I think a lot about male-female dynamics and roles in a marriage or partnership. My husband and I have what you might call a “traditional” set-up–he goes to work, I stay home and do the child-rearing. But truth be told, this is an economic decision. If I worked in a field where I made a lot of money, Henry would be the one to stay home. Alas, I am a teacher and he is a systems engineer, so he will always have more earning power than me. But with this reality comes a heavy burden on his part. There’s a lot of pressure to work hard to support a growing family, and sometimes that means taking jobs that don’t make you excited to go to work everyday.
I feel pretty strongly that it is not healthy to sacrifice for your family at the expense of your own happiness. An unhappy spouse and parent is toxic to the whole family. This doesn’t mean being selfish but it does mean that it’s okay to take your own needs into consideration. When I was pregnant with Alice, I was profoundly unhappy at my teaching job and Henry supported me when I left that job, even though I had many months left before the birth. I’ve always encouraged Henry to take trips and vacations without me, if that was something he wanted to do. One year, he went to Italy for a week to a friend’s wedding. It was too expensive for the four of us to go there together but I felt that he should be there at least, and so he went alone, with my blessing, and had an amazing time. Much better for him than staying home, and wishing he were in Italy, celebrating his long-time friends.
When Henry was laid off two years ago, he found a new job pretty quickly but that job turned out to be at odds with his own professional goals. He was offered an amazing opportunity to interview for what is basically his dream job. The catch? The job was in San Antonio. (If you missed it, we live in Connecticut.)
For a variety of reasons, I was not willing to relocate. I could tell that Henry was really excited about this job, so I urged him to ask about a remote position. Lo and behold, it turned out that the company was just beginning to open up remote positions. He did a whole mess of phone interviews, he flew down there for a face to face interview and killed them all with his intelligence, talent and passion. So, of course, he got a job offer. But there was yet another catch: the offer required him to be in Texas for a year. I definitely was not willing to uproot our lives and the kids just to move to Texas for a year. So, I told him to go–we’d wait for him here. He didn’t want to do it; he worried about leaving me here alone with the kids, he worried about missing us and being lonely but I told him he couldn’t go on being stuck in jobs that didn’t make him happy or excited. And he knew it, too. At this stage in his career, he deserved a job that would utilize his strengths and encourage his professional growth.
A lot of people think I’m nuts for encouraging him to go. But why is it nuts to want your husband to be happy, to take an opportunity to pursue something he deserves? A year is nothing in the grand scheme of things, and if it all pans out, the payoff will be huge for him, for us, for our family. When we get married, we don’t suddenly morph into a single person. I’m still very much the same person I was before we got married and had kids, with the same need for independence and solitude, and I take it upon myself to make sure those needs are met. In fact, we both do. We look out for each other. I think that is the key to our marriage–it isn’t perfect by any means but we work hard to understand each other, and support each other, with varying degrees of success.
So, we’re here, and he’s there. To get his emails describing his days at the company, all the things he’s excited about makes my heart swell, and tells me that this is worthwhile, this sacrifice that we’re making as a family was the right thing to do.