The Dishwasher Manifesto
Now for an introduction to another Sandwich topic: being stuck between career and responsibilities at home. Or, as I think of it, the Dishwasher Manifesto.
Typically people use “Sandwich Generation” to refer to taking care of elderly parents and children, but to me, this seems limited. As I noted when I started off, I (and people like me) are squeezed between 2 sides in a number of ways.
Even longer than I have been trying to juggle my responsibilities to my father and to my children, I have been trying to execute on the child-raising strategy on which my wife Nova and I long ago agreed. It flows naturally from our basic philosophies and our aspirations about ourselves.
The main tenets are:
(1) We both want to work. In particular, Nova wants to work both because she is educated and motivated, and because we want Sophie and Lily to see her do that.
(2) We are not going to outsource raising our children.
(3) We love our kids, and ourselves, enough to want to part of their lives as much as possible.
(4) We want to be active volunteers in the community and model this for our kids.
This is pretty close to the ideal that Sheryl Sandberg talks about in Lean In. Or, the ideal she thinks she is talking about. Since she lives in a rarefied world of hopping corporate jets when she travels, has an army of nannies and assistants, and a lack of elderly parents to take care of (I think), her model isn’t something we can copy.
So, to illustrate how this works in real life, I give you a rough transcript of a dialogue we had one morning emptying the dishwasher (my least favorite chore, by the way):
Me: “It’s not exactly fair.”
Nova: “What’s not fair?”
Me: “You expect me to have a satisfying career and earn enough to be able to live in Wellesley and take nice vacations, while helping take care of the kids, do a bunch of chores, and be on call if something goes wrong.”
Nova (without looking up from the dishwasher, after a short pause): “Yes.”
Me (nodding as a growing self-awareness rises inside me): “OK.”
Hence, The Dishwasher Manifesto. Here’s how it, and the constraints it brings, translates into reality.
I am the primary breadwinner. I want work that is fulfilling and challenging. Who doesn’t? But I cannot take a job that requires very frequent traveling, consistently long hours, or unavoidable regular evening dinners or other events. I can do it for brief periods of time as needed, and as an entrepreneur and someone who works on deals I often do. But it can’t the norm.
This means that I need a robust capability to work from home, or work in an environment where “family first” is not a social media slogan, but a reality. I need a CEO who either has kids, or is caring for an elderly parent, or ideally, is a fellow Sandwich Generation Member. Or I need to be an entrepreneur trading certainty for being able to set my own culture.
I also have my specific roles that I “own”. I cook more frequently than Nova does and manage food and meal planning. I am also the CFO, manage the bill paying, and a lot of the administrative functions around the house. We share a lot of the weekend, social, activities and vacation planning. Nova has just about everything else.
When it’s necessary, which is often, we have to both figure out who’s going to be home to deal with the sick child/broken refrigerator/package delivery/carpool/whatever. Because it’s not always going to be her.
If you are not COO of Facebook, it also requires certain financial choices.
Private school tuition breaks this model, so it’s out of the question. Although if you live in Wellesley and are going to pay taxes to support my children’s schools anyway, I definitely think you should consider it.
We are fortunate to both have MBAs from Stanford, so our choices are not driven by financial need so much as constraints. But many of our friends earn a lot more than we do. It doesn’t matter though – we’re not optimizing for this.
So, having an impeccably decorated or landscaped house is not in the budget. Significant philanthropy, the kind that gets you the notoriety that actually running a non-profit like Nova does not, is out. (For more on this dichotomy, I recommend this excellent TED Talk on the subject. People who give money to non-profits are heroes, but those who run them should be willing to work for less money. Odd.).
Nova and I say all the time that we don’t believe in inherited wealth, so we aren’t concerned with building up a multi-million dollar fortune. It’s true. That’s the ONLY reason we aren’t doing it.
Weekends are filled with detailed meal planning, down to which dinners to cook early in the week so that there are leftovers the kids will consume for lunch.
Nova’s contention is the husband this requires is actually the person I am, so it’s not like asking me to live that way is forcing some kind of sacrifice. I am living out my aspirations. She is right, which as a man, I can tell you does not make it easy.
Frequently I remind myself of our organizing principles of getting the most out of the limited time we have with our 2 children. It’s actually close to the minimum possible since we have twins who were born in June. (Go ahead, take a second to do the math on why that is. I’ll wait.)
This is the right thing for us and for them. Being with my family is my passion. I love being an involved father and as I begin to see glimmers of my kids as young adults, I have a weird sensation that our strategy is working. “Yesterday Peter” did the hard work thinking this through, and as I have in past entries, I thank him today.
But I still feel caught in the middle, and sometimes envy people who are able to pour themselves completely into their careers and passions, kids or not. I am just wired differently. We all are. Sometimes you need your spouse to issue a Dishwasher Manifesto to remember it and appreciate that this is why she loves you, and you love her.