Lean in, my friend, and I’ll tell you a secret: Striking a balance between work and home life is, indeed, possible.
Before you begin berating me under your breath, let me clarify: No, it’s not possible all the time. And it doesn’t mean life is idyllic. Somewhere along the way “work-life balance” started meaning “work-life perfection,” and that’s never going to be achievable.
What I mean is that maintaining a semblance of sanity as a working mother is possible. It is possible to find a few minutes to exercise, or read a trashy novel or watch The Bachelorette. (Not that I’m familiar with these things, of course.) It is possible to keep the house marginally clean. It is possible to be a pretty darn good employee and mother, at once. I say this, because (I hope!) I manage to do most of these things in a given week. Here’s my secret:
My husband, Hasa.
Don’t start rolling your eyes yet, please! I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t have a perfect marriage. Hasa and I have all of the usual spats that pop up between two busy working parents. But I will say this: My life seems pretty easy compared to some other women I’ve heard from, and there’s one big reason for that: My husband pulls his weight—and more—when it comes to taking care of our son and our house. Here’s what it looks like for us:
He tackles 50%—or more—of the housework. I’ll admit it: I’m not the tidiest person on the planet, but I do enjoy a clean home. (Who doesn’t?) On the other hand, my husband isn’t a big fan of cooking, but loves a home-cooked meal. (Who doesn’t?) So we settled on an agreement that suits our skills and preferences: I cook, he cleans. In the evenings, I cook dinner and then get our son ready for bed while my husband cleans up the kitchen, tidies the house and takes out the trash. Then I make our son’s lunch while he programs the coffee maker. It wasn’t always this seamless, but we’ve settled on a general rule that works for us: If one of us is tackling a chore, the other will, too. When we’re both done, we sit down with a big glass of wine and cue up HBO.
That includes the mental load. I have to confess that this is partly because I’m a procrastinator: He knows that if he wants something done immediately, he may have to do it himself. The latest example: Our closet shelving came crashing down on Father’s Day. (Because, of course.) On Monday, he called and scheduled a consultation with Home Depot to install new shelving. Done. No reminders necessary. Here, we’ve also fallen into a pattern that works for us: I handle booking our son’s classes and appointments as well as the fun stuff, like vacations and date nights; he handles most of the home repairs, bills and other boring details that come along with being a grown-up.
He does his own laundry and makes his own damn lunch. I vividly recall a classmate in college who made a hot lunch for her boyfriend—every day—and carried it to his apartment. That woman, I thought, is signing herself up for a lifetime of drudgery. Then and there I pledged I would never make a meal for a grown man, who is fully capable of cooking for himself, that I wouldn’t also be enjoying with him. It’s one I highly recommend.
He handles the morning routine; I handle the evening routine. He gets our son ready in the morning and drops him off at daycare, while I pick him up. This way, we can both put in a full 40 hours at work. I’m always surprised by the number of moms who handle both pick-up and drop-off. Ladies, give yourself a break!
He takes care of our son, by himself, quite often. Sometimes mama needs to work. Sometimes mama needs to see her friends. And sometimes mama just needs to shut the bedroom door and scroll through Instagram undisturbed for a few minutes, ya know? When these things happen, Hasa takes a day off from work or takes over the bedtime routine or takes our son to the park. And I, of course, return the favor when he’s feeling similarly overwhelmed. Admittedly, this requires giving up some control—never an easy prospect. Does he like that I refuse to turn on the TV and instead let our toddler rampage through the house while I get a few things done? Nope. Do I like that Hasa sometimes lets our son watch TV for an hour or two while he gets stuff done? Nope. But we know that said rampage and said TV won’t kill him. So we let it go. (Usually.)
I should add that we’re both extremely fortunate to have jobs that rarely require more than a 40-hour work week. But we’ve both sacrificed a higher salary to maintain those hours, because striking a bit of a work-life balance is important to us.
What’s also important to us is showing our son a world where tasks aren’t divvied up by gender, but by interest and abilities.
And, selfishly, sometimes I just want to read a romance novel. And I can, thanks to my husband’s equal efforts around the house—which are also pretty romantic, if you ask me.