Finding male allies in parenthood.

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Image courtesy of tec_estromberg.

This last week has tested my strength and stress level.  I am loving the work I’m doing.  It is meaningful, I am appreciated by team members, my graduate students, my boss, and my big client sent a glowing review of my collaboration with his people this week. I’ve been working so hard on this university launch.  It’s meant I wear a suit everyday (le sigh, I have ONE suit jacket that fits) and that I have been working loooong days.  For that reason, I’ve had to rely heavily on my husband for parenting stuff.

I’ve said before we aren’t perfect and I mean it.  Sometimes I get frustrated with my husband just like all wives, I think.  He’s not a cook.  He’s not a planner.  He struggles to remember things.  But he’s really been amazing the last couple of weeks.  This launch we’re doing is not only university wide but it’s on the verge of being system-wide, which is mindblowing.  To go from idea to launch in about 90 days should tell you just how hard this is.  It’s incredibly rewarding and has been an amazing experience that has allowed me vast personal growth opportunities.  I have gained more skills that I ever could imagine!  And through it all, my husband has listened to my concerns, stresses, and has attempted to support my needs.

I really worried this week because I’ve been doing so well on the exercise train.  He’s noticed the impact it is having.  I am doing much better with my anxiety.  I’m handling stress better.  So, I worried when I told him I needed him to do mornings totally solo again two times a week so I could get in exercise early, he would freak.  We tried taking R to the gym at night.  It did not work.  She’s at peak stranger danger and it’s testing my ability to function.  While I am working out at home 2 times a week with her for 30 minutes, I just need to get to the gym.  I need to get out and do it.

His response surprised me.  “Go do it.  You pay for the membership.  It’s not a big deal.”

This was a big ask.  He had to re-arrange his schedule 2 times this week to pick up R due to my crazy meeting schedule.  But he didn’t complain.  He didn’t flinch.

When I was changing out of my suit alongside the ladies I exercise with in the mornings, they were asking about my day.  All of them are moms.  Many are grandmothers.  I told them I had a 10 hour day ahead.  They know I have a toddler, so they asked me how I managed to get out for a morning workout and to stay out for these meetings with deans.  I explained that my husband was helping more.  That he was doing more than 50% because he knew I needed this time and that he made a decision years ago to prioritize my career.  We established early on in our relationship that my job would always be more demanding than his and if he couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t sign onto a serious relationship with him.  A few months later, I received a grant that took me out of the country for a few months.  He didn’t flinch.  He watched my dog for me.  We got engaged when I returned.

The women were surprised, even jealous.  I know our dynamic doesn’t work for all but it is what I needed.  The thing is, now I realize his upbringing probably contributed to the way we are and so did mine.  My parents both worked and so did his.  His mom ran her own business.  They didn’t have separate expectations for their boys and their daughter.  My parents told me to get a job and to not focus on finding a man.  So I did get married but only after making real progress on my dissertation.  Within the next year, I defended it and had already landed a job in research that was good enough to pay the bills and allow me to land an even better job two years later.  He has never complained.  And it makes sense.

These women don’t know that his two brothers married ambitious women.  That they prioritized their wives’ careers beyond their own in many cases.  They don’t have kids so I don’t know how that would have worked out.  Still, I’m pretty sure they would be like us in many ways.  When women and men I work with find out my husband serves as a “primary” parent in many ways, they are incredibly surprised.  I’ve criticized Lean In on here but the take away about finding a partner who will support you has always resonated with me.

Moreover, this week, I confessed to my client that I could not make a late meeting if he scheduled it because I had a kid to pickup and I had already switched my pickup around several times to accommodate these meetings.  I was nervous.  He’s a male administrator and some of them are not on board.  I always have some trepidation when I tell say, I can’t do something because of my kid. There is still a real stigma out there.  Surprisingly, my client told me that he felt terrible for not knowing this and that he could understand as one of his employees also has a toddler and he accommodates her for the same reasons.  He said that he had been there and always wanted more support.  So, he promised to run meeting times by me.  He also made a point to point it out with other staff later in that meeting.  He said “she has a kid and I know others here do and I wish if you have issues with scheduling you would make me aware of that because I’ve been there”. I was really astounded and felt so fortunate.

My prior supervisor had no children but, worse still, he had repeatedly told me and coworkers that parenting is just an “excuse”.  He seemed appalled I would take two days off to not only attend to my daughter at the hospital with pre- and post-op but that I would take the next day off for her recovery.  “Can’t she go to daycare?” he would ask.  I currently struggle to get a coworker to understand this need, too.  She is a working mom but of older kids.  He children are grown and she did not work when they were little.  She doesn’t understand why I can’t take client calls when my toddler is home.  So, working parents, I get it.  I feel very thankful to have discovered allies.  I’m thankful my boss is an ally.

I realize I’m privileged.  I realize that other people make different, valid choices.  However, I think we need to be very observant of the way we talk about priorities, family, and gender roles around our kids.  I realize that male employees who had stay-at-home wives ad those who saw their wives as someone they could dump a kid on for every sick day, every little thing didn’t get it.  I realized that people who weren’t parents could be challenging to work with if they didn’t see the problem as a problem.  I realized that even many women didn’t get it because they had made a different choice and weren’t seeing the other options as “valid”.  The thing is, though, I don’t want to live in a world where women have to be silent about either prioritizing work or family.  And I don’t want my daughter to see in that way.  I realize socialization played an important role in our division of labor.  There is no reason when two working parents exist the woman should be the default parent.  There is no reason a stay-at-home mom should be on duty 24/7 without respite.

And single moms?  I can’t share your struggles because I just don’t know.  However, I see you. I see you big time.  I have seen you in friends and coworkers.  I have been amazed at your resilience.   I have been impressed by your drive.  I’ve seen people say awful things and have said something.  I’ve tried to be an ally.  I’m blown away by how you do it because I just couldn’t.  Society does a really awful job supporting you.  It doesn’t see you more times than it does.  And when it does, it often paints you as a problem.  All of us should be your allies.  One of my best friends is a mom of a special needs kid and she has always done it alone – through school and now career.  She is amazing.  One of the things that gets her through is a good support network and coworkers who care.

We need to do more for parents.  We need to teach the next generation to be allies – to support parents, to support women, and to see and support the unique needs of single parents.

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