Four Things I Learned About Being the Spouse of a Female CEO
When my wife Mirka and I got married, we were both in the middle of our careers. She aspired to be a CEO, while I worked toward growing my own business. We both knew that becoming a CEO required an extensive amount of work and sacrifice, but little did we know what that amount of work would mean when it came to starting our family. After careful thought and consideration, I eventually decided to put my career on hold while Mirka focused on her goals and aspirations. This is when I chose to become a stay at home dad.
Not every CEO or female executive is in the same position as my wife and not every husband is a stay at home dad. But for us, this is the case and the subject of the article. We have learned so much as Mirka has climbed the corporate ladder. I’ve especially learned the importance of being supportive. Here are four of the top lessons I’ve learned on how to be a supportive husband to my executive wife.
1. Work Life Balance vs. Blend
For women in leadership roles, there is no work-life balance. There is only a blend of work and life. In the beginning, I had the illusion that at some point in my wife’s career we would achieve work-life balance. Eventually, there would be more time for family and not so much work. I was wrong.
Over the years, we’ve learned to blend work and life, rather than try to balance it. It took some time, and each family’s blend will be different. What is important is that you are aware of the issue and that you work with your spouse to determine what is best for your situation.
What I recommend is that you stop trying to chase down the illusion of a balance as you will, more often than not, be unhappy for not having achieved it. Instead, make the most of the time you do have rather than obsessing over how much you don’t have.
2. Expect to Face Two Biases and Ignore Both
If you and your spouse decide that you will stay home with the family while she pursues her career, you will experience biases from both men and women. Other men may wonder why you aren’t making the money. They might think it must be nice for you to sit on the sofa all day and go golfing. They don’t know what you do.
Women might look at you and think it’s cute that you are “babysitting”. Some may wonder where mom is and why she isn’t taking care of the kids. They might feel like you don’t belong in the group with other moms. Again, they don’t know what you do.
As more women break the glass ceiling, it will become increasingly crucial for society to break down stereotypes for both women and the men who support them. That being said, always take the opportunity to share your story, your experience and how you have established a “new normal” in your family.
3. Climbing The Corporate Ladder
As both men and women climb the corporate ladder, the phrase “It’s lonely at the top” becomes increasingly true. Moving up into higher positions can bring an additional challenge for CEOs or executives because, as any leader knows and has likely experienced, leadership can be lonely. But these moves can also be lonely for the partner. As the female CEO moves up, she will likely have to spend more late nights at the office, travel for work or cancel family activities because something came up at work and she needs to take care of it.
For the partner, this most likely means he will spend more time alone at home taking care of the kids. Finding friends who understand and are in a similar situation can be difficult, but they are out there; you just need to know where to look. Some of these groups can be found on Facebook, such as the National at-Home Dad Network and the City Dads Group. You may also find networking opportunities in the female networks your wife belongs to.
4. Your Kids Will Have to Adjust Too
Children of female CEOs learn early on that their normal may be very different from that of their friends. Unlike their playmates, dad takes them to school, helps them with homework and attends the majority of their extracurricular activities. They understand that mom has to work; sometimes late at night and sometimes on weekends. Mom may also have to miss their activities because she is away on business more than other moms. But this “normal” can be a great learning experience for your children, especially when they see the hard-working and supportive examples that their parents set.
These are just four of the many lessons I’ve learned while supporting my executive wife in her career. In my book, Lean On, I share many more. Being the husband of a CEO is no easy job. It takes hard work and patience for everyone involved. But with open conversations, flexibility and adaptability, you and your spouse can develop a working support system from which you can gain fulfillment and success in everything your endeavor.