I’ve been sharing my recipe for “doing it all” or, more accurately, NOT doing it all.
When making my own “doing it all” recipe, one of the most important factors is who I let in the kitchen with me or, put another way, the quality of the most important equity partnership any family lawyer will have. I do not mean the equity partnership you may have, or aspire to have, in a firm. I mean the one you have in your home with, if you choose to have one, your spouse or partner.
Here’s a story...
I was shooting the breeze over tea recently with a colleague and friend. Our conversation turned to the juggle of kids, work, business, relationship, household. It’s a conversation had over cups of tea (and stronger stuff) by women everywhere.
She shared that her evenings are a race to feed everyone dinner, clean up afterwards, make lunches, and fold laundry (by which point her lovely partner is on the couch, watching tv) so that she can then turn to some work on her business.
Hold up! What? Back up the bus! “You’re doing all that and folding laundry while your partner is on the couch, watching TV?”, I asked.
Here’s another story...
A colleague revealed to me that she felt her professional success was despite the level of support for her career she received from her husband. Her husband viewed his work as more important than hers so whenever a child was sick, an errand needed running or someone had to be home, it was assumed it would be her who saw to it.
I have lost track of the number of discussions I have had with my girlfriends where one of us has said of one of our spouses: “Oh, but he is really good. He does a lot around the house” or “He is great, he cooks dinner a couple of nights and gets the kids ready for bed”. I have had many of them speak glowingly about my own partner for all he does around the house. I have never heard these amazing women say the same of myself, themselves or of another woman for all the domestic work we do.
These stories reflect a whole lot of what is going on in our homes.
Study after study has shown that although women have made inroads into developing careers outside the home, this has not meant that men have picked up more of the domestic labours in the home to even out the playing field. In heterosexual relationships, we tend to fall into lopsided, gendered roles in our domestic lives. Housework and child care are divisions of labour that have remained stubbornly gendered. Without a conscious and deliberate rebalancing, women find themselves doing the work of their fathers or grandfathers and the work of their mothers or grandmothers. Women also tend to carry the mantle of being the “Rememberer” in their household, being on top of the details and tasks that keep the household and everyone’s lives running smoothly.
(Throw in a pandemic and apparently the situation has become worse, not better! Preliminary data is showing that women have picked up even more domestic responsibilities during the pandemic. Even for couples who can both work from home, women reduce their work time more than men if there are young children in the home).
I look at my friends’ relationships and I see positive signs that this is improving, at least within our social/economic/cultural cluster. When my son started school, he was one of several boys whose Dads were equally sharing, or were primarily responsible for, their care. I am greatly looking forward to seeing what this means, if anything, for these boys' attitudes to domestic labour when they are all grown up. However, I still encounter numerous women who are disproportionately carrying the load of the invisible domestic work on top of their paid work. I write this, fully conscious and grateful of the fact, I have the privilege of being able to pay for some help and that the current “shecession” is impacting women who were already earning lower wages hardest of all.
What does this mean for us as family lawyers baking our own “doing it all” recipe?
Well, no matter your gender identification, if you share a relationship or marriage, I suggest it means consciously putting in the work to identify where the “doing it all” recipe between you and your spouse may need rebalancing and setting about doing what is needed. It means having challenging discussions about the value placed on the work we each do and what needs to be done in our homes. Sometimes, these discussions can be illuminating as to how much each other is already doing but not seen by the other. When feeling a growing resentment about all I am doing on the home front, a quick "stocktake" with my husband usually has me seeing that the ledger isn't so out of balance!
Frankly, it means men stepping up and being prepared to relinquish the comforts and benefits they derive from the continuation of the current situation. For my male colleagues, it means acknowledging the invisible work that your female colleagues are very likely doing while recognising the benefits to your own career that you get from any domestic ‘(in)equity partnership’ you may share. It means having the hard conversations about how to redress this at an individual level but also through the way our workplaces operate. It means following through on those discussions with intention and commitment to change. At the very least, it means that when a female colleague mentions she is struggling during a lockdown with child care interruptions to her work, you don’t react like that is a novel situation and then carry on with your normal expectations.
For women, it means allowing others to do more and, (here’s the truly hard bit for me), accepting things won’t always be done the ‘right way’ that you do them. If we complain about the way things are but are not prepared to let our partners take some of our load, we are losing our power to martyrdom. Do I feel a little rankle when the towels aren't folded by my husband in the just-so way I like them? Absolutely. Is it the end of the world? No. Is it better for me that I didn't have to fold them? Absolutely! This is a work in progress for me every day.
For my female colleagues, it means not acting like you are managing to do everything and creating an unrealistic bar for other women. In doing so, you perpetuate the issue. As Sherry Argov so accurately put, “When a woman acts as though she’s capable of everything, she gets stuck doing everything”. Its not that we are not capable of doing anything we set our hearts and minds to, its being judicious about the fact no one can do everything at once!
A while back, I gave a guest lecture at a local law school. Afterwards, I was followed down in the lift by a group of young female students who had attended the lecture. They were full of the vim, energy and optimism that one has before spending 20 plus years accounting for every 6 minutes of her life. “What’s your biggest advice about being a woman and having a career in law?”, they asked with the expectant hope (not shared by me) that somehow I had it all figured out. They waited for me to pass over the holy grail that would see them shatter glass ceilings, "lean in”to their career jungle gym, all while capably handling the senior partner who still hasn’t got the memo that the young, female interns are not there for them to behave inappropriately towards. My response was, disappointingly, none of that but was unhesitating:
“IF you choose to have one, choose your life partner well. Choose a PARTNER, not a husband, wife or spouse. Forget happily making equity partner at a fancy law firm if you haven’t got equity partnership at home”.
They looked at me blankly. For a moment I wondered whether, perhaps, to their young ears this was just a given; that they were living a more equitable gender balance. On speaking further with them, this was partly the case. More importantly, though, they thought they could do it ALL! Sigh.
I don’t have the answers. I am learning as I go along, making my own “doing it all” recipe up as I go, but I do know the best decision I have made for my personal and working life was to seek out and not accept less than, an equity partner.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this! Head on into The Law Lighthouse Group to let me know.
PS: If you want to read more, here are some of my favourite reads on this topic...
"Do Less" by Kate Northrup
"The Invisible Load" by Dr Libby Weaver
"Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg and https://leanin.org/