Writers in Love: Laura Vanderkam

This week, we bring you marriage insight from Laura Vanderkam, a New York City-based journalist and author of the most motivational book I’ve ever read, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. The idea is that if you start thinking of the number of hours you have in a week—instead of a day—you can find a lot more time for the things you keep saying you have no time for. Which happens to be a great way for couples, who are constantly juggling their time and other limited resources, to manage their relationships.

Laura also writes the 168 Hours column for BNET, is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors and has written for the The Wall Street Journal, City Journal, Scientific American and other places. She enjoys running and singing soprano in the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, and she lives with her husband and their two young sons. She appears to make excellent use of all 168 hours of her week.

1. We talk about strategizing in marriage. Some say that’s crass. We think it’s romantic. What do you think?

To me, strategizing means thinking creatively to solve problems. That’s very romantic! Instead of blaming each other, you’re working together toward a smart solution.

2. You seem to fit in more in one week than most people do in a month. How do you find time left over for your husband?

I’m not always a shining example of time management, but I have learned this: waiting to see what time is left over for anything that’s not “required” — couple time, exercise, strategic thinking –means, most likely, it won’t happen. So you have to schedule it in first. We book the occasional date night in advance and go out to dinner, or if we don’t have a sitter, order in dinner after the kids go to bed. We also try to be good at creating time on weekends; in a pinch, an episode of Dora can buy you 25 minutes together. And our parents are a great help for our (very occasional) couple getaways. My mother-in-law took the kids for the week after Christmas while we went to Morocco, and it was like a second honeymoon. When you have two careers and two kids, you make the most of the time you’ve got.

3. How do you and your husband divide up the housework? Or do you just outsource all of it to maximize your free time?

When you don’t want to do something — and I would put housework in this category — you can ignore, minimize or outsource it. We do all three. My kids are 3 and 1, so our apartment is just going to be messy. I’ve learned to ignore little things. We tend not to make complicated meals, so we can minimize food prep time. We outsource the heavy cleaning to a cleaning service every 2 weeks. Our babysitters help with keeping things tidy and the kids’ laundry. My husband does our laundry, and I do most of the grocery shopping. He pays the bills and I keep track of things like when the kids are invited to a birthday party and need a present.

4. What advice would you give someone who says her (or his) spouse keeps promising to work less and spend more time with the family but never follows through?

If your spouse continually fails to make good on a promise like this, you have to recognize what is happening: he has decided that work is more fun than being home. Oh, I know, we all “have” to work. But I’m guessing he isn’t making license plates in a prison. He could leave if he wanted to. Much in life is a choice. So my advice would be to go on the offensive. Make your family life so fun that he starts to realize how much he’s missing. Take the kids out to dinner spontaneously so he comes home to an empty house. Get tickets for sporting events. Make plans to meet friends at playgrounds or movies. Go sledding. Invite other adults to join you to make it more enjoyable.  He likes the idea that you’re at home, waiting for him to decide to grace the family with his presence. Don’t give him that satisfaction.

5. Have you figured out the best way to have a successful negotiation with your husband?

You have to figure out an outcome you can both live with. Since I work for myself, my job is more “flexible” which means that I do more of the primary childcare during the week. However, if I don’t put in at least 45 hours, I start to fall behind. Over the years, snow, sick babysitters, sick kids, pre-school in-service training, etc. have conspired against this. For our first two years of parenthood, we fought a lot about why my husband wasn’t taking on an equal role during the week. But we realized that what I really wanted was for my kids to have lots of time with their dad, and for me to have more time to work. So we kept our eye on that goal, and figured out a different solution. When I was writing 168 Hours, my husband started taking our then 2-year-old out of the house on weekends, often for fairly lengthy trips. He now does this with both kids when I need the extra time. We also decided to hire a nanny when our second son was born, so we have a bit more freedom than the daycare schedule allowed. It’s not perfect, but it’s workable.

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One Response to Writers in Love: Laura Vanderkam

  1. Erica says:

    I love many of these points. I’m a little to type-A to implement the 168 hour plan (I work on being less structured, not more). I agree with ignoring, minimizing and outsourcing housework as well as making home life fun. Great post.

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