I just hired someone to take care of my house for $50,000 a year: A house manager. This is in addition to the full-time nanny I have. And the cleaning service. And the assistant I have at work.
I know the first thing going through your mind is that I’m loaded and I’m lucky. But I’m not either: for instance, the house I live in is so small that I sleep in the kids’ room. I chose a house like this because I think having money to pay people to help me maintain a sane household is more important than having tons of space for tons of possessions. Having to make choices like that is what makes this topic worth writing about.
But I wasn’t sure if I was going to write at all about hiring a house manager, so I tried telling someone in person first, my friend Jason Warner, who is a director at Google. He said that that every high-level woman he’s ever worked with—at Microsoft, Starbucks, and Google—has had to pay for tons of help at home or had a stay-at-home husband or has been literally falling apart at work.
For the past year, at least, I have been in the last category—falling apart. It’s clear to me now that to be a woman competing at high levels in corporate life, you have to have people helping you. Serious help. Most men who make a lot of money and have kids also have a stay-at-home wife. She holds their world together while he focuses on work.
So I want you to know what it’s really like to be a woman competing with the men who have stay-at-home wives: Expensive. There are jokes about the hyperbole of the annual study that says that housewives are worth six-figures. I think it is not hyperbole. Those men are getting not just a house manager, but someone who adores his kids, is there all the time, and someone who is willing to have some sort of regular sex life. For all that, the estimate of $100,000 a year seems very low.
My new house manager’s specialty is families with moms who have very time-consuming jobs. I told the house manager that I’m worried that she will not be able to deal with how eccentric our family is. She says she has only dealt with eccentric families. She said the last family used to have birthday parties at breakfast instead of dinner because the mom couldn’t get home for dinner.
I told the house manager that I am always home for dinner. And violin lessons. When I’m not traveling. I felt smug. For a minute. But really, I don’t think there is an honest mom in the world who works full-time and feels smug.
I am hiring a house manager because I don’t think there is any way I can compete in my profession if I have to do things like clean up gummy bears for an hour a night, or make a toy-store run in the middle of the day for a last-minute birthday party after school.
Jason was telling me that his wife went out of town for five days. She told him he had to take time off from work. He said he didn’t want to use up vacation. He said he’d be fine.
But by the second day, he was going nuts. He said, “Penelope, it’s unbelievable. I am telling the kids I’ll be there in a minute and then I send an email. And I instant message chat while I’m driving. And I take phone calls when the kids are in the other room waiting for me. This is crazy. It’s so hard.”
But I have been doing this every day for years. That’s really what convinced me to hire the house manager. Because Jason was doing my life for four days and he thought it was crazy. And Jason is the type of guy I’m competing with in business. He has a housewife. They are a good team.
When Jason was writing guest posts on my blog I was talking with him all the time. He asked about the time stamps on my emails, he asked me when I slept (for about six months, when I started blogging, I basically stopped sleeping), and he asked me when I relaxed. Mostly I was jealous that he had someone at home taking care of so much stuff.
So now I’m not jealous. But, I have to confess something. I’m jealous of all the guys who kept a family together while they built up their career. I wish I could have done that.
So here’s my advice to women who want a big career and a stable family: You need to earn a lot of money to make that happen. I don’t know a stay-at-home dad who is seriously taking care of kids full-time, over the course of five-to-seven years, without a lot of money in the bank. And I don’t know a woman who has a huge career without money to support a bunch of people to take care of things at home.
For women, the difference between success and failure at the top of the ladder is, I think, a house manager.