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Husbands Aren't Totally Useless During Pandemic, Say Female Lawyers

Vivia Chen

April 14, 2020

6w6zdfex559zw6z5First, let me say it’s been very hard for me to find anything positive about this pandemic. Speaking as one who’s naturally disposed to seeing the dark side, I certainly wasn’t looking for any type of silver lining.

So this came at me like a whack on the head: The coronavirus lockdown might not be a total disaster for working women on the homefront as we had feared.

As you’ve undoubtedly heard, there have been all sorts of dire warnings about how the lockdown will hurt women’s careers. As Helen Lewis wrote in The Atlantic, “a pandemic magnifies all existing inequalities,” predicting that the impact of “the coronavirus will be to send many couples back to the 1950s.” That thread was also picked up in The Guardian and Law.com.

I was curious how much those predictions applied to lawyers, so I went hunting for some stories from the trenches. At two different points (in March and more recently), I asked members of Law Mamas, a 13,000-lawyer closed Facebook group, if they feel they’re doing the lion’s share of home duties during this lockdown.

I got about 200 responses in total, and many were brutally frank. (The respondents represent a broad spectrum of practitioners from around the country, including those in Big Law, small firms and government/public interest.)

Here’s the upshot: The vast majority say that their husbands are doing their share—sometimes even more! Who knew?

From my perusal of the responses, here’s my very unscientific breakdown of how women rated their spouses:

- 65% thought husbands did their fair share on the homefront or exceeded it;

- 15% thought husbands weren't quite pulling their weight (though some were trying or had more demanding jobs, such as being doctors);

- 20% thought husbands were useless disasters. 

Now, for the really fun part: What women have to say about their beloved. As I said, these ladies don’t hold back. Let me break them down for you:

The Wonderful Husband (or “I don’t know how he does it”): Some husbands have exceeded their wives’ expectations.

One public interest lawyer married to another lawyer writes, “At first I felt like I was handling more of the kids/house stuff.” Now, however, she says, “I’ve moved from #murdercookies to #lovemuffins.” The reason: Her husband came through for her during an intense work stretch when she was representing high-risk COVID-19 incarcerated clients. “ He not only took over the kids schooling—and is crushing it” but built them a skateboard pipe, she comments.

Husbands who assume responsibility for the kids’ learning seem to get laurels. One woman says homeschooling is where “the mental load is, and I greatly appreciate that he took that on.” Even more impressive, she notes, he did it “without assuming it was my problem to solve first or that he was doing me a favor to do it. He just did it. Without asking for applause.” She adds, “I feel like I’ve had a real partner more the last 3 weeks than I had before.”

A number of women marveled at how much their husbands took on. “My husband is crazy helpful,” says a female lawyer. “He does the dishes, cleans the bathrooms, takes care of all three pets, takes out trash and recycling, vacuums on days he’s home, mops on days he’s home, and takes on a lot of child minding duties on days he’s home.”

By now, you’re thinking, where did these dream boats come from? Not to worry, there were also stories of women who have to constantly remind (nag?) their hubbies to do their share. Read on.

The Husband Who Doesn’t Get It (“but he’s trying”) While some husbands surpassed expectations, plenty fell short.

“My husband came out of the gate doing great but it took a meltdown on my part earlier this week to get him to step up again,” says one lawyer. “I anticipate this cycle will continue. He tends to see himself as ‘helper’ (and he’s a good one) but I wish he saw himself as co-leader.” She admits, though, “I have some control issues that likely contribute to the dynamic.”

A few women expressed exhaustion about their husbands’ cluelessness. “I broke down crying 3x yday,” says a lawyer of a big firm. “I get my husband is busy at work but so am I. After my break downs yday he tried to help today by feeding the kids (4 and 6) breakfast. I was on work calls from 11-1:30, at which point I realized he never fed them lunch ! He’s not a bad father or husband but he is taking zero initiative for child care or distance learning. I’ve now started working 6pm-1am.”

And this from another lawyer: “I’ve always carried the vast majority of the mental load, but mine is really trying. We’ve split up childcare equally and he is definitely doing more housework than normal. But he does not see mess and clutter and lets it build up before dealing with it, so that is my sore spot.”

The Dreadful Husband (or “I’m getting a divorce when this is over”): For some, the pandemic seems to bring out deep frustrations about the relationship. Some women have absolutely nothing to say about their spouses. Simply put, they are fed up. Though those highly critical of their mates were in the minority in this pool, their comments are stinging. Some examples:

“Every day is worse than the last. Husband helps here and there, but homeschooling and dealing with the kids all day long—while trying to work—is falling completely on me. I am constantly being told to ‘keep the kids quiet.’ As if that’s fucking possible.”

“I didn’t think it was possible, but my husband is doing even less than before. I’m now full-time working from home, full-time schooling my child, and full-time managing my household. His jobs are trash, dishes, and laundry and he’s done about 25% of those jobs.”

“I’m doing it all—running immigration practice from home, pushing two kids through their e-learning, feeding all six under our roof … Husband’s one task before quarantine was to obtain TP [toilet paper]. He didn’t think it was important then (end of Feb). He just found some at a drive-up curbside pick-up hardware store so he will be very proud of himself later today.”

Sometimes, the comments are dripping with sarcasm: “Wait, the men in your life actually help?! I had heard this was possible! I suspect mine has become less helpful, if possible.” She then adds: “I would move out, but can’t afford my own place.”

Another woman writes: “The only things I can rely on him to do are take out the garbage twice a week and order stuff online.”

Ouch.

But let’s not end on a downer. Remember, most women are actually quite complimentary about their mates, which is a very hopeful sign that we’re not all retreating to the days of June and Ward Cleaver.

More revealing, perhaps, is that several women tell me that they’re wrestling with issues much more fraught than who’s tidying up the house. “I’m dying a slow and painful death inside without regard to how helpful my spouse is,” says one.

“I’m not saying we’re doing great, just that he’s not the source of my mounting stress,” says another woman. But “where we excel is supporting each other through panic attacks—which each of us experiences multiple times a week.”

So maybe we should all cut each other some slack?

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.  

 
 
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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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