My wife is an accomplished professional. She loves her profession, and she’s damned good at it. But she is officially “unemployed”, and it kills her every time she has to put that down on a form. So how is it that she came to be unemployed?
When we met, MrsPal and I were both working full time—more than full time, actually. I’d have to say she was actually working quite a bit harder than I was. After we were engaged, an opportunity arose for her to cut back on her grueling schedule, but to do it she would have to quit her job entirely. For a variety of reasons, that is what she chose to do.
She became pregnant shortly after we were married, and it was not a pregnancy that would have mixed well with work. Over the years, by default, I have become the primary wage-earner in the family, and she has become the primary at-home parent and manager of the household (i.e. the one who does everything). Various conversations online and off have led me to wonder exactly how we came to this particular pattern.
We met fairly early in my career. I had spent the better part of my life in training, and MrsPal was already a veteran teacher. At that point, we could have made a conscious decision to appoint one of us the primary wage earner. We didn’t. We allowed ourselves to carry on working our usual pace, but I know she was wondering how to balance her home life and career. I was not subjected to as much of a conundrum as it was always assumed that as a doctor I would keep doctoring. As a society, we have decided to compensate teachers (about 75% of whom are women) far less than doctors, so there were significant practical concerns. We also don’t value pregnancy and early parenting enough to allow people to do it without significant risk to their job.
As my readers know, I love writing about fatherhood, but my ability to be a father depends entirely on my wife’s decision to stay at home and work her ass off. Sure, we could have chosen for her to keep her job, but that would have meant a huge sacrifice in income. And at the time we established this pattern, it wouldn’t have really crossed my mind. Now, though, I think about it quite often. Like many couples, we argue about the division of labor in our household. It’s a difficult problem, trying to make both partners feel their work is equally valued in spite of cultural norms. I don’t have the answer, but it’s important to acknowledge that it’s a problem; a problem of society, and a problem of individuals such as myself who allow their spouses to feel less than well-compensated for their work.
I’ll admit to some discomfort writing about an issue that involves me so personally, and that indicts me as part of the problem. But someone’s got to, right? And thank you, MrsPal, for being a great partner. I’ll keep trying to be one as well.