Going for a career was a choice. In 2006, long before we had children, I decided to look for a new job. Although I liked my job at the time, I knew there was no future in it. In a very short time, I had 2 offers: the first one was close to home, with a rather good perspective. The second one was in the Brussels area, but with a lot more perspective.
Together with my husband I deliberately made the choice to take the second offer. We already knew we wanted children – he wanted 2 or 4, I wanted more than 2 – so we also realized only one of us would make a career and the other would focus more on the children. My husband didn’t mind putting aside his career in favor of a household. And on top of that, he likes his computers too much. So, at that point, we decided I could go for the career and he would keep his flexible, but steady job.
How do you decide on the number of children? We did not think that much about having our first 3. After 3 years and 5 months, we had them. The 4th, however, needed some more thought. We hesitated quite a while and in the end, nature decided for us. But don’t tell my mother-in-law. She doesn’t like me telling everybody that it was a wanted ‘accident’.
It is not a secret that men do not take on household tasks as naturally as women do. I am lucky to have a ‘new man’ who already did a lot in the household. In the beginning when my husband stayed home more, I was still the one doing the laundry, ironing and cooking. But at a certain point, this wasn’t doable anymore. So after a lot (really a lot!) of talking about this, my husband learned how to do the laundry, we started outsourcing more and we found a way how he could cook without actually having to cook.
Having a large family requires structure and organization. My ultimate tip for you? Outsource. With a lot of children in the house and a career, you just don’t want to have to take care of some things anymore. Cleaning: we outsourced. Ironing: we outsourced. We have somebody that comes 4 hours a week for cleaning and someone else who comes 4 hours a week to iron and put everything in the closets. One thing you really need to keep in mind here is that they will never clean, iron, dust,… like you would. Never! But you just need to live with it.
2. Learn your husband how to do your laundry
Secondly, in our case, my husband needed to be even more involved in the household as he already was. Doing the laundry was very difficult for him. Which colors can be washed together? What temperature should be selected for what type of clothes? Which clothes can be put in the dryer and which cannot? After doing the laundry together for almost a year, he gradually learned.
3. Cook supersized meals in the weekend
It was a similar story when it comes to cooking. Actually, my partner just doesn’t like cooking. When I cook in the weekend, I make sure that the portions are big enough and I freeze the leftovers, so he just has to take something out of the freezer and the problem is solved. On top of that, our children eat a warm meal at school, so he only has to take care of those on Wednesdays.
4. Create a calendar for every family member
We have shared calendars for all children and for each other. By doing so, we always know where the other one is and where the children have to be and at what time. This helps us to make sure that we don’t forget things. Our children are rather young, so it’s still our job to check if they have everything with them to school.
5. Focus on quality time
How do you cope with the feeling of guilt? Because to be honest, sometimes I feel very guilty about not being at home that much, not seeing my children sometimes for a whole week. Some weeks ago, I attended a WISE (Women in ICT Sharing Experiences) conference. A wise woman at the WISE event said: “Just make sure you have some quality time with your children. That beats you being around a full day and having no quality time.” And that’s exactly what I try to do. Every night when I’m at home, I’m the one who puts them to bed. I lay down with every child for 5 minutes and let them tell about their day. They love it, they have 5 minutes of alone time with their mum and they can tell whatever they want. Another rule is that weekends are sacred. During the weekends, I don’t work at the moments that the children are at home (in fact I try not to work at all) and I take them to dancing class and sometimes go swimming with them. Since I outsourced the household tasks, this also means I have more time to spend with them.
Is it possible to combine a large family with a career? For us, it certainly is. We deliberately made the choice that my husband would stay more at home because we didn’t want to call in external help to take care of the children. This wasn’t always an easy choice, but it works for our situation. I love my job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. But I also love coming home and having all the hustle and bustle in our house. Sometimes it’s also very busy, but that keeps the sparkle in it.
I want to stress that this is my personal story. I don’t want to offend people that do it otherwise or that have made other choices. So, what’s your story?