My See-Saw Marriage

My See-Saw Marriage

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

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.

Making changes

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.

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35 comments

  1. Johanna says:

    Love your perspective, Anne. With my husband a full-time student we are definitely working life around his schedule. That’s okay. He still gives me the time I need to be alone and he’s vitally involved in everything that is done around the house. Does my laundry, etc, when he is home. 🙂 But this is definitely not the season for me to try a whole lot of new and exciting adventures!

  2. I love this idea and it’s what I want to have for Kel and I. We are going to need to do some serious rethinking starting this week because I’ll be surrendering all my previous free time in favor of a better financial shift. Then if we move Lord knows.

    Either way I’m emailing this to him today with an emphasis on the Lisa McMinn quote

  3. Caris Adel says:

    Oh I want to read that Strong Daughter book!

    We’re in a similar boat. Changed jobs in June and omw, the transition!!! Now I know why on those stress tests they include changing jobs as a major life change and source of stress. The first few months were really hard. Didn’t help that that was when I was finally starting to write, and we homeschool too…it’s been a very stressful year. And now he’s interviewing for a different job because this one isn’t working out, which has added to the stress…augh.

    I wrote about it here, http://www.fromtwotoone.com/2012/08/guestpost-caris-adel.html but basically it was that I felt like he was becoming a typical professional and me a typical SAHM and it was so hard to try and find a balance. All that stress is what led to him taking the myers-briggs test and realizing that was a big part of how we were communicating about it.

    Now I just have to figure out how to balance homeschool, house cleaning, and writing. I’m still doing terrible with that.

    • Anne says:

      Oh, I hear you on this. It’s hard, isn’t it?

      (I had a similar experience when I read up on my husband’s MBTI profile. I thought he was bad at working through conflict; turns out he works through it *exactly* as his type typically does. Realizing that helped me so much!)

      “Now I just have to figure out how to balance homeschool, house cleaning, and writing. I’m still doing terrible with that.”

      Wishing you well with that. It’s not easy!

  4. I have been seriously considering hiring someone to help with cleaning and schooling while I do some writing, plus paperwork for our business, and studying for the different ministries I am involved in. I think we have been conditioned to think that “hired help” is a luxury. But, it may be a necessity as we truly cannot do everything.

  5. Erin says:

    Yes, this is it exactly. I really identify with this post. We made a major transition recently for my husband’s job….after years of his needs taking a back seat to my own as we started and grew our family, it was his turn. When an awesome opportunity came up for him, it was obvious that we’d take it. We’re doing the hard work of re-learning normal, and yes- even good change is stressful!

  6. Jaimie says:

    Right now our see-saw is kind of balanced, lol. We’re both in college, both working part-time jobs, and both doing a lot at home. I do a little more at home than he does (most of the cooking and cleaning) but he helps a LOT which is great.

    Honestly, I’m really excited for the time when he has a full-time job which will enable me to stay home full-time, but right now, I’m enjoying this season. (See the post I wrote today! 🙂 http://www.jaimie-livinginthelight.blogspot.com)

  7. Elizabeth Kane says:

    Thanks for opening up and talking about this, Anne. It’s not an easy topic to discuss and there’s no one clear answer that works for everyone. And it reminds me why I enjoyed “Work Shift” so much! What I love about your perspective is the way you’re always re-evaluating what worked in the past for you and what doesn’t now. You are determined to find the balance that works for you and your family so you can live a happy and intentional life. And that’s no small feat when you’re sorting through competing advice detailing what it means to be a “fulfilled woman” (in career and home life) these days.

    I’m so glad you have a mother’s helper and (maybe) some cleaning help too. You deserve it!

    • Anne says:

      You’re so right to point out all the competing advice that’s out there. It’s confusing, to say the least!

      And about the help: I’m grateful to have it! I won’t argue with that. 🙂

  8. There is really no bonus virtue gained by attempting to do everything yourself. Nobody who runs a company thinks they’re somehow less successful because they have people working for them in order to help them accomplish more. Quite the opposite!

  9. Tim says:

    We’ve experienced the see-saw as well, Anne. Sometimes it’s been with careers or kids, but most often in ministry opportunities/responsibilities.

    And I have a corollary for your mantra: That which doesn’t kill us … can still hurt quite a bit!

    Cheers,
    Tim

  10. I have no problem hiring someone to clean the house but it never occurred to me to find a mother’s helper for things like laundry and smaller tasks. I’d love to hear more about how you found that person, do you pay her as much as you pay a regular babysitter or more since you’re asking for household help as well as childcare, and if you’re in the house while the mother’s helper is there, do the kids still come in and ask you to adjudicate things?

  11. Great post, Anne! My wife and I are pretty balanced professionally, but see-sawing on who takes the lead when it comes to the kids gives each of us the space we need to preserve our sanity!

    Your post is also an excellent picture of the self-sacrificial nature that, when mutually practiced, builds a healthy, lasting marriage.

  12. Christie says:

    This definitely described our marriage too. Now I’m back in school while he works from home a couple times a week. Not the paradigm I was raised with, so it’s always nice to hear about the upsides.

  13. Jennapher says:

    Just came across your blog and this was so timely. The company I’ve been working for is moving out of state because taxes are way to high for businesses here in California so I’ll be laid off soon and I’ve been the “breadwinner” since before I was pregnant. My hubby has been a stay at home daddy and my home support since the beginning. So now I’ll be going to school from home and he’s going to be going to work and to be honest I felt a little lost in the whole thing. I know I want more time with the twins but I have this undescribable annoyance at the situation and I think this post really helped me identify it!
    Thank you Anne!

  14. Stephanie says:

    We have a “see-saw marriage” too. I love that both of us are committed to each other growing, thriving, and learning – not only as parents, but as people.

    Let us know how the “mother’s helper” works out.

    Specifically:
    (1) How old is she?
    (2) How did you go about finding/hiring her?
    (3) What is the hourly rate?

    Perhaps you could write a future post on it…

  15. nicole says:

    I saw a neat example of this years ago. I was getting certified in Zumba and the woman teaching was beautiful and in amazing shape. Then I learned she had 4 kids. Then I learned she had a hot husband who was there that day helping. For them, it was an out-of-town training conference across the country from their home. He was so supportive of her, doing whatever job he was assigned very calmly and humbly. At one point he went to tell his wife her pants were getting sweaty and a bit see through – in a loving but protective way (even though we were all mostly women). It was great seeing him let his wife lead and do “her thing” – it was “her time”. The husband was a popular NBA player who had ended his life “season” of playing and was supporting his wife’s ambitions.

  16. Grace says:

    This obviously resonates with a lot of people. In the 10 years we’ve been married, he put me through school, then I put him through school, then I cut back my hours, then we had to switch again… Since we had kids four years ago, we’ve both worked, but switched off our schedules so one of us is always home with the kids. It’s like double-single-parenting. And now I’m trying to build a business, too. I’m channeling J.K. Rowling who answered the question of how she found time to write with children at hone with, “I gave up housework. Really, it wasn’t much of a sacrifice.” Love your reminder that we vow to help our spouses in their personal growth. Hang tight! You’ll find your rhythm.

  17. Kacie says:

    Hire cleaning help!! I never thought I’d do it, either. But a few months ago, I said enough is enough. If my house is messy, I can’t think clearly and I am not at ease. But the load of one more thing was just too much. So, we have biweekly cleaners and it is making all the difference to have the whole house clean at once. We have to tidy and do maintenance cleaning, and that is some effort, but my oh my. What a load off! Do it.

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