One husband puts his wife's career before his own

Sep 15, 2015

A couple of years ago we did an interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter, previously the Director of Policy Planning for Hilary Clinton at the State Department, and before that a Dean at Princeton.

She had written a piece in The Atlantic called "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" — family, marriage and a successful career. Maybe they could, she told us at the time, if some things changed.

"We can make it such that women and men can take time out in the sense of deferring promotions," she said at the time. "And we can change the way we look at both men and women and say, 'Look, wanting to spend time with your kids does not make you any less a committed professional.'"

Three years later, Andy Moravcsik, a Professor at Princeton and Anne-Marie Slaughter's husband has written his own piece for the Atlantic titled "Why I Put My Wife's Career First," and we had him on to talk about it.

On why he wrote the piece:

I think our story is the story of a lot of couples. Like most two-career couples these days, we began marriage expecting to have it all; equally intense in successful careers, splitting child care 50-50. Yet, as our kids grew up, they hit snags and required more intention. At this point in almost all two-career American families, the wife picks up the slack; she becomes the lead parent. But Anne-Marie’s career as a university administrator, government official, public intellectual, was more demanding and inflexible than mine as a professor. So we made the opposite choice. Now we’ve joined only 4 percent of two-career American families where the lead parent is a guy.

On the idea that women are "just different" when it comes to parenting:

You know, I think that’s a myth. Women feel it differently because they’ve been socialized to feel it differently. There’s a lot of interesting research on this: When guys take paternity leave early on, when they step into the role of being a lead parent, what happens is they evolve to start to feel the same kind of immediate concern about their kids that I do. I’m the guy that’s concerned about whether they’re doing their homework, whether they’re getting up in the morning, and I think about it 24/7.

On how his career has changed since becoming "lead parent":

I don’t travel as much. I’ve become less responsible than I should be about showing up for meetings that I committed to earlier on. It slowed my research productivity, which was very high earlier in my career. It’s been slower now, and I’m hoping it will pick up when our last kid is out of the house in a couple of years. So all those things are a significant cost. But then, as one of my colleagues said, my younger son will be off to college in a couple of years but my next book project will still be in my mind.

On breaking into the "mom circle":

Well since only 4 percent of the guys in the United States are lead parents, we’re a minority, and I think the culture of lead parenting is set by moms, and largely moms that are full-time lead parents. This makes it tough for guys to break in. Particularly if those guys also have a career. Working moms actually feel some of the same stress, right. So when I go to something, a meeting for parents for, let’s say, the school band, a lot of the moms are talking about, and this is a bit of a stereotype but it’s true, talking about book groups or gossiping about what the kids are doing, and I pull out my laptop and try to get some work done. That’s a disadvantage if you’re trying to be a lead parent because some of the key information about opportunities for kids passes through those networks.

On the idea of "having it all":

Nobody can have it all. Parenting, jobs, life, is one big trade off. But we can strike a much better balance than we’ve been striking. To strike that balance what we need is to give everybody choice and flexibility. We need to change our institutions and our values to make that possible, and the most important way we can do that is to make that choice and flexibility not just available for women, which we’ve done a good job at over the last generation, but for men. Because men are really stuck in a career-only option right now, and we can do much better by them. In that way we can do much better for women and much better for our kids.