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Getting to 50/50: The Life-Changing Journey

Contributors: Joanna Strober and Sharon Meers

We are two working moms who believe that everyone wins when men are full parents and women have full careers. When both parents pay the bills and care for kids, this life is possible—we know from experience. In our homes, we don’t assume that Mom is destined to be the “primary parent.” Our kids see Dad as equal to Mom because we set it up that way. True, we did 100 percent of the breast-feeding and sometimes only we can make the monster under the bed disappear. But Dad loves parenting as much as we do—and he’s good at it, too. There is also no “primary breadwinner” among us. Mom and Dad are both on the hook for the costs of raising kids, from groceries to braces, from housing to soccer cleats. The payoff? We enjoy rewarding careers and see that our families thrive—not despite our work but because of it.

“Don’t you really need to choose? Won’t I need to pick which comes first, my work or my family?” We hear this often from women in their twenties on campuses where we speak. (We rarely hear it from young men.) And even when young women are more hopeful, there’s a big disconnect between what they hear (you’re equal) and what they see. “These issues creep up on us without our being aware of them,” one twentysomething told us. “I think women my age believe the world has changed so much that we don’t need to worry. But then we look at the men in charge where we work and think, That is not what I want my life to look like and it’s clearly not feasible for me if I want to have kids.

We remember the angst we felt at their age, that somehow things would be tougher for us than they were for our guy friends. At times in each of our own careers, we shared the fear that we’d have to forfeit something big—a career or a husband.

“I’ll never find the right guy if I can’t ever leave the office,” Joanna, then a lawyer in her first 24/7 job, complained to her mother. At her second corporate law firm, still unmarried but curious about the future, Joanna went to a meeting on work/life balance. The discussion leader, the only female partner with children, started to cry. Not inspirational. Joanna had grown up with a mother who mostly stayed home. So the discouraging signs around her at work did not give Joanna much conviction that she would want to keep working after she had kids.

Sharon, a child of divorced parents, assumed she’d always earn her own living. No man Sharon dated could miss the point. She grilled boyfriends for double standards and gave them books such as The Women’s Room and The Feminine Mystique—which largely went unread. Working stock-market hours in San Francisco, Sharon was in the office close to 4 a.m.—and asleep by 9 p.m., making her an even more unusual date. As she was turning thirty-one, Sharon walked down the street after work one day with tears in her eyes. “No marriage is better than a bad one,” she thought, “but how did I end up alone?”

Then we met our husbands and learned this: The most important career decision you make is whom you marry. (And the deals you make with him.)

When Joanna got engaged, her fiancé, Jason, told her he wanted to start companies. To take the risks that entrepreneurship requires, Jason knew that sometimes he would be putting more money into his business than he’d be taking out. When Joanna wanted to quit her job, Jason did his share of child care while Joanna transitioned to a career she found more satisfying than the law. Jason not only wanted to be a good father, he also knew Joanna’s income bought him freedom to pursue his own career dreams.

“Women are more nurturing and should stay home with kids for a few years,” Sharon’s future husband, Steve, said on their first date. That evening did not end well. But Steve, an Iowan raised with the virtue of fairness, was curious (and a good sport). So he asked Sharon to put her thoughts on paper. “I want my husband to share every part of parenting with me 50/50. How do you feel about this?” Sharon wrote. Steve wasn’t sure but kept an open mind until he and Sharon found a vision they could share.

We’re not saying it’s easy. Living this way takes lots of discussion and often debate. No matter how fair-minded your spouse, if you’re anything like us, you’ll still find plenty to argue about. But hundreds of men and women in this book tell you in their own words why they make the effort: The 50/50 mind-set can help you live the life you want.

About the Authors

Sharon Meersjoanna stroberSharon Meers is the Head of Enterprise Strategy at Magento, which is part of eBay Inc.  Prior to joining eBay, Sharon was a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs.  Joanna Strober is the Founder and CEO of an online company to help fight and prevent childhood obesity.  Together they have written Getting to 50/50 — How Parents Can Have it All.

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