Juggling dual careers and family life
It can be tough for even the healthiest couples to enact the lives they want
Is it possible for couples to have two successful careers and to not sacrifice their relationship or values in the process?
Dual-career couples often struggle with tradeoffs, not only between work and personal life but between each of their careers. Their lives are filled with negotiation. Whose career will take priority? How will domestic work be divided?
And what if one or both partners become unhappy with the deal they’ve created? Can they renegotiate?
These challenges are made even more complex by the expectations society sets for working professionals and gender roles. We are all vulnerable to the cultural ideal of what a good employee or high performer looks like. The same goes for gender roles. There are cultural perceptions of what it means to be a good man or woman, husband or wife, father or mother.
Combine the pressure from these norms with the reality of day-to-day life, and it can be tough for even the healthiest couple to design and enact the lives they want to lead.
So, is it possible for couples to have two successful careers and to not sacrifice their relationship or values in the process? The experience of ThirdPath Institute, a Philadelphia think tank that works with dual-career couples, shows it is. Over the past 14 years, founder and president Jessica DeGroot has learned a great deal about how these couples can create and sustain two careers and a shared life that aligns with what matters most to the couple.
She shared with me three lessons that stand out in particular:
1 Be intentional The path of least resistance is simply to let work and traditional gender roles take over – whoever has the better (ie higher paying) job has first dibs on a career, for example, or the woman’s career takes a back seat after they’ve had kids.
Indeed, this is what happens when couples don’t actively work to build and maintain consensus on what they want. ThirdPath creates communities of support for what it calls “pioneering leaders” in order to help people bravely and creatively craft successful careers and rich personal lives, even when it feels like they’re paddling against a strong tide of professional and societal norms. They convene to share ideas and experiences on how to pursue a work life that allows time for family and community.
2 Develop a common vision, then keep each other on track You and your partner need to see eye- to-eye on the kind of life you want to lead, and stick to it when circumstances change.
3 Be willing to experiment Michelle Hickox, the chief financial officer of Independent Bank in Texas, and her husband, Rob, both worked as accountants for many years, a field that can require long hours at tax time.
Unlike most accountants, however, they found a way to achieve their desired vision of shared parenting by looking for ways to spread out their workload and parent availability over the course of each year. Michelle negotiated a flex-year schedule that was intense at tax time but light during the summer. Rob, meanwhile, negotiated a position that kept his schedule calm during tax season.
It is entirely possible for couples to have two successful careers and a fulfilling life, though it is unlikely to happen on its own. You’ll make compromises – everyone does – but the key is to have open, honest and regular conversations about what you both value most and to not let professional and societal constraints determine the tradeoffs you’re willing to make. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2015 Monique Valcour is a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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