Dear Laura: My spouse and I both have jobs that are demanding but also — fortunately — high-paying. As our family grows, we’d like to use our resources to make life more calm and enjoyable. But how should we go about doing that? What should we outsource, and what kind of help would make things run smoothly?
Money can certainly make life easier. But having money doesn’t mean you’ll automatically know how to use it to solve your problems — especially if you weren’t born into wealth. No one hands you a manual when you pass a certain threshold.
This is, of course, a great problem to have, and most people eventually figure something out. Getting there can be challenging, though — particularly for high-powered women who are subjected to an extra layer of societal judgment. Just witness the recent furor over the nanny/household manager job description created by a Silicon Valley CEO/single mom. She wanted skilled help of the sort many male CEOs expect from their wives. She was willing to pay someone well for this support. But people went apoplectic over the privilege they saw expressed in her job listing.
Not me. I am here to help, not judge. For anyone who is in the enviable position of having the resources to make life easier, it’s smart to regularly examine your life and identify the pain points. What do you enjoy and do best, both at work and at home, and what takes time and energy you don’t have?
Once you identify these pain points, see if there’s a way that your resources can help solve them. If you’re stuck, I’ve studied thousands of time logs, including from couples in situations like yours, and I’ve seen a few areas where spending some extra cash can make a huge difference.
First, the practicalities: I assume you have childcare for any young children during the hours you’re working. Most dual-income couples (or single parents like the Silicon Valley CEO) have no choice but to arrange that. But if you have more than one child, it can be massively beneficial to arrange for childcare for a few hours when you are not both working. If one of you is traveling, it’s nice to have an extra set of hands, so that person can hold the baby while the other parent does household tasks or spends time with other children.
With a little extra childcare, each of you could also take one night a week for your hobbies or to see friends, without having to clear it with the other person’s work schedule. This can massively boost your marital satisfaction. If your kids have lots of weekend activities, a few hours of childcare on Saturday or Sunday means that you can watch the older children’s games and competitions while someone stays home with the younger ones. You can both exercise without massive logistical planning sessions.
If you like to eat well, but don’t have much time for cooking during the week, this could be a good thing to outsource. Maybe you hire someone to procure groceries and come over two or three afternoons a week to cook meals in your home, making enough for leftovers. If you have a nanny or babysitter, this job could potentially be combined with childcare. If not, cooking and other errand-running might be combined with a part-time housekeeping or cleaning position.
Then there’s the logistical stuff. The Silicon Valley CEO, for instance, wanted help with vacation planning. Scheduling summer camps for multiple kids (and filling out all the associated forms!) can take quite a bit of time. So does getting bids from contractors on home repair projects and other such things. In a two-parent family with one big job, the non-breadwinner spouse tends to take on the bulk of this logistical work. It’s often invisible, but it’s still work, and if neither of you has the bandwidth for it, it can be outsourced. Even a few hours could be helpful for reducing the so-called mental load.
As in any workplace, you’ll want great people who can help solve your problems, and you’ll want them to stick around for as long as possible. Hiring and onboarding people takes time. So, as with hiring for any role, the best way to recruit and retain talent is to pay above-market rates and offer paid vacations, sick days, and other perks and benefits. As you build trust, offer more autonomy, and don’t forget to praise people for jobs well done. And a reminder: Anyone who works for you at set hours is an employee, so make sure you’ve got a payroll system set up to pay social security and withhold all required taxes.
Of course, services available and cultural norms vary geographically. Ask colleagues and friends in similar economic situations what they’ve found most helpful. These quiet conversations are often the best way to learn what works — and are less likely to set the internet all a-tizzy.