Saturday, May 09, 2009

Partnership And Success

This review of the book Beside Every Successful Man intrigued me enough to read it. If you time-strapped reader like me, I would recommend reading up to the end of Chapter 1, skimming through the rest of the book which has the "let me show you how to get a grip on your life" delivered from on high ( I have very little patience for that kind of thing) and then reading the conclusion.

That should give you a good enough summary of the case Megan Basham is trying to make for women to come back home and walk beside (not behind) their husbands. The fatal flaw of her premise is that every husband has what it takes to achieve great professional success and that the wife would be better served helping him advance rather than doing so herself. As it turns out, mediocrity is rife in the real world and such sacrifice by women at the altar of their husband's "careers" can only lead to great disappointment to both parties not to mention the considerable financial hardship in many cases.

That said, I once used to be the kind of woman the author references in her book - a woman who found it most rewarding to support her spouse in achieving his professional (and personal) goals and tending to the family. Having a career was not nearly as important or satisfying. For the brief period of time that I was married that was the exactly the kind of life I sought too. Like Basham points, women like me are not a minority.

Then there was reality of being the sole-provider for a my child as a full-time working single-mom. It was quite a dramatic difference between what I expected out of marriage and where I find myself today. This change of circumstance has been very useful in helping me understand what I really want and what actually makes me happy.

I still think there is some merit to the author's point about some women being better served playing the supporting role in the marriage instead of being the main act in terms of career aspirations. The woman who could benefit from such a role would have an assortment of hobbies and interests that she can never find time to fully develop if she had a full-time career and domestic responsibilities to manage as well, her husband made enough for the family to live comfortably and most importantly the marriage was rock-solid. If any of these conditions were not satisfied, it would not work out for the woman.

If super-man is married to super-woman no rules apply - together they can make the impossible happen. There are highly successful couples who are able to balance very demanding jobs along with their responsibilities at home without missing a beat. They are simply able to get more out of their time and resources than most other people are able to. In this kind of partnership, both man and woman stand beside the other and are the reason for the other's success. One does not have to slow down or stop for the other.

If an average man is married to an average woman and as a couple they seek to be a little above average, two-incomes can be a way to fulfill that goal at least in part. Neither of them would achieve great career success but they can plod along together and have a better quality of life as a family. There is no sense for a woman in such a marriage to stay home and stand beside her man in hopes of helping him achieve success - he just does not have what it takes and no amount of support is going to get him there.

In any marriage, if one of the spouses is genuinely gifted and has the potential to be a huge success, it best thing the other spouse can do for the marriage is to help them reach that level. Some examples that come to mind of men who work full-time to support their highly talented wives, are Chandrodoy Ghosh (Mamata Shankar's husband) and John Shaw (Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw's husband).

Men have not played a supporting role in marriage traditionally so it does not come to them naturally or easily. It would take a very loving, generous spirit and a lot of respect for his wife's talents for a man to give up his own identity to enhance hers. Needless to say, these women are incredibly lucky to have such men in their lives.

One of the worst scenarios involves a woman who really is average but is convinced that she could go far if she dedicated herself to her career. She is married to a man who is average too but more aware of his limitations than she is of hers. Such a woman will demand huge sacrifices from the family as she pursues she Quixotic career ambitions.

The man is left to hold fort while she is out slaying the corporate dragons. The kids grow up nearly motherless and cling to the father like their life depended on it. If roles were reversed and the man were to have career ambitions that were out of proportion with his abilities, the family would still suffer but a lot less. The kids would still have a mother which makes a big difference to their lives at a tender age.


Anonymous said...

One big problem women have is they are uncomfortable with the idea of house husband. And this comes from not women who are superstars and have great potential.

Heartcrossings said...

Anon - In that scenario a house-husband does not make much sense does it ? He might as well work so there is a second income. For both average men and women, the spouse is better served working than not if the couple have aspirations (material mainly) that a single income cannot fulfill. Sometimes, the additional income is not enough to offset the cost of childcare etc in which case the best option is to stay home.

For a house-husband situation to work out it would require a man to be supremely comfortable in his skin married to a woman who is secure about herself, respects the man for the role he is playing now but is also very confident that he could be successful in the world outside home.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I was trying to make a case when woman of the house makes enough money to support the family. I would take liberty to quote 2 of my friends. Both went to top ivies in US and make six figure salary. I asked them what if they become very successful and make 5-10 times more than their husband. Would they be fine if their husband wants to become house husband. Both of them very NO ...They want their husband to be working even if he does not make much. I guess most woman are uncomfortable of introducing their husband to their friends as homemaker.

ggop said...

Great topic! Leave it to you HC for giving people a reality check on their talent :-)

The only guys who get a pass from their spouses at being stay at home dads are those who are successful in the creative field. (Authors etc.)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... what about a couple who are working on thier 2nd career (b/c 1st one didn't pan out)? In this bad U.S. economy, I'm sure this is occurring at great rates. Hubby & wife may be living in 2 diff states/countries. They may be going for 2nd degree at night. This can create a LOT of stress!