This post was written by Alison Green and published on Ask a Manager.
It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:
How do you sensibly balance two “big” jobs in a relationship? My husband is an executive at a high-profile company, and I am the head of a small but very busy specialist department at my firm. Both our jobs are slightly flexible, but less and less (from the height of flexibility during the pandemic shutdowns) so we both need to be in the office most of the time. We have two little kids (4 and 2), one with additional needs.
We have two different philosophies. I think that we just work and parent and balance the two as best we can. If a conflict comes up (sick kid being the main example) then the person with the less busy day can take it off, or try to juggle working from home with the sick kid and make it up in the evening. My husband thinks you need to go in to each period or phase (or year or quarter, until Big Project is complete, etc.) with a philosophy of whose work takes priority during that period, so that at the moment if one of the kids is sick he would take the day off because it’s my “turn” to take priority, or if I need to work late then he will leave on time to make daycare pick-up.
This approach makes me uncomfortable! What if he has the busier day? I understand wanting a guiding principle but I think this is too firm. Up until now, I have usually been the one to take a sick day or work from home with the kids (my preference) but now he has a lot more accrued leave than I do. I took maternity leave with both kids with the full support of my job. I also think it’s hard to agree to any blanket rule; if it was his “turn” but I had a really important meeting, I don’t think it makes sense for me to miss that or reschedule just because we had tried to guess in advance who would have the busier or more important quarter.
We have thankfully never had to test the situation with, for example, both of us having all-day board meetings while one of the kids is unwell.
So, what’s the better approach? Do you or the readers have a view? We both grew up with a breadwinner parent and a part-time-work parent (who would default to picking up kids), and none of our friends are in this exact situation (also I feel like “we’re both critical at work” is a slightly obnoxious topic to raise with friends during a cost-of-living crisis). I also don’t think we should disclose any arrangement to our workplaces; this is more about the agreement about prioritization we have between ourselves.
I think that, like most working parents, we are just doing our best and muddling through, but if there’s a better way we want to know! How about the kids of these “two big job” relationships? What did your parents do right (or wrong)?
Readers, please share your thoughts in the comments.