Upon reading that Max Schireson, CEO of MongoDB stepped down to "spend more time with his kids," I sent my husband a text message at work.
"Question," was how I started off. You know, that one thing that men always want to hear from their female partners.
"Sup," he succinctly replied.
"Have you ever been asked how you manage your career as a firefighter with your family life?" I tried to imagine the look on his face, but he immediately started typing his reply.
"Nope." He's a man of many words. I thought he was finished, but he followed up with, "Are people supposed to ask me that?"
Good job, husband. You just proved my point.
You see, he works a 24 hour shift at the fire department and then technically has 48 hours off. Of course, those 48 hours are always spent on call, whether a shift needs filled, a house catches on fire, or a semi-truck overturns on I-70. He's been called out on my birthday, on Christmas Eve, on family days. He manages the balance quite well, mind you, but he's never once been asked how he does it, how it feels, or what it looks like.
On the flip side, I work from home. Upon hearing this, people launch into a series of assumptions why I do so. They ask many questions about what my daily schedule looks like, and how nice it must be to have all that "free time." They ask if I homeschool. (The answer is no, Lord, no.) They assume I do all of the housework too. (To borrow a phrase from my husband: Nope.) And then it comes. Inevitably.
"So do you regret leaving the workforce to care for your kids?"
You know, except that I haven't. While it always comes in some variation of wording, the general feeling is that I chose caring for my children over a career; the tone is always laced with pity. The unstated judgment being, "Because you'd be much further ahead if you hadn't had kids in the first place." Even if I had left the workforce, the pity is unnecessary. My choices on career, on family, on what I do with my free time—like when I decide to skip a girls' night out to cuddle with a sick kid or when I skip a soccer game to attend a conference—are always made with heavy consideration as to what works for my sons, for my husband, for myself.
Similarly, when my husband decides whether or not to accept overtime, he considers our schedule, my work schedule, the upcoming games and places we have to trudge our children back and forth. He always, always has a conversation with me as to whether or not such a thing will work with our family life. Why is it so hard, such a departure from "normal" thinking, that men care as much about their family life, about that balance, as women do?
Schireson pointed out the weird, judgmental canyon between working men and women with families on his own blog. "As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO." While my husband isn't a CEO, he works a demanding, 24/7 job and has never been asked the questions about work-life balance that I get asked almost immediately upon entering a conversation about my career.
I asked my husband one more question before letting him get back to work. "What would you say if someone asked you that?"
"I'd tell them I'm a fireman and I can manage anything. Or that I'm not sure, I just go to work for a day and then take care of everything else on my two days off. Yeah?" Bravado aside, he's just trying to make it work, too. We all are.
Best wishes to Schireson as he takes a different role at the company to focus on more time with his family. And here's hoping that this opens a broader discussion of what the family work-life balance should look like as opposed to what the mom work-life balance should be—but without the judgmental, invasive questions. Instead, maybe we can work together—men and women, single parents and child free and all types of family types together—to figure out what's not working and how we might better make things work for everyone.
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