your interests and finances; certainly part time work though has a lot to speak for it.

      1. Meep*

        Gracie should also make sure she has a savings account that is hers that he is paying into as well. If he wants her to stay home with the childcare (and as you stated, working 24/7), he should be paying her in the event something happens and they split. We recently had a LW who was depending on her former partner to subsidize part of her income and was now struggling.

        1. Boof*

          I agree that a certain amount of safety netting has to be built in before you allow yourself to be pretty dependent on someone else, though I think the details of that can vary; I’d say at the least appropriate disability and life insurance; having a part time job or solid volunteer work is a way of keeping up some relevant skills. Discussing ahead of time how money will work is important too. Having your own accounts is relevant; I sort of did all this for my husband (who stopped working 7 years ago, partially to pursue some passion projects, but he’s certainly also major backup child care and and main domestic wrangler) but I try to make sure I pay into an IRA all for him too, the bulk of my check goes into our joint accounts (checking and retirements and mortgage) but a little goes into personal accounts that he can use for whatever the heck he wants without consulting me, etc. I made him sign up for mint and he should be able to see All The Accounts and track them if he wants to. Talk openly about money and run the budget together once a year, and yes a domestic partner is a partner and is doing valuable work and it’s important everyone understands and agrees on the finances.

      2. Goldie*

        I made less than my husband at the beginning of our marriage. When we had a baby and a preschooler I considered stepping back in the workforce. We were barely a float and child care was expensive. When my youngest was 18 months a dream job fell into my lap with twice my salary and fantastic benefits with a pension. I wouldn’t have been considered if I wasn’t working.

        10 years later I am making 3 times my former salary 50% more than my husband and we have financial security.

        There were some rough years in there. I am glad I knew I could support myself.

    2. HappyWorkingMom*

      I’m the working mother to a toddler, and the number one thing I would never advise myself or my friends to do is become a SAHM for any other reason than absolute desire or necessity (if possible). I know it’s not always black and white, but from the way you’ve framed it here it seems like your husband has a vision for what’s best for your son and wants you to make the sacrifice to make it happen.

      It’s not a guarantee that you’ll be able to find your way back into a fulfilling job after a five year break. Also, I know this isn’t the full picture for every individual family, but research shows that having a SAHM isn’t “better” statistically speaking for your kid. You know who it is unarguably better for? Your working husband. If he gets a SAH spouse, he suddenly doesn’t have to do a ton of work that I would assume he’s currently doing. It can be a GREAT set up for families where it works for both spouses, but if it doesn’t work for your soul, don’t sacrifice it if you don’t have to.

      I’ll also offer: my mom stayed home for similar reasons, never found her way career wise, and it was extremely, extremely detrimental to her mental health and self worth, which was extremely, extremely detrimental to our family life and relationships with her.

      I will also say, when my daughter was a baby I got so many questions and comments from people about if I would continue to work full time, if I felt like I was going to miss out by working, etc. I got several comments from SAHM about how “they could never let someone else raise their child,” (always breathtaking, the thoughtless cruelty from other moms when we’re all in the trenches together). But working full time and having my kid in a great daycare has been by far the best, best, best thing ever. I spend 1-2 hours with her in the morning, then work, then several hours in the evening (trading off morning with my husband so we both still have a couple of mornings off). I never lose my temper with her – literally never so far, though I know it’s coming at some point! – because I’m never burned out. For other parents, the combo of working and parenting might be exactly what causes them to burn out, but for me it allows me to be a parent that I’m really proud of.

      And, daycare is awesome! My kid LOVES daycare, runs to her teachers every morning, and they do a ton of fun things so we do zero activities outside of daycare. We meet friends at the playground and the parents drink cocktails out of reusable coffee cups while the kids play, and sometimes we order a pizza to the playground. We will likely put her in swim lessons for safety reasons – grandparents have a pool and a beach house – but other than that I plan on zero classes, etc until she starts spontaneously asking for them.

      I feel for you. This is such a hard decision, but I hope you can reach a point where you can release the guilt and shame over being a working parent. SAHMs have their own guilt and shame – you’ll probably be on your phone more around your kid, lose your temper more, your kid might get way more screen time, less opportunity to be with other kids all day (if daycare is the current solution). There are real, significant pluses and minuses to both.

      The key thing I read from you is how you felt on parental leave and how you feel at your job. If you were my friend, I would implore you not to do it, and potentially get into couples therapy with your husband to help work out what’s really important to you both (not because it sounds like you’re in crisis or anything, I’m just a huge advocate for couples therapy).

      1. Boof*

        All this. I remember when I had my first, I was home 6 weeks then started back to work; it was SUCH a relief to go back to work for me at least. I was in medical training and had a light research rotation to start with, which was a great transition. I have 3, and with the second and third I was more relaxed and took 3 months with my last, and I managed to balance a lot more some non-mom stuff (a little light consulting, some research stuff, etc) while on leave. What I’m getting at is it’s a huge change and there’s no shame in not wanting to devote your entire being and life to being a mom 24/7 all of a sudden; in fact it’d be a bit weird to expect anyone to make such a dramatic and permanent about face (meaning, if being a parent wasn’t the sum total of their interest and desires before actually being a parent, it won’t suddenly and permanently be after). Yes being a parent is super important for those who decide to do that and yes my first priority are to these little lives I’m responsible for, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you do with your life; I think most people really need to have a few other things going on in their life, and it will make most people better parents too! (otherwise I guess the only thing you could teach /model for your kid is parenting, and not anything else like working, creating, enjoying anything…)

  175. higheredadmin*

    One more thought – if we consider the problem as a closed system, there are two factors that are taking time: job and kids. As you are both fairly senior, what about looking at what you can do in the job realm to free up time? Can you ask for another staff person? Can you delegate more? Can you train your employees to take on more work themselves? Basically – what are you doing at work that you don’t need to do and can be done by someone else. As others have noted upthread, change comes when those at the top model this behavior.

  176. My Take*

    A few thoughts from a working mom (attorney) with a working husband (banking) both in the office without any family nearby:
    *Know this phase won’t last forever. As the kids grow, they will get sick less–and their illnesses will feel less catastrophic when their bodies are stronger/more able to work through them.
    *Maybe like your husband, I appreciate certainty and predictability (as much as can be possible in parenting). So having a framework to guide decision-making can help…even when you recognize that it may have to change.
    *Instead of quarterly, what about switching the “default parent” every other week? I.e., you take the first and third weeks, he takes the second and fourth of every month. The default parent is the one responsible for staying at home that week…with the understanding that, if there is something big, you will switch roles because you both succeed/have a vested interested in the career growth and professional success of the other.
    *We did have a nanny, but that’s not foolproof (nannies get sick, too!).
    *We have selected private schools that have long coverage hours (think 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and “camps” during school breaks.
    *There may be some times that you just can’t accommodate your kid being sick or sent home. E.g., trials or a conference where he is one of the key speakers. In those situations, we have flown in family members to be with us for the week (just in case). If our child was sick, there was someone in the house ready to help. If our child was not sick–great! We got time with a family member.
    *I know of other couples at the executive level/dual-doctors on crazy shift schedules/etc. who have multiple nannies, au pairs, or “family managers,” even when their kids are in school. These people help with grocery shopping, meal making, school drop offs, etc.–and are also available to take care of the child instead of doing those things if/when the child is sick. It is expensive, but would solve your issue.
    *In our case, I handle mornings and he handles afternoon stuff. That makes me more likely to be the one to stay home on a random day. BUT, if I have something big, he has come home when I needed it. And also, on an ongoing basis, he is the one doing shuttling to therapy appointments, doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, etc.
    *Finally, family (your kids, your health, your marriage) comes first. This means that sometimes you (and he) are going to miss something you would otherwise professionally really want to be at. But, a career is a marathon, not a sprint–so do your best to minimize those where possible and show up big at other times.

  177. Sara*

    This is a huge issue for my husband and myself too (also have a 4 and 2 year old). We’ve tried a lot of different things, daycare, au pair and full time nanny. Our best solution yet is a live in au pair and a part time nanny. They can typically cover for each other for illness/vacations/emergencies. But even then there are gaps. On days when my husband and I need to cover we do our best to split the day. He watches kids from wake-up to lunch while I work and then we flip. We typically can each work 6 hrs a day doing that, though sometimes do miss meetings. Honestly, there isn’t an ideal solution and childcare in this country is insanely expensive and complicated. But I do recommend having multiple people you trust and who are familiar with your kids. That way when things come up you have more than one person to ask for help.

  178. lessachu*

    My husband and I took turns taking time off when our children were these ages, until it hit a point where we either needed to hire an au pair or one of us needed to take the foot off the gas on our careers to prioritize the children. He ended up deciding to focus on the kids.

  179. SomethingElse*

    From the OP:
    “How about the kids of these “two big job” relationships? What did your parents do right (or wrong)?”

    My mom was a single parent at a big job. She worked long hours, she was very important and she was always on call. She did so much right and I have nothing but respect for her, but since you asked for this opinion, I will give it.

    People are suggesting nannies and baby sitters. We had had a live in nanny when I was very young, I dont remember her very well. As far as I know, this was completely needed, because my mom was on call such that sometimes she needed to be at work overnight.

    Later on, I never really enjoyed babysitters and my sibling and I mostly thought poorly of them. Some were nice and some were overly assuming and wanted to teach us lessons and such (maybe on instruction, who knows) but we usually spent our day trying not to interact with them.

    I was dropped off at various family members houses a lot. This was more optimal in some ways (I ate better, I was comfortable not being with strangers) but also annoying in other ways (I wasn’t in my space, quickly ran out of things to do, family was quicker to get annoyed if I was inconveniencing them)

    Eventually my sibling was old enough to act as a standing babysitter. This caused some resentment in them that took a while to sort out. I became fiercely introverted and generally can attribute some of that to long swaths of being left alone. I did not think my parents didn’t love me, but my relationship with my mom was business like for a long time, as that was the easiest way to get her attention. She had little time for me to be childish and not rationalizing things, and overall it was not a very emotional household.

    Good things –
    – We took real vacations every summer and my mom truly unplugged during those
    – She was generally there if I really needed it, and she wasn’t really down on me when I underperformed in school (which I did a lot)
    – She spent tons of time telling us about the world, and making us feel worthy, intelligent and respected
    – My extended family really stepped it up when they had to, and treated me fine even if they thought I was a quiet little weirdo. I did not generally do well in camps or afterschool activities because I was so quiet, so it was preferable to be with people I knew.

    The result of my childhood led me to the choice to not have kids myself though. I dont think my mom did anything wrong, but as a person who doesn’t really enjoy being around kids now, and had a childhood where I sometimes felt deprioritized, I decided against it. My sibling went the other way and is a stay at home parent.

    Overall, no home life is perfect. I’ve never met a family where nothing ever went wrong and everyone was always happy, present, and no one ever wanted something different. My mom had to support us and she wouldn’t have been happy as a part time worker. She did what she had to to make her life work.

    Flexibility seems to be key and you’re going to have to figure out who you can lean on, if you have anyone you can lean on.

    1. Boof*

      Oooh, I missed that part. Yeah, memories
      — mom was a doctor, father was a researcher/chemical engineer.
      — we moved a lot because the jobs pulled in different directions. I actually thought that was pretty grand, until we moved my senior year of high school. I did not love that move so much and the attitude at the new (nice! Private! But sheltered!) school may not have been the best one to absorb heading into college. And my parents lived a part for a while, really truly because my dad (middle age phd) was struggling so hard to find work he thought was relevant. No major harm done or anything, I appreciate now how stressful that all was, and ultimately my dad stopped working and prioritized being with my mom. I think some kids will like moving more than others; it can be a fresh start, or it can throw you off when you have a good thing going.
      — nanny when I was very young, uncles, grandparents, preschool. When I was older a lot of various camps/afterschool ish things. I was fine with it all, but in hindsight / for my kids, I’m trying harder to get them in things that are either super fun or else more skill building rather than just sort of… warehousing. Warehousing is ok if it’s the only option, but I’m striving for something a little more enriched whenever I can find it. (if only there were more language immersion daycares!!!)
      — I always felt like my parents would be there for me when I needed them. If I was sick, etc, I remember my mom would check me out, be home with me, never made me feel guilty for it. That’s what I take for my kids, even if I have to work a lot, even if I don’t have nearly as much time for each one as I want, I prioritize being there for them if there’s something important. A birthday, routine doctor appointments (I’m a doctor so I figure I ought to try to go to those), whatever – in my mind at least if I have to pick between work and something important to my kids/family it’s going to be family.
      — conference travel! it can be cool. Take your kids with you!

  180. Midwestern Communicator*

    Just adding in how my husband and I are handling child care as we are in the middle of our career building phases – this year especially for both of us has been crucial in our development.

    We both work from home and have fairly flexible jobs. But with a toddler who is at daycare, and me being pregnant with our second, this year has really tested our partnership.

    We do everything on a case by case basis, sometimes hour by hour for sick days. My son got sick while I was at a conference, so my husband took off, but I was able to come home early to give him a break and time to catch up on what’s most important.

    My husband makes almost double what I do – but I have a higher earning potential (and the ambition to be in the C-suite while he doesn’t ). So this time in my career is just as crucial to our future as his is, even if he makes more money. It’s a discussion we have often, and while it can be annoying to constantly check in, I find that it staves off resentment.

    I hope that you and your husband can come to a conclusion on this! It’s such a struggle.

  181. Anecdata*

    One variant on “have a default decision” I’ve seen families use is having a ‘Survival Mode’ option, where they intentionally put into place a bunch of strategies that are not long term sustainable/desirable, when you know you’re in a particularly rough spot for a couple month. There’s a built in agreement to re-evaluate Survival Mode status after 6 months. SurvivalMode looks different for different families but could be : spend more on outsourcing cleaning/chores than is long term financially feasible for you; pay for more childcare; be ok with more takeout dinner nights than you are usually; reduce kid activities; use disposable dishes; allow more screentime, etc. The key is that you make one decision (enter survival mode) and it takes off a ton of the mental load of having to make that decision (should I let the preschooler watch one more Bluey because the baby is finally napping and I desperately need a shower??) 80 times a day.

    It doesn’t mean there’s /no/ flexibility but I can see a lot of value in having a “default decision” in place, which seems like part of what this quarter-by-quarter system is going for?

  182. Bridget*

    This is like me and my husband! We each own our own small businesses, which comes with flexible, but extremely demanding schedules (both working out of the house, unless one of us chooses to work at our club-like gym or coffee shop). We have a 1 year old and 4 year old who are in daycare each day, so we are primarily talking sick days or those random no-school days where we still have work to do.

    We tag-team based on who’s schedule is lighter that day. I couldn’t imagine committing to a quarter (or even a week!) because things can change so quickly in our lives. Today both kids are home sick, and we even tag-team throughout the day based on meeting schedules. If my meeting is video, and his isn’t necessary to be that way, he takes the kids. If my meeting is internal, and his is client-facing, then I take the kids during that time.

    It’s certainly not ideal, but unless both jobs were very predictable – like accountants who know they are busy during tax season – I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.

  183. LW*

    These comments and strategies are actually incredible. So many perspectives and solutions that neither of us had thought of! Thanks so much everyone, I will have a closer read when the kids are asleep. Grateful for this community. Thanks also to be people who have seen my husband’s (good, teamwork, loving) intent here! We are a team and trying to solve a problem, he is definitely not looking to perpetuate me as a “default parent”!

  184. Llama Groomer*

    My spouse and I are in this situation! I am default emergency childcare for two reasons – my work is more flexible, and I work in the city we live in, while he has a 30 minute commute. But if the day the kid is sick is a day when there’s something important I can’t miss, he will take the day off instead of me.

    it is hard – solidarity!

  185. McThrill*

    I’m sure it’s already been said in many comments and you already know this from having two kids, but the kids aren’t going to stick to a quarterly schedule. It has to be day by day based on who can most afford the time at that moment because there’s no way to plan what sort of things are going to come up with kids, nor can you fully know what will be happening each quarter at your respective jobs. Things pick up, things slow down, you both have to be flexible.

  186. OneWhoStressesConstantlyAboutSickKids*

    I don’t think there’s anything totally problematic about assigning quarters, so long as there is some flexibility for big days. But be sure you mix up who gets which quarter year by year. Different quarters have different challenges. For example, summer is low on sickness in our family. One person hogging that quarter would be inequitable. Back to school/after Christmas break and holidays are nightmarish sickness season.

  187. Michelle Smith*

    My parents refused to pull me out of school for illness unless absolutely required by the school and forced me to stay in bed the entire time with no entertainment (no books, no TV, no joy, just the ceiling to stare at) as punishment. If anyone stayed with me, it was always my mom.

    So I don’t have any solutions for you, but please don’t be like my parents. Whatever you do, don’t make your kids feel guilty that they inconvenienced you by getting sick.

  188. Raida*

    I actually prefer his approach.

    Instead of saying “well which one of us is MORE IMPORTANT TODAY” you say “It is Person A’s responsibility and they will handle it.”

    It’s clear, it can alternate, it removes worry and having to calculate on the fly.
    You can certainly still have days where he could say “For this week I’m locked in for a,b,c would you be able to pick up urgent home matters until Friday?” even if it’s his quarter/month.
    I would say including a weekly household recap (yes very business-y) on Sundays for a half hour where you two run through bills, accounts, upcoming events, calendars and get it clarified and sorted for the week as a team.

    But the true answer is: If you have two people in big jobs, then you have $money$ so you’d have a nanny or au pair or personal assistants for the ability to have them handle picks ups and drop offs and watching the kids in times that clash with work hours than for having them look after the kids while you two aren’t at work.
    You quite simply, would not have two big job people trying to behave like single parents.

  189. Pocket Mouse*

    LW, could you pretty please put a reminder in your calendar to write in with an update in a year or two? Would love to hear what you decided to do, if what you decided is what happened, and whether you feel what happened was fair. Thanks in advance!

  190. el l*

    If you both agreed, that’d by definition be the best approach. But you don’t. So, pros and cons.

    His approach, while rigid, takes the guesswork out of it. Your approach gives flexibility for local circumstances- and mood, which is both good and bad. Your approach has however the downside of requiring much more effort to manage.

    If you can’t persuade, perhaps leave it to a coin flip.

  191. Jay (no, the other one)*

    Before I answer the question: the answer is not the point. I’ll tell you what worked for us and that is the least important thing I can say. The process by which we got to that solution was much, much more important and is more generalizable. We talked about goals and our values. One of our goals was to avoid having a default parent as much as possible – we really wanted to share the load and we wanted our kid to be comfortable with either of us taking care of her. It took some work because even though I was the higher earner (by a lot) the idea that Mom is the default in a hetero family is deeply, deeply ingrained. So we talked about it. A lot. And we talked about how we felt about it. And we listened to each other. That’s what matters – the listening.

    So now the less relevant and strongly held opinion: it has to be case-to-by case because not only are no two work weeks the same but also kids and illnesses vary. As the kids get older, it will sometimes be possible for one of you to stay home with a sick-ish kid who is still able to entertain herself enough for the at-home parent to get some work done (not a full day. A few hours. Still – something). That means whoever has an in-person meeting goes in and the other stays home. There’s no way to predict that months in advance.

    My husband and I both had “big” jobs. Mine was much less flexible because I’m a doctor. When our kid was growing up he worked at a science museum so he always did snow day coverage – either they were also closed or she went it with him. Even though he was more flexible I sometimes did sick kid duty because, well, I’m a doctor. It was still case-by-case depending on how sick she was and what my day looked like. We both work locally and some days we tag-teamed.

  192. Goldie*

    Here’s a secret, your child care needs increase as your kids get older. Elementary age have after school sports, there are tons of random days off. later elementary and middle have half days or get too old for camps, the. High schoolers have crazy driving requirements.

    My 9th grader has 2 practices a day & summer school, my 6th grader has summer school & music lessons. All require a ride at an inconvenient time.

    My husband and I have big jobs and just juggle as much as we can. It’s tough. Hand on our marriage and impacts our performance at work.

    1. Goldie*

      My other thought to the nanny suggestion is that when your kids are legitimately sick, they want a parent to take care of them. It’s understandable

  193. hydrangea macduff*

    My spouse and I did the “whose schedule is less busy” plan and the flaw in that was that sometimes it was neither and sometimes it was both.
    If I had had the means that it sounds as though you have, I would have had a nanny and prioritized my career during the day and kids at night. though you can’t imagine it now, it will only get busier as they get older! Use the resources you have to be an equitable and excellent employer for someone who can transport and take care of kids.

  194. Jolene*

    I think it depends on the personalities of the individuals. There is no “correct” approach and, no matter what, you have to work together.

    My wife and I both have “big” jobs. Both ambitious, successful, career focused lawyers. We have two kids – 3 years and <1 year. Whooo boy, it’s tough!

    Admittedly, she’s better at this than me. (Both women, I’m the birth mom but she’s “parent A” – not a gender thing.) She handles stress better, multitasks better, deals with the unexpected pivots (sick kids, etc.) better. I married well. As a result, she tends to take on more when last min things come up. I would do better with a schedule (like OPs husband). But my Wife does not like the idea bc she does better with flexibility.

    We just make it work, trying to be considerate to each other. I’d like to think it all evens out.

  195. 2 "Big Jobs" too*

    My husband and I are both doctors with administrative/leadership roles, so sometimes we are directly caring for patients and other times we have days full of meetings of varying importance and flexibility. Our kids were born when he was in residency and I had just finished. We have no family in town and have used traditional school/daycare and babysitters (no live-in help), and our kids are now 9 & 12. So we’ve been figuring this out for 12 years now! There is no “right” way and it’s not always easy but I’ll tell you what we’ve done that’s worked for us.

    Shared Google calendar for key home and work stuff. We each have a color and there is one for kids. We don’t put every work meeting on it, but “can’t miss” stuff goes on, like our patient care days, call schedules, off-sites, board meetings etc. and we are each responsible for keeping our own schedules updated and consulting the calendar as we make meetings and when anything unexpected comes up. Key kid things like school closure days or events go on too.

    Weekly calendar review – when the kids were little we’d order sushi on Sunday nights after they went to bed and do a “plan of the week” in-home date. Now it’s more ad-hoc, but we look together at the week ahead and make sure we have a game plan. (We often do this in conjunction with meal planning so we don’t plan a labor intensive dinner on a particularly busy day).

    Understood ground-rules – for us patient care trumps admin meetings 100% of the time, for example. So, if I get a call and I know he is seeing patients that day, I already know I’m it, and vice versa.

    Regular babysitters, including on retainer as mentioned by another commentator. When the kids were younger we’d use the retainer for nights or weekends where one was out (in the hospital) and the other was on call from home but *might* have to leave. Pay the babysitter some to be on call, and then pay for any hours they need to be there. Also, using our village for occasional pickups/playdates and carpools – sometimes even having someone to bring a kid home or over to their house for an hour can make the impossible possible.

    Constant, frequent communication. Our jobs can be unpredictable, so we text each other all the time with status updates and ask for help when things are shifting and we get creative when we have to.

    Lastly, coming to accept that despite your best efforts sometimes it all unravels and you have to do something non-ideal, like miss that board meeting or reschedule patients. When it does people really do understand and life and work moves on.

    It’s a challenge but it’s definitely doable! For us it’s all about communication, creativity, flexibility and assuming good intent.

  196. Despachito*

    I am fully with you on this one, and I think it is the only logical thing to do in your situation. Your partner’s stance is too rigid – even when working on a large project there are busier and quieter times, and little kids require flexibility.

    I have a personal problem with situations when it is automatically assumed that the woman/mother would be the flexible one. Virtually all my friends and family did this (automatically), and so did I to an extent (after an agreement with my husband who was willing to pull his own weight but I could WFH while he couldn’t, I wanted to be with the kids and did not have a position I would want to maintain), but I hate the idea that you are SUPPOSED to do that automatically that with a passion of ten thousand burning suns.

    End of rant. I think you are right and should stand your ground.

  197. Mimsie*

    Two parent household here in a VERY similar work setup and with a 4 and 2 year old! We do it “your” way and it works for us. However we have somewhat flexible hybrid working conditions and there are times where neither of us take the childcare hit, we actually swap during the day depending on meeting schedules etc.

    But I want to give a different perspective. I think parents like us, who have done the work and “climbed the ladder” need to use some of that capital to make a change in our work culture. We should try and feel confident to set an example of how things should be in the post pandemic, blindfold off, new world we live in.

    I read this meme once about how “full time working” moms are pressured to act as if their kids are the most important thing in the world but they also need to act like they don’t have kids. It resonated with me because it’s so true and so stupid.

    Kids are a reality. Sick kids are a reality. You and your husband are important at your jobs and good at your jobs and you made it work fully remote during the pandemic. You should *both* have the confidence and capital to just say once in a while “hey, family thing has popped up. Not ideal but I’ll be less available/not available today”.

    You seem like you have a solid relationship with your husband and open lines of communication. I am also assuming you have strong work ethics to get you this far. Now you need to trust all of these things are true.

    Use your instincts as a family to decide who should take the emergency time off and how. But make your decisions based on YOUR FAMILY. Once you agree on that, this is an excellent use of work capital to exert your view, preferences, and maybe even send out a ripple of change in our work obsessed society. Good luck!

  198. JDC*

    I don’t know if anyone’s already suggested this, but one strategy is to have Partner A consistently schedule important meetings Mon/Tues and Partner B schedule important meetings Thurs/Fri with both partners telling colleagues that Wednesdays are also a possibility with at least a week, preferably two weeks notice.
    This gives both partners’ colleagues consistency for scheduling and is a clear/simple message to convey. Colleagues know they can be depended on in those halves of the week year round.

    It doesn’t mean meetings can’t be scheduled in the other half, just that if childcare issues come up on your days then you need to take point.

    As other commenters suggested this can always be paired with emergency overrides if you really are surprisingly busy that day, or home help etc.

    Quarterly planning seems too long a commitment to be able to make realistically work, given the situation you’ve described. Instead, having regular meetings at home to look at the month ahead to try and spot any upcoming work conflicts is a good idea and you’ll be able to notice if one parent always considers their own work inflexible and puts uneven pressure on the other.

  199. CountryLass*

    I’d definitely say to work it flexibly. When we get the feeling one of our kids might be unwell, out come the digital diaries “I can do Tuesday, but Wednesday is out. I can rearrange Thursday if I have to, but I would refer not to if you are able to take that day” and so on.

    It shouldn’t always fall on one person, but setting it per quarter is just asking for issues.

  200. ijustworkhere*

    I’d like to know more about why the husband wants to handle the child care this way—does his job operate more like this? Is he looking for help justifying a request to stay home and work remotely? (“it’s my quarter to be primary on child care”). My point is that, although your current arrangement deals with the needs of kids for care , perhaps it isn’t dealing with his needs/interests.

    The fact that he has requested to change the way you cover child care needs when the kids are sick indicates to me that something more is going on, and once you know that, you can probably work out a solution that makes sense for all of your needs/interests–yours, his, and the kids.

  201. RebPar*

    So many others have posted good ideas. But the one thing I wanted to underline as the parent of an 18 and 21 year old, is that parenting issues are not stable across a year, a quarter or even a month. I would strongly advise on a highly flexible approach that allows each of you to meet your commitments as best you can, while also meeting your children’s needs fully. Of the two options, I lean toward your suggested approach as its much less rigid though will take flexibility and self-awareness on each partner to acknowledge when they truly have less going on (but are still objectively busy) as compared to the other partner. And I can’t emphasize enough that these negotiations NEVER END. My 21 year old had a misdiagnosis and became very ill (needlessly, thanks urgent care) with mono that ended up requiring hospitalization. Between 1am and 8am the next morning, my husband & I decided it would be me who flew across the country to be with her. Being able to talk with your partner from a stance of mutual respect is critical not just now, but forever.

  202. Unipotamus*

    So many ways to handle this, and none of them perfect! Things I’ve seen colleagues and friends do:

    * Assign days of the week where one parent is default (but flexible when those work days are busier than usual). This works when some days of the week are predictably busier or lighter than others (ie Mondays are meeting-heavy for me, but Thursdays are meeting-light).
    * Assign one parents as default during periods of big projects for the other (but again, flexibility is given when days are busy for the default parent).
    * Alternating with each kiddo sick day and keeping it as even as possible when things come up and one parent has to do back-to-back sick care.
    * Assigning one parent as default based on perceived job importance – this is sometimes permanent and sometimes changes over the course of careers.
    * Asking local family members to fill in as needed (not available to everyone, or even most people).
    * Having long-distance in-laws move in for periods of 3-6 month to help with childcare when the kids are young (very common in some cultures).
    * Hiring an on-call nanny for certain days of the week – this is a tricky one that I’ve only seen once. They found a college student who had a flexible schedule certain days of the week. The college student was their go-to for emergency nannying on those days and also house/pet sitting when they traveled. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped probably 70% of the time.

    Good luck!

  203. Waffles*

    We are a 2 big job family, though with the added benefit that our jobs don’t work exactly the same schedule. When our schedules conflict, here is our system: (1) each of us looks at our week and identifies a few things we could do to free up time (cause kids usually have to stay home 24 hrs post final symptom). (2) we talk together about how to get through the week without exhausting ourselves. We do this case by case (not in advance), but that it because our jobs don’t have the same cadence/flow so what would be a “period” at my job isn’t the same for my partner. (3) We stick to it. Sometimes it is tempting to try and cover everything, but we have found for our family that if we spread ourselves thin it messes up the system and we all end the week unhappy and tired. (4) When there are predictable times that either work is super busy or there is a critical task that would affect our bottom line (like a board meeting that gets scheduled months in advance), we line up ‘what if’ care in advance. This is usually family but we have a babysitter who we started working with for this specific purpose. It does cost money, but we tend to use it truly only for essential things (for us this is when I have to travel for work and won’t be there to do our usual system).

    Two things about your letter stood out that would be considered in our system: your husband has a lot more accrued leave right now, and you say it has been your preference to stay home or go to doctor’s appointments. In my family’s system, if someone had a preference to be the default person to stay home or attend appointments (and it’s just a preference, not a decision we have jointly made for our family’s wellbeing) then that person generally would need to work it out with their job schedule. Equally, the person with a ton of accrued leave would almost always use that first if we were in a pinch.

    It is very interesting to read the experiences on this thread!

  204. Kgulo*

    My husband and I have two young kids and both work full time. I don’t think it would be possible to have a blanket “You’re dealing with kid stuff this quarter/I’ll take next” policy in a situation where we both view both jobs as equally important. When the kids get sick, we look at who took the last sick day and who has a busier day. We’re honest with each other when there’s a day we absolutely cannot take off. Sometimes we’ll both work remotely and split the day.

    We do have one set of very helpful grandparents nearby, but with Covid and them getting older, they’re less likely to take the kids on a true sick day. That said, there are times when daycare might reject the kids even if they aren’t contagious and it’s easier to get a sitter then.

    Another good resource would be having a roster of local college (if possible) or even high school students who can watch the kids occasionally. If you and your husband can both work from home, hiring a high school student to hang out with your kids while you’re still there could be a good option.

  205. job suggestions*

    We are in this situation all the time with a chronically ill child receiving regular treatment plus all the additional sick days for everyone that comes with 2 toddlers in daycare. I will say that having a day-to-day approach has been horrible for us and honestly breeds a lot of resentment about having to decide in the moment all the time who’s day is busier or more important. I love the idea of your husbands approach where for whatever period of time, one of you is the default, and then switch. Obviously there is still room for flexibility there if a board meeting for him falls during his time and you have a flexible day, you can step in as needed and vice versa. I really think you should give more thought to implementing his approach – i know for our family, something like that is extremely beneficial for both of us.

  206. Random Dice*

    Honestly it feels convenient in a very gendered way that his approach has led to you doing all the kid work, not him.

    Funny how it so perfectly lines up with the broader societal trend.

  207. Lauren*

    I’m my opinion, this is the perfect place for a compromise. I think you can have a quarterly or project-based tie-breaker established for when you both have equally busy days. But looking at your day and seeing who is more available seems like a better first line of defense

  208. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    You can’t just decide that a whole quarter or long period is going to be for either one of you. Maybe for his job, there are times of year that are crucial, for accounts this is the case for example. But you might have to travel during a critical time for him, and if you’re the other side of the ocean he’s gonna hafta.

    But it sounds to me like he’s going to be pretty unflexible and you’ll end up picking up all the slack. Maybe this is just me being jaded from my personal experience. I suppose he might decide that when it’s his turn to prioritise the kids, he’ll hire an intern to pick up any slack?

  209. Office job plus lab job*

    When our kids were young, we had our regular childcare (daycare or nanny) and we also subscribed to a backup nanny service when one of our kids was sick or our regular childcare was unavailable. Because the backup nanny wouldn’t be familiar with our child or our home, one of us would work from home that day so that we were nearby. Some days I think we even split the day — my husband worked from home in the morning while I went into the office, then I worked from home in the afternoon and he could go into the lab.

    A wise mentor told me that when your kids are young, it may feel like you are spending a TON on childcare, but you have to remember that it’s an investment in your careers, and when they are older and the childcare issues aren’t so acute, that investment will have paid off bc you’ll be in a better position at work.

    Also: please know it gets better! When they are young it is such a juggle but as they get older, it does get easier.

  210. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    Your husband’s approach would make absolutely no sense in my field, where the pace is fast, unpredictable, and things come up on the spot.

    My partner usually has a clearer idea in advance about projects but even then, a client can demand something urgently, a colleague can become unwell and need things covered, a new opportunity may come up, a different manager or client may come in with requirements about home/office working (eg some clients want to meet the team in person apparently, so office working becomes unexpectedly needed).

    In some fields it may be possible to plan, but if it isn’t possible for both, you have to do it case by case, surely?

    The person with the option of planning ahead can still do it day by day, whereas the person for whom planning ahead is totally unrealistic literally can’t do that.

    I don’t mean to sound rude about him (I’m sure he’s lovely!) but I really can’t understand how your husband thinks his approach is fair when it so obviously doesn’t work for you.

    What are his objections to day by day?

  211. CuppyCake*

    I was a kid of two doctors who rarely took off and couldn’t really argue whether saving lives or delivering babies took precedence. Best they could do was coordinate on-calls. So I was partially raised by a long line of babysitters. Even with that help, I’m not sure how my parents did it! But they managed to make it work and had careers that fulfilled them and safe, happy kids. Now I’m the part-time parent. And even that is hard to make work some days. And it doesn’t feel great being the one who has to consistently cancel or have a kid on a zoom call. Whatever you decide to do, it helps not to bean count and to sincerely believe – and operate – that over 18 years of child rearing, everything will work out close to even-Steven.

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