Emma's home today with Adam, who works from the house full time. It's not an ideal situation. He's got the kind of job that requires him to be available -- i.e. at his computer every minute -- his entire shift. But we had an emergency that left us without child care, and he volunteered to make it work. I'm out of the office Monday and Tuesday at a conference, and he knew it would be hard for me to miss today, too.
I'm grateful to have the kind of husband who honestly shares the parenting responsibilities. And, truthfully, most of my working-mommy friends are as lucky as I am. We all do a good job of balancing which spouse stays home with the sick kid, which lets the exterminator in, which picks up prescriptions or calls about missed loan payments. No marriage, including mine, is inherently equal. Of course someone carries the greater burden -- does all of the cooking, more of the cleaning, most of the lawn care or schedules all of the doctor's appointments or playdates -- in one area or another. But, along with our double-income, with-kids friends, we do a pretty good job of striking a balance.
Everything isn't working as well as it could, though, according to a theory from one of my friends. He says that in order for one spouse to reach full potential in his or her career, the other has to take a back seat. He points to his marriage and that of his parents; he's followed his wife overseas, finding what jobs he can in the cities they land in. She'll likely be an ambassador someday. His mom let his dad's career take center stage, so that he could succeed. And he says that's how it has to work -- one person takes priority.
In my own marriage, I'm not sure I agree. We've moved together three times, twice for my jobs and once for his. We're very equally matched, career wise, at similar levels within our hierarchies and in the same salary range. Would I feel differently about work if Adam were a stay-at-home dad? Maybe. One of the reasons I love my job so is its flexibility. I can, and do, stay home with Emma when need be. I work from home one day a week, very rarely work nights or weekends and business travel is even rarer. Maybe those things wouldn't be important if I knew Adam was home with her all day, every day. Maybe I'd find a job with a higher salary and more responsibility that involved a commute or longer hours.
And maybe the reverse is true. Adam's at-home office works perfectly for us right now; on a normal day, Emma comes home every afternoon, naps (about every other day lately) and spends the last couple of hours of Dad's workday with him. We only have her in day care half the day, four days a week. If he were to find a job that took him out of the house, all that would have to change.
So, if my friend's theory is true, instead of one of us taking center stage, neither of us does. And most of our friends don't, either. They struggle to find the same parity we do, juggling dentist appointments and field trips, preschool visits and softball games. If one half of each couple said, "You're it. Go make the most of your career. I'm just along for the ride," would we realize our potential? Would we have better lives or just better jobs?