I am currently reading the book Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work and Life by Joann S. Lublin and it resonates with me really well. The book addresses the pervading dichotomy between mother and father societal expectations when it comes to parenting at home. I am comforted to see gender roles starting to blend more on the homefront, but this traditional “second-shift” still exists in many households and should not go unmentioned.
I, myself, delayed child-rearing after learning that the discrepancy between male and female salaries depend not on your gender, but rather, if you chose to have a child as a woman. A childless female makes comparable career moves up the social ladder but a mother does not. Because I took out a looming student loan, I knew when we married six months out of dental school that I did not want to impede my ability to make money and live my life. Now that we’ve set ourselves up financially and have financial freedom, I feel more ready and able to move forward.
Still, working moms need to have conversations with their significant others about expectations. If anything, as a courtesy to the other person. More importantly, as a team-effort to set both parents up for familial success. You may be surprised to learn that despite awareness around gender equality, the traditional roles are still discreetly embedded in everyday language and thereby everyday thinking. Even now, at a time when parenting roles are at their most equal, I got comments from people such as, “You’re not going to want to come back to work after becoming a mom”, “You’re leaving too early for your maternity leave” (I left 2.5 weeks before my due date), and one boss even cut my work a few weeks earlier than when I originally requested for my time off.
Not that I complained about any of it, because I’ve established financial independence from work either way. And I was quite looking forward to my maternity leave. But that’s kind of exactly my point. We should complain about it. Or at least bring it up with someone, somewhere. I would say, with significant others to start.
Look. You are a power mom. You work a career that you want to move up in. You have your own life, needs, and wants. You can make sacrifices, but in an equal manner. And let’s be totally clear. There is no TRUE equality when it comes to divvying up household responsibilities but at least have peace with what you end up doing. Having these conversations early allows time for adjustment. We started talking about stuff even before we became pregnant. Doing so provides a guideline for how to handle “problems” before they even happen. Both parents will be more prepared for rising challenges. The answers are by no means rigid, but its a starting place.
Questions Expecting Working Moms Should Ask
- What roles is each parent responsible for at home? What chores do you like to do? What do you wish you didn’t have to do? Which ones can we divvy up evenly? For example, I love doing dishes, and Mike is great at cooking. His best quality in the kitchen is cutting and dicing, while I am particularly keen on stirring, frying, organizing ingredients and putting things away. He hates folding laundry, and I hate cat litter. He pulls the trashcan out every week, but I usually clean the bathroom stall. Find what you excel at, love to do, and try to volunteer for those first. As for the rest, find a way to share the task or get someone else to do it.
- What is one way to organize family life? I bought a monthly calendar for our bedroom so we can keep track of appointments. You can also share a Google Drive which a friend of ours does, but I find that Mike never looks at it and then it’s just wasted effort. At least the monthly calendar in our room is in the hallway between the bed and the bathroom. Plenty of opportunity to pass it by both in the morning and at night. Another thing to consider is using to-doist or some other app to keep track of household chores that need to get done. As a team, make an effort to check off something from the list that could help lighten the load for the other person. A to-doist list could include making doctor appointments for the kids, picking up grocery items, or planning future events with the in-laws.
- If the baby is sick, which one of us stays home? We have decided that it will be Mike as he can technically do his work remotely. He has actually been WFH since 2020. Because I see patients at the clinic, canceling my day of dentistry will affect way more people than him working from home. At the same time, we can call on grandparents to help support him while he works from home. As compromise, I promise to try to move patients around my schedule (perhaps skip lunch) so that I could have a shorter day and come home sooner to help him with our sick child. My office is also only 5 miles away, making it easy for me to jet home and help the family out. In comparison, his office is 28 miles away, which would make it more difficult if the roles were reversed.
- Who cares about their career more? I think it’s fair to say that the person who cares about their career more should get first dibs on career moves. Mike LOVES his job. I like mine just fine, but I also dabble in other passions such as dog-sitting that I don’t think mine is as important to bend over backwards for. My career also has more flexibility in general, as I can pick up shifts at other offices, work at multiple offices as an associate or even open my own practice. When it comes to risking losing a job, I would give mine up in a heartbeat if it means Mike gets to keep his.
- Who can have the most flexible schedule? The person with the more flexible schedule has more opportunity to help at home. It does not meet they have to bear the weight. But acknowledging the flexibility is a great starting point to setting boundaries or limitations to that flexibility.
- Can we split time with baby at home? As someone who grew up with one stay-at-home parent and one always-away parent, I was very aware of the inequality of time allocation. My dad actually traveled a lot for work. He was gone a week at a time, meeting with clients in Asia. He also worked multiple jobs and did night and weekend shifts at Staples, Blockbuster, and Robinson’s May. It affected me a lot to always have one missing parent, so even when we got married, I told Mike that I prefer his jobs don’t take him away on travel. Growing up with that, I wanted to try my best to share our time with baby. Not only was it enough that I was home, but I want him to be home too. We are lucky in that we both have work flexibility. He plans to go into the office Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I plan to go into a dental office Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Both of us will be home on Sundays. That gives us 4 days to be at home every week. Not everyone has this flexibility, although there are plenty of ways to make it work. For example, I know of a couple wherein the dad works night shifts and mom works day shifts. They take turns spending time and raising their two kids, even if it means they hardly see each other. To them, that was a priority.
- How much money do we actually have to make? Where can we cut? You may be surprised to learn that post-baby’s birth, you don’t have the same desires as you once did. Those late nights at the bar, loud concerts, and constant travel may be a chapter in your life that ends. It isn’t a bad thing. But realizing where you can cut can actually alleviate or remove financial stress, which is what many parents struggle with. Figure out the amount of money you really need, then establish a way to achieve that goal while reallocating the other work hours you used to spend doing new things at home.
- What will we do for an emergency fund? This should definitely be a question answered, as there will be emergencies. Knowing where the money will come from (whether that be from a savings account, from family and friends, from stocks, or by selling off something you own) will make it more seamless when you need money right away for an emergency.
- How often will we do finance check ins? In our family, we do weekly budgeting meetings since we got married. Making sure your finances are squared away will make the family unit run so much more smoothly. We use YNAB as our budgeting tool and it is easy, efficient, and accessible to both of us.
- How often will we do mental health check-ins? Role equality check-ins? I think once a quarter, we will voice our resentments, difficulties, and hopes. We also plan to re-evaluate our roles. Are the tasks we are doing at home equal? Is someone slipping on their duties? Is it a matter of needing to re-assign tasks or hire a third-party to outsource a task in order to prioritize other things?
- What are ways in which we can get increased support shall we need it? Call on the grandparents to take shifts on weekdays? Ask for grandparents to do babysitting on weekends so we can do errands or go on a date night? Hire an au pair if the grandparents aren’t working out or if it is too heavy of a burden on them and us? Hire a part-time nanny or sign them up for daycare or pre-school?
- What are things that rejuvenate you and your partner? When I see my partner struggling, I know that he either needs sleep, space, or time to himself. Things that rejuvenate him are music, whiling away on the phone or computer, video games, or the TV. I am quite the opposite. Things that rejuvenate me include working out, taking a shower, getting some sunlight either by walking or swimming, writing/journaling, or reading a book. But like him, I also need that space or time to myself to feel human. That being said, you need to find space in the schedule for you-time. For example, we’ve talked about carving out a few hours a week before or after work for our own sanity.
- How often shall we make time for us? The all-important question. It was you two before any of this started. Make sure it’s still you two when it ends.
A Word on Modern Dads Pulling Their Weight At Home
I must say, I swell with pride when I see amazing dads take to the homefront more. There are a lot of you out there, and I see you. In fact, as of 2016, 17% of men are stay-at-home dads. One of our best friends recently decided to be the stay-at-home dad while his career-driven wife does the bread-winning. We have another friend who works-from-home and brings their baby daughter on his wife’s conference trips, since she travels a lot and works directly under the VP of the company. Because the entire family travels with her on these trips, his wife is still able to breast feed their 6+ month baby during conference breaks. Another father in our neighborhood is home with his son every day and takes him out on walks a few times a day. I’ve seen him diligently care for their boy while his wife goes into work.
My own dad became a work-from-home dad in 2008, thereby allowing my mom (who gave up her job in the 90’s in order to raise three children) to go back to work again. Today my dad preps my mom’s lunches for the day, walks the dog, and does household errands on his down-time from work. And now that I am on my own parenting journey, my own husband has been able to secure WFH every Tuesday and Friday, thereby allowing me to work at a dental office on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. I am excited to know that our son will be raised with both of his parents at home equally. But none of this would have happened if we did not talk about our expectations first!