Sharing the Load

Address the impact of work on your family. It's very challenging if you both work full-time and get home around 6:00 or later to a mad flurry of activities ending in a collapse in bed. (Unfortunately, the effects of the two-career family are commonly framed to blame women; that's not at all our point since, in principle, a man could as readily scale back his career.) Alternately, you might work part-time or not at all while he puts in sixty or seventy hours each week, including business travel. A demanding job may be one way he fulfills his sense of responsibility as a provider, but some men use their work to hide from their family. Even with the best of motives, his big job is like an elephant in the living room, limiting the space that's left for family. In that situation, children frequently grow up with a subtle sense of fatherlessness. The dad misses out on a special time that will never be repeated, trading it for career moves that often could be postponed a few years. The mom becomes a de facto single parent. And it is hard to work around the elephant to maintain a deeply intimate marriage.

Sometimes absolutely nothing can be done about your job or his job. The best you can do then is to try to reduce your other stresses (e.g., lower your standards for housework, don't take on another puppy), increase your resources (like getting a neighborhood kid to do some yard work), and improve your psychological coping. Usually, though, you can do something about your circumstances, especially if you persist. Let's use the example of him working long hours while you stay home. The first step is to create a positive atmosphere for tackling the issue, approaching it as a "we-problem" with no bad guy. For instance, you could express your respect for how hard he works to provide for his family and your understanding that his career is very important to him. Second, challenge the assumptions that box you in. You could consider going back to work ahead of schedule (perhaps part-time), to ease the economic demand on him. He could do some soul-searching about:

  • How this time with children is fleeting and unique, and that it's worth making a special effort to spend with them
  • How his children, wife, or marriage would benefit if he were home more; how he would also benefit
  • The beliefs that make him feel embarrassed about saying he needs to leave at 6:00 to get home to his kids, or the ways he may be getting caught up in a business warrior culture that prides itself on insane hours
  • The extra work he might be doing for personal rewards distinct from what his family actually needs; personal fulfillment is a valid aim, but it's not selfless sacrifice
  • How a small reduction in his time at work - say ten percent - would probably have little effect on his career but would double or triple his time with his kids, the epitome of a highly leveraged investment.

Third, make a long-term plan that is consistent with your deepest values, as well as financially realistic. Perhaps your overall quality of life would improve if you moved to a less expensive place or spent less money on discretionary items so you could spend more time with each other. The questions in the section "Your Values for Life and Money" (below) can help to clarify the values that shape these choices.

Unnecessary fears drive many financial decisions, and the antidote is clarity about money and the specific facts of your current expenses and future needs. It's not that hard. Books and websites can guide you through the details; please see the resources below for suggestions. On your own, in an hour or less, you could probably come up with a family budget that is accurate within ten percent. Estimating your needs down the road is more complicated, so it's wise to use a good book or a financial planner, especially if you and your husband disagree about priorities or methods. But with less effort than it took to equip your baby's bedroom, you can come up with a rational plan that makes your jobs serve you and your family, rather than the other way around.

Resources for Financial and Planning
Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach
9 Steps to Financial Freedom by Suze Orman
Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
How to Raise Your Family on Less Than Two Incomes by Denise Topolnicki
learningforlife.fsu.edu/fp101 /

Your Values for Life and Money
Please consider these questions:

  • Imagine looking back on your life at age eighty or so: What will you be most glad about, and what will not have mattered much? From that perspective, how will you wish that you had approached money and career?
  • Imagine that you have just a few years to live: What would your priorities be? Are there ways to be truer to those priorities if you were to live for fifty more years? How do you want your life to make a difference?
  • What's your preferred pace of living? How important is leisure compared to accomplishment, status, or expensive toys?
  • How much do you value time with your children, especially while they are young, compared to furthering your career or making money? How willing are you to defer saving for a few years when your children are little? At this time, how rapidly do you want to pay down any debts?
  • What's your bottom-line limit on the number of hours each week you want your spouse or yourself to give to work (including commuting and business travel)? At this time, what standard of living are you determined to have, from weekly spending on lunches out to big-ticket items like major vacations or remodeling your home? What standard of living do you want to have in a few years?

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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