Disclaimer- Like all of us, I find balancing work and family to be a constant challenge, and I certainly make my share of mistakes. In this piece, I’d like to discuss something that works well for my family. My intent is to share my experience, not to self-congratulate.
When Amy and I got engaged, my well-meaning-but-from-a-different-generation Italian great-aunts/uncles/grandparents/etc got to meet her for the first time. When they met Amy, they were welcoming, lovely and gracious. However, to a person, they asked Amy, “So, are you still going to be an actress now that you’re getting married?”
At first, this question puzzled Amy. She smiled and responded with grace and humor that “Yes, and Scott is still going to be a professor.”
To us, of course our lives as a married couple and future parents would include both of our careers. To our older, more traditional relatives, of course Amy’s career would be secondary to mine, and to future motherhood. (In addition, actresses including Amy have always justifiably bristled at the unfair implication of such questions, even among well-meaning folks, that “oh geez, acting isn’t a serious career choice” and/or “hey, good for this ‘chorus girl’ landing a man with a steady paycheck”)
This leads me to the point of this post. Part of the reason Amy and I have been a successful married couple/co-parents is that we fully discussed and are on the same page about how our lives together would include commitments to our family and each other’s careers. This is especially important for us because of Amy’s idiosyncratic profession.
It helped that neither of us were interested in a traditional “man-breadwinner woman-caretaker” marriage. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this arrangement, as long as it is what both people want. It just wasn’t for us. Our life suits us quite well, but it also isn’t for everyone, and it requires effort to get on and stay on the same page. We have made many mistakes and it is not always easy, but we’ve generally made it work.
Luckily, my career as a college professor, while demanding, allows for flexibility in terms of where and when work gets done (“have laptop will travel”). This has allowed me to better accommodate Amy’s career; if I had a different job and a less-enlightened employer, our lives would be much harder.
The importance of getting on the same page was especially true when we decided to have a baby. Amy emphasized that, after the baby, she was not going to interrupt her career for long, but of course out-of-town and touring work would be much harder for her to accept. Ever since Nick arrived, we discuss every job offer she gets, making sure the gig is something our family can handle and that we have a good plan for how we’ll juggle it all.
Amy was back on stage four months after Nick was born (she was still auditioning while 8 months pregnant!), and has worked steadily ever since (no small feat in her profession). Since Nick arrived, Amy’s already successful career has taken off: Broadway credits, a long-running Off-Broadway hit, some high-profile short-term work, and even a few small TV gigs. Her career means that I do the lion’s share of the day-to-day parenting for stretches of time. But because Amy and I are on the same page about work, parenting priorities and our constantly shifting division of labor, we are able to strike a balance.
Don’t get me wrong, some weeks/months were really hard, but, looking back, my stretches of being the primary parent gave me an amazing opportunity to bond with Nick in a way that many Dad’s work schedules may not allow for.
It hasn’t all been a one-way street. Amy has turned down some good job offers because they did not fit with my work constraints or Nick’s need to be with his Mom. Amy and Nick have come along on my sabbatical travels; Amy holds down the fort when I have work commitments. Especially during her times between gigs, I have been able to devote huge chunks of time and energy to my career, and she takes over the lion’s (lioness’?) share at home.
All in all, we have a non-traditional and fluctuating family routine, but Nick gets lots of time with both of us, and knows that our family is a true team. We like that Nick knows about and respects both of our careers. We also believe our example equips him to deal with flexible situations and change with confidence (going backstage is a nice perk, too- when Nick was 4, Amy worked with one of the Wiggles– Nick was psyched, but, honestly, the Wiggles make me want to tear out my eyeballs).
Our mostly-successful juggle would not be possible if we didn’t take the time before marriage and before parenthood to lay out our priorities and commit to helping each other succeed as spouses, parents and professionals. By respecting each other’s full range of priorities, we made our crazy life one we treasure.
If you have not yet fully discussed how you and your spouse/partner can help each other juggle parenthood, couplehood and careers, it is never too late to start. All it takes is a conversation- and for both partners to commit to getting on the same page.
What do you think about different family arrangements? Of prioritizing both family and career? What’s your experience? Let’s discuss in the comments section.
PS- an earlier version of this article appeared in the Good Men Project online mens magazine.