Women have long-established how well they can provide, as evidenced by the fact that for years they have outpaced men in receiving college degrees. In 1978, for the first time, more women than men earned associate degrees, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Four years later, more women than men earned bachelor’s degrees. As of 2018, women-owned four of every ten businesses in the United States. The number of women-owned businesses had increased 58 percent over a decade earlier, compared to only a 12 percent increase for businesses overall. According to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 29 percent of wives in heterosexual, dual-income marriages earn more than their husbands.
My wife, Mirka, is one of these success stories. Her education, hard work, sacrifice and dedication to our family have allowed her to break through the glass ceiling and earn her place in the C-suite. I often tell my wife how proud I am of her accomplishments and how much we value her for using her gifts to make our lives better.
As amazing as all my wife’s accomplishments have been, she sometimes feels a certain amount of guilt for her devotion to her career, as if that somehow means she is less devoted to us – as if she is a bad mom or a bad wife. Aside from feeling this guilt herself, she often wonders how other men and women view her. She struggles in her efforts to live up to some idealized definition of womanhood blended with her desire to enjoy a successful career. The truth is, nothing is wrong with striving for both a successful career and a fulfilling family life. They are not incompatible pursuits, yet none of us is a superhero who can do it all.
Mirka does have it all and that is because we have structured our family to make it possible. Having it all doesn’t mean doing it all. I am there for her and the children. I am her pillar in the home who provides the support she needs so that she can be both a successful business executive and mother. We do it through teamwork. Though I am a supporting partner, this type of teamwork and support can apply to partners and working partners of any sexual orientation.
Developing a supportive relationship begins with getting to know yourself and understanding your unique set of strengths. Once these strengths are identified, you can better work together to define the appropriate roles for each of you. In a healthy relationship, the partners accept and appreciate each other’s roles, but some couples sink into disrespect and disdain. The primary homemaker may come to believe that the breadwinner doesn’t have a clue of what they do or go through and vice versa. Without a foundation, the pillar of partnership will crumble.
Handing Over the Keys
For many successful women, the idea of having it all means doing it all. It is hard for them to hand over responsibilities. They want to orchestrate the family schedules, make the doctor appointments and choose the extracurricular activities. Their partner’s job is then to fulfill and comply, relegated into little more than a chauffeur and yes-man. In an equal partnership, the one who is entrusted to a family responsibility – making the meals, handling the finances, raising the children, etc. – must be free to do it as he or she feels is appropriate, so long as the results reasonably serve the family’s best interests. The other partner must be willing to accept that approach.
A Time to Talk
Good communication is key. Successful couples find that if one listens to the other with heartfelt attention, it becomes easier for each to express his or her own needs and wants. Even when a couple has clearly defined distinct roles and areas of responsibility in their relationship, each should be free to weigh in on all important family decisions because each has a major stake in the outcome. Keep in mind, weighing in does not mean having the final say. It merely means that both sides should have the opportunity to express their concerns when considering what is best for the family over time.
A Time to Relax
It’s not all work and no play. You are human after all. Couples need to actively plan a time to relax, whether it be a date night, a weekend in a hotel or a longer getaway. This, of course, also includes family activities. If you don’t set aside that time to take care of yourselves, your relationship and your family, you risk burning out. To take advantage of those opportunities, though, you have to plan for them or they will not happen. You must set aside this time monthly, quarterly and yearly to ensure that it can be scheduled and planned well in advance.
Although important foundations, there are many aspects to enjoying a fulfilling career and family life. In my book, Lean On, I explore the challenges of work-life “blending,” the stigma of swapping traditional support roles, the prevailing societal attitudes of what a “real” family looks like and how you can make it work for your family.