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.
On good days, I know of course that I don’t hate him. I hate that combining work and raising kids is far more challenging for me than for him. My husband has never been told by a male colleague “Enjoy your vacation!” when he leaves the office in the early throes of labor. He has not ever called his boss to say he’s staying home with a sick child the day of an important presentation. When he heads out on a business trip, he packs his briefcase and walks out our front door.
Me? A two-day consulting gig requires a 3-page memo to our babysitter, a shorter one for my husband, and at least 12 emails to arrange afterschool playdates and basketball practice shuttling. I heard him remark, recently, “Oh, I didn’t realize there was a pay gap between men and women.” His ignorance is bliss. I haven’t been ignorant since the minute my first child was born.
I hate that our society makes childcare scarce, equal pay for equal work scarcer, and good part-time jobs scarcest. I wish there was one article about how little support companies and our government provide working parents for every headline about how daycare supposedly makes kids violent or that breastfeeding raises kids' IQ. My work/family choices are hard ones – made harder by the constant chorus of “you’re so lucky to have choices!” Few moms and fewer dads admit anger is a common by-product of raising children and making sacrifices.
Business school could never have prepared me for the challenges of balancing work and motherhood. No one could have taught me the most important lesson: when you combine work and motherhood there is no balance. My life today is chaos, sacrifice and joy. I wouldn’t trade it for my husband’s life. I want to see my kids – not pictures of them – as much as possible. But that somehow doesn’t make it easier.
This column is designed to get us all talking candidly about the joys, frustrations, and challenges we face juggling working motherhood today. And let’s be clear: working motherhood includes the unpaid, stay-at-home life. Judgment about what is right for you is fine; judging other women for their choices is not.
So what about you? Do you ever wish you could trade your work-family sacrifices for someone else’s? Do you envy or resent or pity your husband, your wife, your best friend, your mom, your boss – because they juggle work and kids in different ways? In your world, do men or women have an easier time finding the right balance? What work-family issues are being debated in your head, right now?