HAPPY AT HOME: HOW TO CREATE THE HOME LIFE YOU WANT
Everyone wants a happy and harmonious home life, and yet that goal eludes many of us. In this episode, find out why so many moms are stressed out at home, and what turns that around. I share with you the five areas of family life that need to be addressed, so that you can transform your home life from hectic to happy.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE
- The #1 cause for tension and conflict at home for moms
- What every mom needs to know about getting happy at home
- The skill that dissolves tension and conflict faster than anything else
- The 5 areas of focus to create a more harmonious and happy home life
Hello and welcome to episode 2 of the Happy Lawyer Mom podcast, the podcast that takes lawyer moms from beyond stressed and barely hanging on, to finally getting what you want at work and at home so that you can be TRULY happy.
I’m Charise Naifeh and I’m thrilled you’re here!
In episode 1, we talked about the six most common issues that lawyer moms face that interfere with their happiness at work and at home, and today we’re going to be talking about solving the first two issues that we discussed last time, which are motherhood inequality and marital inequality. These issues are widespread and they not only create frustration at home, but they spill over to your career.
So before we can tackle unhappiness at work, we have to address these issues first. Some people want to jump straight into the work issues, and if that’s you, I’ll be talking about that at length starting in episode 8.
But I recommend that you listen to this episode even if you’re not seeing a lot of inequality happening at home because inequality – however big or small – is a joy stealer: so if you’re not 100% happy with the way things are going at home, it’s possible that there is some form of inequality happening that needs to be addressed because tackling it will create a higher level of happiness for you and for everyone else in the family. That’s why this issue is so important and that’s why we’re talking about this first.
As I discussed in Episode 1, I define motherhood inequality as: mom putting herself last with respect to everyone else in the family, because of her role as the mom. And marital inequality is one spouse taking a backseat to the other spouse. If you didn’t hear Episode 1, I recommend that you go back and listen to it so that you have the complete definition of these issues.
Both motherhood inequality and marital inequality exists on a spectrum. I’ve seen extreme cases, where a mom feels like she has absolutely no freedom to choose the direction of her life and career because the weight of the family obligations is so overwhelming that she dedicates all of her time and energy to her family. So she ends up giving up what she wants so that she can serve everyone else in the home. That’s an extreme case.
And then, more commonly, I see situations where mom is giving up little things and it can seem pretty innocuous. It almost seems like this is just part of being a mom: you give up things for your kids.
For example, before I had kids, my husband and I used to go bike riding pretty frequently. We lived in Washington, DC, right next to Rock Creek Park, and we would bike through the park, down to the Potomac; we’d sometimes go all the way down to Alexandria. It was something we loved to do and we went out on the bikes pretty frequently.
When I got pregnant with my first child, I stopped biking, for obvious reasons, and then even after the baby was born, I never returned to biking. Our second baby came along two years later and I never once considered getting back on my bike. My husband would still take his bike out. He would go less frequently than before but he still went with some regularity.
But I never did. My bike was just accumulating dust in the garage and I remember at one point realizing that now that I was a mom, I just wasn’t ever going to biking. It was a luxury to which I was no longer entitled, because I was so busy taking care of what everyone else needed.
And with that realization, I also felt a sense of resignation: I was resigning myself to not being able to do what I wanted to do and I decided to give my bike away. I wasn’t using it and I thought, well, somebody should be using it, so I just gave it away.
This resignation that motherhood means being relegated to last in line and giving up what you want is something that I see happening in lawyer moms every day.
- Maybe it’s not a bike they’re giving up: maybe it’s other things that they want to do but they’re not doing.
- I see lawyer moms who are feeling stuck in jobs they hate, because it’s convenient for the family.
- And I see lawyer moms give up jobs they love because it’s convenient for the family
- Sometimes it’s leisure time, sometimes it’s spending time or money on their careers or something else they want.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that this is just part of motherhood. This type of inequality is driving moms everywhere to put what they want on hold because it’s what we think we’re supposed to do: we’re told it’s the definition of a good mother.
But what are the immediate and long-term consequences of this? There are too many to count, but here are a few:
- First of all, there is a dramatic, sustained reduction in your own happiness.
- I loved riding my bike. There’s nothing that made me happier than being out in the sun – or sometimes the rain – riding my bike.
- When I’m outside on my bike, my brain and body are flooded with feel-good neurotransmitters and hormones, while the stress-hormones are being cleared away. The exercise, the music, being outside, all of this works together to change my brain chemistry for the better every time I hop on the bike. And even though this activity made me happy, isn’t it interesting that I just assumed that when I became a mom, I would become less happy?
- And that of course impacted how I felt. It impacted my energy levels and my stress levels. Which impacted everything: my performance at work, my demeanor at home, my outlook on life: it’s a chain reaction that happens and it affects every part of your life. So that’s one consequence, but there are other consequences, too.
- When inequality is happening, what Mom wants for her career often takes a backseat to everyone else’s career – including the future earnings potential of our children. When professional women begin thinking more about their kids’ hypothetical earnings 30 years from now, than their own career and earnings right now, that’s a symptom of inequality.
- A lot of lawyer moms report feeling like they’ve lost the ability to call the shots of their own careers. They might have been doing just fine in their career until they became a mom, but after kids there’s a change in command: they’ve gone from being the pilot of their careers, to being a co-pilot.
- I hear from a lot of lawyer moms that they no longer feel free to drive their careers in the direction they want to go because now that affects the entire family. A common pattern is to defer to their spouses’ opinions on major career decisions.
- The problem is that spouses don’t know what we want as much as we do and they also have their own limited views about what’s possible. So if you’re taking career cues from someone who doesn’t know what you want or doesn’t think you can get it, it seriously stunts your career growth and leaves a lot of women feeling stuck and unhappy.
- Another consequence is that there will be a gradual chipping away at the way you feel about your family because when there’s inequality happening, the treatment of the person who goes last declines over time:
- And if that happens, you’ll always love your kids of course, but you’ll also begin to resent them after a while and it won’t be the relationship you could have had.
- Same thing with your spouse: You’ll probably still love your husband, but a lot of time when you think about him, you’ll be silently seething and that erodes marriages. You may not get a divorce, but it’s not the relationship you could have had.
- Another consequence is that our kids learn from us by what we model for them:
I see this every day in my practice in talking with adult women who are struggling with the aftermath of having grown up in households where motherhood inequality and marital inequality were modeled for them. One of my clients had some big dreams she wanted to create, but she wasn’t taking the time to do it because she felt compelled to take care of the house, the kids, the laundry – anything but herself. She was very frustrated and she couldn’t understand why this was happening.
It turned out that this woman had watched her own mom do the very same thing when she was growing up. Her mom had given up on her dreams to take care of everyone else, and the mother reminded her children of that over and over again. So when she became a mother herself, she felt the need to do the same thing: to give up on her dreams and busy herself with the house, because that’s what mothers do. That’s the lesson that she learned growing up and she took it with her into adulthood. Thankfully, we were able to turn things around and she’s now realizing those dreams while also being a mom, but it would’ve been easier for her if she had had equality modeled for her growing up.
So what we can glean from this is that what our daughters need us to do most is not to be selfless and ignore ourselves. If you don’t want your daughter to do that in 30 years, then it requires modeling something different for her now.
The same is true if you have sons. Another client of mine was struggling mightily in her marriage after becoming a mom, because her husband grew up believing that it’s mom’s job to take care of everything around the house and related to the kids. So my client’s husband took that expectation into his modern-day marriage – despite the fact that his wife already had a full-time as a lawyer. We were able to turn things around and establish equality in their home, but wouldn’t it be better if our sons just grew up seeing equality modeled for them, so they could take it into their own homes and avoid alienating their wives, avoid unhappy marriages, avoid divorce, etc.
So even though it may be tempting to think, “well, it’s just a bike, it doesn’t matter that much.” Or, “it’s just a weekend away with friends – I can do it later when the kids are older” – that type of putting what you want on hold and prioritizing what everyone else wants teaches your family that you go last, and that kind of belief snowballs over time and it becomes harder and harder to snuff out, and the consequences get bigger and bigger.
Okay, so you might be asking yourself: well, what’s the alternative? Are you suggesting that I put myself first and my family last? No, that’s not what I’m suggesting. That’s just inequality in another form.
What I’m suggesting is that you establish family equality in your home: this is where everyone in the family is simply equal. What everyone wants is valued, and everyone is playing on the same team to help each other get what they want.
What’s the first step to creating that? It begins with banishing both motherhood and marital inequality from your household: how do we do that? We focus on the following areas:
- First, we create housework equality, so that the care and maintenance of the house is not one person’s job: it’s the job of everyone living in the household.
- When housework equality is established, responsibilities are distributed so that everyone on the team is doing tasks that they can do, preferably the tasks that they most enjoy doing. And the tasks that nobody wants to do are either shared, eliminated altogether, or offloaded to third parties.
- Second, we create caretaking equality:
- this is where the caretaking of the children, pets, and other family members is viewed as a team effort, so that no single person is responsible for all of the caretaking.
- If an adult in the home can’t or doesn’t want to personally provide the amount of care that’s required, then they take ownership in recruiting help and allocating resources to find other sources of caretaking to cover the current needs.
- This is also the case even in a single-parent situation: help is recruited from outside the home on a regular basis so that the parent is getting regular breaks.
- Third, we create leisure time equality:
- This is where everyone gets to have fun and do things they enjoy. Everyone gets time for leisure, and that time is respected by the entire family.
- This means that the leisure time of some people in the house is never considered more important than the leisure time of others in the house.
- Rather, each person in the house has the same right to enjoy leisure time as every other person, just as everyone in the house has the same right to eat food as every other person: leisure time is viewed as fundamental part of health and happiness for each person.
- The fourth area is career equality: this where everyone in the family’s careers – including studies or future careers – are valued and respected. You no longer have mothers who are sidelining their current income for the future income of their 5yo. Everyone is free to pursue their own careers and interests, without guilt, and this is celebrated and welcome.
- And the last area is finances:
- This means that both spouses are equal with regard to making financial decisions. Full stop.
- This is true regardless of income: if you’re a part of the marriage, you have equal say to financial decisions.
- This is where everyone gets to have fun and do things they enjoy. Everyone gets time for leisure, and that time is respected by the entire family.
When you focus on creating equality in these five areas, you solve motherhood inequality and marital inequality, and you transform them into family equality. This also addresses the issue of depleted mothering. You’re no longer depleting yourself by putting yourself last: you’re able to get what you need as an equal member of the family.
What are the benefits of this? There are too many to count, but the main difference that people report is that the happiness level of everyone in the household goes up. Tension dissolves. Conflict ceases. Kids feel more grounded and less anxious, parents are more productive at work and happier at the end of the day, which the kids enjoy immensely.
For example, when I created leisure time equality in my home, it had an impact on my entire family. Now, I have a bike, which I ride nearly every day. I view it as a necessity and so does my family because they know that after I go out riding, I always come back feeling better, with more energy and more patience. After I get that time to myself, I’m more present with my family when we’re together. I also make sure that my husband is getting out, too: we help each other remember and we all feel happier getting the time we need. This is just a small example, but there are so many additional byproducts that come from creating family equality that add up to more happiness for everyone.
Everyone wants this: our kids want it, our spouses want it, and we want it: humans love both connection and autonomy, and that’s exactly what family equality allows us to create in our homes.
Addressing these five areas will change your family life for the better. And it will also help you at work as well: it will give you more energy and focus so that you can be more productive and engaged at work.
Okay, so how do you create equality in these five areas? Join me in the next episode and we’ll look at the first area that needs to be addressed, which is how to create housework equality: if you find yourself overburdened with household or family tasks, and you’re wondering how to lighten your load so you can spend more time relaxing at home, you don’t want to miss it. Have a great week and I’ll talk to you then!
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