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Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

woman-juggling
I finally had the chance to chat with a fellow preschool mom who I’ve been wanting to get to know better. We’ve talked about work a couple of times at pick-up and drop-off, and have been trying to have coffee for oh, about a year. Her work schedule makes mine look like, well, a part-timer who works from home most of the time. But today, on a fluke, because she missed her flight to China, she had a few extra hours. So we had coffee.

We talked about the usual stuff: kids, husbands, office politics, the juggle. And then she brought up one of my favorite theories ‘the big job theory.’ The idea is that even when two parents work outside the home, and even with a great nanny, it’s difficult for both spouses to have big jobs. If one partner has a demanding job, the other needs to cut back, or pursue promotions less aggressively, so that he/she can pick up the slack at home. If both partners are career oriented, what seems to happen is that the big job shifts, from person to person, as each partner’s career develops. Sometimes couples do this on purpose. And sometimes it just seems to happen over time. But I can’t think of one family I know where both partners have a ‘big job’.

So, my friend was telling me that her prior job, the one where she had line responsibility for a very big and very public part of a public company, was such a big job that she can’t believe she did it for so long with small children. And she did it with her husband’s support, because his job was less demanding. Now, she’s shifted to what she calls a ‘less demanding role.’ No P&L. Just a bit of travel: 10 days in Asia this month, 10 days in South America next month, 5 days of travel in January and February. And her husband is free to pursue his career goals more aggressively. At the time, I agreed, and we discussed how nice it was to be able to trade that role back and forth. But later, as I thought about it, I almost laughed out loud.

Most people, who hadn’t had her prior job, would think of my friend’s current job as a big job. And her former job, well, I don’t know how they would think of it. Impossible? I think of her current job as a big job. But that doesn’t really matter, because it’s all relative. And if it feels manageable to her, well then, it’s managable.  Secretly, though, I’m still impressed.

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I was trying out a new pair of jeans by wearing them around the house the other day, and I asked Mr. Daddy if he thought I should keep them. He commented on the length and the color, but the crux of the question for jeans is all about one critical component: how my butt looks.

 “They’re good,” he said, “better than some of your other jeans, like your skinny jeans. I think you should keep them.”

“Just good?” I replied, sticking my butt out a little for him to get a closer look. “I think they look really good.”

“OK, just stand normally.” He paused to reflect. “I don’t know, I think your jeans should make your butt look bigger, more luscious. These jeans make your butt look smaller.”

And here we had come to the heart of the matter. His criteria for making my butt look good is the exact opposite from my criteria. He doesn’t love them because thinks they make my butt look smaller. I want my butt to look smaller.

Needless to say, I’m keeping the jeans. We’ve talked about how various pairs of jeans look on me before, but we’ve never had the conversation that we had the other night: what criteria are we using to determine whether the jeans are good or not. And we’ve never stopped to ask: are we using the same criteria? This hasn’t really been a problem in my life becasue as vain as I am, we’re talking about jeans, so the disconnect doesn’t really damage our relationship.

But it is representative of something that happens all of the time: two people (or more) are discussing a topic, making evaluations, and disagreeing without knowing why. Without taking the time to discuss our criteria, we assume that we have a shared sense of what good looks like. It happens between clients and consultants. And it happens between managers and teams. Often, it happens late in the stage of a long discussion or project, once time has been spent and decisions have already been made.

In a way, the assumption of a shared standard is nice – it feels better than assuming that you’ll disagree with someone. But not taking the time to articulate those standards can have dire implications. Imagine, I could have returned these priceless jeans!

Authors note: This may surprise you, but the image above is not my butt. But they are my jeans!

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After the monkeys went to bed tonight my husband and I had an invigorating, um, discussion. I learned a few things.

One – not having a nanny is hard. Two careers, two kids, one dog and one preschool schedule, not to mention dinner, household repairs, laundry and a delightful 5:30 AM wake-up call this morning, leads to two very tired parents.

Two – sometimes, I need to be as thoughtful about entering into a conversation with my husband as I am with my colleagues and clients. Here are some techniques that work well when facilitating a meeting at work that I should have used tonight with my husband.

 1) At the start of a meeting, let everyone know why you’re there and what you hope to accomplish. We don’t have formal family meetings yet, but when broaching a sensitive topic of conversation with my husband, I think he’d really appreciate knowing why I’m bringing it up before we get too far into the conversation.

2) When you share information, let others in the meeting know what you expect from them. Are you telling them something just so they know what you’re up to or what’s on your mind? Are you looking for input into a decision that you’re going to make? Are you looking to make a shared decision? Clarifying this can help the other person be in the right place to give you the kind of response that you’re looking for, and can prevent ‘what do you want me to do about it?’ defensive attitudes that can take a conversation down a wrong path when all you really want is for someone to nod, take note of what you’re saying, and move on to the next topic.

3) Try a trial close. Sometimes, conversations continue far longer than they should because everyone wants to say their piece, and minor details are debated, discussed and debated again without much progress being made. Sometimes, you’re at an impasse and there’s real disagreement between the parties to a conversation. And sometimes, it’s hard to tell which situation you’re in. At those times, it can be useful to stop the discussion with a question: what can we all agree on right now? In my meetings at work, we suggest a way to resolve the topic and have everyone vote on whether they agree with that course of action. If we agree, great, we’re done. And if we can’t agree, we either continue talking or put the issue aside for when we have more information to make a decision. My home is also a place where we like decisions that are made by consensus, not decree. I think it would help some conversations end faster and expend less of our energy if my husband and I made an effort to call it and see if we could agree on a resolution to a conversation instead of over-discussing an issue. Best case, we resolve the conversation. Worst case, we pause it and move on to the things we really want to be doing. After all, there’s dinner, laundry, the house, the dog…

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