“What did you do today?”
An innocent question my hard working husband often asks as he walks through the door after a long day at the office. I know he means well. I know he is simply inquiring about what the children and I did while he was gone. He wants a glimpse into our day, to feel a part of it.
Deep down I know that, but those five simple words can set me on fire because I don’t always hear the innocent question. Sometimes I hear a condescending tone with a hint of sarcasm. I hear my husband asking for a reason why I’m still wearing my pajamas from the night before. Why the house looks like a tornado came through and why frozen pizza is for dinner — again.
Yet, six months ago that question would have been just an innocent question. It wouldn’t have led to a list of excuses for why the laundry still isn’t done because six months ago I was a working mother. But I leaned out. I walked away from my well-paying and promising corporate job because the arrangement of two working parents wasn’t cutting it for our family anymore. So now that innocent question has the power to leave me feeling like I need to validate my worth; like I need to remind my husband that cutting our income in half was the right move.
When we were both working outside of the home, there was no need to explain why household chores weren’t done or how we spent a Tuesday. We knew that time was tight and energy was low. We had an unspoken understanding that everything was a 50/50 split and whatever fell to the wayside, we would catch up on when we could. We were equals, both contributing to the checking account and the to-do lists.
But when I started staying home I saw our arrangement differently. I felt like I needed to compensate for my lack of a paycheck. Like I needed to prove my worth in this family with a spotless house and homemade dinners. In my mind, I needed to be a modern day June Cleaver to prove to my husband (and more importantly, myself) that leaving behind a career with endless growth opportunities at the ripe age of 26 was worth it.
So that one question, “What did you do today?” started eating at away at me. I wanted to be able to answer with a list of activities we completed and lessons the kids learned. But the reality was that 9 times out of 10 my answer consisted of waking up, making food, cleaning up food, changing diapers and repeating steps 1-4, a million times. I didn’t feel accomplished or valued unless I felt as though I could adequately answer.
After weeks of pushing myself to the limits trying to be the picture perfect housewife, I broke. My husband asked the now infamous question and instead of rattling off a list of chores and activities, I simply said, “Nothing.”
“Oh good, you deserve a relaxing day,” he replied.
The truth is, my husband doesn’t expect June Cleaver. He never did. According to him, when I left the office he knew things weren’t going to be split 50/50 all the time. When the kids were sick, it was a given that I would take them to the doctor simply because I could. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t ask him to pick up the prescription on his way home or go rinse out the puke clothes that I hadn’t gotten to just yet.
We are still partners and no one job is harder than the other. Most importantly, there is no judgment in how we answer the question of “What did you do today”— be it in a boardroom or watching Lion King on repeat.
About this series: Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy focuses on the challenges women face in trying to get ahead by taking charge of their own careers. This week on KCMB, our “Lean In/Lean Out” series will look at a number of the challenges associated with deciding to transition out of the workplace. View all posts in this series.