Husband, Mom and Architect

When I eventually get back to writing a book based on all my blogging since 2010 (which as you read on you’ll know isn’t happening anytime soon), this post will absolutely get expanded ten-fold into its own chapter.

As with so many wonderful initiatives to improve the lives of architects, The Missing 32% came out of AIA San Francisco. If you aren’t familiar with their research, goals, etc., here’s their mission statement:

The Missing 32% Project is a call to action for both women and men to help realize the goal of equitable practice to advance architecture, sustain the profession and communicate the value of design to society. Our mission is to understand the pinch points and promote the strategic execution of best practices in the recruitment, retention, and promotion of our profession’s best talent at every level of architectural practice.

This week on their blog they launched a series featuring #Archimom stories: the adventures of architecting and parenting. Good friend and Shoegnome guest blogger, Alicia Liebel Berg has already shared her story of impending archimomhood, along with a growing list of others. From the moment I saw the first tweet about this, I knew I had to share my experiences. Because while I have never explicitly stated this, behind everything I do with Shoegnome is the bizarrely 21st Century truth that I am a husband to an incredible and successful woman, a mom to two wacky and precocious daughters, and also an architect.

My wife will always be my daughters’ mommy, and yes they call her mom and me dad, but when explaining to people what my life is like, when chatting with other parents waiting to pick up the kids at school, or when I can’t be in meetings from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm on a regular basis or all that other stuff, I don’t tiptoe around the topic. I don’t say Mr. mom or anything like that. I just say I’m the mom. I do the majority of the mom stuff. When there are a group of parents chatting about life’s challenges or the balancing act, I always have much more in common with working mothers than with typical working fathers. Sometimes I say I’m the primary caregiver or the home parent or something like that. But you know what is more clear? Saying I’m the mom.

How the Great Recession made me an #archimom

Our oldest daughter was born in 2009 when I was in the middle of taking my Architecture Registration Exams. The plan was to finish them all before she was born. That didn’t happen (for more details on that adventure and my general ARE advice, here’s the post). In an effort to reach that goal however, around Thanksgiving 2008 I cut back my hours at work from 40 to 36 (which was the minimum required at my job) so that I would have more time to study. Work was already slowing down and I had a plan: one test a month, maybe more by the end. After Madeleine was born I finished up my tests and kept my hours slightly reduced so that I could spend time with my daughter and be available to help my wife who was home on maternity leave. Then the recession really hit and reduced hours became the norm across the whole firm I was working at. Between November 2008 and February 2012 when I left that job to do Shoegnome full time, I worked maybe a dozen forty hour weeks. Maybe. I think it was less. I definitely worked more twenty hour weeks. But that was okay. In 2010 I started my side business and in 2011, my wife and I had daughter number 2. With two daughters and Shoegnome, there were plenty of things to keep me occupied outside of wanting a typical 9 to 5 job.

While I spent four years experiencing the doldrums of being an architect during the worst time to be an architect in living memory, my wife was climbing the ranks of a more standard non-architecture company, gaining experience and responsibility. While my career was treading water, hers was rocketing. It naturally evolved that when a daughter was sick or daycare was closed for a day, I was the one available to drop everything and head home. This of course was not just because of the recession but because in general architecture is a field where one often spends longer as a grunt than elsewhere. So while my wife was the manager of a team, I was an architect being treated like an intern—no running meetings or projects for me. I was always in a position where I didn’t NEED to be in that meeting.

In 2011 my wife quit her day job to get her MBA and a few months later I did this. With my wife in school and then back in the corporate world, her time became even more rigid. Meanwhile running my own company, mine became more flexible. Once my wife got her MBA, it was a no brainer that supporting her career and her more dad-like path would be the best way to create the environment we wanted for our daughters. The deeper logic to all that deserves a post unto itself, if people are interested. Side note: I am extremely proud that my daughters will grow up in a household where they have some very non-traditional role models.

Of course the architect stays home

Architects are under-appreciated, ill-paid, and not very good at sharing: we fear the usurper more than anything. It’s not surprising at all that, given the choice between being treated like shit for little money while fighting for a pale vision of their architecture student dreams and spending more time with family, so many women choose to leave the profession—or at least go part time. I think more men would too, if they had the courage. But most don’t.

My personal journey is all about balance. Maybe in another decade, I’ll be the dad again and my wife will take over more mom stuff, maybe. In our almost twelve years of marriage we’ve each taken (multiple) turns at having the stable job and the risky job. So I would wager we’ll do more bizarre job switches in the future (again that is a great future post). Growing my business is a slow game. I do my best to remind myself that family comes first (sometimes I fail). So many great architects didn’t hit their stride until late in life. I’ve got time. My wife has a nice, stable job. We’re fortunate in that regard. I do the majority of the cooking and she pays the bills because that’s what works today. But we both can do either. And that’s what I want to see come out of the #archimom hashtag. If every architect who is a parent can’t choose which roll they want, mom or dad, then we aren’t there yet. If every architect parent doesn’t understand and appreciate this balance, then we aren’t there yet. If each couple with at least one architect spouse is still making the decision of who is the mom based on gender, then we aren’t there yet. Because until then we’ll still have bosses that unload all the parenting on their wives and who won’t get that sometimes business needs to stop at 3:10 or 3:40. That lacking compassion for every employee who wants to take as much time as they can with a newborn makes you a jerk. That saying “no, I’ve got family responsibilities, we’ll finish this tomorrow” doesn’t mean one isn’t dedicated, passionate and determined to change the world. After all, if we don’t make the world a better place for our kids, then we haven’t been trying hard enough. And if we are not making a difference, then why are we even wasting our time, working for less than we could, always being tired, and not having enough time with our families.

Clearly I could write so much more on this topic. The missing 32% is just as much about gender inequality as it is about the shifting nature of our profession. I’d like to link to some posts that prove that point (because I haven’t made that argument thus far in this article), but I might as well just link to this. The more we embrace new methods of working and collaboration, the more we embrace technology, the more we re-imagine the role of the architect, the easier it will become to be a mom and an architect—and the sooner we can say parent and architect and have everyone understand that to mean the same thing. I can run Shoegnome, make a decent living, and be around for my daughters because of technology. BIM allows me to be a mom. ArchiCAD allows me to be a mom. Social Media and online networking allow me to be a mom. Shoegnome isn’t just about the intersection of architecture and technology, it’s also the intersection of being a parent and an architect.

A Day in the Life of Shoegnome

BONUS ROUND! Because I’m sure you want to know what my #archimom day looks like…

Every morning my day starts between 5:30 and 6:30 am when one (or both) of my daughters climbs into bed and wakes up my wife and I. By 7:00 am my wife is out the door, heading off to catch the bus to downtown Seattle for work. At 9:30 am, when I’m walking home from dropping my daughters off at school, I’ve maybe checked a few e-mails and sneaked a little work, but mostly I’ve already clocked in two to three hours of parenting. PRO TIP: conference calls and similar phone meetings can be managed while serving breakfast and making lunches, if the kids are in a decent or good mood. At 3:00 pm, I try to wrap up anything I’m doing because at 3:10 pm my phone alarm goes off and I have five minutes to speed walk the two blocks to get my youngest at pre-K. After I pick her up—if it’s not raining—she plays on the playground with the other kids waiting for their older siblings to finish school at 3:40 pm. I make phone calls, check e-mail, maybe read The Economist, or chat with the other moms. Sometimes I just watch the handful of nannies engage with all the kids. PRO TIP: how do you tell who’s a nanny and who’s a parent on the playground? The nannies are playing with the kids, the parents are trying to get a moment of solitude. Around 4:00 pm, my daughters and I are back home. If there’s a lot going on, I’ll squeeze in another hour of work before getting on the dinner/homework/bath/reading/other nightly activities before bedtime train. My wife will get home between 5:00 and 6:00 pm and depending on our tiredness levels, one of us might fall asleep, crash, or hide for a bit. Somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00 pm we’ll have two sleeping angels. Between then and sleep (which is anywhere between the second our oldest is in bed and midnight) I might work more, write, pretend to relax or actually interact with my spouse. But often it’s just laze about on the couch until I realize the night is almost over and I should get ready to be woken up between 5:30 and 6:30 am when one (or both) of my daughters climbs into bed…

Some days are good, some days are bad. Some days I think I did a good job parenting, other days I remind myself that this is a marathon and nobody’s perfect. And then some days I need this diagram to make me calm down and laugh.

For more adventures in being a guy, mom and architect: Shoegnome on FacebookTwitter, and the RSS feed.


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