Whose job is more “important”?

October 14, 2011 at 8:28 am | Posted in small law, the firm, weekend | 6 Comments
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As any lawyer-mom will tell you, as stressful as stressing about your billable hours may be, just as stressful are the spousal negotiations that occur along the lines of “whose job is more important?” (This isn’t limited to lawyer-moms, I know — one of my doctor friends has the same negotiations with her doctor-spouse.) Weekends may subtly simmer with resentment — who gets to work on Sunday afternoon? Anecdotal evidence tells me that generally, unless she’s closing a deal, it’s the lawyer mom whose work takes a backseat, and probably this is because she’s on some type of reduced-hours schedule to begin with. So, let’s say because of those reduced hours or just because of the nature of their respective jobs, she’s making less money than her husband. Though I think all of us educated feminists are loathe to admit it, whether consciously or unconsciously, because we earn less money, even though our jobs are just as demanding as our spouses’, we end up losing that endless negotiation.

For me, this was one of the most difficult and stressful aspects of BigLaw. I was a junior associate on reduced hours, and I made rather significantly less money than my husband. He’s not an attorney, and I respect the responsibilities and demands that his executive position brings. But in my profession, I was being evaluated on a wholly objective standard — the billable hour. Whether or not I was on reduced time, if I didn’t bill the hours, I wouldn’t progress or succeed.  So if the nanny was sick or there was a doctor’s appointment or I didn’t work on the weekends, this had an immediate effect on my billables. And yet because I was the one working “part-time” those responsibilities fell to me. Don’t get me wrong — I wanted them to. But I also saw myself as the junior wage-earner and thus my job wasn’t as important. The billable hours slipped away, and I felt like a failure.

As you all know, I left BigLaw. I took a massive paycut. The upside of that paycut is an infinitely more flexible working environment — not to mention that I love my job. And yet here’s another upside: there’s no more job-related gamesmanship. My husband now makes much more than I do. In a way, he’s now the primary breadwinner. In addition, I’m not being evaluated solely on billables. So if he calls me at 5 p.m. and says, “Can I work late?” I no longer seethe with ill-concealed resentment. Or if he wants to go into the office on a Saturday, I’m a little bummed to miss out on the family time, but I don’t feel like his working highlights the fact that I’m not working (something which made me feel guilty and awful about my own work performance). If you know me, you know I am a flag-waiving feminist, so this next statement may sound very un-feminist: my husband’s job is more “important” than mine. And that’s OK. It’s our reality for the time being, a new reality and a risk we collectively undertook. Admitting it has taken away what I now realize was a corrosive undercurrent of stress and anxiety in our family life and in my professional life.

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  1. I’m waving my flag right next to you, yet my situation is exactly the same. What I now get frustrated by is the way this pattern has meant that my children don’t really understand that I actually do work too!!

    • I hadn’t that about the kids’ perspective (which I should have!). And then this brings up how we model what we want for girls…

  2. You have no idea how happy I was to see new posts from your blog pop up on my Google Reader this week! And here you’ve, once again, highlighted a dilemma that’s been discussed over and over in my home. Even without kids yet it’s a struggle (to a much, much lesser degree, of course). Who goes home to feed the dog or deal with last minute vet appointments? To meet the over repairman in the middle of the afternoon? Who gets to assume the other will run errands and clean up on the weekends so they can work for a few hours? We both have billable hours requirements, but one of us (::cough:: not me ::cough::) makes a LOT more money and it can be frustrating that that seems to always be the deciding factor. The resentment creeps in, little by little. But I think you’re right — that its about making a choice, and making peace (as much as possible) with what is best for your family right now. I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with my varying level of “importance” professionally vs. at home over the last few years, and the dynamic seems to still be evolving. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Oh, gosh. TOTALLY struggling with this right now. Forget about the money, I care more about the benefits. Although hubby is always saying I should prioritize my work and not think his is more important– so that is helpful. We’ll see what happens once baby arrives…

  4. Interesting, especially your last paragraph and your “new normal” and making peace with it. Glad you are posting again!

  5. I was the breadwinner for the last 8 years but I viewed it slightly differently. Because I had the billable hours I could have flexibility during the week (when my husband travels 2+ days a week) to meet the family needs so long as I “make it up” – although that might mean me working most Sundays in the office. Now I am not the breadwinner and my husband’s job has to come first but my company is one where EVERYONE IS IN THE OFFICE from at least 8 am to 6 pm (nevermind the 1 hour commute). So I can’t say – “hey, I need to stay at home and work from home today”. It is all very frustrating. I do agree though that I don’t get mad at my husband for having to work at night or travel more since I know his job comes first.


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