“Time is money,” Benjamin Franklin’s advice to budding tradesmen, warned them off “idleness” and would become a mantra for ambitious workers. It might also be turned upside down, too, as in less time at work means less money, to good effect for families.

(Ben Garvin/ For The Washington Post)

“For most families, including ours, buying into an elite school district as opposed to an average one would require sacrifices in lots of other areas,” he writes after citing several studies that have led him to conclude that “working longer hours to earn more money to send our kids to the best K-12 schools is a self-defeating formula.”

What Hartnett tackles is the increasingly popular notion — the mythology, he makes the case — that quality schools are essential for success.

“But if my wife and I wanted to do everything we could to give James and Oscar the best possible K-12 education, we’d have to make some big changes. We’d have to choose more lucrative careers than hers in academia and mine as a writer so we could afford urban private schools or a house in an affluent suburb where the public schools are better. But between the longer hours and the longer commutes such changes would entail, we’d see much less of our kids. James and Oscar might be in the best schools, but we’d rarely be home before bedtime to hear what they’d learned all day.”

Good point, but one that’s not so cut and dried for most of us.

Hartnett, who writes the blog Growing Sideways, is in the rare and enviable position of being able to make a conscious choice at the beginning. His wife is finishing up a degree and the two have decided to move to a new locale upon her graduation. They have decided their family life is a priority in the move, as much, if not more, than job opportunity and school quality.

Both he and his wife seem to have chosen careers based on interest, as opposed to employment opportunity or income expectations.

Many families do not make these decisions with such clarity. We slide from one little decision to the next and thus may find ourselves in a scenario we hadn’t fully expected, with an anchor of debt and crush of professional demands.

The road to work-life conflict can be deceptive. It can be paved with promotions and raises that each time edge up the amount a family begins to “need.”

Studies frequently show that the more income parents make, the more they spend raising a child. The corollary to this can mean that the more parents make, the more they need to make and the less they’re home. It’s far harder to upsize than to downsize.

The difference in spending is mostly fueled by the cost of education. There is surely consensus among many, especially in this region, that part of good parenting means securing a seat in a top school.

Hartnett’s point is that “quality” education can take more than one form and can come from more than one source.

Is he right? Or are good or great schools worth the price of time away from family or more demanding careers?

What do you think?

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