Mogul, Mom, and Maid

December 8, 2013

"My house is dirty. While my husband has the time to clean, he has no interest. And I have neither the time nor the interest." - Liz O'Donnell

The other week I interviewed Liz O'Donnell, proprietor of the blog Hello Ladies and author of the new book, Mogul, Mom & Maid. Liz's book is one of quite a few coming out on women and work, and how women's home lives interfere with their work lives, yet it was in the works long before she or any of us knew about Lean In. Liz is the sole breadwinner in her family - her husband is the at-home parent to their two kids - and she wrote the book because while having a drink with a (working) mom friend one day, she was amazed to hear the woman say that her husband "complained if he got back from work and the kitchen was a mess." Since Liz and her husband were happily living non-traditional gender roles, she hadn't realized '50s norms still popped up elsewhere in her circle. For the book, she talked to scores of women about their lives and how they navigated the messy intersection of career and family.

My next show will feature Liz on why it's still far from an ideal world for American working mothers - and to some extent parents - and what we can do about it. Anyone who listens to the show or reads this blog knows how layered and complicated this topic is - Liz's book brings that home by detailing the stories of multiple women managing homes, careers, families and school schedules.

In the meantime, here are a few takeaways.

Schools need to catch up to modern life. Despite the fact her children's school is well aware she's at work in Boston while her husband is at home in the suburbs, if one of her kids is sick, the school calls her. Also, the scheduling drives her and many other parents nuts. Many schools plan events at short notice, meaning working parents often can't cancel work commitments to attend.

Women still do more housework than men and it eats their time at home. Often, women complain their spouse 'just doesn't see' the mess. Liz suggests women loosen up when it comes to cleanliness if they want to maintain some semblance of fun and/or sanity at night and at the weekends. She claims she and her husband haven't made their bed for years. Try dropping some 'must-do' domestic task for a week, she urges, and see how things go. You may get used to it, and in doing so, gain back some precious time.

Women are still, in general, the ones doing all the thinking about the house and the kids, and that affects their ability to be fully 'on' at work, because it sucks their mental energy. Even if their husband is a 'hands-on father', in the case of almost every woman Liz spoke to for the book, the couple defaulted to traditional gender roles when it came to worrying: the women were the ones whose headspace was taken up thinking about doctors' appointments, travel arrangements, furniture deliveries, etc.  Some of this, again, may happen because women either consciously or unconsciously see it as their role to handle all this domestic stuff. But surely it's worth having a conversation with a spouse about sharing some of this under-the-radar yet time-sucking cognitive space?

Motherhood is not necessarily a woman's most important job. "That phrase crops up in the media" all the time, says Liz, "You even have the president saying it. And I don’t buy it, for a number of reasons. One reason [if we're going to think this at all] is that we have to shift from 'motherhood' to think that parenting is most important job."

You'll hear more from Liz in the show coming out on December 15th.