Last fall, my husband accepted a new job. I’ve told you a bit about it before.
The night after he accepted the offer, we went together to hear Hanna Rosin speak on her new book The End of Men. I enjoyed Rosin’s talk: despite the provocative title, her treatment of her subject was thoughtful and nuanced.
She said something that night that framed our transition for me, that put words to how I was feeling about his new job. Now that four months have passed, I’m finally ready to tell you about it.
The See-Saw Marriage
Rosin described a relatively new phenomenon that she kept coming across in her research: the “see-saw marriage,” a term she coined to describe an increasing number of marriages among the younger, college-educated demographic. These couples are much more open about shifting responsibilities and priorities–at home and at work–throughout the different seasons of life.
Rosin cited the Obamas as a classic example: Michelle had the high-powered job while Barack was wading into public policy; during this season she’s clearly the one playing the supporting role. A more relatable example is found in the Friday Night Lights series finale: after years of the Taylor’ lives revolving around Eric’s job as a high school football coach, Tami Taylor gets a big break–and says to her husband, “It’s my turn, babe. It’s my turn.” A see-saw marriage.
These see-saw marriages tend to be stable and happy; marital satisfaction among the college educated demographic as a whole continues to rise, and their divorce rates are lower than they’ve been in decades.
Our see-saw has been pretty balanced these past few years. When that job offer came, I recognized that it was his turn, and I was happy to hand it to him. It was best for him; it was best for me.
But it’s not always easy to be on the bottom of the see-saw.
As we expected, we’ve been on a huge learning curve these past few months. (My mantra: “Even good change is stressful. Even good change is stressful.”) We’ve been figuring out what our “new normal” looks like, and I wanted to wait for the answer before I brought on help at home.
I’m not so good at figuring out the theoretical, so I was genuinely surprised to find myself as basically a full-time stay-at-home mom once my husband started his new job. Except that I have a job, too. I was homeschooling by myself, instead of with my husband. I was juggling child care for work, instead of relying on him. I was the one getting dinner on the table every night.
It took me a while to figure out exactly what I needed to be happy with our new normal. My first impulse was to freak out and send the kids back to school, so I could have time to work and write and think–but I don’t think that’s the best answer for our family right now.
Since I’ll be homeschooling, I still very much need to carve out time to work and to write, and we’re both working on ways to make that happen. Starting this week, I’ll have a mother’s helper come in a few times a week to help with the homeschooling, fold the laundry, and watch the kids while I sneak off to write. We’re exploring hiring cleaning help (something I never thought I’d do).
My husband–despite his work–has been hugely helpful. He’s settled into his new job, and he’s earning the right to have some flexibility there. When the kids got sick last week and wrecked our childcare arrangements, he worked from home while I went to the office.
And since his commute takes him straight past Trader Joe’s every day, he’s doing more grocery shopping than he ever has.
Not easy, but good
The past few months haven’t been easy, but they’ve been good. And as we’ve sought to negotiate this transition, I keep coming back to one of my very favorite quotes on marriage from Lisa McMinn’s book Growing Strong Daughters:
“A strong marriage is one in which the husband and wife say to each other, ‘I am highly committed to your growth as a person.’ ”
This has been a tough season (even good change is stressful) but it’s been a good one. In another season things will look different, no doubt, and the see-saw will tip again.
And when it does, we’ll be okay with that.