As I write this, my husband and I are having the oldest, most tired argument in our marriage — the fight over “free” time.
Here’s the scene right now:
one kid is begging for a nap,
one kid is crying.
Lunches for the school day still need to be made,
laundry waits to be done,
writing deadlines are looming,
and two bathrooms are currently in various stages of remodeling disarray (who knew black mold was actually a big deal?).
And, like the grown-ass adults we are, instead of making a responsible plan to tackle it all together as a team, we are snarling at each other.
The truth is, after four kids and seven years of marriage, we have yet to figure out how to best divide our time. With so much to do, how do you decide whose work is more important? How do you prioritize the seemingly never-ending list of household tasks and balance the fleeting spirit of fun and romance that keeps a relationship alive? Is there a way to avoid keeping score and feeling slighted?
In a study recently released by the Harvard Business Review, it’s clear that even among some of the highest-achieving women of the world — the graduates of Harvard Business School — balancing career, family and partnership with a spouse is a struggle of expectations vs. reality. Overwhelmingly, they went into their educations assuming that as modern-day business women, they would split all household and child care duties equally with their future partners, and that their future careers would be equally as important as their partner’s. (Are you snickering yet?)
But the men, on the other hand, held very different views: More than half of the male students of Harvard Business School — with white, married males taking the lead — stated that they expected their careers would eventually take priority over their future or current partners’. The overwhelming majority of the men also expected that their female partners would be the one doing the majority of the child care.
So …. can you take a guess as to who was right?
Across the board, the women who expected equal careers and equal partnerships on childcare were disappointed. Even though these women are some of the most privileged women in the world as far as having access to education and career opportunities, the majority of them still found themselves in “traditional” roles, taking on the lion’s share of childrearing responsibilities and, probably as a result, watched as their careers took a back seat to their husbands’.
In my own marriage, I have watched this very struggle play out time after time and again — like today.
In my head, I want a full and equal partnership. In my head, I think my career and my husband’s are of equal import. In my head, I consider my husband a fully equal and capable parent.
But our reality? It looks a lot different.
Our reality is that my husband’s career is the constant that our life revolves around, for practical purposes like health insurance, but also probably for some deep-seeded beliefs about the work of men vs. the work of women. Our reality is that we are equal financial earners, but for some strange reason, my work still comes second to his. Our reality is that the children are generally, by default, my responsibility.
It’s all well and good to talk about equal partnerships and move past the hapless husband stereotype and cheer for family-friendly workplaces, but the reality that I, and apparently many a Harvard business woman, have found that putting those principles into play in the day-to-day practical life of balancing family and career is difficult.
I think it’s safe to say that for us, it’s a work-in-progress that we may never figure out until our children a bit older and don’t need the hands-on 24/7 care that they do right now. I may never figure out how to balance the feeling that I am second place in this marriage with the reality of being the parent that my children need the most right now (breastfeeding plays a major role in that, let’s be honest).
And frankly, I may never come up with the snappy ending that this essay deserves, because wouldn’t you guys know it? The baby is crying and my husband is sort of hovering near the office door trying not to act like he wants me to take the baby, but he really does want me to take her. Desperately. He’s got things to do too, you know.
Hey — if the Harvard graduates can’t figure it out, I can’t expect to in one afternoon either, right?
Image via j&j brusie photography