I slammed the door to the minivan, too angry to say “goodbye,” “I love you” or anything appropriate for my children’s ears. My husband was dropping me and the children off at school 30 minutes before the bell. The kids had a singing performance, and my husband had a conference call, so I was representing us. I was pissed because lately it felt like I was always the one doing the representing.
The morning was going to be stressful because by the time I got to work, I would be two hours behind. It wasn’t tragic, but I would have to work through lunch. Meanwhile, my husband would be right on track with his conference calls and meetings. The morning was a perfect metaphor for our career paths: I would take the professional hits in the service of being there for our kids, while my husband blazed ahead, climbing ever higher up the ladder.
It was a bargain I willingly struck with my eyes wide open, but still. Sometimes I chafe under the strain of having to be the one who always moves her schedule around to be at the kids’ stuff. Sometimes, I want to scream at my husband—or hell, anyone who will listen: I have a job too, you know!
Everything that makes my job tolerable as a mother makes it unbearable as a wife.
Yes, I chose a job that would be more flexible and would allow me to show up for the book fair and volunteer for the holiday pageant. I took a pay cut, a prestige hit and stepped off the corporate ladder in the name of balance and sanity. And while I do not make the big bucks and my job description would literally put you to sleep, I still have to show up and do it 40 hours a week. So, it’s not a total cake walk for me to step away so I can show up for the kids.
When I get angry at my husband, we are having a variation of a fight that we’ve been having since early parenthood. It’s like a game, except no one enjoys it, and there’s no real victor. The game is called, “Whose Job Is More Important?” and I have lost every single round.
There are a host of reasons why it seems like my husband’s job is more important. He makes more money, serves as a leader, has a staff and wears multiple hats at work. He also travels several times a month, which adds a layer of complexity and resentment to the “game.” The travel makes him seem extra important because he has to fly across the country for meetings, briefings, interviews and parties. While he’s gone, I’m the one who stays home with sick kids, figures out every meal and shows up at potluck dinners.
My work is more solitary, flexible and way less prestigious. I have the kind of job that requires me to get all my work done, but I don’t have to deal with people along the way. I simply have to put my head down and do the work. I rarely travel, sit on conference calls or get hauled into meetings. It’s certainly not my dream job, but it’s a great job for a full-time working mother because of the flexibility and relatively low stress.
That’s the thing, though. Everything that makes my job tolerable as a mother makes it unbearable as a wife. The flexibility that makes it possible to be there for my kids means I will always lose the coin toss with my husband. His role at his job is more vital than my role at mine, so when there’s a conflict, his professional needs trump mine. And that unevenness creates tension in our relationship that we have to navigate every time there’s something special at school, or soccer or piano. And every parent knows: There’s always something.
Just once, I would like my husband to handle the karate demonstration or the special theater performance that takes place smack in the middle of the workday. Not because I can’t do it (because I almost always can)—but because it would be nice to be the parent who gets to have an uninterrupted workday and to know that someone else is on deck. It would be nice, for once, to have the more important job.