The trouble with male managers whose wives do everything | Women's Agenda

The trouble with male managers whose wives do everything

For the next three months I will gain some experience of what it’s like to have a stay-at- home partner. My husband is taking long service leave and I am more excited about that than I should be.

In the past month I have thrown myself into two new roles: one an all-consuming full-time executive role running a joint-venture multi-platform business between two of the world’s biggest international publishers; the other an all-consuming role chairing a board. Our oldest son is about to complete his university degree, the youngest has just started year 12. Our home needs renovating, we don’t see enough of our parents and the dog doesn’t get to the park as often as he should. I will be able to hand over the planning of how all of that comes together without combusting to my husband – for at least the next three months.

For the longest time I have been asked the question “how do you do it”? It is asked of me so often that I no longer know how to answer it. A recent response: “I just do”.

It’s become a cliche for a career woman to state that she wishes she had a stay-at-home wife to take care of the other parts of her life. And yet some stay-at-home wives are surprised when they are told that their partners are lucky to have them. It’s as if they have no idea of the value of their contribution to the economy, let alone to their families.

In my experience, based on a broad circle of friends and acquaintances, stay-at-home wives tend to fall into two categories: those who feel proud of their important role in the lives of their family, and those who feel insignificant in comparison to their partner’s job. It may not surprise you to know that I believe there is a correlation between the self-confidence of those women and the lack of understanding their partners have towards mothers who work for them.

The stay-at-home mum who refers to the family’s finances as “his money” will more likely be married to a partner who needs everything to be about them. It’s a red flag for me when I meet the wife and it becomes obvious that someone has thrown a blanket over her light.

I once worked for a male boss who had no idea of the challenges of working mothers. He tried his best to understand but he could never get there. He clearly had never had to think about the needs and demands of his children because his wife did all of the thinking and planning on that front. She would tell him where to turn up and he would be there, most of the time. Because his wife made life so easy for him, it was also clear that he assumed she spent most of her day relaxing. So on the odd occasion when one of his female managers would have a mini meltdown trying to juggle everything he would show very little empathy.

The stay-at-home parent who knows that they equally contribute to the family’s wealth and well-being will often be married to a partner who treats their staff with respect and understanding. They will probably be team players at home and at work.

A manager who is plainly aware that it’s more fun to be the parent who works than the parent who doesn’t will likely have enormous empathy for working mothers who are not so fortunate to have a stay-at-home partner. I once worked for such a leader and it was a rewarding experience. She regularly asked me how I was, and how my children were. She also encouraged me to prioritise my kids and to stop feeling so guilty about everything.

I certainly won’t be taking my temporary stay-at-home husband for granted, but I am expecting it to change my life in the short-term. And who knows, the experience may even help me to understand the sometimes exasperating thought processes of those leaders who have never known it any other way.

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