I was out for lunch with one of my oldest friends yesterday, and we talked, as is our wont, about relationships and professional aspirations. They seem to be related.
While Rebecca was growing up, her mother - a mother to four children - worked full-time as an astrophysicist at Harvard. She also cooked dinner every night, worked out at Curves three times a week, and maintained (almost) complete calm and sanity in her every move and interaction. She set a high bar.
Now Rebecca and I are at that point in our lives where balancing work and family is of the greatest importance. But Rebecca’s mother’s example seems beyond reach.
How could we, like her, accomplish so much professionally, have children, a healthy marriage, work out, and be sane?
Probably part of the puzzle is personality. Maybe a large part.
Another part is employer.
And then there’s partner.
Balance works best when you have help. Relationships work, when they do, in part because together you’re better than alone - together you can accomplish more, experience more, feel more.
Getting that help - navigating the sharing of earning, childrearing and home-tending with your partner — is often fraught. Bloggers Todd Anthony and Penelope Trunk offer some perspective on the hurdles working parents face (both fathers and mothers).
But while both partners are much more likely to be involved in childrearing these days, I wonder if women - some women - give in too easily to their partners’ professional needs - to accommodating their partners’ work schedules, career aspirations, etc. — in order to make life at home work. It can become hard to fully distinguish between our own, innate career goals and the goals that we adopt because they fit with the lives we already have. Are women carrying too much of the burden when it comes to work-family balance? Or is it natural that women spend more time childrearing/tending the home, etc.?
This is where I look to Big Love for solutions:
- Merge. Maybe part of our problem is this commitment to the nuclear family - separate from friends, neighbors, relatives - self sufficient. What if we lived closer to key friends/relatives (the non-polygamist’s version of sister wives) - creating efficiencies through partnering on childcare/driving/shopping?
- Spread out. There’s something about the separate living quarters (for the 3 wives) in Big Love that I find very appealing. We probably couldn’t all have separate (but adjoining) homes from our husbands. But what if messy husband had a room (or closet) in the home where he could leave his socks - and close the door - keeping his inability to tidy up after himself from becoming his partner’s responsibility and burden?
Maybe now that more and more mothers are working, it’s time to reconsider the definition of the family unit (but no polygamy, please).