Carolyn Hax: Neither spouse wants to work again after parental leave

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: What do you do when neither spouse is happy with the working and income-generating grind? My husband and I had an agreement that when each of our children were born, I would take my maternity leave and then he would take a leave of similar length when I returned to work. We are finding now, after the arrival of our second baby, that neither of us wants to go back.

I earn more money, and thus I have to return to work, but I am equally unhappy with the weekly grind and resent feeling like a worker bee. We split the domestic work equally even though I’m working elsewhere and he’s not, but that isn’t even really what bothers me. Taking alternating, intermittent breaks isn’t really going to let either of us build a career, so how do we manage if neither of us wants to be the breadwinner?

Anonymous: Welcome yourselves to one of the least exclusive clubs ever?

And get back to work, at least for now, knowing it’s in service of the family you built, and I mean both of you, because caring for two small children is work.

Then, at your own pace, do a larger rethink of what you two do for a living, where you live, and how cheaply you can live while still 1. giving your kids a healthy start and 2. giving each other a standard of living that isn’t so tight that it’s stressful. Start asking and answering some bigger questions: Why is it important that you “build a career?” More money, more satisfaction, more purpose? Do these reasons outweigh the advantages of taking alternating, intermittent breaks?

This is an individual answer that is begging for a national rethink, since so many things going on in the economy and politics and public health are tied into the realities of working to support ourselves, and the exhaustions and inequalities thereof. But right now you two need to figure out what professional directions to take and how to allocate your resources. Big picture. It’s more work short term, but well worth it, I predict.

To: Worker Bee: Have you heard of the FIRE — Financial Independence Retire Early — movement? You are not alone, and there are great resources within the community on optimizing your work-spend-cost of living arithmetic.

Dear Carolyn: My husband did something yesterday that was unquestionably thoughtless and I felt it showed a deep lack of respect for my time. I was stunned in the moment but raised it last night and calmly explained that my feelings were hurt.

My husband basically shrugged and said they shouldn’t be. That was his entire response. I am now more livid than I was before and can barely look at him. I would have been okay with, “Sorry I hurt your feelings. It wasn’t intentional.” But now it feels like he doubled down on the lack of respect for me. Where do we go from here?

Livid: Walk, work and exercise off as much as the anger as you can, using that time to think it through, then go back in there. “I’m still upset about [the thoughtless thing], and I took your response last night as being told how I ‘should’ feel. I would like to understand this from your perspective.”

See what he has to say. And if it’s not okay with you, then say, “This is not okay with me.” And spell out as calmly as you can the message you’re getting from him, including how unbothered he is that you’re bothered. You can’t change his behavior for him, but you can demonstrate its impact (and escalate it to counseling). Good luck.

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