“My husband never ran out of a personal care product,” bragged a distant aunt about a household she’d run for close to 50 years. She’d crafted her life as a homemaker and mother who took obvious pride in the subtleties of her world. How do you respond to such a pronouncement? I didn’t share that I wouldn’t know if my husband lacked deodorant because I have yet to adopt that purchase responsibility despite 17 years of marriage. Instead of responding I sat there respectfully mute while others in attendance offered praise. Praise?
I recalled this somewhat silly conversation as I read this week’s Summer Book Review, “Getting to 50/50: How working couples can have it all by sharing it all” by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober (Bantam, 2009). It isn’t the ‘holy grail’ of transition literature but I enjoyed the book. It offered a fresh perspective on many recurring themes in the Summer Book Review cannon.
The authors each hailed from complex highly demanding spheres: Meers from Goldman Sachs, and Strober from the world of Silicon Valley venture capital. The book is targeted at newly minted families although the messages are relevant for women and men of any life stage.
Meers and Strober attended the school of, ‘it’s all in how you position it.’ They begin with, “imagine a full life.” (50/50 pg 10) They underscore that “satisfying work lives and loving bonds with our children are equally important to men and women.” This statement in their mind negates the need for women to choose. (50/50 pg 12) Really?
The chirpy pollyanna-ish tone turned me off at first but the book redeemed itself. Thankfully, I might add. This mind over matter tone sounded an awful lot like that of Lean In, in whose footnotes I found this title.
At its outset the book offers a pretty rigorous interrogation of why women work and, the corollary, why women quit their jobs. As someone who thinks deeply about transition this section was great reading.
Early on the authors share research that debunks the notion that children of working moms are worse off. A longitudinal study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development – NICHD – found that kids with 100% maternal care fare no better than those who find themselves in various flavors of childcare. (50/50 pg 19+)
Interesting, right? If you dig deeper into the study it really says that what matters is the quality of the parent support. Two hours can be better than ten depending on the behaviors of the parent.
The authors also discuss biases and cultural norms that seep into our assumptions about work, parenting, and household roles. Perfection, ambition, money/finances, identity and many others.
Beyond the why women work 50/50 offers a solid set of ideas on ‘how to make your own 50/50 solution.’ (50/50 pg 165) To do lists; negotiating for your needs both at work and at home; setting expectations; talking. At one point the authors reference psychologist Janice Steil who said, “unless men and women sit down and discuss these things, it’s easy to be guided by unmonitored beliefs. ..Open the dialogue.” (50/50 pg 173)
The authors offer data on the frequency of women striking out on their own, on their own terms. (50/50 pg 107+) “You can do something more effective than going underground, or going ballistic or going away. You can keep working – on your own terms.” (50/50 pg 110+) I was caught off guard with this…can you achieve 50/50 in a household with two full-time careers? 50/50 never answers this….
I remember opening the dialogue with my former boss about being a working parent. He responded by telling me that I could work any 60 hours I’d like. He believed himself to be enlightened and pro-women. Everyone one of his direct reports, of which there were six others, had full-time stay-at-home spouses. I was the only female and the only working parent in a two career household. At 4.5 years of 60 hours any time I’d like….I pivoted to something on my own terms. Some days I’m not sure if it wasn’t a form of escape….
I had to reach deeply not to judge my family’s personal products aficionado. Wasn’t she the one who dreamed about being a veterinarian? What is the real villan to watch out for here? If you believe 50/50 it’s biases and assumptions that shape our reaction to everything, even buying deodorant.
What is the best way to navigate this rough road? Cling to that which is important to you, only you. If you can’t articulate it, work on mini projects that can help you bring it into focus. Take time to dream….even if it means missing an occasional coupon for your favorite shampoo.
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