For women to compete fairly with men in the workplace, it’s not enough for men to simply help at home — they need to take the lead.
At least that’s what Andrew Moravcsik writes in an Atlantic essay published Thursday titled, “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First.”
In 2012, Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter published a much-discussed essay in The Atlantic titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which inflamed a public debate about women in the workplace and work-life balance.
In it, she explained why she left her high-powered job in Washington, D.C., working as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department to return to her family in Princeton, New Jersey, and she explained that for women to truly “have it all,” there first needs to be an economic and societal shift in America.
Now, in part two of the story, Slughter’s husband, Moravcsik, details his experience taking the lead as a parent while his wife ascended from one high-powered job to the next.
“From the beginning, Anne-Marie’s jobs at Harvard and Princeton imposed greater demands than mine, because she entered the university-administration track early on; she also accepted more outside leadership roles,” Moravcsik writes. “And, as we learned, intense jobs tend to beget even more intense jobs — a phenomenon that, in Anne-Marie’s case, led to a deanship at Princeton, followed by one of the highest positions at the State Department, followed by the leadership of a major nonprofit.”
During this time, Moravcsik says Slaughter was actively involved with their two boys’ lives, and is emotionally close to both sons. “But none of this is lead parenting. Lead parenting is being on the front lines of everyday life,” he explains. That’s the role Moravcsik says he was happy to take on.
“In my years as lead parent, I have gotten the kids out of the house in the morning; enforced bedtimes at night; monitored computer and TV use; attempted to ensure that homework got done right; encouraged involvement in sports and music; attended the baseball games, piano lessons, plays, and concerts that resulted; and kept tabs on social lives,” he details. “To this day, I am listed first on emergency forms; I am the parent who drops everything in the event of a crisis.”
This role has taken a toll on Moravcsik’s professional productivity, he says, but there was never any question that he would take it on, since Slaughter’s career is “incompatible with being a lead parent.” As he explains, “When a TV network seeks an interview, a CEO calls a board meeting, the secretary of state seeks your advice, or a donor wants you to travel to a fund-raising meeting, showing up is nonnegotiable.”
Moravcsik contends that many successful women in high-powered jobs have spouses who take the lead at home.
“A female business executive willing to do what it takes to get to the top — go on every trip, meet every client, accept every promotion, even pick up and move to a new location when asked — needs what male CEOs have always had: a spouse who bears most of the burden at home,” he writes.
Moravcsik says stepping into this role isn’t easy for most men, especially in places where workplace policies and expectations haven’t evolved to allow dads to take the lead without penalty. Social obstacles present a challenge, too, he says, as the idea of dads taking the lead still makes many people uncomfortable.
“A dad in his 20s or 30s who takes some time off to care for an infant is adorable. (Think of those Samsung commercials with Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell.) But a dad in his 40s or 50s who limits his work schedule or professional ambition to attend to a teenager is suspect,” he writes.
Few men can get away with tweaking stereotypes, Moravcsik says, and having a secure professional reputation that an Ivy League professorship offers — a luxury not every dad has — certainly helps.
When parenting networks are mostly comprised of mums, Moravcsik says most fathers have difficulty finding buddies from whom to seek support.
And while juggling parenting and career leaves many feeling inadequate at both, Moravcsik suspects this affects men more “because men are taught early on that we are — or should be — in control. Losing control is emasculating. But if you don’t have the sense that things are out of control much of the time, you’re not really a lead parent. You’re just helping out.”
Still, Moravcsik holds that taking the lead can greatly benefit dads. For one thing, he says it can make for a happier marriage, and for another, he’s able to offer a special form of parenting his wife might not. And according to Moravcsik, being lead dad makes life more fulfilling.
“Both sexes are trapped in the same system, which has defined a one-dimensional role for each,” he writes. “By being a lead parent, men can get what many mums have long had — a very close relationship with their kids.”
“At the end of life, we know that a top regret of most men is that they did not lead the caring and connected life they wanted, but rather the career-oriented life that was expected of them. I will not have that regret,” he concludes.
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