FAMILY EQUALITY PART 2: HOW TO GET THE CARETAKING SUPPORT YOU WANT
Caretaking can take a lot out of you, especially if you’re the default caretaker in the family. A heavy caretaking burden limits your ability to go after things that you enjoy and leads to depleted mothering. In this episode, find out how to change this dynamic by creating caretaking equality. I share with you the 3 steps to that will take you from a never-ending juggling act to real support so you can take a breather.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE
- How to recognize caretaking inequality and how it usually begins
- The 3 steps to creating caretaking equality
- Common obstacles that moms face and the antidote to overcoming those obstacles
Welcome to episode 4 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 your host, Charise Naifeh and I’m thrilled you’re here.
Hi there and welcome to episode 4.I’ve been under the weather, so just finally getting back to be able to record again, and I’m so glad to be feeling better. I hope all of you are staying well right now.
So today’s episode is part 2 of a five-part series of episodes dedicated to the subject of creating equality in different areas of your life at home: in the last episode, we talked about housework equality and today we’re going to talk about caretaking equality.
And I want to begin today’s discussion with taking a look at what happens when you don’t have caretaking equality happening: when you have the exact opposite of that, which is caretaking inequality:
Caretaking inequality happens when caretaking is falling to one caretaker in the family in a way that’s disproportionate to what’s happening for other caretakers in the family, and as a result, that person is overburdened.
This sets up a pattern where the overburdened caretaker enjoys fewer opportunities to have the kind of life she or he wants to have. It also creates a hierarchy within the family, where you have some people who get to freely pursue what they want and other people who don’t, because the caretaking responsibilities hinder that.
Caretaking inequality has greatly diminished as many of today’s dads are very much involved in the caretaking of the kids, which is something to acknowledge and celebrate.
And yet, in two-career families, particularly in demanding professions like law, caretaking inequality still surfaces.
- This can happen to moms or dads, but here we’re going to talk about how it affects lawyer moms.
- It often happens after the parental leaves are over and both parents are back at work, but only one of them is getting up every single night with the baby. That’s a sign of caretaking inequality. The overburdened caretaker is not enjoying the same opportunities for sleep and becomes chronically sleep deprived, which by the way, is a form of torture.
Because Moms do the nursing, it seems logical that Mom would be the one getting up with the baby at night. And once this pattern starts, it’s very common for Mom to become the default go-to person for caretaking, and when Mom becomes indispensable, she ends up exhausting herself.
Another way this plays out is that Mom’s career is the one that’s squeezed when there’s a disruption in childcare during the workday.
I saw a post online during the lockdown in 2020 from a lawyer mom who wrote: my husband and I are both lawyers. We both have the same billable hour requirements and we make the same amount of money. We both have court appearances and depositions over Zoom. So why is it that he goes into his office for 6 hours of uninterrupted work, while I’m left to deal with both my work and the kids by myself? She was posing this as a question to the group: why is this happening?
This is classic caretaking inequality. One person in the family is overburdened with caretaking and it’s affecting her ability to get what she wants in her life and career.
In some families what happens is that caretaking equality exists most of the time. But when something blows up with your spouses’ job, that goes out the window. And what do you do when your work also blows up at the same time? If you’re the fallback caretaker but you have your own fires to put out at work, that can leave you with the enormous burden of scrambling to sort it out on your own.
These are different ways that caretaking inequality can come up and overburden lawyer moms.
So what do we do about this? How do we replace this with caretaking equality, so that we no longer have a situation where one person is overburdened with the caretaking?
There are 3 steps to creating caretaking equality in your home.
- The first step is to Decide.
- This means that you look within and make a conscious decision that there will be caretaking equality in your home and then you decide what you want that to look like:
- You decide for yourself how much time YOU want to be spending on caretaking right now and how much time you need for breaks.
- This changes over time. You may find yourself wanting to do more caretaking at certain times – or you may find yourself particularly in need of some time to yourself.
- This will also vary based on what’s going on in your life right now. If you’re working on a big deadline or a trial, what you want will be different.
- There’s no right or wrong answer here – there’s only a simple decision about what YOU really want.
- Generally speaking, caretaking equality means that both parents are contributing to caretaking and they’re also both getting regular breaks. And it often means bringing in some form of caretaking outside the family as well.
- If you’re a single parent, then this means that you’re getting some form of outside support, so that you can get some time just for you, when you’re not working and you’re not parenting.
- This means that you look within and make a conscious decision that there will be caretaking equality in your home and then you decide what you want that to look like:
- Once you’ve decided to create caretaking equality and what you want that to look like, Step 2 is to Inquire to the other caretakers in your family how much time they want to be spending on caretaking right now, given the broader context of what they have going on in their lives right now.
- If you rely on extended family for caretaking support, then this inquiry can include them as well.
- If you or your spouse travels a lot, then the aim is to figure out what caretaking equality looks like when everyone’s home, and then you would have a separate plan for how much caretaking support is needed when one of you is traveling.
- The reason this step is important is because this problem is only truly solved when the solution works for everyone in the family. So this step ensures that the concerns of the other caretakers are addressed.
- Then, once you do that, the third step is to Find the win/win solution.
- This is the mutually beneficial solution that works for everyone.
- This looks different for every family, but it’s usually going to involve either redistributing some of the caretaking within the family or bringing in additional caretaking from outside the family, or maybe a little of both.
- For millennia, humans raised their kids in clans and tribes and communities that extended far beyond two parents. That support network is no longer a given for us, so today we have to create it ourselves.
- For some families, it might mean getting a night nurse for a few nights a week if you have an infant – or it might mean having a regular sitter in addition to the weekday childcare coverage, so the parents can get regular breaks when they’re not working.
- Other families will prefer to share most of the caretaking within the family: this might mean that mom is sleeping in the basement every other night after going back to work while her partner gets up with the baby. Or it might mean the parents tag team for each other so they can each get the time they need.
- The exact path for each family will look different, but the end result is the same: one person is no longer overburdened, both parents are getting breaks, and there is a network of support.
So to recap, the 3 steps are: decide, inquire, and find the win/win solution. These steps rearrange the order of what most people are doing when care-taking inequality is not being solved. What most people do first is to inquire: can I have this? The answer is usually some form of “not really”, so then from there, they try to find some kind of solution – not what they want, but what they think they can get – and then the third thing they do is decide this is just the way it is right now.
So we have to move the decision from last step to the first step: without a conscious decision this whole process falls down. The clarity of a decision is a powerful thing. Once you decide for yourself that this is happening, it will change how you show up and what you do, and it will change what outcomes you’re able to achieve.
These steps are clear and simple, but many moms struggle to take them. Why is that?
Let’s look back at the post of the lawyer mom whose husband was working for 6 hours a day, while she was left with the kids. What was preventing her from taking these steps and creating caretaking equality in her family?
This is a great example of approaching this situation with a question: she realizes that this is an unequal situation – but she doesn’t know what she gets to do about it. So she goes online and asks a group of moms: is it ok for me to ask for what I want here? Is it okay for me – as the mom – to even want this?
But let’s dig a little deeper. Why is she doing this? The reason that she and so many moms are asking first what they can have is because there’s an inner conflict happening:
She’s conflicted about what’s okay for her to want and what isn’t ok. Usually, this conflict is between the external rules about what it means to be a good mother on the one hand, and a mom’s own assessment about what she needs on the other hand. Every mother has a wise mama bear instinct that can guide us toward what is good for everyone.
But when the external motherhood manual casts doubt on that instinct, that’s when Moms lose their power. They become fearful and hesitant. They question and doubt themselves, and they look for external validation about what’s okay for them to do, just as this woman was doing by posting this question.
At the root of this conflict is a fear that if we don’t follow the external rules to the letter, we’re going to end up harming our kids or our families in some way. The expectation that moms need to take care of everyone else and put themselves last is everywhere, so many moms find themselves paralyzed or walking on eggshells, afraid to get what they really want. This fear cuts moms off from their ability to act decisively and powerfully as leaders in their homes.
As long as this fear is present, the entire issue of caretaking equality will be approached with hesitancy. And when you approach a problem with hesitancy, chances are, the problem won’t actually get solved.
Maybe you try some things like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. But if nothing sticks, you may resign yourself to not being able to do anything about it.
There was an undertone of powerless in that woman’s post: she didn’t believe there was a good way out of this problem. It didn’t appear to her that there was a win-win solution in that circumstance. This happens in a lot of families that have a lot of other challenges going on, and it just seems like there’s no way to get what both spouses want – and so you think “why bother?” And you feel defeated before you even begin. And maybe you never begin. Or if you do make an attempt, but you’re already feeling defeated, that defeat taints the whole process, which of course is going to affect the outcome.
Powerlessness doesn’t help us get what we want or find new solutions: it keeps us stuck.
And eventually, it turns into resentment or anger, which usually boils over in some way – but often by that point, most people are not really in the best frame of mind for finding a win-win solution.
Another issue that trips Moms up here is the worry that the other caretakers can’t or won’t do the caretaking as well as you do.
When this worry is present, it can seem like the only way to get the standard of care that we want is to step in and do it ourselves.
- But at the same time, when you get caught in a pattern where you’re always stepping in, it doesn’t give the other caretakers the chance to develop their skill, and it doesn’t give the kids the chance to adapt to new ways of doing things, so it turns into a vicious cycle that’s harder and harder to get out of.
Another common issue that can prevent moms from getting additional help is concern about money. Usually, this happens for two reasons: the first is that there’s under-earning happening, which is creating a cash flow issue. We’ll be discussing underearning in future episodes, but I want to say here that spending money is not always required to create caretaking equality.
The second reason is not because of cash flow, but rather because inequality is happening with regard to finances, which stops you from taking action to solve the caretaking issue. We’ll be addressing financial equality specifically in episode 7.
Another concern that moms have with recruiting help is the fear that the caretaking relationship itself won’t be all that helpful. I’ve talked to women who are hesitant to bring in additional caretakers because they’ve had experiences in the past where a caretaking relationship become yet another burden or source of stress for them. And so that stops them from getting the help they need.
This is surprisingly common. Mom finds herself going to great lengths to make the employed caretaker happy, while not setting boundaries or asking for what she wants. If that occurs, then the caretaking relationship can become quite draining.
If you find yourself bumping into any one of these obstacles, following the 3 steps will feel harder than it should. But combined, these obstacles create a perfect storm that explains why Moms struggle so mightily with this issue.
If none of these obstacles were present, moms wouldn’t be asking questions about what to do about this problem and they wouldn’t be getting stuck on this problem: they’d just be fixing the problem decisively and without hesitation.
But when you’re faced with this lineup of obstacles, it often feels easier to just stick to the status quo, even if it means burning the candle at both ends, rather than solve this problem. But we know that burning the candle at both ends isn’t really a sustainable solution because it leads to burn out.
So what do we do about this?
What we need here is a panacea that addresses all of these obstacles that are getting in the way of taking the steps toward caretaking equality.
Not a quick fix, but a remedy that permanently dissolves those obstacles.
And the remedy that does that is a skill. Specifically, it’s the skill of becoming an inclusive and internally-driven leader within the home.
What this means is that instead of looking at the world and asking “what can I do? What am I supposed to do here?” and following the external rulebook, you start leading from within. From that innate wisdom that you have inside of you that the world has tried very hard to make you forget.
And being an inclusive leader means that you’re leading with everyone’s best interest in mind: it’s not about you versus them – you’re thinking about everyone in the family.
And you approach getting the support that’s needed and setting the standard of caretaking from a place of certainty and strength.
Effective leaders know how to motivate people with both warmth and directness to achieve a common desired result without having to be doing all it all by themselves: no one would expect a managing partner of a firm to pe to run the daily operations all by themselves – and it’s the same thing with our families. Getting excellent care for the kids without having to be the one to provide it all of the time is a leadership skill that every mom needs.
Let’s look at the difference that this skill would make in the life of the mom whose husband was working for 6 uninterrupted hours a day:
- Instead of posting a question to others about what was okay and what wasn’t, she would decide for herself, based on her own internal compass, what is best for her family and for her;
- Then, she would approach her husband not with criticism – but with curiosity. She wouldn’t be asking him “can I have this?” Rather, the entire conversation would be approached with the certainty of a leader who’s committed to being inclusive and to finding a viable solution.
- There might be several possible avenues toward solving this problem, and there might need to be some testing of those avenues and some tweaking, until a solution is reached that’s working for everyone.
When Moms develop this skill, it teaches our families that:
- Mom deserves the same opportunities to pursue the things she wants to do as anybody else;
- It also teaches the family how to be more creative and inclusive in solving problems.
- If you have a spouse that is also currently overburdened in one way or another, this skill opens the door to fixing that as well because, again, the goal of family equality is for everyone in the family to be getting what they want.
- And perhaps the biggest shift that happens when moms develop this skill is that they begin to see their options differently:
- They go from asking “can I solve this?” to saying with a grounded certainty, “I am going to solve this.”
- They begin to show up differently and take action to get the support that they need, so that they’re no longer overburdened and stressed out about the kids’ care.
- As a result, they begin to feel better and have more energy. They’re no longer exhausted and overextended, so their careers and lives become more manageable.
- And having a network of support for caretaking – including back-up care -alleviates a huge amount of lawyer mom stress and anxiety.
A question I sometimes hear is: can I create caretaking equality when my spouse and I have different work situations? Like if my spouse works more than I do, or is the primary breadwinner? Or travels frequently? Can I still create equality of caretaking?
- The answer is yes: you still follow the 3 steps: you still get to decide: what do I want here, in this circumstance? And you still inquire what your spouse wants in that circumstance. And you still find the win-win solution in that circumstance.
- And it’s also important to remember that caretaking equality doesn’t always mean exactly 50/50 with regard to time: the goal here is that everyone has the same opportunities to get what they want, and since we all want different things, this will look different for everyone.
- Equality can happen in all kinds of family circumstances: when one spouse is working and other isn’t; when both spouses have big careers; when one or both spouses travel: it’s not the circumstances that determine whether equality can exist. It’s what the family members are doing to create equality in those circumstances, which is determined by their level of skill. Those who have the skill of leading from within to create favorable outcomes for everyone are the ones who create family equality.
The skill of becoming an inclusive and internally-driven leader within the home reverses the trend of moms doubting themselves and it also puts them in a position of strength within the family. One of the attributes of feminine leadership is finding solutions that work for everyone: and that’s exactly what happens when Moms develop this skill. They help everyone in the family – including themselves – get what they want.
It’s an important skill that we work on in a weekly group call in the Happy Law Mom program.
Leadership is as much about your mental game as it is what you do and what you say. Both the internal state of mind and the external actions are critical to creating results that work, so in this program, we work on both. And when Moms begin to apply this leadership skill in different situations inside and outside of the home, their confidence grows as they begin to realize their own ability to effect the change they want.
That’s the power of this one skill and that’s why we spend so much time in the program developing this skill.
Ok, so once you’ve created caretaking equality and housework equality, you’re probably going to have a little more time on your hands for the next area of focus, which is leisure time equality.
Doing things you enjoy or having time for fun is often the first thing to go when you’re a lawyer mom – but it’s key to a healthy and happy life. So join me next week to hear about how to create leisure time equality in your family so that you can have more time to rest and recharge.
Thank you so much for being here today and have a wonderful week!
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