In our LV mums’ Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money and parenthood. These views are theirs, not ours, but we look forward to opening up the floor for discussion.In the past, we’ve featured writers with ideas on everything from how to earn extra cash while doing other people’s chores to why one mum home-schools her kids.
In a recent interview, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said there was no such thing as work-life balance … unless you marry another woman. So we asked two: Today, one member of a lesbian couple responds to Sandberg’s comments.
My partner Raegan and I live with our 3½-year-old daughter in Lower Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I am an elementary and middle school band director, while Raegan is a high school choir director and holds two part-time jobs—one as an associate conductor of the Princeton Girlchoir, the other as a professional singer for The Philadelphia Singers.
For us, reaching a work-life “balance,” if it can be called that, requires no less effort than what we’ve seen in other heterosexual couples we know. After many discussions,Raegan and I seem to have settled on a work-life situation that, for the most part, we both enjoy. Our discussions were and are always about deciding and agreeing on what’s practical, what works, and understanding that that changes from day to day. (If I’m being honest, practicality is where lesbians do have a leg-up on heterosexual couples. We’re nothing if not practical.)
There is give and take in our relationship. Although Raegan works a full-time job in addition to two part-time ones, she does so because she enjoys those extra jobs, not because we’ve decided she has to work them. In fact, after recent conversations, Raegan has decided she will leave one of them–she’s finishing up the season–to make more time in her life for our daughter, even though it was something she enjoyed.
Still, despite any balance we may or may not have achieved, we’re here to tell you—no matter what the data might say, our experience is that being in a same-sex couple doesn’t make achieving this elusive goal any easier.
What Sandberg Says
When it comes to work-life balance, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made waves recently after announcing that she leaves work at 5:30 p.m. every day to spend time with her kids and that she doesn’t believe that balance exists, unless you “marry the right” man, or, better yet, unless you marry a woman.
While we can’t speak to the part about marrying the right man, it’s in the second part of her argument, the part where she says, “if you can marry a woman, that’s better because the split between two women in the home is pretty even, according to data,” where we beg to differ.
Data aside, we have empirical knowledge in the form of gay friends and straight friends, each in their equivalent of marriage. Regardless of the label on their relationships, each couple has similar struggles—who takes the garbage out, unloads the dishwasher, picks up the kids, takes care of the laundry, etc. Notably, both partners in all of the couples in our circle (whether same-sex or heterosexual) work full time, so the actual outside-of-the-home work is equal in these scenarios.
And yet, all these couples have squabbled over who does more than their fair share of chores.
I hate to break it to Sheryl Sandberg, but it’s true in our house, too—and that’s even with Raegan doing more than her fair share of taking care of the house. It is not the type of relationship that makes work-life balance equal, but the personalities in the relationship that make the difference.
What Our Compromise Looks Like
In our home, a typical workday begins with Raegan waking up about 15-20 minutes earlier than I do. She showers, gets ready, then wakes and dresses our 3½-year-old daughter. To indicate that she is out of the shower, Raegan yells my name a couple of times. I then generally roll out of bed, shower, get ready (all as slowly as possible, according to her), and go downstairs to feed our two dogs and three cats.
By the time I am done, Raegan and our daughter are downstairs as well, and I am being chided by Raegan for not being in the moment because, more often than not, I am skimming my iPhone for those imperative messages that have collected in my inbox overnight. One of us will make our daughter breakfast … if I’m being honest, it’s almost always Raegan. I make our coffees to go, and Raegan packs our three lunches (unless, on the off chance, I have done it the night before).
We each grab breakfast and are out the door. I drop our daughter off at preschool, since Raegan has to be at work 25 minutes before I do. Unless she has an obligation after work, Raegan picks up our daughter from preschool at 3:15, since she gets out of work before I do (See? Practical.)
Once we are home from work, Raegan may need to go back out due to her two additional jobs, depending on the day, and she may not return until well after our daughter is in bed. This makes her feel guilty (I’ve never put pressure on her or said she isn’t home enough), and that’s why she’ll be leaving one of her part-time jobs soon.
While she is out of the house, taking care of our daughter is my number one priority.
But when it comes to cleaning the house …
There’s nothing I hate more than cleaning, and Raegan has every right to be frustrated with that (and sometimes is). While we’ve never used the term “work-life balance,” this is what we’re arguing over when we fight about the fact that I hate to clean. I’m not good at it. The last time we tried cleaning the bedroom, I first went downstairs to throw something away. Then I used the restroom, then I (insert pointless, time-wasting task here) …
When I reappeared upstairs 20 minutes later, Raegan was pretty much done.
Which brings me to …
How Equal Are We, Really?
So does having two women in our home mean our lives are more balanced than those of a heterosexual couple?
Quite the opposite actually. We believe there’s no better proof than our own household that being gay doesn’t automatically solve the work-life imbalance issue.
Is it balanced that my morning duties include feeding the pets, pressing the button on the Keurig and grabbing my own breakfast, while Raegan’s include getting our daughter ready for school, making her breakfast, packing all three lunches and grabbing her own breakfast (while nagging me to hurry up and stay off my iPhone)?
Is it balanced that Raegan’s household duties include taking on the majority of the house cleaning? We both know it’s not. Raegan’s responsibilities are definitely more time-consuming … she doesn’t have the time to check her iPhone in the morning, that’s for sure.
Our personalities have led us to this point. For Raegan’s part, she just cares more about what the house looks like and is less willing to live with the mess, so she lives with taking on the majority of the chores (all while joking that our household chores fall into two categories: the ones Susan is willing to do, and everything else.)
And while neither one of us would go out of our way to take on a task or job that would be to our daughter’s detriment, it’s Raegan who would much more readily be the stay-at-home mum if we could afford it. What’s funny about this is that Raegan grew up with a mum who worked full-time and who also happened to do most of the chores in the house. My mum was a stay-at-home mum.
Our Secret to Work-Life Imbalance
And, funnier yet, the two of us agree that Raegan has a busier work life than I do, probably about a 65/35 split.
After reading about the way we split our household responsibilities, you may have drawn your own conclusions about whether you think we split our duties equally, but for the most part we consider it to be close to 50/50, since I drop our daughter off in the morning and take care of her in the afternoons and evenings when Raegan is working. Additionally, my household responsibilities include taking out the garbage, cleaning the cat litter, paying the bills and mowing the yard.
Still, in the end, for the most part we both know that Raegan does more for the house, and works more. What I would say about this is that, herein lies the reason it’s important to marry the right person whose beliefs mesh with yours—whether that person is a man or a woman.
Since she works more than I do, I should be doing more of the life portion of this balance, but that is not how it works in our home. What we’ve determined is it’s not about the numbers, per se. It’s about reaching an agreement we both can live with.
Absolute work-life balance simply might not exist, no matter your sexual orientation. I think it is more about obtaining compromise and finding the balance that allows you both to feel satisfied emotionally.
Only you and your partner know what works for you, and it is not up to the rest of society to deem it balanced or imbalanced; if the relationship is healthy and both parties are happy, then who are we to judge?
As a family, Susan Hinson (left) and Raegan Ruiz enjoy RVing with their daughter and their two dogs, Luke and Leia (the three cats stay home to hold down the fort); individually, Susan dabbles in amateur photography, and Raegan sews and quilts.
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