Work at home + high-pressure career = happiness

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It sounds like the arithmetic of a delusional person, right? It’s real math for a Chicago couple called the Mayvilles. They’re profiled today in the McClatchy newspapers (I read the piece in Rochester, Minn.’s Post-Bulletin), in what for me was a really uplifting, informative story about people making work work.

The Mayvilles have two kids, ages 10 and 11. Both parents work at home, both in demanding, high-profile jobs.

Debbie Mayville, a director at a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy, starts telecommuting at 6 a.m. and tries to finish in time to meet her daughter at the bus stop, up the hill from their Alpharetta, Ga., home, when Abbey returns around 2:30 p.m.

As for her husband,

Dan Mayville, a manager for Deloitte, starts at 8:15 a.m. on the days when he does carpool duty for Nick. He tries to walk away from his office by 5:30 p.m.

As the couple admits readily, their current solution to the eternal work vs. parenting question is just one of many.

In an age when, at least in theory, many professionals could do their jobs from anywhere, few couples manage to evolve routines that don’t require calling in reinforcements: nannies, au pairs, day care.

The Mayvilles tried all those and other arrangements when their children were younger. Debbie worked part-time for a while, and Dan stayed home with the kids for three years while she worked full-time. He recalls the hit to their income — “Three times my annual take-home, that hurt” — but they decided the trade-off was worth it.

Each has taken career risks guided by a shared principle: “It all goes to the quality of life in your house,” Debbie said. “It’s not always about continuing to climb that ladder. You’re surprised sometimes what doors open for you.”

And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it, friends? In the end, it’s all about the quality of life. When you have kids, that goal seems more pressing because other people’s quality of life depends on your decisions. But it’s true for any of us who work and live, isn’t it? And more and more of us—childed and childless alike—are realizing that quality of life is greatly enhanced by losing the 9-to-5 office shackles.

Some employers are figuring it out, too. According to the WSJ CareerJournal,

Seventy percent of Cisco Systems employees regularly work from home at least 20% of the time. So do 34% of workers at Booz Allen Hamilton and 32% at S.C. Johnson & Sons.

My colleagues here at Time Inc. are no different in our desire for flexibility from office schedules. According to the results of a company-wide employee satisfaction survey conducted last summer, a large number of workers expressed a desire for flexible work arrangements. Yet my company makes no concerted effort to offer such.

I hope this changes, especially as I prepare to double my motherhood fun this summer with Baby No. 2. My job has all the makings of a flexible one: I have all the tools to work from home almost exclusively. But take this week, for instance. I find myself scheduled to come in every day due to meetings with editors and an assignment involving a complicated layout that is more easily accessed and managed from my work site.

Every time I write about how to better my work situation, I get e-mails and comments snorting that I ought to feel lucky anyone would hire a hack like me, and that if I was going to whine so much I ought to step aside and let the writer of the e-mail have the job. Friends, you’re mistaken if you think I don’t value my job.

Here’s the chink in the equation that makes my math all funny: my job can be intense, demanding, high-pressure, headache-causing, high-profile, fast-paced, crazy-making—and I don’t want to give it up. Much of the advice you read about meshing career and family in parenting books urge us to ease up on the work front while raising little ones. What if you don’t want to or can’t? Like the Mayvilles, many of us can make the necessary compromises while raising little people and still pursuing the careers we dream of. For more and more of us, what we let go of is the office.