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Chapter 8 Make Your Partner a Real Partner
BEING A MOTHER has been an amazing experience for me. Giving birth was not. After nine months ofserious nausea, I could not wait to move on to the next phase. Unfortunately, my son was in no suchrush. When my due date arrived, my OB decided I should be induced. My parents and my sister,Michelle, joined me and Dave at the hospital. Some say it takes a village to raise a child, but in mycase, it took a village just to get the child out of me. My hours in labor went on … and on … and on.

For my supporters, excitement gave way to boredom. At one point, I needed help through acontraction but couldn’t get anyone’s attention because they were all on the other side of the room,showing family photos to my doctor. It has been a running joke in my family that it’s hard to holdanyone’s attention for too long. Labor was no exception to that rule.

After three and half hours of pushing, my son finally emerged, weighing nine pounds, sevenounces. Half of that weight was in his head. My sister is a pediatrician and has attended hundreds ofdeliveries. She kindly did not tell me until much later that mine was one of the hardest she had everwitnessed. It was all worth it when my son was pronounced healthy and the nausea that I had felt fornine straight months vanished within an hour. The worst was over.

The next morning, I got out of bed in my hospital room, took one step, and fell to the floor.

Apparently I had yanked my leg back so hard during labor that I had pulled a tendon. I was oncrutches for a week. Being unable to stand added a degree of difficulty to my first week ofmotherhood but also provided one unforeseen benefit: Dave became the primary caregiver for ournewborn. Dave had to get up when the baby cried, bring him to me to be fed, change him, and then gethim back to sleep. Normally, the mother becomes the instant baby care expert. In our case, Davetaught me how to change a diaper when our son was eight days old. If Dave and I had planned this, wewould have been geniuses. But we didn’t and we aren’t.

In fact, we should have planned a lot more. When I was six months pregnant, a Ph.D. candidateinterviewed me by phone for her dissertation on working couples. She began by asking, “How do youdo it all?” I said, “I don’t. I don’t even have a child,” and suggested that she interview someone whoactually did. She said, “You’re just a few months away from having a baby, so surely you and yourhusband have thought about who is going to pick up your child if he is sick at school? Who is going toarrange for child care?” And so on. I couldn’t answer a single one of her questions. By the end of thecall, I was in full panic, overwhelmed by how truly unprepared Dave and I were to handle theseresponsibilities. As soon as Dave walked in the door that night, I pounced. “Ohmigod!” I said. “Weare just a few months away from having a baby, and we have never talked about any of this!” Davelooked at me like I was crazy. “What?” he said. “This is all we talk about.”

In dissecting this discrepancy, Dave and I figured out that we had spent a lot of time talking abouthow we would do things, but almost always in the abstract. So Dave was right that we had discussedparenthood often, and I was right that the discussion had not been that practical. Part of the problemwas that our inexperience made it hard even to know what specifics to cover. We had very little ideawhat we were in for.

I also think that we were in denial about the tremendous shift in our lives that was rapidlyapproaching. Dave and I were not even working in the same city when I got pregnant (although just tobe clear, we were in the same place when I got pregnant). Dave had founded a company, LaunchMedia, in L.A. and sold it to Yahoo years earlier. Yahoo’s headquarters were in Northern California,where I lived and worked, but Dave’s team remained in Los Angeles, where he lived and worked.

When we started dating, we decided to base our life together in the Bay Area, so Dave begancommuting, typically spending Monday through Thursday in Southern California and then flyingnorth to spend weekends with me. This pattern continued even after we were married.

After the birth of our son, Dave began flying back and forth several times a week. It was great thatwe had the ability for him to commute, but it was far from ideal. Even though he was making anexhausting effort to be with me and our baby, he was still gone a lot. Since I was with the baby full-time, the great majority of child care fell to me. The division of labor felt uneven and strained ourmarriage. We hired a nanny, but she couldn’t solve all our problems; the emotional support and sharedexperience that a spouse provides cannot be bought. After a few short months of parenthood, we hadalready fallen into traditional, lopsided gender roles.

We were not unique. In the last thirty years, women have made more progress in the workforce thanin the home. According to the most recent analysis, when a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more child care and about 30 percent more housework than thefather.

A 2009 survey found that only 9 percent of people in dual-earner marriages said that theyshared housework, child care, and breadwinning evenly.

So while men are taking on more householdresponsibilities, this increase is happening very slowly, and we are still far from parity.

(Perhapsunsurprisingly, same-sex couples divide household tasks much more evenly.)Public policy reinforces this gender bias. The U.S. Census Bureau considers mothers the“designated parent,” even when both parents are present in the home.

When mothers care for theirchildren, it’s “parenting,” but when fathers care for their children, the government deems it a “childcare arrangement.”

I have even heard a few men say that they are heading home to “babysit” for theirchildren. I have never heard a woman refer to taking care of her own children as “babysitting.” Afriend of mine ran a team-building exercise during a company retreat where people were asked to fillin their hobbies. Half of the men in the group listed “their children” as hobbies. A hobby? For mostmothers, kids are not a hobby. Showering is a hobby.

My friends Katie and Scott Mitic flip this pattern. Katie and Scott are both Silicon Valleyentrepreneurs who work full-time. About a year ago, Scott traveled to the East Coast for work. He wasstarting a late-morning meeting when his phone rang. His team only heard one side of theconversation. “A sandwich, carrot sticks, a cut-up apple, pretzels, and a cookie,” Scott said. He hungup smiling and explained that his wife was asking what she should put in the kids’ lunch boxes.

Everyone laughed. A few months later, Scott was back east with the same work colleagues. They werein a cab late that morning when Scott’s phone rang. His team listened in disbelief as he patientlyrepeated the lunch list all over again: “A sandwich, carrot sticks, a cut-up apple, pretzels, and acookie.”

When Scott tells this story, it’s sweet and funny. But take this same story and switch the gendersand it loses its charm. That’s just reality for most couples. Scott and Katie buck expectations with theirdivision of household duties. There’s an epilogue to their story. Scott went on a third trip anddiscovered that Katie forgot to make the kids’ lunches altogether. She realized her slipup midmorningand solved the problem by having a pizza delivered to the school cafeteria. Their kids were thrilled,but Scott was not. Now when he travels, he packs lunches in advance and leaves notes with specificinstructions for his wife.

There may be an evolutionary basis for one parent knowing better what to put in a child’s lunch.

Women who breast-feed are arguably baby’s first lunch box. But even if mothers are more naturallyinclined toward nurturing, fathers can match that skill with knowledge and effort. If women want tosucceed more at work and if men want to succeed more at home, these expectations have to bechallenged. As Gloria Steinem once observed, “It’s not about biology, but about consciousness.”

We overcome biology with consciousness in other areas. For example, storing large amounts of fatwas necessary to survive when food was scarce, so we evolved to crave it and consume it when it’savailable. But in this era of plenty, we no longer need large amounts of fuel in reserve, so instead ofsimply giving in to this inclination, we exercise and limit caloric intake. We use willpower to combatbiology, or at least we try. So even if “mother knows best” is rooted in biology, it need not be writtenin stone. A willing mother and a willing father are all it requires. Yes, someone needs to rememberwhat goes into the lunch box, but as Katie will attest, it does not have to be Mom.

As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home. I have seenso many women inadvertently discourage their husbands from doing their share by being toocontrolling or critical. Social scientists call this “maternal gatekeeping,” which is a fancy term for“Ohmigod, that’s not the way you do it! Just move aside and let me!”

When it comes to children,fathers often take their cues from mothers. This gives a mother great power to encourage or impedethe father’s involvement. If she acts as a gatekeeper mother and is reluctant to hand overresponsibility, or worse, questions the father’s efforts, he does less.

Whenever a married woman asks me for advice on coparenting with a husband, I tell her to let himput the diaper on the baby any way he wants as long as he’s doing it himself. And if he gets up to dealwith the diaper before being asked, she should smile even if he puts that diaper on the baby’s head.

Over time, if he does things his way, he’ll find the correct end. But if he’s forced to do things her way,pretty soon she’ll be doing them herself.

Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal—and equally capable—partner. And if that’s not reason enough, bear in mind that a study found that wives who engage ingatekeeping behaviors do five more hours of family work per week than wives who take a morecollaborative approach.

Another common and counterproductive dynamic occurs when women assign or suggest tasks totheir partners. She is delegating, and that’s a step in the right direction. But sharing responsibilityshould mean sharing responsibility. Each partner needs to be in charge of specific activities or itbecomes too easy for one to feel like he’s doing a favor instead of doing his part.

Like many pieces of advice, letting a partner take responsibility and do his share in his own way iseasy to say and hard to do. My brother, David, and sister-in-law, Amy, were very aware of this tensionwhen they first became parents. “There were many times when our daughter was more easily consoledby me,” Amy said. “It’s really hard to listen to your baby cry while your struggling husband with nobreasts tries desperately and sometimes awkwardly to comfort her. David was insistent that rather thanhanding the baby to me when she was crying, we allow him to comfort her even if it took longer. Itwas harder in the short run, but it absolutely paid off when our daughter learned that Daddy could takecare of her as well as Mommy.”

I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether shewill have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of one woman in a leadership positionwhose life partner is not fully—and I mean fully—supportive of her career. No exceptions. Andcontrary to the popular notion that only unmarried women can make it to the top, the majority of themost successful female business leaders have partners. Of the twenty-eight women who have servedas CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, twenty-six were married, one was divorced, and only one hadnever married.

10Many of these CEOs said they “could not have succeeded without the support of theirhusbands, helping with the children, the household chores, and showing a willingness to move.”

Not surprisingly, a lack of spousal support can have the opposite effect on a career. In a 2007 studyof well-educated professional women who had left the paid workforce, 60 percent cited their husbandsas a critical factor in their decision.

These women specifically listed their husbands’ lack ofparticipation in child care and other domestic tasks and the expectation that wives should be the onesto cut back on employment as reasons for quitting. No wonder when asked at a conference what mencould do to help advance women’s leadership, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth MossKanter answered, “The laundry.”

Tasks like laundry, food shopping, cleaning, and cooking aremundane and mandatory. Typically, these tasks fall to women.

In January 2012, I received a letter from Ruth Chang, a doctor with two young children who hadseen my TEDTalk. She had been offered a new job overseeing seventy-five doctors in five medicalclinics. Her first instinct was to say no out of concern that she could not handle the expandedresponsibility in addition to taking care of her family. But then she wavered, and in that moment, Dr.

Chang wrote me, “I heard your voice saying, ‘Sit at the table’ and I knew I had to accept thepromotion. So that evening, I told my husband I was taking the job … and then handed him thegrocery list.” Sharing the burden of the mundane can make all the difference.

My career and marriage are inextricably intertwined. During that first year Dave and I were parents,it became clear that balancing two careers and two cities was not adding up to one happy family. Weneeded to make some changes. But what? I loved my job at Google and he felt enormously loyal to histeam in L.A. We struggled through the commuting for another long year of marital less-than-bliss. Bythen, Dave was ready to leave Yahoo. He limited his job search to the San Francisco area, which was asacrifice on his part, since more of his professional interests and contacts were in L.A. He eventuallybecame CEO of SurveyMonkey and was able to move the company headquarters from Portland to theBay Area.

Once we were in the same city, it still took us some time to figure out how to coordinate our workschedules. Even though Dave and I are extraordinarily fortunate and can afford exceptional child care,there are still difficult and painful decisions about how much time our jobs require us to be away fromour family and who will pick up the slack. We sit down at the beginning of every week and figure outwhich one of us will drive our children to school each day. We both try to be home for dinner as manynights as we can. (At dinner, we go around the table and share the best and worst event from our day; Irefrain from saying so, but my best is usually being home for dinner in the first place.) If one of us isscheduled to be away, the other almost always arranges to be home. On weekends, I try to focuscompletely on my kids (although I have been known to sneak off a few e-mails from the bathroom ofthe local soccer field).

Like all marriages, ours is a work in progress. Dave and I have had our share of bumps on our pathto achieving a roughly fifty-fifty split. After a lot of effort and seemingly endless discussion, we arepartners not just in what we do, but in who is in charge. Each of us makes sure that things that need toget done do indeed get done. Our division of household chores is actually pretty traditional. Dave paysbills, handles our finances, provides tech support. I schedule the kids’ activities, make sure there isfood in the fridge, plan the birthday parties. Sometimes I’m bothered by this classic gender division oflabor. Am I perpetuating stereotypes by falling into these patterns? But I would rather plan a Dora theExplorer party than pay an insurance bill, and since Dave feels the exact opposite, this arrangementworks for us. It takes continual communication, honesty, and a lot of forgiveness to maintain a ricketybalance. We are never at fifty-fifty at any given moment—perfect equality is hard to define orsustain—but we allow the pendulum to swing back and forth between us.

In the coming years, our balancing act may get harder. Our children are still young and go to sleepearly, which gives me plenty of time to work at night and even to watch what Dave considers to betruly bad TV. As the kids get older, we will have to adjust. Many of my friends have told me thatteenage children require more time from their parents. Every stage of life has its challenges.
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