I’ve noticed many more men at pick-up from school and camp, soccer practice and birthday parties. The women? They’ve gone back to work because there are more jobs available in their fields.
In a recent BusinessWeek.com article, Peter Coy writes:
They eat from the same dishes and sleep in the same beds, but they seem to be operating in two different economies. From last November through this April, American women aged 20 and up gained nearly 300,000 jobs, according to the household survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, American men lost nearly 700,000 jobs. You might even say American men are in recession, and American women are not.
What’s going on? Simply put, men have the misfortune of being concentrated in the two sectors that are doing the worst — manufacturing and construction. Women are concentrated in sectors that are still growing, such as education and health care.
Yep. That’s what’s going on in my home. No one needs architects right now because the housing market got flushed down the toilet with the rest of the construction business. My job as a mental health professional? As my former boss liked to say, “When times are good, business is good. When times are bad, business is better!” So I’m working more, and Eric is working less. We essentially traded places.
Like all major adjustments, the transition has included its share of awkwardness. That’s why I’m going to share a few tips that have worked for us.
1. Say thank you. Often.
Honestly, what has helped us most during these months are our brief emails to each other. I will often write him a note like this: “I appreciate your picking the kids up from school today and for folding the laundry. You are a wonderful father, and I’m glad the kids get this time with you.” He often sends me an email like this: “Thanks for working so hard and for being so productive. I’m glad your career is going somewhere.”
2. Respect each other.
I remember the bridal shower I attended where each person in the room had to share one piece of marriage advice. A woman who had been married for 40 years said this: “Be nice to each other.”
It was so simple, and yet so profound.
My writing mentor Mike always reminds me to “err on the side of compassion.” So right when I’m about to storm into the kitchen… or the location of the mayhem … and tell Eric to stop shouting at the kids, and tell the kids to stop driving their dad insane, I will take a few deep breaths, say to myself that they are fine, that this stuff happened all the time when I was with them … it’s just that Eric couldn’t hear it from his office down the road. Moreover, I can’t go stomping into his turf, because I need to respect him and the job he’s doing.
3. Communicate clearly.
This is probably the hardest step. First, I think it’s important to know when NOT to say anything: when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT, I learned in 12 step meetings). So, in the three minutes you have after lunch, there’s your window of opportunity!
John Grohol outlines some great tips for better communication in his post, “9 Steps to Better Communication Today”:
- Stop and listen. When we’re knee deep within a serious discussion or argument with our significant other, it’s hard to put aside our point for the moment and just listen.
- Be open and honest with your partner. Being open means talking about things you may have never talked about with another human being before in your life. It means being vulnerable and honest with your partner, completely and unabashedly.
- Pay attention to nonverbal signals. Most of our communication with one another in any friendship or relationship isn’t what we say, but how we say it.
- Communicating is more than just talking. To communicate better and more effectively in your relationship, you don’t only have to talk. Some couples also find that using email or another method is easier to discuss emotional issues rather than trying to do so face-to-face.
4. Stay flexible. And give.
Eric and I have an advantage here. Both of our jobs are very flexible. To a certain extent, we make up our schedule. But we didn’t land these jobs in a stroke of good luck. We made conscious decisions all along, to go with the more flexible job over the higher-paying one. I know that Eric could easily work for a prestigious Washington, D.C.-based architecture firm, commuting to the city on top of long hours. He opted instead for a flexible position around the corner because he knew that working was important to me, too, and that if he took a D.C. job I wouldn’t be able to keep a finger in my career.
In that vein, I like to think of this time … when he doesn’t have much work and I do … as giving back to him … as a way of thanking him for the choices he has made in the past for me and for our family. Staying flexible, for us, means thinking as a family, not necessarily as an individual.
5. Revisit priorities and commitments.
Eric and I never call a “commitments” or “priorities” meeting.” We’re far too disorganized for that. However, we do analyze our priorities quite often… usually after running into some of our friends that seemed much less stressed out than we are.
We revisit our commitments.
- We don’t want to hire a full-time nanny or au pair.
- We don’t want to use full-time daycare.
- We would both like to continue working.
Since we don’t have a lot of outside help from our families, that makes our goals very difficult to attain. Something, ultimately, has to give: our marriage, our jobs, time with kids, or all the housekeeping and domestic tasks in which June Cleaver excelled.
We chose D: the plants, the laundry, the stains on the walls.
As long as we keep on remembering that we chose this route–we chose this set of priorities, and we chose them together as a couple–then the stress over us becomes less debilitating.
6. Think outside the box.
It’s important to know that you have options today, especially given all the technology available. If you’ve been laid off and can’t get another job like the one you just had, that doesn’t mean you can’t use your talents, skills, and services in a slightly different capacity … part-time or full time.
I’ve seen folks pursue a part-time job at the bookstore, dally in graphic design, wait tables … anything that gets them out of the house and generates a few bucks. Think for a moment: Is there any way you can use your skills as a consultant? Can you ask some of the contacts you’ve made over the years if there is a service you can provide? Be creative. Broaden your view. Open your mind to a new way of working.
7. Make some rules. Get a system.
Eric and I did have to adopt some appropriate procedures for processing the reams of paper sent home in the kids’ school bags, not to mention all the emails about soccer practice, Cub Scout meetings, and community news. For about three months, whenever I’d get an email from the school, I presumed he was handling it. He thought I had it. Thus, we missed out on the summer homework we were supposed to order, soccer signups for next fall, and oh, those damn letters of the alphabet we were supposed to cut out every week.
“Okay, we need a system,” I said, after I got reprimanded from Katherine’s teacher on not cutting out letters D through X. “From here on out, you put all the papers about school stuff on my desk. And I will presume you are handling all the emails unless you forward something to me. Does that work?”
It did work. Not full proof, you know, but good enough.
8. Don’t forget to laugh.
As I discussed in my post “9 Ways Humor Heals,” a sense of humor is absolutely crucial here because humor combats fear. And when you don’t know how you are going to pay your next bill … or find another job, fear can take over your life. Laughter forces a few steps–some much-needed distance– between a situation and our reaction. We all would do well to follow the advice of Leo Buscaglia: “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”