Hatred & Happy Motherhood.

I recently stopped by my husband’s company for the first time in about two years. To my endless dismay, in his industry the majority of the women are secretaries and HR personnel, most executives have stay-at-home wives, and visits by children and spouses are not exactly encouraged. The men work long hours in quiet, wood-paneled rooms. Contrast that to my workspace -- in the corner of our noisy kitchen, where children, welcome or not, are seldom more than six feet away.

As I waited for my husband, my eye wandered around his office. I was shocked by the décor. My husband had turned his office into a museum-worthy tribute to me and our three children. Photos covered his desk, the walls, the screen saver on his computer. There were over 30 framed pictures of our family (I counted). Our son playing basketball. Me nine months pregnant with our third child. All of us last summer at the seaside village where we honeymooned 12 years ago.


Standing there, my stomach unzipped. How could any man adore his wife and children so openly, so effusively? How did I get so lucky to have him?


Why then, do I hate him so much sometimes?


We met through Wharton business school 15 years ago. He’s a finance jock and went into private equity. I launched Splenda around the world for Johnson & Johnson. Five years after graduation, well established in both our careers and our marriage, we decided to have a baby.


The early sacrifices were innocent. I negotiated two days a week at home so I could keep breastfeeding once maternity leave ended. Shortly after our second baby made the scene, Johnson & Johnson let me work long-distance when we moved to Minneapolis for my husband’s career. We moved back east two years later, and I took a job that required zero travel and minimal client entertaining, so I could be there for our kids. We decided to have a third, and that meant another maternity leave.


I was so blissed out by early motherhood, I hardly noticed that no one was asking my husband to make the same kind of sacrifices.


Ten years into parenthood, my life is fall-off-the-chair different from what I predicted when I got my MBA. I write and consult, and fit my work around my kids and my husband’s career. I’ve discovered through 10 years of working motherhood the politically incorrect truth: well-educated working mothers have a far harder time juggling work and family than equivalent working fathers.


Ambitious women tend to marry ambitious men. Throw kids into the mix, and something has to give. More often than not, it’s women, not men, who give -- unless you are that rare woman who can comfortably delegate childrearing to others for years. Most of my friends from b-school are stay-at-home wives. Our kids would starve – emotionally, not physically -- if we worked and travelled the way our husbands do.



I don't like to admit that I envy my sister her life. She did the conventional thing, marriage, kids, only parttime work. Now that the kids are out of the house, she continues to work parttime, and reaps the fruit of her husband's labors in travel and extra cash. I never planned on marriage or children. I have a terrific career, and my own house, but struggle with the problems of being single in a coupled-up society. Everything is more difficult, from deliveries to the house, to illness (no-one is nursing me at home), to trying to afford a vacation. I still don't want kids. But the right husband would make my life easier on any number of levels. So yes, this feminist is a bit jealous.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Interesting comments...so totally my life. And I have to tell you, the inner "mommy wars" dialogue never shuts up. In other words, I still struggle. Not as mightily or as angrily as I once did, but I still wonder: will I go back to a fulltime office job? What tradeoffs am I making, right now, every day? Motherhood continues to be wonderful, an evolution. I'd never trade places with my husband -- because I love being the linchpin of my kids' lives, and I love the massive amounts of time I get with them. But that doesn't stop me from missing the thrill and rewards of fulltime, fullbore, team leadership in a corporate environment. Being a mother is great -- but so is being a female executive these days. We all figure out how to slice and dice our various selves, and it helps me to know we all find different solutions, and that life is pretty long -- we can make changes if the balance gets out of whack.


I am 33 (soon to be going on 34, I suppose - sigh), and my husband is 39 (soon to be 40 - double sigh). Living in the midwest and working for one of the "big" firms (big as in global, not big as in regionally big). For where we live, it's considered a high pressure job (if we were in NYC, it would be a lifestyle firm, something which the powers-that-be have a tendency to point out at exactly the wrong times, it seems).
Part of what I find so frustrating is the ease with which my husband can just tune out. I find it nearly impossible to tune out my son; I refuse to ignore him just because I can or I want to. I find that power trippy and it just isn't in me (for a variety of reasons) to do it. I envy my husband's ability to just "walk away," as he often advises me to do when our son hangs on my leg and begs to be picked up. I just can't do it. As one astute colleague pointed out, my ability to "just walk away" is impaired for two reasons: I work a lot (working mommy guilt), and we brought him home (via adoption) at 13 months (missed time guilt). In a nutshell, my colleague pointed out, I am screwed. :)
We've had several come-to-Jesus discussions in the past few weeks (it's fair to say I've been out of sorts lately) and my husband is really trying to be more participative and supportive. On Monday, I got a whole half hour of time to myself to sit on the deck ni the sun. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it much - I felt completely terrible for not being in the play room with my son, my husband and the choo choos. Eventually, I went in to play with them. And therein lies the problem... when I finally get my husband on board with pitching in, I lack the follow through to take the time for myself. Sigh.
On a brighter note, I received word in the last few days that our firm has apparently ended the penalty in the part time program (I believe as of the end of the first quarter - so very recently), meaning part-timers will now actually be paid 80% for 80%. Duh. Why they ever had it any other way is beyond me.


My husband and I are not in a situation that provided for either of us to stay home with the children instead of working full time outside of the home. We make a similar amount of money (he makes a few thousand dollar more per year than I do, but I also pay the insurance premiums for the family). If there is a conflict, a doctor's appointment or school event that needs attending or a sick child, I have been the default for most of my children's lives. My organization is somewhat enlightened- we have a number of highly ranked women, including VP's and our Chief Legal Officer- with school aged or teenaged children, yet the day to day struggles are totally on their shoulders, not on their husbands'. Even though the option exists for men to take leave upon the birth of a child (thank you, FMLA!), it is a shock when one of my male co-workers chooses to take that time, and he may find himself being looked down on for taking those six-twelve weeks. I don't resent my husband for not doing more, exactly. What I resent is the assumption that he should step up because I already have a conflict. The assumption is that I will make do, and if I cannot, he needs to find a way to make it work. I do have more flexibility than he does in terms of having to work from home on the spur of the moment, but even people who don't know that (e.g., coworkers) make that assumption. The fact that my boss is a single mom helps with that flexibility, since she understands my need for it, but the onus is still on the moms to make things work out.


When I was in grad school I was preparing for my career but secretly looking forward to a "break" one day when I could stay home with a child....yea, right...I had a rude awakening several years later and learned the real deal...After having worked for several years, having a first child at near 35, and underestimating the amount of work and isolation involved with new parenting I quickly realized I needed to return to work at least part-time. This site says so many things I have felt lately...specifically that we will look back at this time as a "phase" in women's history where we are realizing the intense need for more childcare and also benefits for part-time work. Most of these issues haven't resonated until becoming a parent. The work/life balance is definitely a work in progress in our home...There is also a reluctance of professional women to admit they struggle with anger as I feel they do not want to be seen as not having things "under control" at home as well as they might at they office. While this is normal and even protective in the workplace at times--some women may feel they are alone in their struggles. This forum is excellent & affords women privacy. There is huge pressure everywhere for women today. I have a ton of stay at home mom friends too though and I see them stay extremely busy with swim lessons, multiple children, playdates, activities, etc. I hope we can see a positive change occurring amongst moms & society..I so agree that we can best do this by supporting each other in what ever choices we have. My contribution has been to start a site www.nomommysperfect.com It has been a joy (and has helped me learn how to use my Macintosh) and has become a passion. My daughter sings the phrase now and it inspires me to hopefully prevent future mommies from being so hard on themselves. It won't just happen...I agree that affordable childcare and other programs must be in the equation. My degree would not be worth the paper it's printed on some days if it weren't for my mother or sitter being able to keep my daughter when she is sick or the school is closed!! Having a child changes everything. Thank you for your work.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Squeakere -- You described my life for the first 10 years of working parenthood. A lot of working women I know describe your situation. And a lot of at-home moms left work for good because of the less-than-supportive spousal and employer behavior you describe. I wish I had an easy solution but I don't.

The only good news I can offer is that life is far better now -- because my kids have gotten older. They are now 6,9 and 11 and far more responsible. So they can do a lot more, and their needs are simpler.

My husband took to parenthood more slowly than I did, and maybe I was just a lot better at parenting infants and young children (maternal instinct? hormones? your guess is as good as mine). But the bottom line is that he does far more now than he used to. Examples: I sleep late every weekend morning now, while he gets up with the three kids. This year, he planned and executed all three kids' birthday parties. He coaches three kids' sports team every season. He often takes the kids into school in the morning (and they all go to the same school).

On the employer front, three years ago after publishing Mommy Wars I went to work for myself. Now I have 100% flexibility and I work from home. I make as much moula. I feel like I'm reaping the benefits of 25 years of educational drudgery and paying my dues in fulltime office jobs.

Looking back, I'm not sure what I could have done to get my husband to be more supportive of my work. Maybe a few come-to-jesus talks, with a list of specific tasks he had to do? I'm not sure. All I was able to do was complain, glare, and write a book and over 500 blog columns about how hard it is to juggle work and family.

And then somehow, the message got through. Maybe. Or he just grew up as a dad and was able to take more of the burden of childcare. And I got more comfortable delegating more -- to him and others. But I tell you, if we had another baby, I'd be back in your shoes.

Tell more. How old are you? Where do you live? I'm very curious because sometimes it seems that younger women (I'm 42) have more involved husbands.


The firm where I work is pretty good on paper when compared to other firms in terms of HR policies (i.e. mat leave and benefits). But whenever I am asked about the work-life balance (and more to the point, whenever I offer my honest answer, which is "what balance?"), the only "solution" I am offered is part-time work. Part time work at my firm means a reduced billable requirement (to 80%) with a reduced salary (70% - anyone see the discrepancy there?). In my practice group, part time work is a golden unicorn: in someone's mind it exists, but no one has really seen it. So in other words, I could take a 30% hit to my salary with the likelihood that I will still work 100% (or more) of my normal billable hours without recouping any of that salary reduction. And the worst part of this is that the “alternative” always seems to be presented with a tone of condescension by a middle-aged man with a stay at home wife who has never felt the acute pressure of balancing work and personal time, because he never had to. It makes the suggestion that much more irritating – that somehow, by buying into their unequal work for unequal pay scheme, I am weak, unworthy, and somehow disloyal to the firm.

All this garbage of course comes on top of the fact that I am somehow expected to be a good mommy, to not overcompensate for prolonged absences and long work days by giving into my toddler, to find the time and the will and the energy to get my son involved in activities that will aid in his continued development, and to be a good wife, which apparently these days means not giving my husband soul-crushing glares every time he says he "doesn't have time" to do something or drops the ball on something he was supposed to do (which means it shifts back onto my plate).

I know that compared to other men, my husband does a lot. He is in charge of basically everything outside, he picks our son up from day care (with plenty of notice to me if he will not be able to on any given day), and he rarely misses a tubby or night-night. Nevertheless, it is a 100% certainty that as soon as I walk in the door, he mentally and physically checks out of child care; he watches television, reads a magazine or the newspaper, or (worse yet) watches me play with and entertain our son. It sometimes seems that it is only when I give him those soul-crushing glares that he actively participates or gives me a break to, I don't know, eat dinner.

The reality of my situation is that I have no legitimate control over any substantive aspect of my life these days. My bosses control my work life. My child (and my husband's whims) controls my home life. When I try to exert control on either end, I feel like I am only offered asinine alternatives - alternatives that would only ever be offered by people who have never had to make such “choices.” And this is why, although I enjoy my job and love my husband beyond words, I sometimes don’t want to go to work and loathe my husband.


I think what we envy (both career moms and stay-at-home moms)is an idealized version of motherhood from some golden time in the past. The "Donna Reeds" with spotless houses and cookies and milk after school living in well manicured suburban enclaves. I'm sure some reader had that kind of mom, but even most stay- at-home moms were working moms. They worked in the house (hours of housework) and they did a lot of volunteer work outside of the house. If we want to feel less guilty about how much time we spend with our kids read "Changing Rhythms of American Family Life" by Bianchi, Robinson, and Milkie. According to their research, all of us mothers (career and stay-at-home) spend at least as much time or more engaged in primary care for our children than the mythical mothers of the 50s and 60s. What we don't have that they may have had are spotless houses. As I sit in my office knowing that my house is not Martha Stewart perfect (and never was), I'm okay with that!


Men can step up to the plate, really they can, but we have to release some of the control. Ask yourself what you really want - government isn't going to swoop in and make everything better. We're the only ones who can do that. If you can't find a company that supports your need for balance, then start your own company.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

RossRiley -- You captured exactly how I've felt many times, especially with three kids, which makes the juggling act a lot trickier and more exhausting. My husband, who is constantly told what a great dad he is (because he is much more involved in our kids' lives than his father's generation) never feels guilty about taking a business trip, forgetting his cell phone (!!!!) or missing a field trip. And it burns me up.

Yes, working women want "to have our cake and eat it too." We want quantity time with our kids, and the ability to take care of ourselves economically. I can't imagine why any society would undermine these two admirable drives. Instead, what constantly surprises me is why our government, our corporate culture and society doesn't do more to ease the juggling stress for everyone involved.

Finally, a note about how other people's lives look on the outside. We are all pretty good at making our lives look good, whether we've got on pantyhose or yoga pants. But you never want to judge someone's inner peace by how they look on the outside. My experience is that nearly every mom fights some kind of "mommy war" as she struggles to come to terms with her choices (or lack of choices) when it comes to working and raising kids. No matter how put together she looks.