They say the best thing for a family is a stable schedule and routine. But what to do when one parent is an actor?
Disclaimer- Like all of us, I find balancing work and family to be a constant challenge. In this piece, I’m talking about something that works for my family. My intent is to share, not to boast.
My wife, Amy, is a musical theater actress. Her career presents interesting challenges to balancing work and family.
When Amy and I got engaged, my well-meaning elders of Italian descent got to meet her for the first time. They were welcoming, lovely and gracious. However, to a person, they asked her: “So, are you still going to be an actress now that you’re getting married?”
This question puzzled Amy at first. She smiled and responded with grace and humor. “Yes. And Scott is still going to be a professor.”
Amy and I never considered canceling her career. To our older, more traditional relatives, Amy’s career would come second to mine and to future motherhood. (To note: actresses, including Amy, justifiably bristle at what such questions, even from well-meaning folk, unfairly imply. Acting isn’t a serious career choice. Good for this ‘chorus girl’ for landing a man with a steady paycheck. Etcetera.)
Part of the reason Amy and I have been a successful marriage is that we fully discussed and are on the same page about how our lives together would include commitments to our family and each other’s careers. This is especially important for us because of Amy’s idiosyncratic career.
Neither of us feels there’s anything wrong with the traditional arrangements of our elders, so long as both people want it. Our life isn’t for everyone; it requires extra work to maintain schedules and find agreement. We have made many mistakes but have generally made it work.
Luckily, my career as a college professor, while demanding, allows for flexibility. This has allowed me to better accommodate Amy’s career; if I had a different job and a less-enlightened employer, our lives would be much harder.
The importance of finding agreement was especially true when we decided to have a baby. Amy emphasized that, after having Nick, she was not going to interrupt her career for long, but of course out-of-town and touring work would be much harder for her to accept. Ever since Nick arrived, we discuss every job offer she gets, making sure the gig is something our family can handle and that we have a good plan for how we’ll juggle it all.
Amy was back on stage four months after Nick was born (she was still auditioning while 8 months pregnant!), and has worked steadily ever since (no small feat in her profession). Since Nick arrived, Amy’s already successful career has taken off: Broadway credits , a long-running Off Broadway hit, some high profile short-term work, and even a few small TV gigs. Her career means that sometimes I do the lion’s share of the day-to-day parenting for long stretches. But because Amy and I are on the same page about work, parenting priorities and our constantly shifting division of labor, we are able to strike a balance.
Don’t get me wrong. Some periods were really hard, but looking back, my stretches of being the primary parent gave me an amazing opportunity to bond with Nick in a way that many dad’s work schedules may not allow.
It hasn’t all been a one-way street. Amy has turned down some good job offers because they did not fit with my work constraints or Nick’s need to be with her. Amy and Nick have come along on my sabbatical travels; Amy takes over when I have work commitments. Especially during her times between gigs, I have been able to devote huge chunks of time and energy to my career, and she takes the greater share at home.
All in all, we have a non-traditional and fluctuating family routine, but Nick gets lots of time with both of us, and knows that our family is a true team. We also like that Nick knows about and respects both of our careers (going backstage and meeting one of the Wiggles is a nice perc, even when the Wiggles make dad want to tear out his eyeballs). We feel our example equips him to deal confidently with flexible situations and change.
This post originally appeared on Fathers, Work and Family.
Photo by epicharmus.