I’m a proud “wife” to my wife.
I read this piece by Jane Gilmore on the weekend. The crux of Gilmore’s article is that “women are never going to be able to access an equal level of professional opportunity until men take on equal responsibility for unpaid work.” Gilmore goes on to encourage men to ‘lean out’ in the workplace so that women can lean in, and for men to “…assume their value as fathers is equal to their value as workers.”
I hear you sister. *raises fist in a display of solidarity*
Gilmore’s piece follows a similar line of reasoning to Annabel Crabb’s brilliant novel The Wife Drought which I’ve recently finished reading for the second time. Crabb’s theory is that working women need a “wife” to run the domestic side of things if they’re to ever gain equal footing in the workplace with their male counterparts (most of whom have actual wives to do all the wifey stuff and can therefore solely focus on their careers).
In our family, I am that wife.
Just over 12 months ago, following a set of circumstances which I’ve written about previously, my wife and I made a conscious decision for me to lean out from my career. I leaned so far out that had I been near an open window I would’ve toppled out backwards. I sat down with my bosses – fully prepared to chuck it all in and resign from my rewarding consulting job. The plan was I could spend more quality time with my young family, pick up the slack around the domestic side of things, and allow my wife to fully immerse herself in her career.
Thankfully it never came to that. My employers refused to accept my resignation. Instead, they sympathised with our position and very generously agreed to a sabbatical type arrangement, whereby I could be at home for the foreseeable future, and they would keep my job open for me.
Some people have told me how lucky I am to have such an understanding and progressive employer. My response to this is twofold.
Firstly, it’s sad that every employer isn’t this willing to support fathers when they push for more time with their families. I know quite a few working dads who would love to have more flexible working arrangements to be there for their families. But perceived or otherwise, they don’t feel that their employers would support them, or that it will harm their long term career prospects. It’s a shame, and this resistance to change is simply feeding the gender divide. It prevents working dads from leaning out, and ergo, working mums from being able to lean in.
Secondly, I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck. The reason that I’m currently enjoying this indefinite career sabbatical is not just because I’m lucky and have a very understanding employer. It’s because I was fully committed to giving away my career for my family, and I was good enough at my job that my employer refused to let me.
It’s also because my wife is currently leaning in, and grabbing her own career by the short and curlies with both hands. Her wholehearted professionalism puts food on the table and a roof over our heads, and puts me in this privileged position of spending my days drinking macchiatos and strutting around in my #activewear.
You could argue that I’m lucky to be in that position. A kept man. I would counter-argue that it cuts both ways. She funds my extremely glamorous lifestyle and I take care of all of the family stuff so that she can fully dedicate herself (and believe me she has) to her career. I am her wife. We’ve swapped roles and in doing so have taken gender out of the equation.
So after nearly 12 months, how has the role swap gone for me and my family?
I’m pretty certain that my wife has enjoyed having a wife, and has been free to tackle her job with fewer distractions. The full transition from default parent to working parent and vice versa has taken some time for us both, but we’re getting there. She has let go of the small stuff like overdue library books, and no longer has to worry about those little spanners that get thrown in the works from time to time like sick kids and pupil free days. In writing this piece I asked her whether she felt that my being at home had raised her glass ceiling in the workplace. Her response? An emphatic “Yes.”
My career isn’t finished. It’s just on pause, and I’m not concerned. I am backing my skills and my experience to get me back in the game when the time is right. I am confident that if and when circumstances change, I’ll be able to pick it up somewhere pretty close to where I left it last year. I may have to move sideways for a little while and I might not reach the top quite as early as I would’ve otherwise, and that’s ok. It’s been totally worth it and I know in my heart that I’ll still get there.
Most significantly, my relationship with our kids is infinitely stronger than if I had continued as a full time working dad. I’ve been the lead parent for countless exquisite experiences (and some less desirable ones as well) that I would’ve otherwise only been able to experience vicariously. As much as they can be irritating at the time, I’ve loved the little mundane moments the most. The long walks to school made longer by having to stop and pick up every stick, flower and weed along the way. The weekly swimming lessons singing the same bloody nursery rhymes as we hickory-dickory-dock our way around the pool together. Doing the weekly food shop with a toddler who insists on being carried the entire time. Even the toilet training has been more enjoyable than I expected. All of these small moments have enabled me to form the strongest of bonds with my kids, and I wouldn’t change that for all the corporate lunches and water-cooler banter in the world.
It’s taken me quite a few days to write this. Grabbing 30 minutes at the computer whenever I can. Working it in between loads of laundry, meal preparation, school runs, Christmas shopping (yes that falls under my portfolio now too), swimming lessons, toilet training and toddler tantrums. Ridiculously, my life seems even more hectic now than it was when I was working full time. Hardly the idyllic lifestyle I’d pictured for myself when I first decided to lean out and become the wife. At its best it’s hectic. At its worst it’s a living nightmare. If I had my time again would I do things differently? Hell no. #wifeforlife