Update on “Workaholic” Dad, Depressed Mom

This past Sunday, I ran a column by a mom in Berkeley who was feeling lonely because her husband worked long hours and traveled constantly.

The advice mirrored that of the wisdom in our own thread. I put “workaholic” in quotes because as our RachelD noted, there is a difference between people who work long hours because they have to and workaholics who are, literally, addicted to their jobs.

The biggest difference between the advice in Berkeley Parents Network and here at MotherTalkers is Berkeley marriage counselors and therapists made sure to offer their services. Otherwise, here is a taste of the advice offered at BPN:

It sounds like you may need to ask yourself some tough questions. Are you willing to give up your financial security to have more time with your husband? Let me tell you, that may not be as good as it sounds. My husband has a low-paying job that never requires traveling. I am the family breadwinner, but I don’t make all that much money either. Our lives are extremely stressful with both of us working and there never being quite enough money for things we both took for granted growing up.

If you don’t want to lose your husband’s income, here are some possibilities. You may need to develop a hobby or activity so that your life doesn’t revolve around your husband. Make plans for you and the kids that don’t involve him. Go out to nice places for dinner with the kids — you have the money for it! Skip the mac and cheese! Treat yourself to a nice spa overnight, where they have hotel daycare. Make friends with other moms in similar situations. I love to travel on vacation, but my husband hates it, so I find friends to travel with. Us moms and kids have great times together. I think if you went traveling and had some of the fun you think your husband is having, you might feel less resentful. You don’t have to wait for him to be around to have a life!
Go for it!

….It is time to schedule a talk with him. Tell him how unhappy you are and ask to negotiate for a better future. Do the negotiations by brainstorming with abandon and being respectful of each other. If he feels he can not change his career path, work together to spend more time together (start taking trips with him often and finding alternative child care people, etc). Find time for each other and then the family to keep the bond strong and feel connected.

Perhaps have a calendar to go over each week to schedule time together and for him to attend functions for the kids.

You must be persistant and tell him this is not going to blow over. That it is critical now and must be addressed and worked on together as husband and wife.

At least four or five letter writers (rightfully) told her to count her blessings; to find hobbies or friends to keep her company. One mom in a demanding field wrote in defense of the husband:


i just wanted to validate your husband’s feelings of feeling caught between a rock and a hard place. i’m a mom, and i also work in advertising, at an agency where there are both super-high expectations AND lots of people waiting in the wings, eager to take my place.

before i had my son, i worked all the time: nights, weekends, you name it. since becoming a mom, i constantly feel like i’m screwing up both at home and at work. at work, you just can’t be the person who consistently says no, i can’t stay late or no, i can’t go on production or no, i can’t take on any more projects. it will leave you extremely vulnerable, especially in this economy. just as in your situation, my income is our only income, and it’s scary as hell to have that weight on your shoulders.

after changing jobs several times in search of a more family-friendly situation (which i don’t think exists), i ultimately chose to take on a role that’s pretty dull for me, but offers more predictability on the home front. it’s depressing to see other people pass me by, but have to hope that eventually i’ll be able to go back to working on stuff i care about. in the meantime, i’m trying to focus on the positives: i’m providing for my family and spending more time with my son than a lot of other parents who work in advertising.

your husband may be able to work less, but it will come at a cost. greater marginalization/vulnerability at work, maybe. or doing work that’s not as great…which can also make him less marketable in the future, since getting new job offers always comes down to ”what have you worked on lately.”

it’s tempting to consider a less challenging agency, but if your husband is on the more senior side (ACD or above), an agency that pays less or has lower expectations can actually end up being more stressful and time-consuming, since the work still has to get done, but there are fewer motivated/talented people to do it.

allllll that being said, your concerns are TOTALLY valid. i would feel the same resentment you do. i think you should try and approach the subject knowing that he probably feels equally bad/guilty/stressed/depressed about it, and discuss the risks versus the benefits of reducing his time at work.

again, i know you wanted to hear from people who were in the same situation as you, but i wanted to let you know that it’s really, really, really hard on both sides of the equation.

I appreciated the understanding and respectful tone both here and at BPN. But it made me sad to see, once again, that we are an “all or nothing” society. That there is no middle ground or middle class anymore. Sigh.  


18 thoughts on “Update on “Workaholic” Dad, Depressed Mom

  1. “count your blessings”

    On the “count your blessings” advice….

    I think that’s all fine and dandy (and I also tell myself that daily to get through my husband’s work and travel schedule!)…

    But on the other hand, it also strikes me as sort of dismissive. I’m mean sure, life could always be worse. But does that mean that a person loses their right to be upset by something?

    It also strikes me as something that people would only say to each other on the internet. If a friend IRL was complaining about her husband’s work schedule, I doubt anyone would say, “Well at least he has a job!”

    • i agree…

      better to focus  providing suggestions.  what i heard is a woman who is likely bored along with being harried and lonely.  i work with many men who have this kind of fast paced work schedule with a helluva lot travel. i also overhear many phone call home convos indicating distress on the other end. if you can’t change the job then provide the money to get that woman out of the house and into something that fulfills her and makes connections.  i love the travel planning suggestions btw.  

      when i was home with dd for 2 1/2 years the very last thing i wanted to do was spend my time with other mothers and a roomful of kids talking about KIDS!  i wanted some fun, a rip roaring conversation, and even get a little dressed up and go for some cocktails and a nice dinner :)  believe me that is what her husband is doing on the road. i’d be resentful too.

      • Wow

        That’s really interesting M. So you hear these convos with the husbands, I assume, getting torn into? See, that’s not cool and not productive.

        I never envy my husband’s travel though, I must say. His sounds awful anyway.

        • well not so much torn into..

          but definitely i witness stress.  even my dh from time to time has resented my business travel when he was home making sure dd was cared for. the truth is there is alot about travel that just sucks but it isn’t all bad.  a nice hotel, great city, room service, tv all to yourself…and if you are lucky a great dinner with lively conversation. hey i enjoy that.

    • I agree…..

      The only time counting my blessings has helped me is when it’s a place I’ve come to on my own.  Hearing it from someone else only makes you feel worse, and it generally seems mean-spirited enough that making the person feel worse might even be the intention of the comment.

      I also have a problem with the fact that the recession is causing people to take a very lax view of the behavior of some employers.  They still have to follow labor laws, and I’m of the opinion that salary vs. hourly wages should not be able to buy an employer an indentured servant.  My FIL was driven to quit by an abusive employer, and he is a workaholic.  He would have taken (and believed in, frankly), a lot of abuse.  If they pushed him too far, it was BAD.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure this kind of thing is rare right now.

        • Yes

          How many times have you heard, over the past year or two, “don’t make any waves at work in this economy”?  Am I supposed to believe that some employers don’t hear this advice and take it to its logical conclusion, which is “squeeze every ounce of your employees that you can, because they are way too cowed to stand up for themselves right now”?

          The fact is, the LW’s husband may very well be doing his own job and that of a laid-off coworker.  So yes, he’s “lucky” to have a job, but he’s living with the effect of the economy anyway.  The poor and middle class–even the upper middle class–are all feeling the effects of the recession.  ‘Cept my family; we’ve been remarkably untouched.  So I’m grateful for our good fortune, but not so much that I’m going to do my part to make sure the whole middle class is suffering from Stockholm syndrome.  Of course, my DH doesn’t work for a large company anyway, and our own situation is unique in many ways;-)

      • beside myself

        I probably shouldn’t have but I’ve gotten interested in the book “It Takes a Pillage” by Nomi Prins, about the breathtaking theft of resources by the country’s elite vis-a-vis the bailout. There are trillions of dollars being redistributed upwards, out of the pockets of people who are struggling to make rent, never mind saving for retirement.  And I’m not able to offer a few thousand dollars worth of services, short term, to the family of an autistic child?

        And this:

        the recession is causing people to take a very lax view of the behavior of some employers

        is very bothersome. I am in a f*ck it mood at the moment, partly because of the book. It’s so unfair that a few “winners” (read: sociopaths) at the top are making “losers” out of so, so many people.

        One cheering thing I read today was that consumers are using cash more and more, and kicking credit cards to the curb because of the ridiculous fees. I really wish more consumers would exercise this kind of power.

        • I know!

          I’d almost go so far as to say it’s a complex conspiracy.  Have the little people fighting amongst themselves about things like whether someone who has an abusive work situation should complain while others have no job at all.  That way, nobody looks up to notice the disgusting distribution of wealth in this country is the problem.

          Good that people are less willing to fork over their money to people who have done absolutely nothing to earn it, though.

          And yes, there is no excuse for the fact that there is “no money” for services for families who desperately need them.  Perhaps I should read the book.

          • I tend to think of

            conspiracies, too, since it does sometimes feel that way. But I was reading something by John Perkins, who wrote “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” (a really great book). He has a new book out about the bailout and he says it’s NOT a conspiracy. It’s just a natural outcome from glorifying greed in a capitalist society that laws are written to support wealth acquisition and to make life hard for workers. So depressing. It makes me angry and I wish there were ways we could “stick it” to the Man.

            • not a conspiracy

              but it doesn’t have to be a conspiracy to be a set of active choices that end up tipping the balance of power away from the worker and towards the corporation.

              Here in Australia, the last, conservative government run by John Howard (one of Dubya’s little friends) instituted a policy that negated a lot of the powers for collective bargaining and negotiating that the trade union/Labor Party movement had instituted. It was packaged as “work choices”, but really it was a policy that would have proceeded towards individually negotiated contracts, weakened health and safety standards and vastly empowered employers. Howard pushed it through, but it totally outraged and energized the grassroots and was a leading contributor to Labor’s victory in 2007. Not unsurprisingly, one of PM Kevin Rudd’s first moves in office was to halt as much of “Work Choices” as he could and then unwind the rest over the next six months.

              • right

                As long as the people with power to make policy, whether legislators or big corporate donors, agree that the highest good is making lots and lots of money, they can make the world work that way — especially if they have media buy-in. Australians must have been well-informed if they were able to mobilize the opposition. Why aren’t Americans?

                Wouldn’t it be great to see a different set of priorities?

                The weird thing is that having too much money doesn’t seem all that satisfying, on the soul level. People seem much happier when they do work that creates or restores or helps.

    • he gets the work, she gets the life

      It’s OK to be unhappy with the way things are – every family struggles with work/life balance and I don’t know many who get it quite right.  But the way I read the original letter was that she was blaming him for the situation, despite clearly indicating that he felt trapped and was giving every non-work moment to his family.  That’s not cool.  

      She doesn’t say whether he’s happy, but lots of people would hate being stuck with a demanding travel schedule.  A business dinner every once in a while is great, but having to be “on” and entertain clients over a heavy dinner night after night?  The poor guy would probably prefer a nice bowl of mac and cheese in his grubby old sweatpants at least half of the time.  Same with the boring old hotel room – it’s great if you’re taking a break or out for a good time, but it gets old real quick when you’re alone.  She resents him for getting to live the high life, but it would be equally valid for him to resent her because he feels trapped – he doesn’t get to see her any more than she sees him, but he’s away from his home and his children as well.  

      It seems to me that she is the spouse with more options in this situation.  It didn’t sound like cutting back was an option for him since he said he was trying to keep his job.  He could maybe look for another job but I doubt he can just quit the one he has, so he’s kind of stuck for now.  But she can work on expanding her social network.  She could join mom’s clubs.  She could take up a hobby or take classes since they can afford a sitter.  Or she could get a job and use part time or full time daycare, which in turn buffers the family financially and perhaps allows him more flexibility to make changes.  But asking him to give her more time than he has available is unrealistic.  

      • yeah

        There was some misplaced blame towards him.

        I agree with you though, I know few families who have got the work/life balance right for each spouse.

        The only family I know that has a good balance are these friends of ours where the husband is a teacher and the wife stays home, which is unheard of around this area. She gets to stay home, they hang out together all summer (he doesn’t work in the summer).

        They make huge sacrifices financially, but I admire their resolve.

  2. I live in the South and you’d better believe

    that she is very lucky and they should be counting their blessings that they have the income they have.   And if she were my friend and was complaining to me I sure would say “at least he has a job.”
      But maybe my view is skewed by working at a school with 95% free/reduced fed. lunch program — meaning major poverty — and I have never had the luxury of being a “stay at home mom,” having a husband who is an attorney but is on his own and not in some silver spoon firm.
      That woman and her children are in a very lucky position due largely to the efforts and hard work of her husband.  She needs to find some volunteer work to do with less fortunate people to develop a better perspective on the many blessings she and her children have.


  3. I’ve been thinking a fair bit

    about this topic, on and off. Not to be proscriptive, but I think this woman has to have a good think to herself first about what she wants out of her life. I know that for me, when I start resenting DH’s work commitments and such, generally it’s not about him, but rather a dissatisfaction I’m feeling about my situation.

    As the the stay-at-home/work-from-home, it’s easy for me to slip into feeling like DH has the easier lifestyle, but invariably, if I am really honest with myself or sit down and try and think about it positively, I can make small changes or come up with positive proposals. It’s much easier (and more honest) to say to DH “I would like to take an online university course next semester because I’m feeling stale and in need of more mental activity” than to say “You and the kids stifle me!”

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. I agree. Make your own happiness by leaving your husband and finding someone that will appreciate you and want to spend time with you. Don’t spend your life alone.

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