Over this last weekend I caught up with a couple of my oldest friends. We talked about all kinds of things we are pondering, investing in, wondering about and planning: weddings, careers, hobbies, families and relationships.
At one point, while talking to good friend of mine she mentioned that she couldn’t do without her partner but that in their relationship she earns most of the money working remotely for a business based in Silicon Valley and he organises the household, keeps the books in order and tends to the small business they are nurturing. If they have a family, they’ve discussed that he will be the primary caregiver. She mentioned that she didn’t think her parents, baby boomers, necessarily ‘got’ the arrangement. “It’s funny” she said “They’re actually from such a different time, and things have changed so much in one generation.”
I couldn’t help but agree with her, although it was something I’d not stopped to think about until that very moment. Here’s the thing; as you grow into your twenties and thirties, it becomes normal to hang out with your parents as people and less as parents. You see them as cool! You have drinks together, chat together and maybe even go on holiday together (I don’t but some do!). Your relationship feels like it becomes less parent-child and more two adult friends. However, we still feel a weeny wee bit of judgement if our parents don’t quite ‘get’ our relationship at times, even if they are nothing but supportive 99.9% of the rest of the time. Like a 3 year old, showing mum and dad her finger-painting, there is something inside of us that wants them to say ‘Good job!’ to every aspect of our adult choices. We also forget that they have lived their lives in quite different times at points, and grew up with different values, particularly when it came to relationships.
“Life moves pretty fast”
The world has moved very fast in a very short period of time. With flexible working, demand for equal pay and more connections around the world than ever thanks to the internet, ideas spread rapidly and we are no longer harnessed to the status quo of society (in theory at least!). Men can marry men, women can marry women and anyone can be the breadwinner in today’s society. Yet why do we still, at the back of our head, consider a man earning the primary income as being ‘normal’ while the woman looks after the home?
For females during the 1970’s and 1980’s career choices were primarily to be a teacher or a nurse (yes, I’m paraphrasing, but stay with me). That was about it. Yes, there were more women going into the workforce than ever but the expectation was when a family came along, they’d quit an look after their home. Although we had women’s liberation and shoulder-padded suits, this expectation meant many still were encouraged to seek careers that would be more flexible and nurturing (Many mum’s did become teachers, including my own). It was still understood by society that when there was a family in the mix, men were to bring home the bacon.
This gendered work culture continued to be reinforced in popular culture, in 90’s television shows like Home Improvement and soaps like Shortland Street where the female roles were mainly receptionists and nurses, and men played the doctors still. My assumptions came primarily from what I saw in society, in media culture and read about in historical books.
So naturally, growing up as a little girl (as embarrassing as it is to admit it) I always expected that a man would be there to take care of me financially and would eventually out-earn me, because that was the way it worked. In our home, Dad had the money and worked as a lawyer and mum was there to be our…well…Mum (as you tend to think at 7 years old - she did go back to working as we grew up, but could work part time). I can’t say I am proud of this way of thinking but it just felt normal to me. Being a lawyer was seen as the ‘hard’ work and being a mum and a teacher as being a bit lighter (when probably that was not the case - we were not always the easiest kids growing up - and being a parent is the hardest job you’ll ever do!).
Princes and Toads
In my twenties, friends of mine began looking for a mate. Some made their main criteria when looking for a partner that he should work as a lawyer/doctor/accountant and drive a BMW. At 26, they wanted their prospective date to pay for dinner always, flatter them with attention, and take them on mini-breaks. Usually, they were let down and deemed him unsuitable with a haughty air if it was apparent that he didn’t know what he was doing with his life. They also refused to date younger men.
I felt suspicious of people who looked too good to be true. Usually, their sleek corporate act was a mask for an insecure boy who had developed prickish behaviour. It only took me a few times of pursuing ‘prince charming’ to figure out he was probably more of a toad!
Thankfully, despite my child-like ideas that Prince Charming would carry me away, at a certain time I got clear on the idea that I needed to be my own hero. My parents have always valued education and therefore going to university for me was a given. I grew up with a sense that if I was to succeed in life, I needed to have my own back - and education was the way to take care of myself. I also worked out that it was important for me to know about my own finances, and eventually to build a relationship based not on how much money one person earns or their status in the corporate world, but how kind, generous, loyal and thoughtful they were as a person. I’m glad I put these values to the forefront because they enabled me to be open to meeting Matt on Tinder. I am thankful that despite the more traditional gender set up, my parents never limited me in what I could do, and never made me feel like I needed a man to take care of me.
The reality is as men and women living in 2019, our relationships and careers do look very different to those of our parents. When I stopped and thought about it, I realised that at this stage of my life, very few of my female friends have relationships where the man was the primary earner or where the woman would be expected to singlehandedly raise the child, even among those who preferred more traditional gender roles.
One friend recently had a baby and laughingly told me she was sending emails to a radio producer while still drugged up after giving birth to her her third baby (“not advisable”). She now is working part time freelance with her clients, bringing her baby to meetings and integrating being a mother with work. While speaking with a different friend, it transpired that while she and her partner are both ambitious, he is happy to teach and she wants to keep on pursuing her craft in a more focused manner. They have joint bank accounts and just bought a house, but are not married. She is probably going to be the ‘known’ one in the partnership, whereas he is happy to take more of a supporting role.
As a couple of twenty-somethings, my career and Matt’s have progressed at different rates. I launched like a shot out of a gun, five years at law-school and studying arts, then straight into a corporate law school. He took a four year break in the middle of his commerce degree, and is now pursuing further study. We are still figuring things out. But I am mostly very happy to have a true partner by my side who I picked for his personal values, rather than for any superficial measure. I am glad that we can play with our roles and take turns. Who knows what will happen when kids come along - but it is fun to know that society is less rigid than it once was, flexible working is now the new norm and that now all bets are off.
We do need to acknowldge that women will always feel more pressure to ‘have it together’ earlier, simply because you do need to think about having children if you want a family before you’re 35. I think this is why we tend to race through our twenties, ticking things off, whereas some men tend to take their time more, and have more fun. It’s important to find a good balance, and I think that males can show females how to slow down a bit, and females can show males how to grow up a bit more. Everyone wins!
Couples today tend to be more true partnerships, where there is give and take on both sides, career-wise, finance-wise and parenting-wise. Some still have their own separate bank accounts, while others, like me, have joint funds. Some want kids and some don’t. Some are ambitious in the corporate world but may not earn as much right now, whereas others want to pursue different projects, like family, creativity or starting a business yet are coasting along doing pretty well. Even our Prime Minister in New Zealand is a working mum with a partner who primarily takes care of their daughter.
This has all happened on one generation. It is likely that our children will never assume mum will stay home and dad goes to work. We should be grateful for our opportunities, but also respectful of the fact that our parents potentially didn’t have the same freedom that we had when starting out in their lives and with their families. Equally, it is totally fine to want to make your life goal to look after your children or dedicate yourself to being a homemaker. The point is, that in 2019, anything goes. Times have changed very fast.
I am proud of today’s males and females and how we work together at relationships. Although we have different careers, we are all very ambitious in different ways - some for family, some creatively, some in work (some a combination of everything). We have forged more interesting partnerships based on love and trust, and we know that partly because of technology and climate changes, the world is going to change hugely in the next ten, twenty and thirty years onwards. We simply have to find the right person to go side-by-side with into the future, and leave our expectations at the door. Our generation of millennial’s threw out the 20th century blueprint long ago.