Friday, February 13, 2009

Guide to mothers with careers

The very short Guy's Guide to mothers with Careers: For any man interested in talking to a mother with a career.

Note 1: Although this may make you laugh or cry, I mean them seriously.
Note 2: This guide is intended for men, but I am sure anyone who needs it can use it
Note 3: These items relate to mothers with careers, not jobs.  (I won't go into  the difference)
Note 4: I try and often fail to heed my own advice. Just do the best you can.
Note 5: This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Note 6: I respect the decision of stay at home mothers and people who have consciously decided to enact a traditional gender relationship. I also believe fully that women should be in the workforce in major career positions.  The seem mutually exclusive and I don't deny that I live in contradiction.

Regarding working:

DO: Ask "How were things at work today?" And then listen. 
Note that listening may take a while and is likely to involve comments about you or men in general that tick you off. Just nod, be sympathetic and hold tight (I am rarely good at this, but when I am, it works out).

DO NOT: Ask, "Did your a**h*** boss say anything positive today?"  
This implies that her boss is the focus of her work - (s)he is not. She is there for the work, not her boss. And just because she calls the person she reports to bad names does not mean you can.  Remember, this is her career and is a major part of her identity, you want people criticizing you?

DO: Ask about her current "project".  
Note that career women have projects and projects are an important part of her work. You need to remember something about the project. Just a single thing - it can be the last gory detail she told you. After you ask, DO NOT then compare it to your work (note that I often make this mistake).

DO NOT:  Ask "when are they going to give you the day off?"  
This implies that she is beholden to "them" and at "their" mercy. She is not, this is her career for goodness sake. And by the way, don't you appreciate that she is working?  :) You should, since she's contributing to the world and to the household finances.

DO: (For partners of women with careers) Figure out how you're going to drop the kids off at school. Then do it.

DO NOT: Ask "can't you get a raise out of them?"  
Remember, it's only in part about the work for her. See "project" above. If you do bring up money, and you choose to use the "you deserve a raise", be prepared to cite examples of her work that demonstrate her success, or qualify your comment with "I don't really understand, but it seems to me that 'xyz'."  Otherwise, don't bring up money - ever.

DO: (For partners of women with careers) Pick up one major typically woman's chore around the house.  
It could be cooking, it could be cleaning, or laundry, it could be getting the children dressed in the morning, it could be dealing with the PTA. Just one will help, since it's highly unlikely you could do all of them anyway.  Bear in mind this important fact:  she is not going to appreciate that you do it; more likely she is going to feel lousy and defensive that she is not a good enough wife and mother that you have to "pick up her slack" and still give you a hard time.  I do the laundry and it's hard to get very little credit. Of course, women typically get no credit for what they do at home, so now you know how it feels.

DO NOT: Make her feel bad for:  hiring a house cleaner, or using day care, or bringing store bought cookies to the party.  
When was the last time you tried to clean, cook or raise the kids after a full day in the office?  Never done it? Not surprised, neither have I. So don't pretend you can know what she is dealing with or how you would solve it. ANd, how would you like it if, when you came home from work the first thing you heard was "wow, maybe if you had not half-assed that report you would have gotten that raise" or "your colleague seems to really know his stuff, have you talked to him about advice?"   Wouldn't you rather hear "I know it's hard, you're doing great with this stuff."?  Just say that and you're ahead.

Note: if you fall in to the camp of: "she should be able to do it all" then you are clueless. Just admit you are clueless, that will win you mega bonus points (for about 5 minutes).  Think about it - if you have staff working for you, pretend you fired them all and had to do all their work too. If you say "I just did that and I do it all now", 1. you're lying, a lot is slipping through the cracks and the sooner you bubble that up to management the better off you'll be and 2. Now try going home and cook supper.

Note: if you fall in to the camp of "She should be in the kitchen cleaning and cooking and raising the kids" (which is no different that saying "I don't mind if she doesn't want to work" - empirically it's just not, so don't bother arguing it - see the last two below), then stop reading now, you don't belong here. Sorry, it's just that simple.

Note: if you fall into the camp of "child care is bad because only a mommy/parent [sic] should take care of a child".  Um hello, are you a father? What happens when you go away for the day?  Um hello - do you know anything  about attachment and bonding? Um -hello - give your kids some credit for a change.  Moreover, mothers are NEVER replaceable. Every adoptive parent knows this, accepts it and most try to help their children with it. See "Recognizing her work" below for the real answer.

DO: Make sure you let her know that the money she is making is a good thing.
Note: you may feel threatened if she makes more, or is making money at all.  Don't; just enjoy it and go out to dinner and buy a flat-screen tv for the bedroom.  She may not be doing it for the money, but it's definitely a nice benefit! I also believe that women who make money are more self-confident (based on their sense of independence) and sexy. Note, be sure to turn off flat-screen from time to time and enjoy your partner.

DO NOT:  Say "Don't you want to be full time mom?"  
This should not need to be explained, but...  Last time I checked, were you not a full time dad? Duh? She's ALWAYS a full time mom. You think she goes to work and stops being a mom? By that reasoning, when she's a mom, then she can't also be your wife. By extension - what then happens if/when she goes out with her friends - not a wife or mother? Wow, you must be really worried about her business trips then.

Oh wait, I know what you mean, she can't really dedicate herself to being a mom if she's also working, right? Try saying that to a single mom - and good luck living through the results. 

DO NOT: Say "You know, you could quit your job. I will support you in whatever you decide."  
This is man-code and really means "I don't really value your work, respect your abilities or approve of your identity."  Real nice - way to go.  Grow up, be a man, have an opinion that matters.  If you think she should stay home, then just say it and deal with the fall-out. Otherwise, get some courage and tell her you think it's great she works, that she should work and that's one of the things you love about her.  

DO:  Recognize that the work she is doing is valuable to her, you, your children and the world. It will inform how you behave.
I have hired and fired lots of people. I believe it's a tragic brain drain and a detriment to the world when women are not in the work force. They should be, they bring tremendous value to our work as human beings.  Children who see their mothers in serious careers (I believe) are more confident, capable and mature. Men who are with women who work are better managers and are more self assured. The world is a better place with women committed to doing good work, and a TON more gets done with women working. Isn't that enough by itself?

Unless you've been a mother with a serious career, then some how became a father (not sure how this would work), you can not understand it.  Don't pretend you do, it just makes you look like a fool and embarrasses you in front of others. I don't claim to understand it, or that I could understand what my career wife and mother of my children goes through.  All I can do it do my best to support her (which is never easy) and try to get out of her way when she's in power mode.

My most practical advice: Genuine, honest and self-effacing questions are OK, but otherwise, you're better off just listening than commenting if you don't get it.

Since I missed 99% of the important points, I'd welcome additional DOs and DONTs from men with career wife/mothers and career mothers.  To everyone else whom I just angered and alienated, I am sorry, but it had to be said.


Anonymous said...

I commend you Braydon for your post. My hubby had read it and he agrees. Alot of what was written he already does and then some. I do have to mention though that he, like you with Heather, is a big supporter to me.

Many a time he has told me that he doesn't do enough, but that isn't true as he has gone above and beyond time and again.

So keep up all you do also. Thanks again.

Love and Hugs,

Corey said...

I think it's interesting that you say that you "respect the decision of stay at home mothers...etc" and yet throughout this post, you clearly judge those of us who are for our decision.

If a career woman is "contributing to the world and to the household finances".. what is the SAHM doing? In your opinion, not doing either.

You seem to think that women who don't work outside the home are simply "cleaning and cooking and raising the kids." Sure. We're also homeschooling, attachment parenting, managing our households, taking kids to medical appointments and specialists, grocery shopping, handling car maintenance .. and doing the things that you hire a Nanny, housekeeper, and lawn guy to do. And, a lot of times, we act almost as single parents, so that our husbands can work the 12-14 hour days that their jobs require for advancement. I choose to be home. I want to spend every second with my kids while I can.. and I fully believe that there is time for a career later, when they are grown. If I'm wrong.. they are still worth it.

"I believe it's a tragic brain drain and a detriment to the world when women are not in the work force." Could I contribute something of value? I believe I am!

"Children who see their mothers in serious careers are more confident, capable and mature." Why does it always have to be a contest between working and SAH moms? I don't care what anyone else does. It's like the whole point of this post is that you feel like you have to justify Heather's working and having Margie around. WHO CARES?! Heather likes working. It's important to her. Great! So do it. But why do you feel like you need to judge people that make a different decision?

"To everyone else I just angered and alienated, I'm sorry, but it had to be said." Really? WHY?

Anonymous said...

I don't know who this Corey person is but to me it sounds like she is the one who is defensive. so much so that she's now playing offense. Come on people. This was a post about career moms, not SAHMs. Get over it and let the women who work (and the men who support them) at least get SOME credit. Come on!
From Louissa Grey in Seattle (started reading here a couple months ago because a friend recommended this blog, and by the way I'm a SAHM and not ashamed of it but also in awe of mothers who also work by choice or because they have no choice)

Braydon said...

When I write posts, I am typically writing to my children for them to read when they are adults. I believe it's important for them to have a reference of their parents' perspectives on things that are tough to navigate and have a clear direction (that they can choose to adhere to, reject or modify as they see fit).

This post is about my perspective on women with careers, not women who stay at home. My wife has a career, and I suspect my daughter will have a career and my sons will be with women who will have careers (unless they are gay, in which case the equation changes a bit).

I did make some statements that show my opinion about whether women should work or not - and those may have sounded critical, although I never said that SAHM's only value is housework, and I would never suggest that mothers who have children with special needs should forego taking care of their children.

It's important to realize however, that on virtually a daily basis our family is overtly and covertly criticized for Heather working, my supporting her and the "effect it's having on our children." So, if I got a little insistent in the expression of my beliefs, I can surely be forgiven.

Tricia V. said...

Bravo to you both, Heather and Braydon. I need some tips on where to find such a supportive husband!

Anonymous said...

"so that our husbands can work the 12-14 hour days that their jobs require for advancement"

As a feminist I just have to point out that it is precisely because of SAHMs that men with children have a mega huge advantage over women with children when it comes to competing in the workplace.

Anyone who thinks that sexism is dead and gone only has to look at the comments to the recent couple of posts on this blog to see that the battle is FAR FROM OVER.

Keep up the good fight H & B

Anonymous said...

I have a Ph.D. and I can understand the desire to work in my field. However, I am also respectful of those women with and without advanced degrees who choose to pursue their passions in their homes with their children. Both are to be commended for their smart decisions.

Tracy R said...

I left a career to stay home with my children when we adopted them. I firmly believe that my husband and I should be the people raising our children -- not a nanny or a day care. I also believe that parenting is very much in the day-to-day moments that you experience with your children. And I believe that while quality is always important, quantity, when it comes to parenting, is also a good thing.
So why was it that less than a month later I was back working from home? (I'm a writer/journalist.)
I love what I do. I think it has an impact on the world around me, and therefore on my children. But I have chosen to do this not at the expense of my core beliefs. Which means that I've got to parent fulltime and write around that. Some days I long to go to a workplace just so I can have lunch without little hands stealing my potato chips, but you know -- that wasn't my choice.
And really, for me, the SAHM/Working Mom wars (which are very real, even to me here in the DMZ since I'm both and neither)are the result simply and completely of guilt on both sides that we're not doing more for our children who in a World sense seem to be struggling.
So it continues to be my greatest hope that feminism teaches us not that one is better than the other, but that it's okay to know yourself well enough, your family well enough and your goals well enough to be able to make a choice that is satisfying and contributes to happier families.
From reading this blog for the past year or so, it seems to me that Braydon and Heather have found what works for them and their family and should be applauded for that.
(sorry long!)

Anonymous said...

I seriously think you would be hard pressed to find a better mother than you find here on this blog. Put her up against any working mother or SAHM and she's gonna be just fine! That she uses her blog to write a tiny bit about some of the challenges is her perogative. If you don't like it here, don't read it!!!
Cyndi in MA

Heza Hekele said...

Excuse my bluntness, but I am flabergasted that a man just wrote that!

There need to be more men/husbands/fathers like you in the world. Thankyou for writing that piece!

Mary said...

We live and we make choices. Some of these choices are absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Some are not.
Choosing a combination of man pursuing a career/man not pursuing a career, woman pursuing a career/woman not pursuing a career, full time/part time/for profit/not for profit/at home/away from home...etc.
well, that complicated choice is not absolutely right or wrong. Each family needs to step forward, honestly and whole-heartedly and live life just how they've been directed. With regards to their individual giftings, opportunities and their families unique needs.

It's just plain silly to assume that I or anyone else (except you two) could ever really know what's best for your family. So, I am sorry you receive overt critisism. The pure ignorance of it must annoy and sting.

I've been reading for long enough to know your hearts. If your gorgeous children weren't thriving and growing and learning and'd make changes. Immediately. Know that this truth is evident throughout each post.

Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

As a SAHM (who used to be a lawyer back in the day) I have been very interested in the mommy wars since the beginning. I have to say that if I am honest about it, I truly think that a lot of the SAHM defense/offense is about their own inner angst. I have been a part of their conversations (conversations that a WM would never be allowed in on). I have often been truly disgusted at what I hear. It is no different than middle school girl sh*t. I am able to admit, at this point in time, that I wish I had not left my career. Now, 15 years later, there is no possible way for me to jump in where I left off. I don't want to be a part of the SAHM "clique" anymore. But I can't go back and compete with my once-peer lawyers (female or male -- they have simply put the years in that I haven't). Somehow we have to find a way to let all people be well-rounded in their lives. All-or-nothing just doesn't cut it in this day and age. I appreciate your willingness to put it out there. I know of no other WM blogger who does that the way you do. Thank you.
Jennie (a long time reader) in San Fran

Chapter Two Manmi said...

I've been a working mom since my kids came home a little more than a year ago -- working on my career and working on being my kids' mom. I want M to read this and get his thoughts...but no doubt he will agree with much. I have been fortunate to be home while working this past year through our toughest adjustments and I even dreamed about giving up my career to devote to it full time. But now that I have taken a new job that furthers my career in PR/Marketing (and into higher ed), I feel energized, excited, ready in every way. It won't make me any less of my kids' mom though I've had people ask me "what will you do with your kids" on many occasions. It will be an adjustment to not pick them up from school everyday but will they have less of me really? I think they'll have more. And when they are grown and gone, I'll be years further into my career. And that I like very much.
I completely respect a woman's decision to stay home and their contributions are invaluble to their families. And I also completely respect a woman's decision to further her career. I wish this wasn't such a hotly debated topic. To each his own. Anyway, thanks for sharing your opinion.

Anonymous said...

I don't get why this inflamed some SAHMs so much. I have re-read it several times and as a SAHM myself I really don't get it. He wrote "I respect the decision of stay at home mothers and people who have consciously decided to enact a traditional gender relationship. I also believe fully that women should be in the workforce in major career positions." He didn't write that he believes that ALL women should be in major career positions. He didn't say women shouldn't stay home if they choose. He does say that he thinks kids of working women are more self-confident, but that is just his opinion. I really just don't get why such hatetred coming out at this.
Clara in MT

Anonymous said...

sorry, Clara here again. I forgot to say something I meant to say before. He also writes (referring to WMs) "she's contributing to the world and to the household finances" but he didn't say that SAHMs aren't doing that. really, I just don't get the hatefulness. I must be missing something here??? Personally, I was shocked a guy could write something like that at all!!! Hats off to you Braydon!

ShannonC said...


The mean spirited comments always bother me.. but for the multitudes of readership that you have... they most continue to return if they randomly pop their head in to stir up some make believe controversy.

Those that don't "get it" ... just don't "get it" and they never will. They don't want to. They are clearly closing their lives and minds to mirror only what they choose to see.

I have learned so much about parenting and guts and bonding and attachment and pushing through the tough stuff, and being HUMBLE enough to know when to ask for help and learn to recognize when I am not the only one that will benefit my children, and how to laugh at myself and my family and on and on and on and on.

There is strength in what you write here and I am blessed to have found it... and empowered by it's messages. Thank you Johnson- McCormicks!!

Anonymous said...

Oh the labels...can't we all just get along ;-) I've been both SAHM for years and a big-career mom. Either way, neither title defines me. I just live life and enjoy my family.