A lawyer in Atlanta who removed herself from the partner track in favor of working from home one day a week is married to a man who had made the same decision. A nonprofit lawyer married to an information architect at an advertising agency described flexible schedules for both partners that allowed them to limit their paid childcare and spend time with their children in the mornings and afternoons. Both spouses liked that their jobs didn’t demand tons of time away from the family, and neither spouse was interested in moving into a higher position at work that might mean more hours, even though it might also mean more money, prestige, or new challenges to tackle.
And in a few cases, couples have switched roles over the course of their marriage. A lawyer for the State Department married to a man pursuing a graduate degree in International Relations came home one day, after years supporting the family and their four children, and told him that she was done juggling a demanding career with parenthood and that it was his turn. So did a woman in Connecticut who had been moving up the ladder at her corporate-training job while her husband stayed home to care for their son. And a former-teacher-turned-stay-at-home-mom outside of Chicago, married to a trader at an investment bank, told us that she and her husband had talked about trying to get her screenwriting career going so that he could slow down and possibly switch careers. She’d recently received a prominent screenwriting fellowship, and was optimistic about her chances in that industry.
So is it the case that modern marriages with children, and without access to unlimited expensive childcare, can only support a constant level of ambition? And if so, how conscious were the couples’ decisions to shift ambition across partners? Did the bulk of our high achievers knowingly marry the type of man who would be willing to scale back his career in favor of hers, or was it random? Does the personality type that creates a strong, successful executive gravitate toward the type of partner who might be more interested in staying home and raising children? Or, perhaps a high degree of career success is only attainable if one spouse stays home. Maybe today’s work and parenting worlds are so all-encompassing and demanding that there is only room for one person to have a big career while the other takes on the full-time responsibilities of running a home and raising children. Most of our former classmates weren’t sure.
“What would my life have been like if I had an equally ambitious partner?” wondered the senior rabbi, shrugging. “I have a husband who may not buy me diamonds from Cartier but who is incredibly supportive in sharing the parenting, and who gets to do work that he finds meaningful.”
Several others thought that their career success had been driven by a combination of financial need and personality, but were mixed on the degree to which having a stay-at-home spouse had benefited their career.