What does it mean to have a “real partner?”
As I mentioned last week, I just finished Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and one of her main recommendations for working women is to “make your partner a real partner.” Sheryl cites research showing that if a married couple both work full-time and have a child, the woman tends to do twice the amount of housework the man does, and three times the amount of childcare. I see this statistic borne out in the lives of many working women I know, and it takes a toll on their professional and personal lives. I suspect that this might be especially true of Christian couples, since most of us have grown up within a church setting that tends to embrace a “traditional” role of women as the primary managers of their home and kids.
Importantly though, I don’t think this is because most men are lazy or misogynistic. Okay, maybe some men need to adjust their expectations, but I do think that most men would be willing to do more if we women asked (or allowed) them to.
So what do we need to do to have a “real partner,” as Sheryl advises?
First, and this is important, marry the right kind of guy. Sheryl says, and I agree, that one of the most important decisions a woman can make regarding career success is whether and who she marries. The good news for young women now is that more and more men are comfortable with marrying women who are serious about their careers. So how do you figure out whether your guy is “real partner” material? I think a good start is to ask him:
How would you feel if I made more money than you?
Would you ever quit your job to move for the sake of my career? (A question you should also be asking yourself about his career, by the way)
If we have kids, will one of us stay home with them? Who will spend more time with them?
How will things get done around the house?
How will we make decisions about finances?
Far too many people get married without actually talking through many of these (pretty basic) life questions. Taking the time to honestly explore your expectations before you get married can help establish a habit of open communication about these issues, and it can help you avoid pitfalls down the road. For a more in depth discussion of how to discuss and handle financial issues, check out Chapter 13 of “Work, Love, Pray.”
Second, communicate! Sit down with a pad and paper and talk through what needs to get done around the house on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. As much as possible, figure out what division of labor you and your spouse will have so that you can share the responsibilities fairly over the long term. You don’t have to share each and every job, but figure out your strengths and likes and try to make the balance close to 50/50. In our house, Chris does the laundry. I’m in charge of house management like organizing, making shopping lists, managing anyone who helps us, and so on. I know women who mow the lawn and keep their vehicles maintained, and I know men who love to cook and clean. Focus on what you each like to do (or at least don’t mind doing), and work from there. If you’re having trouble organizing things, you might check out my friend Kathy Peel’s website, www.familymanager.com. Kathy and her trained “coaches” can help you clarify and organize your to-do’s in order to best reach your goals. Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with bringing in the experts when the need arises.
Third, let him do it his way. If you want to truly share the household chores, you will have to get comfortable with the fact that not everything is going to get done “your way.” So, let him put mismatched shoes on the kids. Let him pick up burgers when it’s his night to “cook dinner.” Let him fold shirts however he sees fit. If you try to control his choices every step of the way, then you’re not really giving him any responsibility. Plus, from your partner’s perspective, that kind of nagging is just plain annoying. Letting him do things his way allows him to take ownership and be a true partner.
Do you have a “real partner” at home? How do you divide home and family duties?