Jason Bell for Pivotal Ventures
Melinda Gates has recently been making headlines regarding the publication of her new book, The Moment of Lift. But in addition to being a fountain of knowledge on feminism and the benefits of global access to contraceptives, Gates is also a great source for relationship advice.
From the mouth of Melinda herself, this is the conversation she wishes she had with her husband, Bill Gates, before she danced with him to “When I Fall In Love” at their wedding.
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While discussing her book with Brené Brown, Gates discussed the topic of shared childcare between two partners. According to Gates, it’s a good idea for individuals who want to raise children together to set guidelines for childcare before they even get married.
The must-have conversation
“I wish I had been enlightened enough to have that conversation before we got married,” Gates said.
Creating a system that works for you, your partner, and your child is an ongoing process, not one that is finished after that initial conversation with your significant other.
Gates told the story of one couple that did have the conversation of equal childcare before they were married. The couple committed to alternate on an off days in which they were completely responsible for their child. When their first child was born, the couple found themselves falling into the gendered roles, with more of the care falling on the woman’s plate.
“We’re so influenced by our past,” Gates said. “So often we bring forward what we saw from our own parents. Bill and I, even though we believe in equality, both entered the marriage with biased opinions about who was going to do what in the household.”
Those biases make us oblivious to unfair situations, and Gates argues that we must open our mouths in order to open each other’s eyes. A huge part of this, Gates said, is speaking up and make an agreement with your partner, and continue to advocate for ourselves when the plan requires adjustments.
Instead of suffering from a task you don’t enjoy or can’t afford to do, Gates recommends you to talk with your partner and voice your concerns. Many times, Gates reveals, partners want to help each other, but don’t know exactly what their partner needs.
Gates recalls a story from when her first child was entering school. Her and Bill decided on a school for their daughter to attend, but Gates had second thoughts once she realized it was 45 minutes away. Once she voiced her concerns, Bill agreed to drive their daughter to school two days a week, all while he was still the CEO at Microsoft.
Childcare on a global level
The unequal balance of childcare between couples is a global problem, according to Gates. The US workforce is 47% women, but still, the majority of house and childcare work falls on them. There are many factors that play a part in this, but a large part is that the conversation about equal childcare isn’t being had.
“We have to have honest, courageous conversations in our homes if we’re going to change that dynamic,” Gates said.
In this country, there is an average of a 90-minute per day gap between the amount of work men do in the workplace and the amount women do, according to Gates. Over the average woman’s lifetime, that hour and a half each day adds up to a seven-year gap between men and women.
“Our economies are built on the back of this unpaid labor that women do,” she said.
For those women who are looking to have careers and be productive outside the home, Gates recommends you have a conversation about childcare and housework before getting married.
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