I went to a great conference for women in the energy industry at the end of last week. The keynote speaker was Katty Kay from BBC America. In addition to my delight over getting to visit with her privately after her speech, I was impressed with her sage advice for working women. Especially working moms – she has four kids. She shared a story about her early career years when she believed in having it all – big career, marriage, kids, travel, fitness, and on and on. After she had her first child, she realized she was doing it all rather than having it all.
Isn’t that the truth? There’s this myth about having it all. And the reality is that we’re just doing it all. Making lists and rushing around and getting kids to appointments and changing for a career building meeting and trying to work out and volunteering. Whew. We’re doing an awful lot…
But there’s another missing truth that Kay noted that, truthfully, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about. Our men are doing an awful lot too.
I’m in my late 30s and married to a man two years older than I am. Kay calls them the sandwich generation. These late 30s to late 40s guys that are sandwiched between the dads that brought them up in, more often than not, incredibly traditional families and the men of their 20s that have, often, been raised with much less traditional husband/wife or father/mother role models. Our husbands’ dads would never have thought about changing diapers or picking up the dry cleaning or washing dishes and laundry much less dealing with a week of crazy kids and their own jobs when their wives’ careers demanded travel. The generation of men just entering the work force are much more accustomed to career moms and traveling parents and shared work loads. But the guys stuck between these two ends of the spectrum must be confused half the time. They were raised with one thing and are living a very different thing. Even the most progressive of men, and I count my husband in that category as he could not be more supportive of my career, probably didn’t know what they were getting into when they said I do.
I’m sorry to say that I have no solution for this particularly nutty predicament. Nor did Kay say there was a silver bullet. She did advise working women, especially working moms, that they needed to dial it back a little. That if we insisted on being in control of everything, then the results of our being overwhelmed and stressed out are our own fault. (Ahem, I may have been guilty of this…)
But I think it’s more than just delegating and being okay with the fact that the kids eat pizza sometimes and our underwear has a slight tinges of pink to it now. In fact, I think there are two possible ways to improve this predicament. Not RESOLVE the predicament, just improve it. One: Do Less. Two: Appreciate How Overwhelmed Our Partner Is Too.
Some things can’t be moved. Kids do have to go to school and the doctor and you do have to travel for work sometimes and your parents do get sick and you of course want to give back to the community. But taking on responsibilities at work that are not yours or adding three extra curriculars to your kids schedules and volunteering for five organizations are totally within your control. I am the first one to admit I struggle here. I’m not great with “no.” Especially if it looks like such a cool opportunity for me or my family. But sometimes no is the only appropriate response. Or not now.
Then, for those of you to whom this applies, remember you’re in this together. Say thank you. Give him a big kiss or a back rub to show that you recognize he’s overwhelmed by all this living in the 21st century thing too. Tell him what’s stressing you out and find out what’s stressing him out. Maybe you can reallocate your week’s burdens to make life a little easier for you both.
Remember, there is no having it all. But there may be a way so that you’re not doing it all. Give it a shot.