Some mornings I like to link to a contentious article on Facebook and just see what happens by afternoon.
I don’t want to start battles, only conversations (remember that by early afternoon, I’m usually still in my robe catching a few minutes of freelance-work-done screen time while my 2yo plays with blocks and most of the sentences I’ve uttered the whole day probably involved warnings to not throw said blocks. Need grown-up talk, please.). Often, I don’t even remark on how I feel about a given topic. I just post the link and ask people for their thoughts.
I did that earlier this week with an article I’d come across in Slate with the headline, “It’s not your kids holding your career back. It’s your husband.”
I read a lot of articles about and by working mothers, single mothers, writing mothers. And when I read something that is so totally spot-on, I just have to talk about it. I’ll do the opposite of what I normally do on Facebook right now, though, and tell you why this particular article resonated with me before I share a little about my friends’ responses.
The Slate article showed me how deeply ingrained mommy guilt can be.
The “women having it all” trope has gotten a lot of print and digital ink over the years, and I’m quite tired of having to entertain this idea. We don’t question whether men can parent and work. The actual question that’s being thinly disguised by the question can mothers work, is should they? And I’m not the one asking because that’s ridiculous. Women should do whatever they want. So further, not only do we not question whether men can parent and work, we also don’t question whether they should. Because there’s no real question that men can do whatever they want.
The question the Slate article posed, to me, was, are husbands supporting their wives’ endeavors to be mothers while also having careers? The article points out that most women (65-72% depending on whether Gen X or baby boomer), even women who work, are still doing or did more than half of the childcare, despite working as many or more hours out of the home as their husbands.
So are we resentful of our children, who require all of this time and energy and attention, or are we resentful of our partners who don’t assume an equal share of the child-rearing responsibilities so that we feel less strained and overwhelmed?
Here’s where mommy guilt comes in, and please forgive any oversimplifications. We are tired. We might be primarily focused on our kids above all other things, and so it’s easy, in our tired state, to resent them, if only momentarily. Then we might feel guilty (for perceived mothering inadequacies, or for feeling resentful), and so we might compensate by trying even harder to be better parents. Which makes us even more tired. The mommy guilt roller coaster might be a ride we’re on with our kids, but our husbands/partners could pull the lever, slow the ride, and help us exit.
I have no interest in making sweeping generalizations about ALL husbands or men. From my personal experience, reinforced by what I learned reading this and other articles, many men seem to feel that raising kids, especially when they’re very small, is more a woman’s job. Even women with already successful or progressing careers might find themselves, Slate’s piece tells us, cutting back on hours or responsibilities to care for children, while their husbands forge ahead at work, even in lower-paying or dead-end jobs. I wonder how that effects a family unit’s earning potential in the long term? I know it affected my family. But then again, I’m a SWM now, so my issues are a little different.
Still, it saddens me to think about bright, ambitious young women (the Slate article draws from a study based on interviews with 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates, both male and female) thinking they are “having it all” and should be happy about it, when really, they’re drowning in way too many responsibilities—labor that could be more equally divided. The study also concluded that, “The majority of women said they assumed they would have egalitarian marriages in which both spouses’ careers were taken equally seriously.” Scores of duped mother-wives? Ugh.
Anyway. My friends are often the greatest. I posted this article and wrote, “Thoughts?” Within an hour, I was satisfied to learn that there are still people out there who believe in the 50-50 marriage. One former co-worker talked about her Catholic marriage counseling, where she and her then-fiancé were advised that “Not every day is going to be 50-50. Some days will be 100-0 on either side…”
“I thought that was an intelligent thing to say,” my friend added, “because I don’t feel like giving even 50 some days, and that’s when my husband swoops in and helps, and vice versa.”
Another friend said, “I think women are usually taught from a very young age, to compromise and be supportive, and men are only sometimes taught this … I think the greatest service these articles could do is encourage people to develop an individual understanding of happiness that doesn’t consider social conventions, and then encourage people to find another human or cat who compliments this definition.” Love it.
Yet another friend spoke to me about his own marriage, how he and his wife took turns putting their respective careers first while they raised their sons, and admitted, “I had to be educated and sensitized. I had to understand that 50-50 didn’t mean I did all of the work outside of the home and she did all of the work inside … It involves heart, soul and being yoked to someone who understands that the more you support, the more you are supported.” I melted a little when I read this.
Still, there’s something about the article’s cheeky advice, via a quote by writer Linda Hirschman, to “marry down”: “If you are devoted to your career goals and would like a man who will support that, you’re just doing what men throughout the ages have done: placing a safe bet” that a partner with “less money and social capital” will, what, need your career to thrive as much as you want it to, and so be willing to stay home with the kids, or at least do half the child-raising and housekeeping while you both work?
How’s that for flipping the age-old “marry a rich man” advice to women and daring to suggest women subvert the traditional marriage dynamic? A good read.
Now about that mommy guilt…