In young families it seems to become increasingly unique: the ‘one income family household’. It has become more and more mainstream in the west to have both parents working. Besides that, we’re having less kids (population by age and demographic) and waiting longer to have them. These factors, not excluding others, have certainly aided in the increased competitiveness of women in the workplace in the last decades. This has most certainly changed the family dynamics in the average household as well. This gives the potential to create more equality within the family in terms of distribution of responsibility and tasks. If both parents work, at least in the Netherlands, the tasks at home seem to be more equal as well.
We started out as such as well. My wife and I both worked. Rushing to get the kids ready for daycare, drop them off, go to work, rush back to pick them up, dinner, kids to bed and have about one or two hours just for us. Now, besides us thinking that kids playing with other kids presents advantages in their development, we barely got to see them. We had the, perhaps pretentious, view that if we managed to have them, we wanted to be in their lives as much as possible. And I’ve heard so many of our friends say the same thing over the years. We started to realize though, we bring them to daycare at 8AM and pick them up at 6PM. Most of my friends who have kids do the same. Now I have to say, I have nothing against daycare, au pairs or whatever way people decide to manage raising kids. We realized this was not for us. My wife decided to stay at home.
Nothing of what I’ve described is earth shattering nor novel. Nonetheless it was scary to make the choice at that time. Colleagues, friends and even random people offered their opinions… all the time. Especially to my partner:
What we noticed when we told people, is that most of them were surprised. Not necessarily towards me, but towards my partner. There was also a clear difference in response from men vs. women, surprisingly enough. My wife said: “I have to defend my life almost exclusively to other women”. Independence and security was always very high on everyone’s agenda. And this makes sense right? Especially if you view the subject as such. The only problem, we think, is one tends to view the problem from dis-trust. Quite the opposite of what we aim to build relationships upon. I also think that if you build relationships based on contingencies, how can you be ‘all-in’?
The second main topic I noticed is that we seem to have started to put work and a career as a higher priority than family in most parts of the world. I catch myself prioritizing work over family as well – many times. But why actually? Have you ever heard anyone on their deathbed say: “I wish I spent more time on that report back in February of 1991.” You know what they do say? Yeah you do…
So why are we guilt tripping young people into working? Working all the time. Especially young parents? Now I’m not saying we should all have a 4 day work week and expect things to fall into our lap. If you want to achieve something, I think you should give it your all. But achievements in most societies are based on financial and/or career related achievement. Undermining and underappreciating the home, in my opinion.
Through my work as an executive recruiter I truly think I’m placed in a unique situation. I get to meet people from all over the world. I get to ask these people the question “Why?” Why do you do what you do?
Though I can imagine many different reasons – almost always, the answer revolves around family or at least the home. Ask yourself why you started working? For most people, that was as a means to an end… generally to be able to pay bills, have a place of your own, etc. Now this is not to say we think work is not important. It is! And it needs to be something you like to do. Ideally enjoy doing! But ask yourself, if you are not paid, would you still be there in a year? In 6 months? In one week?
If I ask my partner the same question I’d probably get, at the bare minimum, a very confused look. “Why would you even ask me this question?” Despite the fact that running the home is quite challenging and a full-time job, my wife would never walk away from it. So how come we, as a society, find a career more important than the home and raising a family? Why are we questioning this as a society so much? More importantly, why do we find what other people think so important.
Though it was not an easy journey (6 years in the making) we think we found a solution that works well for us. It sounds simple: We support each other and trust each other like a team. I support my wife, so she can support me. She supports me so I can support her. Isn’t that what a good team does?