Big Working Parent Questions with Lydia Kiesling | Crooked Media
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July 19, 2023
Work Appropriate
Big Working Parent Questions with Lydia Kiesling

In This Episode

Lydia Kiesling, author of Mobility, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about the amorphous intersection of parenting and work. We’re talking about big, philosophical questions about fulfillment, passion, and even division of ambition with your co-parent.

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Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Petersen. And this is Work Appropriate. [music plays] Over the past year, we’ve dedicated episodes on specific policies that make work hostile to parents and on the nitty gritty details of parental leave. But we had a lot of questions hanging out in our Excel spreadsheet. Yes, that’s where we keep them. That were less about specific policies and more about the amorphous intersection of being a parent and being a person who works for pay. We’re talking about big philosophical questions about ambition and passion and even division of ambition with your co-parent. For a co-host. I wanted a parent who’s thought and written a lot about how our current societal moment structures and informs these questions. Someone with very in this moment on the ground experience and big picture perspective. I knew exactly who to ask. [music plays] 


Lydia Kiesling: My name is Lydia Kiesling and I’m a writer of freelance essays and novels. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Before we get to the hard questions, I want to hear about your book, which is very important to us here at Crooked Media. So tell us about Mobility. 


Lydia Kiesling: Mobility comes out on August 1st. That is alarmingly soon. And it is a I guess it’s a coming of age story. It follows one woman from her teenage years to her middle late middle age. And it’s kind of a work novel. I mean, it’s actually in many ways a work novel. So I’m happy to be here on this podcast. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: That I really love to talk about work and career and how those things intersect with kind of personality and philosophy and politics. And so the novel follows this woman Bunny, as she sort of apathetically moves through a collection of not that fulfilling jobs in her early twenties and then ends up somewhat accidentally working for an oil and gas company and then has a series of choices that she makes and then ends up becoming a storyteller in that industry at a moment that is basically this moment. And yeah, kind of explores why someone might do that and how certain aspects of identity lead someone to make certain choices about work and ambition. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I just started it and it’s about kind of like the compromises we make in order to like, survive. And in grad school we’d call it late stage capitalism, but we’re not allowed to say that. [laughter] Like I just when I started being a journalist, my my editor would be like, you can’t say late stage capitalism it’s too alienating. And I’m like, the way that the economy works now. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah, I’m I’m interested. I know I’ve gotten some responses and it’s always interesting whether, you know, sometimes people are like everyone is making these choices and other people are like, no, some people are decidedly not making those choices. So yeah, I’m interested to see what kind of conversations it starts about how complicity works in daily life and work and the levels that exist of types of complicity. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So this book is fiction, but you also do a lot of journalism and like nonfiction writing and a lot of the work that I’ve read has been on parenting and more specifically about care and like how we figure out care, how we fund care, all that sort of thing. What is your own experience as a working parent? 


Lydia Kiesling: Hmm. [laughs] I should say that I am incredibly lucky because the work that I do feel, you know, is my calling in some respects is the work that I do to earn money. I am able to do that because I am not the primary economic engine of my household. I am certainly like a contributor and it is important that I do contribute financially. But my husband is someone who has you know the way I always talk about it, which you know, it’s like sounds cute, but it’s very literal. You know, he’s the W2 and I am the collection of 1099s. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: And you know W2 income in America is ideally income that you get health insurance from [laughs] and retirement benefits and then 1099 income is very sporadic. And you know, I can set my own hours often, which is great, but it does not come with things like health insurance and benefits. And, you know, so we have a trade off that I think is very common where, you know, I’m the parent that’s more flexible. I am able to do things like work around the fact that our public school day is 8 to 2:15. [laughter] And there are many days when, you know, there is no school and kids have doctors appointments and dentist appointments, and then there are pandemics that come along and completely derail every fragile system that we have. So I’m sort of the designated flexible parent. I you know, I will say my husband contributes a lot and is you know, it’s not a thing where it’s just like everything involving the kids is my thing. And, you know, he doesn’t do anything like that. But he is the person who there’s more of an expectation. And this was very obvious during the pandemic and as again, in many, many households where he was going to need to go into the room and like close the door in order to do the work that got us the health insurance. And so that meant, you know, I didn’t have a door that I could close and a lot of things had to be shuffled around. But I’m very lucky that I was able to shuffle them. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So I feel like this is a good segue way into our first question, which I’ll give a little backstory to this. So in our last episode about parenting was actually like very early on in Work Appropriate, We talked with Jessica Grose, who writes about parenting for The New York Times, and she and I talked about some of the practical questions about why workplaces just generally are so hostile to parents. And today, the questions that we’re going to grapple with are a little bit more philosophical. And a lot of them are, you know, not about like how. How do I change this specific policy at work? It’s more like, how am I a person in the world who parents and also works for money? And this question comes from Kelsey, and our producer Melody is going to read it. 


Kelsey: I just listened to your episode with Jessica Grose, and as a young mom found it really great. One piece that’s hard for me, in addition to all you talked about on the episode, was the idea of work being fulfilling or joyful. I have a job that offers me good pay, a short commute and flexibility for remote work, which comes in handy for sick days or school holidays. However, the work is not what I consider fulfilling and definitely doesn’t bring joy. At this stage in my life, I have given up on having or pursuing a fulfilling career to capitalize on the benefits of flexibility. Before I had a kid, career goals and fulfillment were a huge part of the equation, and now it just can’t be. Most of my mom friends state the same dilemma, and it has to be affecting all moms well-being overall, right? Are there any tips I’m missing here or thoughts on this? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So is this thought process at all familiar to you from your life or from conversations with other parents? 


Lydia Kiesling: Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s always the question. You know, it’s funny. I actually feel like it was a conversation that I had more with my peers when we were in our sort of like pre children, young professional era, when it felt like because I think especially if you come from a particular class and demographic, you are encouraged to be very ambitious, sort of pursue some goal that you work toward. It’s hyper individual. It’s I mean, you know, it’s the old canard, you know, having it all. It’s like you have to work hard and you but you also should love it and you need to make lots of money. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: So I think there was that was definitely something that, you know, when I was like 25, 26, 27, and you start to notice some friends who who are having jobs where you’re like, oh, they’re really like, they’re going to be something. [laughter] They’re doing a job where they are going to one day like be my doctor or, you know, represent me in my like, auto collision, you know? [laughs]


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: Something that something that has like an outcome that’s very measurable. And then people I will presume to say maybe like you and I who had maybe more of like a humanities and I know you were in academia. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: Which has its own like very serious like and punishing track and hierarchy that most people fall out of because it is no longer tenable. But but I think if you’re kind of like I was an English major, you know, I like books there, it’s harder to find necessarily that track. And so there is this moment when if you if you still, you know, were sort of raised to believe that you needed to find something that was incredibly fulfilling and very remunerative. That’s not where you find yourself necessarily. [laughs] And then if you then have children, then that just throws everything into even more kind of disarray. So I think the groundwork was already laid for me. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Lydia Kiesling: And then when I had my first child, it became more like, oh, the logistics of this now are impossible. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: Because I had started. So when I had my first kid, I worked full time at a university. Then I was writing on the side and I was starting to get more bylines that were meaningful and also came with more money, although not nearly enough money to actually live on, but something that made you feel like, oh, maybe this time. This whole time I actually was working toward a goal in my own way. But it was just in this sort of like oblique way on top of the jobs that I was working, which is great. However, then I had a child [laughs] and the time and energy that I could spend, you know, previously working all day and then coming home and being like, you know what? I am going to pitch this essay. I am going to read seven books that I’m not really getting paid for and try to like come up with something that I can say about them that just didn’t work anymore. And then also just the logistics of commuting and the childcare piece and all of it. You know, it was just very logistically difficult. And I again must say like my situation was easier than many people’s situation is. But still it’s very hard over time, like my husband and I had to be like, you don’t want to do this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: You want to have this kid and then another kid you want to write like I how how do we make those things happen? We had to really, like, reorganize our lives in order to do that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: What strikes me is that I think a lot of people find themselves, as you were saying, they realize like, oh, maybe I’m never going to make a lot of money in this job. And oftentimes they’re in the humanities or maybe in the nonprofit track, right. Or something that just has like a ceiling and then it’s easier to quit that job when and if you have kids and the other thing, too, about those jobs often nonprofit jobs are some of the few jobs, I think, or that, at least in my experience, that allow people to go down in their hours, allow you to be at 60 or 70%, which is really, really great for people who, you know, are also trying to juggle care responsibilities. But also they have a ceiling and there’s no place for you to go. Right. Like, you’re going to have be at the same level for 25 years and maybe get a cost of living increase. That’s part of the feeling of like, I don’t really love this job, but it’s the job that I can have because it’s flexible and there’s just so few other options for part time work. Other countries have figured out how to have part time work available, right? Like they just there are other ways. And part of it is not having health care pegged to work. But in the United States, there are just so few it’s either, like you said, you are a smattering of 1099s that does not collect into a full time income or you’re a W2. And so how do you find a W2 that offers a modicum of flexibility? Oftentimes that means making real sacrifices in terms of do I actually like this job? Do I like what I’m doing? Do I agree with what I’m doing? Am I so just bored out of my mind? And this is just like what I have to do in order to get a paycheck? 


Lydia Kiesling: One thing that I thought when I heard the question is like, you know, I would I would love to have like a little more. I always like I want the full I want the full picture. Like, my main question is sort of, I guess about time, because what the writer described, I’m like, you know what? That actually sounds great. And actually the older I get, the more I’m talking to other people who are just like, I just want a job. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: That doesn’t take over life and that does allow for the flexibility and that isn’t something I need to fret over and stew over late into the night. But I also want to acknowledge that it it is difficult to do something for a long period of time that stops being interesting to you. I’m worried to sound preachy, but the time part I’m interested how much like available sort of extra time she has. And I know obviously that can be very limited with kids. But one thing that happened for me in the pandemic, because my work did become like much less possible for a while because I was the full time caregiver. I had my two kids, I had another kid for much of a year because I was like administering the online kindergarten. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: For my older child and another kid and then trying to find stuff to do with them in the afternoon. And I was completely miserable because that’s not what I enjoy doing, like administering online kindergarten. And just like.


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. [laughs]


Lydia Kiesling: You know, I’m not like a person who naturally is like, I just came up with like 25 really creative ideas. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. [laughs]


Lydia Kiesling: I’m not very playful, like, that’s not me at all. So I was very unhappy. However, it was so clear during the pandemic that there there was like work that could be done, like work that was necessary in my community. And I think a lot of people in that time were kind of felt a little bit more bold to be like, oh, maybe I can actually like get involved in some ways. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: And so I sort of chose to see like the benefit of my flexibility and of my like fallow period of work is that it did allow me to get involved in a bunch of stuff that wasn’t paid but felt really, really validating and rewarding. So one thing I was able to volunteer for Multnomah County’s universal preschool Ballot Measure, which was largely volunteers, and that was time consuming but incredibly rewarding. And and if it’s volunteer stuff, people understand that you can’t be there all the time and sometimes your kids are going to be part of it or that you’re going to have obligations. So I would urge the question asker to and again you know with the acknowledgment that time is one of the big things, but to maybe see if there are ways to look for meaning that are outside of the job, because that job actually sounds pretty great for where you are right now in this season of life. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: But that shouldn’t mean that you can’t find fulfillment. So whether that’s like looking in your community for where there are opportunities for volunteers, what are the needs? Like who’s doing stuff that you think is admirable or exciting? And then if that you know, if you’re not like a joiner in that way. It’s also like I was thinking about how so many of the most beautiful decorative arts we have from human history were created by people who probably weren’t getting paid for them. And were like doing that because that’s like what they did at home or the meals that people prepared or the gardens that people grew. And there’s a reason that those are very gendered activities traditionally. But I think that’s like evidence of how people find passion in life that isn’t necessarily from the work that they’re doing. 


Anne Helen Petersen: There’s often this dichotomy of like either you find all of your joy and fulfillment in your job, or you find it in parenting and you’re like, what if I look, those things are okay. And then, but what? Like what about a third thing? Like can we do a third thing? [laughter]


Lydia Kiesling: Please no.


Anne Helen Petersen: And I love too that you acknowledge that like coming up with new genius ideas to entertain kids like that. That’s not your passion. [laughs] Like.


Lydia Kiesling: No, my kids watch the iPad, like the whole pandemic, like, so much iPad. And I tried. We did slime like I made a lot of slime in the beginning. And then now I’m just like, I never want to see fucking Elmer’s glue again. [laughter] Like, I have two iPads in my house. I’m always checking to make sure they have enough battery, you know? I’m like, yes, I am not a natural, like, inspirer of children. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. And like [laughs] you don’t have to be like, oh, I’m unfulfilled at my job. I’m not coming up with inspired children’s activities, like where everything’s going wrong. And, you know, we talk about this so often on this podcast that I feel like it should be our theme song. But just the idea that, like there are other places to find that passion and fulfillment and it can be a third thing, and it’s so hard to carve that out because of, oh, you’re tethered to the home in some way, whether it’s because of naps, because of just supervision, because of transportation, whatever. But there are so many different things that like, you know, people deride things like bullet journaling or scrapbooking. And I’m like, where do you think all this creative energy is going? Like it goes somewhere, and as long as you like doing it, that is awesome. 


Lydia Kiesling: That’s why people start and participate in extremely rabid ways in like Facebook groups. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] Yes, yes. 


Lydia Kiesling: Because that is a way that people, like, expend energy and make connections. Yeah. I mean, I think everybody is struggling with that because also, you know, a lot of times people will find themselves in caregiving that, that I don’t even think there is like a cultural expectation that, oh, you should love every minute of this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: Like especially when people are like or in sandwich generation situations where they’re like caring for parents or like, you know, they have a kid who’s going through a really tough time and and again, you know, the time part and the feeling tethered, you know, it might not so easy to just be like, okay, well, I’m just going to go and like, start a committee and do. But, you know, there are people who are already doing things where you live and you can check them out. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: And see where there’s a place where you might fit in even for like half an hour a week. You know, I do think there is a sort of disease like tendency to be like and who knows, maybe that thing could then turn into your new job?


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] No, no. 


Lydia Kiesling: Like. Not everything has to be like that, but it might show you, oh, my values about what I want to spend the day doing are a little bit different than I thought. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Lydia Kiesling: If I do decide I want to make a change in my job, maybe it’s more in this direction and less in this direction. I think it can sort of tell you about yourself in ways that are really can be cool and exciting. Just to know that as you get older, you’re not, like, fixed with whatever set of interests you decided you had when you were 18 years old. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: Like they change all the time. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And I think just for this question asker, like, I want to affirm that feeling like you miss your ambition or are jealous of other people’s ambition or like their fulfillment in their jobs, like, that’s totally normal. I was just watching this episode of Platonic, which is Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen’s show on Apple, and she stopped being a lawyer like a high powered lawyer and then goes to the partners retreat at her husband’s firm. And it’s like all these other lawyers from their clerking class and like, including like another mom who had four kids who didn’t stop being a lawyer. And like she says, she’s like, I loved making the decision that I made, but also I feel this way. And you can hold those feelings together. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Just acknowledging that it’s hard and that it’s normal to feel like, oh, I thought that this was who I was. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: But I found myself in a different situation. I also think, like this job might be right for this season. I think you said that right. Like, but that doesn’t mean that that’s the job you’re always going to have. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. And it’s just helpful to be like, nothing. Nothing that you’re doing right now has to be the way that it’s going to be forever. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: And your kids are also going to get older and the dynamics will just change. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And you don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. Treading water in a job that’s sustainable for whatever reason. Like it’d be one thing if they were like, I have to have the flex, but this is a super toxic job that like is exploiting— 


Lydia Kiesling: Oh yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: —me in different ways, different situation. Right. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. No.


Anne Helen Petersen: But you can coast on this one for a little bit. 




Anne Helen Petersen: So our next question is basically the same question, but the opposite worry. [laughs] This is Ali. 


Ali: I currently have a passion job. The work aligns pretty well with my values and my coworkers are passionate about their work, but it comes with unhealthy boundaries and no maternity leave benefits. I want to leave so that I can start a family, but I’m afraid I’ll fall out the frying pan and into the fire. The jobs I know of that have any kind of maternity leave. Benefits are mostly government jobs that everyone hates working. Is it too much to ask that I get to enjoy my work and also get the financial support that I need? 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So in some ways, Ali is living the life that Kelsey was imagining, but Ali says [laughs] of that, either have passion, job and no benefits or benefits with no passion. So, okay, this is a sample size of two people. Do you think that that is like a fair representation of the job market? 


Lydia Kiesling: So, again, like I want to know the full picture. Like I want to know the industry, because maybe it is true that, like this writer is very aware of all the jobs and is like for what I know how to do it and qualified for. The only job I can get is a government job that I would dislike. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Lydia Kiesling: To me, that feels like kind of a bold statement. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: Just because I think maybe see what’s out there. I’m curious about what the industry is like, the passion industry, because, you know, is there an opportunity for some kind of self advocacy around like, can this be flexible? I mean, I’m assuming if they’ve written in, then maybe they feel like they’ve exhausted their options for finding some sort of flexibility in that work. But I do think it’s right now it’s painted as like a pretty black and white either or. And I don’t think that’s necessarily always a helpful way to look at it, just because you also don’t know how the time scale for having a family too, you know. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: Like you have to first of all, to get the shitty benefits that most places [laughs] in America even offer. You have to work there for a certain amount of time. So, you know, that’s like a lot of engineering to do ahead of doing something that depending on whether they would be carrying the baby or someone else, or if they’re thinking about like adoption either. Like every scenario requires a ton of time and a lot of chance. And so I’m just sort of skeptical that it can be, like, fully engineered. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: So maybe if you love what you do, then trying to, like, see what the possibilities are there. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: I don’t know. 


Anne Helen Petersen: It’s interesting because I as someone who doesn’t have kids and part of the reason I don’t have kids is because of watching, like the hostility towards parents doing what I do and. I think that there is often this messaging in the United States of like there’s never a perfect time. So if you can get pregnant, get pregnant and figure it out later, right. Like you’ll figure it out. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And then you have the kid and you’re like. What the fuck? Like, I didn’t realize it was. And we’re not even just talking about, like, maternity leave, right? It’s like—


Lydia Kiesling: Everything. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Oh, everything. [laughs] Like, this is really, really, really, really unspeakably hard. And it’s almost like you’re not led into the, like, initiation tempo. Like you don’t you hear rumors? But it’s not until you’re, like, in through the front door that you’re like, oh, my God. Like there’s a reason they didn’t tell us about this. The advice can’t just be and you’re not giving this advice to be clear. But like, the advice can’t be like, it’ll be okay. Just do it. People figure things out. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: But I also think in a lot of companies, there is room to change maternity benefits to advocate for maternity benefits. You don’t have to have a kid to try to change things. When I worked at BuzzFeed [laughs] like they had to write the maternity benefits when the first people got pregnant, they’re like, oh crap, we got to figure this out, right? 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So sometimes that’s the case. And I think that she can also look, as you said, like at other jobs. I do know, you know, we’ve been talking about nonprofits a lot that a lot of nonprofits, because they can’t pay you better. They offer a lot better benefits. So if that’s something that is possible, like maybe I can take a slight pay cut, but then I can have a much more extended leave and then also have more flexibility around caregiving and that sort of thing and still get health insurance. Like maybe that’s a possibility. And it could be, you know, nonprofit jobs are oftentimes passion jobs, too. So, yeah, I think that there are other there are a half ways. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah, the struggle is real. I will second what you said. It is frustrating. People are just like, you know, it’ll be fine. I’m like, that’s a grand parental conspiracy to make people have kids [laughs] that they’re then not going to babysit. 


Anne Helen Petersen: If you’re not going to babysit, if you’re not going to come and do preschool for my kid. Like, yeah it’s saying whether whether and how many kids I have. But okay, yeah. So our advice here is that there are in-betweens. Sometimes people write in and say like, I don’t know what jobs are out there, so it might be worth asking around to people that, you know who are parents. Like what jobs are there in my field that are more amenable to sustainable work parenting situations? 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Okay. Our next question comes from Jolene, who’s trying to figure out how to make career goals and family goals happen at the same time. 


Jolene: I’m a journalist and a podcast producer, and this year I was a finalist for a really cool fellowship, which would have been an amazing yearlong opportunity to study subjects I love. I know I would get a lot out of it, but I’m also watching layoff after layoff in this industry and I’m worried because my job is stable right now as far as I know. But I have been feeling ready for something new for a while. I want to grow and leap into the unknown, but I’m finding that I’m less tolerant of the unknown than the last time I was between jobs, which was in my twenties. I am more financially stable now and my husband and I are considering starting a family in the next couple of years, meaning I would be pregnant. He’s got good income and in some ways being between jobs might be amazing because it’s more time with the baby. But I am concerned about how a lack of certainty in that period of life might feel especially because being only a wife and mother isn’t really my dream. I don’t know if I’ll get the fellowship. So weighing these different risks and uncertainties and opportunities. What would you suggest that I consider? 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So if she takes the fellowship, it would be leaving her job, and then that job wouldn’t be waiting for her when she gets back because they would fill the job. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And environmental journalism is 100% necessary. And also, like, not always like the easiest job to find if you’re looking for a one, right? 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So if she has a stable job, she’s feeling this like, oh, like what if I will never find another job again? And this person, she’s in her thirties, so she’s a millennial. So like, I feel her. You just always are like, if I don’t have a job, am I ever going to find a job again like that? And that fear just never goes away. But the fact that she does have a stable income in the form of her husband, I think like changes some of the calculus. 


Lydia Kiesling: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s smart to sort of be thinking about like the lay of the land of your current profession. But to me, doing the fellowship, there’s no downside because it seems like she’s not necessarily that happy in her current job anyway. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: She’s sort of wondering if she’s if there’s a future for her both in that job and in the profession at large. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: So in that case, like doing the fellowship is—


Anne Helen Petersen: It’s like only upside, right? 


Lydia Kiesling: And yeah, it’s only upside. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: You can use pivot to something else because I feel like you are a great example of someone who was doing one thing and then you used the training and skills from that thing to then do something else. And I don’t think it ever hurts in any job search to be like, I won this prestigious fellowship, even if it’s in like—


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: Like a slightly different field. It shows that you were like a sought after candidate. And then I think also like again, sort of related to the previous question, it’s smart to be thinking about how your family plan will fit into all of this. But again, there’s a lot that you can’t control about that scenario. And so, you know, being like, well, what if I’m pregnant during that? It’s yes, like good to consider. But also don’t assume that you will be because that might not be how things transpire. And then it would be a shame to have been like, well, I can’t do anything because like I could be pregnant. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Lydia Kiesling: It’s like this that you could, but also, who knows? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. Well, the other thing about a fellowship is that you get to do like a really different type of work, right? Fellowship is like, what if I just got to, like, think things and like, produce at a much slower pace and, like, it’s just it’s rejuvenating, I think, for a lot of people. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And so that it can be this sort of thing that really allows you to both take like a deep breath in your career and then come back at the work that you do in an indifferent fashion. And so I think thinking of it as that instead of this potential liability and I understand why she’s thinking of it this way, but at the same time, like, it’s awesome if you get it. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: You should totally take it. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yes, we’re agreed. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] We are, take the fellowship and I hope she got it. Like she might have written this out a little bit ago. And so, like, hopefully she got it. But also if she didn’t get it and another opportunity that similar comes up, also take that opportunity. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yes, absolutely. 




Anne Helen Petersen: So for our last question, we’re going to venture into some relationship advice. It’s still work adjacent, though. This is from Mel and our colleague Julia is going to read it. 


Mel: What is some advice on how to navigate work slash career as it affects the household? What I mean is what if one partner wants more like more travel, more kids, or even to move somewhere else? And the other partner is perfectly content in a job that pays just enough? How can partners best navigate supporting each other’s individual goals and dreams and also create and work towards combined goals and dreams? For example, Partner A has a job she likes and good benefits. She wants another child but recognizes they can’t currently afford it. With one kid in daycare and on their current dual income Partner B also wants kids is neutral about his job, has terrible benefits and hasn’t had a raise in ten years. He isn’t motivated to find a better paying job because he has nonpaying hobbies he enjoys. In either case, resentment could easily result resentment for Partner A If she can’t have children and fulfill that dream or resentment for Partner B who may feel forced to find a job he doesn’t like and give up some of his hobbies. 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. I love this question. It’s so specific and it’s so clear that the question writer is Partner A. [laughs] 


Lydia Kiesling: Also, the first question writer needs to take some inspiration from Partner B because Partner B is having a job that is just okay, but having hobbies that are apparently so great that [laughs] they have prevented him from wanting to do anything else in life. So. 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So like I said, I think that the question writer is pretty clearly Partner A. So let’s talk about her first. As I’m reading it, I think she just really wants to have another kid. Doesn’t that seem to be the case? 


Lydia Kiesling: Yes. Yes. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And knows that it’s financially difficult to have that second kid unless Partner B changes the scenario. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yes. And normally, I would say I feel like the really critical part of the question in the scenario as it was laid out was when it says Partner B also wants kids. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Lydia Kiesling: So that part feels very important to me. I think if Partner B was like, I don’t then that is like a deeper rift and something that, like both of them really need to be respected there. And I don’t know how you fix that, but but if he also wants that, then I think it’s reasonable for Partner A to be like, well, I’m really thinking about how we would do this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: And right now we can’t. And so let’s like, let’s sit down and have a non rancorous sharing of feelings and goals. [laughs]


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. Like, because I think there is a scenario where maybe Partner B is apathetic about having another kid is like, oh, it’d be cool if we did. I’m fine if we don’t. And so that it’s not enough of a desire to motivate them to do that. Frankly, very difficult work probably of not only finding a new job, but also giving up some of that, you know, the fulfilling hobbies which are [laughs] which are essential like I mean good for Partner B, like got the hobbies got a mediocre job like just is happy with stuff. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: But I do think I like that the question asker also brings up like things are fine, but also this is you’re asking for resentment if we don’t work through this now. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah, it’s a good point that like, maybe it’s maybe it’s not that Partner B has a burning wish for other kids, but that it is sort of this like, yeah, that could be good. I do think that, you know, this is like a essentializing, but I have definitely known men who have been like, yeah, I want to have some kids. Like, you know, we’ll have some kids at some point. And then you’re like, well, when? When is the time that you’re like, at some point you know that. So I think it can feel a little more theoretical to some parties than others. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, yes. 


Lydia Kiesling: In the equation, maybe that is a situation that when they sit down and talk about it, Partner B is actually like some real ambivalence does rise up and emerge. And he’s like, I’m actually not not sure. But if it is something where it is a shared sort of ideal that they would have more than one child, then maybe sort of laying out like, okay, well, what if what if you were the full time caregiver like, and maybe that would instantly maybe he’s like, absolutely not. But, you know, then that’s like a data point that they have or. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Lydia Kiesling: Or just and I think sometimes proposing like something that does feel kind of drastic like helps the other partner to realize like, oh, this is real. Like we have to actually talk about this. And I mentioned earlier, like when my husband and I, when I became like a full time writer and also had a second kid, I, I was sort of the person who was doing like magical thinking about how the second kid part would work financially. And he was more like, well, like, I’m not sure. And then the second kid arrived and he was like, oh, this is at like, this doesn’t work at all. And so we had a series of family meetings that were just like, well, we can’t live here because we don’t have enough money. And, you know, so we lived in San Francisco all the time, which is famously like incredibly expensive and we just didn’t have enough money. And so we moved and but yeah, there was sort of like a series of things that were posed. It was like, okay, you can find a job that pays more money or like, stop being a writer full time. Like. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Lydia Kiesling: Or you’re home with the kids, like, and those felt drastic to me. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: The least drastic thing actually turned out to be like, let’s move to another state. [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, no or the other thing that I think sometimes happens is that one party might have like magical thinking, as you said, about, oh, well, when our kid gets into kindergarten, then we won’t have to pay for their child care anymore, which like one of my friend’s kids, just like they went there, like really expecting that. And they’re like, oh, wait, after school care is also really expensive. And then also, like paying for any time that there’s holidays that we can’t take off. And then all of the summer camp expenses like that still there, like that doesn’t go away. So no, it’s not like the magic trick of, oh, we only have to shoulder this essentially extra mortgage for one year until one of our kids gets into kindergarten. But I do think you’re right that like, okay, what are the options here? What are the scenarios that we could possibly do? And making a choice about that. Because the other thing, too, is if like they fester in this position where they seem to be right now, it’s not choosing a choice. Right. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Like you’re just kind of cruising along and like, if you can come collectively to the choice, the decision, all right, we we’re not going to have another kid. And this is these are the reasons why. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And to make peace with that, that’s different than just like, it would be nice to have another kid, but like, we can’t quite make it work right now, that sort of thing. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. And I think it’s wise to point out the sort of possibility of festering resentment, because if that is something that one party really does want, that’s not a thing that’s just going to like not become like a wound, as you know, over time, if it isn’t addressed directly and either like a choice is made, arrived at together one way or the other. 


Anne Helen Petersen: What overall advice do you have for couples that are trying to figure out how their careers affect one another? 


Lydia Kiesling: I mean, this is like incredibly banal, but I think just remembering that you are on the same team. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Lydia Kiesling: And like if there’s going to be like an enemy, it’s always going to be like your partner’s boss, not your partner. [laughter] And I think sometimes it can be easy to if someone in the relationship is having a lot of work stress, it can be easy for the other partner to sort of like misdirects empathy and sort of feeling like helplessness about not being able to like, fix it for them and to somehow getting mad at them. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, yes. 


Lydia Kiesling: Like, and then that just turns that that’s not helpful at all, even though it’s very I mean, and I definitely have done that myself. And so wanting them to feel happy in what they’re doing every day and, and realizing that you have to like, work together for both of you to have as much kind of satisfaction as you can, you know, And obviously that and to acknowledge the sort of seasonal aspect of it and to respect what one person is like really putting in more at home and one is not and like trying to revisit it frequently. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I have so been there with the like channeling resentment at work into like it’s like, well, why don’t you just tell your manager this? Like, yeah, why aren’t you just telling them that? [laughs]


Lydia Kiesling: Let me go in and fix it for you. Because like, you clearly aren’t, like, aren’t managing this like I would, I’m going to do it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. [laughs] Not the way it works for me one thing that’s worked, and admittedly the kids aren’t part of the equation, but we try to be very clear about like this week is going to be really intense for me. So if you can like if we can figure out how to take some things off of my plate, like just the kind of household responsibilities and that sort of thing. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Just communicating that in a way so it doesn’t reach that point of I’m so overwhelmed and also I’m doing all of these other things. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. How did you not know? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, how did you not that, didn’t you notice I’m so stressed all the time, just furiously typing on my computer. [laughs] And then the other thing too I think is that. It’s hard because I don’t think that, like, there has to be some equality or like, it’s not as simple as, oh, well, I took six work trips this year, so you can take six work trips. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Or you should be able to take like equality. It manifests in different ways. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So maybe like, oh, you went on a work trip. Like, it would be really lovely if I had some time for deep work this afternoon or something like that. Like there are different ways that you can, I think, communicate and give people space for the work concentration that they need in different seasons of the year. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And just like different seasons of life too. And I do think too, like sometimes it’s my turn to be ambitious and sometimes it’s your turn to be ambitious too. Like I think maybe one person in the in the relationship isn’t interested in that. Like maybe they’re Partner B and they’re like, I just I’m so into my hobbies. Awesome. Which again, good for this person. But if you can figure out ways to make space for that ambition to even be kindled. Right. Because sometimes I think that it comes out, all together because one partner can’t even imagine having choices about the sort of work that they’re doing or how they’re doing or the time and space that they’re given to do it. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah, or making a big change seems like that could be impossible. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. Right. Like even having the space to job search because looking for another job is a job in and of itself. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: So how do you how do you make space for that? To allow someone to make a change in their own career? My relationship advice is always like, talk more with each other. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: But that’s kind of banal too. 


Lydia Kiesling: And even if it’s not about like work stuff too, thinking about the things that the other person like enjoys is not like an obstacle, but something that brings them happiness and not doing like scorekeeping. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Lydia Kiesling: But also, yeah, making sure that both people are having that opportunity to pursue those hobbies or whatever it is. I’m so curious about the hobbies and I— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Oh I know. I want to know what they are like. Are they woodworking? Is it is it golf? Because if it’s golf, like, there’s no coming back. [laughter] Is it is like is it hiking?


Lydia Kiesling: Dungeons and Dragons? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Is it Dungeons and Dragons? Yeah. [laughs] Is it like when someone told me that they love that their husband’s hobby is video games because it means that they still are like present in the home, which is like a very like a lot of women’s hobbies, as we were talking about earlier. So are so often tethered to the home because there’s just no escaping. So. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: DnD or video games [laughter] it’s like you’re here, you’re here. I can leave the house. Yes, you’re here. 


Lydia Kiesling: You’re on duty now.


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. 


Lydia Kiesling: But you can multitask. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] So if people want to find more of you on the Internet, where can they find you? 


Lydia Kiesling: Well, I don’t know. Social media is like a horrific hellscape at this time. I, I was just about to say, like, oh, you can go to my website and find out when I have book events, but that’s not on my website. I should I should put that there. [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: It will be on your website by the time this comes out. Maybe. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yes, you can preorder my book at my website. I am on Twitter. I have talked about and I will post about book events, especially as they come in August and September on Twitter. That’s probably the easiest place for now. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Are you going to join Threads? 


Lydia Kiesling: No. [laughs] I don’t know. Maybe I have a blue sky. I am just there’s so many things I already—


Anne Helen Petersen: Too many things. 


Lydia Kiesling: Maybe this is an opportunity to, like, reexamine my relationship with all of this type of sharing and like, presentation. I say that now. I’m sure in seven months I’ll be like, oh, I’m in a thread war with someone [laughter] and my Instagram account got like banned [laughter] or I don’t know it just seems it’s overwhelming right now, all the different things that are happening. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I absolutely agree. And I can’t remember to post on any of them, which I think is probably a good sign. So. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: They can just Google you and find the book and that’s what matters. 


Lydia Kiesling: Yes. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] Thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been a delight. 


Lydia Kiesling: Thank you. It was a huge honor to be here. I really am grateful. [music plays]


Anne Helen Petersen: Mobility by Lydia Kiesling is now available for preorder. Vulture included Mobility on its 14 books we can’t wait to read this summer list, so head to or wherever books are sold to preorder your copy today and be among the first to read when it’s released on August 1st. And if you in the L.A. area, come join Crooked’s own Tommy Vietor and author Lydia Kiesling from Mobility’s book launch event at Dynasty Typewriter in L.A.. Tickets at [music plays] Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you need advice about a sticky situation at work, we are here for you. Submit your questions at or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can also follow on Twitter @AnneHelen. I’m more over at Threads these days @AnneHelenPetersen that’s also what I am on Instagram. And you can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study And if you like the show, leave us a little performance review on your podcast app of choice it really helps. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. [music plays]