Work Life Balance

Mr. Mom Might Be A Lean-In Woman’s Dream, But He Isn’t The Answer For Better Working Family Attitudes

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shutterstock_145865855When my husband and I were getting married I casually brought up over sushi dinner that he might be the one staying home with the kids.  The look of shock, surprise and panic on his face was one that even 10 years later I remember with startling detail.  I thought he might just need some time to warm up to the idea, so I explained the rational merits.  I made far more money (at the time), with superstar status at my firm, but yet I felt strongly about our kids being raised only by family.  This wasn’t a power play or an alpha-move — it was good old common sense.

He expressed his general discomfort with the idea (I have my own career, I’ve never babysat, you’re the one who loves kids, I thought we were just ordering toro) but I didn’t find it convincing.  You’ll figure it out when it’s your own kids, I told him.  We agreed to revisit the subject when we were ready to start a family, but I was sure he would change his mind by that time.  Due to outside forces, the tides turned drastically in the next few years, and the industry I had been working in (real estate finance aka mortgage-backed securities) imploded while my husband’s business was on the rise.  Though I never got to test my theory of the stay-at-home dad, I wonder about it often.

When I saw the NY Times story Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers, I devoured the entire piece with hungry eyes.  I’m not sure what I expected to take away from the piece — something between pride for these women making it work, support for these men who reject traditional gender roles, and curiosity about the way things work for them.  But by the end, I was left with one overarching feeling: sadness.

Rather than changing the culture of the banks, which promote policies on flexible hours and work life balance, these women say that to succeed they must give in to its sometimes brutal terms, from 4:45 a.m. wake-ups onward through days of ceaseless competition.Ms. Black and others say that is the real gift of a stay-at-home spouse: avoiding domestic distractions and competing better against other bankers, many of them men with stay-at-home wives.
If Ms. Black gets a call on Tuesday afternoon asking her to attend an out-of-town dinner the next night, she can go. Ms. Jan de Beur took two trips a week on average last spring. Candida P. Wolff, the head of global government affairs for Citigroup, often travels about one and a half weeks each month.

Call me crazy, but this sounds entirely unappealing, even to someone as ambitious as I remain to my various careers.  The article did not focus specifically on how these women felt about their roles, but if they are happy, that’s wonderful.  But it seems clear to me that stay at home dads are not the answer for work life balance — which is really the direction we should be headed.

More than a revolution of stay-at-home fathers, what I want to see is an overall shift to work-life balance.  Wouldn’t it make more sense if both parents in every family could work and still enjoy the family they got together to make in the first place?  Shouldn’t we encourage policies that allow each partner to realize their own worth, to not lament their wasted education, and to feel appreciated for more than housework (which is often the “above and beyond” for full-time caregivers).  Is this really what women should be striving for?  Is this really what anyone with children (or maybe even without) strives for?  Lots of time away from home, away from their spouse and kids?

My husband and I have taken turns being the breadwinner throughout our marriage, but neither one of us has ever lost sight of our evolving career ambitions while making less money than the other.  What our children did for us though, was make us both realize how much we love the  family we’ve created and how we want to spend time with them as much as possible. That involves us extracting as much flexibility out of our own jobs as we possibly can.  Unlike one banker who “told colleagues that she recently became irritated with her husband, who works part time, telling him, “I wish I had a wife,” I have never wished I had a wife.  Instead, I’m happy I have a partner.

(photo: Balazs Justin/Shutterstock)