Jul 27, 2007

Navigating a Two-Career Marriage: Paris Hilton vs. Rick Warren , An Interview with Joy Jordan-Lake, Part 2

About the time she was starting her own family, Joy Jordan-Lake assigned her college writing class—rows of well-heeled high-achievers—to interview themselves in the third person "ten years from now." Given their backgrounds and educations, the boys in the class predictably forecast brilliant futures: Nobel prizes, captains of corporations, curing cancer, marriage to notable women, three or four children. As it happened, the young women next to them projected their own futures onto the same stages and saw themselves no less professionally accomplished.

And the question that burst into flames that day was: who's got the kids? Not nannies or daycare, the boys said. The wives would figure something out.

Now three children later, in Working Families: Navigating the Demands and Delights of Marriage, Parenting, and Career, Joy Jordan-Lake is a veteran of the kind of two-career decisions that panicked her female students. She's also written the rare book on how women in marriages crowded with choices can begin to make right ones.

<< Read Part 1 of Navigating a Two-Career Marriage: How Do Couples Make It Work?

>> Read Part 3 of Navigating a Two-Career Marriage: It's Not All Pretty

All your examples, your interviews, seem to be among people with inherently flexible careers.

I was aware of potential elitism of talking about choices. Most of the world don't get to have these conversations, don't get to say, "What do I like to do for a living? And do I work less to spend more time with my children?" It's a tremendous privilege just to have this conversation. And responsibility comes with it. For example, how do I use my education and professional gifts to give back?

Some people have their kids first, precareer, which is great. But focusing on career first can mean leverage later. Several of the women I interviewed for this book had impressive degrees and experience, so that when they had young children, they could declare how many days a week they wanted to work. For others, if you do a good job, prove yourself as a hard worker, you can at least ask for flexibility options.

You're also speaking to people for whom work is not just a job but comes right out of who they are.

We need to back up a few years in our conversations with boys and girls to tell them that work as a curse is not the ideal. The ideal—though, granted this isn't a question you necessarily get to ask if you're living in poverty—the ideal is to ask what God's gifted you to do and how can you make the world a better place with it.

The ideal is to be involved in something you're passionate about; even if you don't have to work, you're driven to do it. I interviewed people doing with their gifts what they believe is important: helping people pay bills they couldn't pay . . . making housing possible. When your passions include your work and your kids, how can you make that fit as a team? If you're privileged with education and choices, the issues are passion and giftedness and what God calls you to.

The headline alternative is Paris Hilton who has everything but purpose.

The right conversation is about purpose. What really makes a difference for other people and lives out what you're uniquely gifted to do? Otherwise what's the point?

Back to spousal support, domestic and professional. Your book covers several typical flash points in two-career marriages; let's touch on a few. What about relocation for one person's advancement?

Both people need to know that moves can involve real sacrifice and difficulty. A friend of mine says when newlyweds hold hands and say, "If we listen to God and love each other, we'll find the right jobs at the right times in the right places" . . . well, I won't tell you exactly what my friend says. That young couple hasn't learned yet the seasons of life and marriage. Sometimes one spouse must sacrifice for the other. It may be painful, ugly, and hard. Older women used to talk to me about seasons, and I heard it as dismissive. But there's tremendous wisdom there. The point is that both spouses must stay concerned about the other's professional gifts.

What about housework?

I don't understand the statistics where both people work outside the home but the woman still does twice the housework. In so many families the kids are in activities and have no chores. Families do better with a sense of team effort. Kids actually relish knowing they're needed to work in the family too.

What about professional jealousy?

Back when men had the "real" jobs maybe professional jealousy wasn't an issue. But more women than men are getting Ph.D.s now. In medical school, the split is dead even. Law school has only slightly more men. First, we need more conversation and it has to be honest. Second, it helps to have other professional couples as friends, even if they made different decisions. It helps if both partners can say, "I love my children and I love my work too. It has something to do with my sense of calling and how I understand faith and living it out." Also, there may be a season when it's all about your spouse's profession—but you have to talk about it.

The "conversation" word comes up a lot. Again, you really camp on the assumption that both spouses will come to the table.

My editor said the same thing: that it's not that common in a lot of marriages. That means it has to start early when we talk with young people about what marriage is and about team effort of any kind. I interviewed the U.S. Secretary of Labor who earned an MBA from Harvard at a time when all the business models were top-down, top-driven. She credits women in the workplace for changing that business mindset. Now she sees throughout American business more collegiality, less sense of executives having all the authority. Our homes also are changing—I hope they are—to that model. It's about conversation. It takes longer. It's not so efficient. It's about calling, and that really takes away the uncomfortable "selfish" element.

But it's so easy to abuse the "calling" or spiritual angle.

Right, and in every camp. I've been speaking on Christian radio stations, and a number of the hosts have commented that sometimes Christian rhetoric implies that anyone deeply concerned about faith issues would know that God wants you to focus on the children—and that means a mother's permanently staying home full time. Any woman who doesn't is flouting God's will for her life. The responses to this book make me think there's a hunger out there to quit making people feel bad by using religious language to dictate exactly how to navigate kids and career. For some families, a mom's staying home full time for a season may in fact be the absolute best choice, and that should be celebrated. Other families might find creative solutions that continue two careers but that also honor the children's best interest. That ought to be celebrated, too.

A lot gets said in God's name.

Nowhere does the Bible dictate that the American stay-at-home mom and a dad working 80-hour weeks are biblical. That picture is cultural. The biblical family model tells us more about what not to do in our families, pictures of how destructive favoritism or deceit can be. In lots of the biblical stories, the point is how God works through even terribly dysfunctional people and families. Also, biblical families lived in an agricultural society where everyone worked side by side. There's nothing godlier about a family where one person works outside the home and one doesn't. There's nothing less godly about two people being flexible with their careers and trying to work together. When religious language is abused to make people feel guilty, they walk away figuring there's no place for them in the conversation.

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