Lean In But Keep Your Balance
Last week I heard Sheryl Sandberg address a sold-out theatre in Boston.
Sandberg seems to be everywhere these days from the cover of Time Magazine to Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” She has raised the question of balance—of how families work together to handle responsibilities—from something at the back of our minds to something we face head on each day. Agree with Sandberg or not, the question of how we “lean in” without losing our balance, is one we all face.
My partner and I strive for balance. As such, we rarely fight. Sure, we snipe at each other from time to time. We experience the occasional “what in the world are you thinking, I said GO LEFT?!” when one is driving and the other is navigating. We’ve come close to wrestling over the remote when “The Bachelor” is on TV. We employ ninja like stealth over the thermostat.
The other day, however, we had one of those fights. The type that go from shifty eyes, to tearful eyes, to angry eyes. We lost our balance and we weren’t appreciating each other. And for one glorious minute, I felt like we were the most enlightened couple in the world. (We weren’t). At the risk of being self-important, I’d like to share our story.
Traditional gender roles don’t have a place in our relationship. We live in a home where I, the woman, pay 84.62% of the mortgage. We also live in a home where he, the man, does 99% of the ”housework.”
My partner works from home, waking up at a decent hour with time to read the news over a cup of coffee and a full breakfast. He stretches, takes a nap, refreshes his email and shares a funny link on Facebook. He takes a walk. He refreshes his email. He pets the cat. Takes another nap. He stares out the window, waiting for me to get home.
I, on the other hand, wake up at 6:55 AM and am up in a flash! I leave on the 7:36 AM commuter train after a daily, desperate search for matching shoes, in a whirl of chaos, a briefcase of flying documents, and flurry of emails. I am a career woman! I spend the day working, writing, editing, fielding calls, and answering more emails. When I return home in the evening I collapse on the couch. I have no time, or energy, (or interest) for things like household chores. Or so it appears to me.
While my partner does his work at home, he finds my breakfast dishes left on the table, sees my coffee spilled on the counter, and discovers the disarray from last night’s dinner (which I had promised to clean up) still in the kitchen. He trips over the shoes I left in the hallway, then puts them away. He trips over the shoes I left in the bathroom, and then puts them away. He spends the morning at the computer, responding to job leads and editing his work. He cleans the kitchen. He does the dishes. He does the laundry. He returns to the computer.
I, on the other hand, depart for work and leave behind my trail of debris. I stop at Starbucks for a decadent, (too) expensive coffee. I socialize with people all day, sharing stories and jokes that I might forget by the time I get home. I go out to lunch. I rest on the train home. I come home cranky. I have no time for anything at home. Or so it appears to him.
With all the ongoing debate about leaning in, we forget that families are different and roles are different. I want to be proud of our fight—I want to brag about our enlightened gender roles. I wanted to tell Sheryl Sandberg that I can work late nights and worry about the bills and forget to clean because I have a partner to be my traditional “homemaker.” But truth be told, there is nothing enlightened about not, to use Sandberg’s language, leaning in from both sides. Taking someone for granted isn’t something to be proud of, even if you’re busy turning stereotypes on their head. Recognizing that, and realizing that “busy” is a term that is relative and “too busy” is a term that isn’t helpful, is how we resolve our miscommunications.
Forgetting to appreciate the best things in life is far easier than one might think. My partner’s and my relationship isn’t a case study for perfect success, but it’s the relationship we have. I’m not sure that Sandberg’s relationship (one with a healthy helping of privilege) is the relationship litmus test either. We can all benefit from an ongoing discussion about work-life balance.
Sandberg told the audience that a part of the issue of gender equality is a fear of having these discussions and talking about the sticky issues.
Well, you really can’t “have it all” if you don’t communicate. If you don’t work together, you won’t be able to appreciate what you have to build on. That’s a message not just for women, or just for working moms. Anyone with a life—anyone with work to do outside AND inside of the home—needs to think outside of their own idea of what it means to be busy. And I have to remember that I’m not really a trailblazer for my gender if I’m busy taking someone else for granted.