While this blog is intended to be totally job-related, this post will be unusual in that it will be a little bit personal. And indeed, this post is about the mix of work and non-work life.
A little more than half a year ago I started my life as a part-time mathematician. To be more precise, I am in Elternzeit, which is the German framework for parental leave. According to German law, parents have several rights related to their work when they get kids. One of them is to reduce their weekly hours of work when they have small children and this is what I did: For one year I reduced my weekly hours of work to 50%. The reason for the reduction is that my wife has a very busy year of work (for those who know: she is in her “Referendariat” to become a teacher – but I am not going to rant about the German Referendariat for teachers here…). There is also Elterngeld is Germany: That is, that you get some fraction of your salary if you stay at home to be with your kids, but this only applies in the first 14 months but my kids are older and hence, I just get about half the salary during the Elternzeit. But one of the first things I learned was that this is not totally true. In fact, my “parental-leave”-salary is higher than half of my usual salary. This has two reasons: First, there is “income-tax-progression” here, that is, for more salary, you pay a higher tax rate. Second, some parts of my salary are bonuses which are not halved.
Besides the financial issues there are other things about parental leave as a mathematician at a university which I find interesting and worth blogging about. I divided these issues into two parts: work-related and family related.
1. Work life
In this year of parental leave I am in my office for about four hours a day. I go there, when the kids are in school and at day-care and I leave early enough to prepare lunch for our schoolgirl. Four hours a day is not much and indeed, I get much less things done, than I used to do. But that was totally expected. To counteract a bit, I do a little less reviewing papers. Moreover, my teaching duties are halved. And also, blogging is a little bit reduced. But anyway, I do not make it to get all the things done, that I would like to. However, this is not much different from how it used to be. And with even less time, I get better in prioritizing.
But more important than the mere reduction of time for work is the fact that I am not able to be in the office in the afternoon, and I am not able to make appointments or to attend meetings in the afternoon. This does influence my daily work to some extend. While all my colleagues know that I am on part-time (and, as far as I experience, have no objections to that), they usually do not have it in mind when they make dates. If I am lucky, dates are found with doodle, and then it’s easy for me, but I have to remind people that I do not have time in the afternoon frequently. Moreover, some regular meetings are scheduled for the afternoon by default and I just miss them. Finally, there are exceptional dates (e.g. the ones related with job interviews and negotiations on which I have written here and here). In these cases, I also mentioned my limited possibilities for meetings and the severe restrictions. For the job interviews I even asked for a video-interview, but that did not work out. On one occasion, they tried to schedule my job interview for the weekend (which would be easier to arrange for me) but some members of the committee objected due to family reasons – which is totally OK in my opinion. For the negotiations, I tried to have them during school holidays but this did not work out either. Hence, we had to arrange additional child care (our children have four grand parents and always some of them could step in – what I didn’t try was, to get reimbursed for the train tickets for the grandmas; I think this would be reasonable but would cause serious irritation in the administration).
Another severe change in my work-life is that I can not attend conferences and meetings with the only exception when they are during school holidays. Here we arranged holidays of the kids at their grandparents and this way I could attend some nice meetings this year.
2. Family life
In my parental leave my wife and I changed roles. It is not that I did not care about family life, household and such when I was working full-time but still, I was working full-time and my wife was working half-time or less. Since she has to work a LOT, I am in charge of everything here at home now. But, as before, it is not that she is not doing anything in that respect, but the important thing is that I am in charge. And that makes more of a difference than I anticipated. The pure amount of work doing shopping, cooking, cleaning and so on is OK because I have the time to do so (although – it is work nonetheless). But to be in charge is a bit more. Especially, if there is something to be done, I can not say “Let’s wait for one day, maybe it will be done by the time…”. If I will not do it, nobody will (again: Not totally true, but this is the way of thinking which I employ). Moreover, there are some things which come with being “house husband” which did not come to my mind when I planned my part time year: organizing children’s birthday parties, arranging new afternoon activities and weekend activities or trips, taking care of seasonal decoration, thinking of Christmas presents early enough or arranging routine medical check-ups on time are just a few of them. All this is also not hard, but harder than I thought, when you are in charge.
In total, all this role change and house-keeping is a very refreshing experience. Being a house husband is not something be scared of. It is rewarding, it’s mostly fun, it’s a lot of work and it is quite some responsibility.
As a final remark, I think, that this year of my parental leave does also mean something for our children. Seeing that dad is at home and being the one which is always there, and that both parents can do this job and that, the other way round, mom is at work most of the day, comes home late and needs rest and such, is an experience for them which shows them that there are different ways to organize a family. It probably also influences them in the way they see gender roles.
In conclusion: If you think about staying at home for kids and the laws of your country give you the opportunity to do so, then I can recommend it. Even being fully in charge and with a full-time working wife – probably even more so.