Adam Waldron lives in the the UK with his wife, three children aged 10, 7 and 3 and a springer spaniel called Ellie. Adam works part-time and is responsible for the majority of the childcare while his wife works full-time. While working in a jobs they didn’t particularly enjoy, Adam and his wife learnt the importance of finding a passion and making a doing what they love. For them, this meant that Adam’s wife would re-train and Adam would become the primary caregiver to their children. Adam’s story shows how leaning in can be a team effort between a husband and wife and that the ‘traditional’ roles do not work best for everyone.
I was pleased that Adam contacted me about my Women Leaning In series saying he’d like to take part. I know my blurb calls for successful women, but I am just as interested in hearing any male’s perspective on these topics. Leaning in and, more broadly, balancing work and life when you have children is a topic that applies to both men and women. I’m very glad to be sharing Adam’s views with you.
What is your job? What does your work schedule look like?
Until recently I spent 10 years as a full time bookseller, while my wife stayed home with our young children and continued her job as a freelance copy editor. My job paid the mortgage but wasn’t anything you would call a career. The kids are now in school and my wife has qualified as a teaching assistant, so we’ve finally been able to finally swap schedules: my wife now works full-time while I’ve taken over the bulk of the childcare. I’m currently trying to start a career as a dog walker and blogger.
Have your career goals changed since you had children?
Oh immensely. I’ve never been hugely money driven or passionate about a particular career. I’m more committed to my family and being around for them than working all hours for a big company. When we first had children, the plan was for me to continue the ‘temporary’ bookshop job while my wife built up the (then successful) freelance copy editing career and once we had some savings, I’d study in Horticulture and become a gardener. Then the economic downturn hit. Publisher’s began to take copy editing in-house and my wife’s income began dwindling. Meanwhile, full-time jobs became scarce and I had to hold on to the job I had in order to keep a roof over our heads. In the end, it turned out to be a good thing as it forced us to realise that ‘you might as well do what you love’. We got to a stage were we both really needed to re-train and couldn’t afford to, but could no longer afford NOT TO either. My wife was at home and had always dreamed of going to college. She had both the time and opportunity to do so once our kids were at school. She leaned in and she’s leaning in big. She doesn’t want to rise to the top but she does want to be fulfilled and respected.
How did you and your family come to the decision that your wife would work full time and you part time?
When my wife returned from her first maternity leave, she realised that her priorities had changed and the work she was doing was as boring as hell. It’s hard to maintain passion and ‘lean-in’ if your job isn’t holding any interest for you. We agreed between us that she would quit and build up her copy editing portfolio, which would allow her to stay home and spend time with the baby (later, babies), which was also important to her. The challenge for me was maintaining interest in a job that became less and less temporary while I too desperately missed spending time with my kids while they were young. I worked long hours, weekends and shifts ranging from 8am to 10pm. It’s hard missing out on time with your kids while doing a job that isn’t that important to you.
I’d always wanted to be a SAHD so at the end of 2015, once my wife was qualified and employed, I left my job and stayed home to look after our toddler, and my wife is now following the career she always wanted. Kids and circumstances have meant that it’s taken a lot longer than we wanted but it has worked out for us in the end.
Have you faced discrimination in the workplace as a result of being a parent or as a result of working part-time?
I wouldn’t say I’ve received any direct discrimination but unintentionally certainly. I encounter a lot of people both female and male that think it’s weird that I put my family first over my job, whereas they wouldn’t so much from a mother. Employers will always favour those employees without other commitments who can stay extra hours and claim your ideas while you’re at home clearing up the puke. It’s not fair but it’s human nature and they’re businesses I guess. None of the parents I work with have particularly climbed high on the career ladder. Those that have have had to practically jettison their family and settle for being the provider only. I know two area managers, one male and one female who worked 24/7 and rose quite high but in the end where still made redundant with everyone else and then couldn’t resonate with their family. They ended up losing both.
Do you agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s idea that women need to ‘sit at the table’ and ‘lean in’? Do you think any of her ideas are applicable to you as a part-time SAHD?
I certainly agree that women should ‘sit at the table’ but with all respect to Sheryl, a lot of what she says wouldn’t work outside of her sector (and she has now admitted to this). A part-time or single mum can’t do half of the stuff she suggests and anyone in a lower ranking job these days (male or female) that goes in and demands a raise would be shown the door.
Also, adopting a male persona is really not the solution is it? Most men I know don’t like the workaholic, driven, tough guy bullying boss stereotype, never mind a woman doing it. Gender stereotypes are still here. I’ve had conversations with pushy female colleagues and wonder if people don’t like them because they’re women or because they’re assholes? Just be authentic. I know one female boss who did very well with what would be traditionally perceived as masculine traits but that was genuinely who she was and so she was respected. Likewise, a colleague tried it and got results for a time but she wasn’t respected. She went back to just being herself and she gets just as many results and much respect by being the empathetic, kind individual she is.
And what is ‘leaning in’? Really? You should always lean in and try to give as much time and passion to what you believe in, to get to the top, but if it’s simply climbing to the top of something and behaving in a manner that isn’t true to you, just to show that you’re as good as the ‘big boys’ then that to me is a total waste of time. The traditional ‘male’ way of doing things is totally outdated anyway. Heck, even many guys don’t agree with it these days.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, you need to own what you do and maybe the way to do that is to put aside those workplaces that still promote patriarchal ways of operating and build something new, something you can totally lean in to because it’s YOU. It’ll take time but I think it’s the only way to change society rather than trying to emulate what’s broken in an effort to change it from within. Yes, society needs to change its ways to truly allow women to rise, but it begins with each person stepping up and doing it for themselves.
Do you believe we can ‘have it all’?
Nobody can have it all. Sheryl Sandberg does not have it all. She’ll have sacrificed lots of things that she wanted to get where she is. As has everyone. The secret is to find your sweet spot – that balance of work, home and play – that you can live with. And this can change over time. Don’t be afraid of saying ‘I’ve had enough of doing x, y or z, it’s taking too much focus from a, b or c and that’s what is more important to me’.
How do you achieve balance between parenting and your career?
You have to accept that you can’t have it all. Sometimes you have to prioritise work when you really don’t want to. Other times you’ll have to run home for a sick child or a recital and your work colleagues will think you’re a slacker. You just have to be able to live with it and look at the big picture. And make it a realistic big picture. As long as you never totally blow out one for the other you’re going to be fine. You don’t have to be CEO or win parent of the year.
What do you enjoy the most about being a working parent?
I enjoy the adult conversation, the childish joy, building blocks of the adult AND childish variety. In other words the variety. People think kids are a great stress reliever but sometimes, going to work is just as good for you too.
What aspect of being a working parent do you find the most difficult?
Juggling both, feeling like I am doing justice to both.
What is one piece of advice you would give to working parents?
Periodically question if what you do is actually making you happy. Are you still passionate? Don’t live to achieve the standards of what any man or women tell you is the ‘right way’ to live. There will always be someone telling you you’re doing it wrong. Just make sure YOU are not that person.
What book or blog would you recommend to working parents?
Own It: The Power of Women at Work by Sallie Krawcheck and Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life by Paul Dolan.
Reese McMillan is a mum of two living in a small close-knit town outside…02 March, 2017