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Navigating a Two-Career Marriage: How Do Couples Make It Work? Interview w/ Joy Jordan-Lake (1/3)

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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 2 of Navigating a Two-Career Marriage: Paris Hilton vs. Rick Warren

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

Joy, your entire book seems to address the newly classic question that I'd like to hear you answer: can a woman have it all?

First, I tend to back off from "have." A conversation only about bigger houses and better cars says that stay-at-home moms are unselfish creatures who sacrifice for their children and that any woman who works even part time must therefore be selfish. Whether the wife backs off from outside work for the children or her spouse does has to be a team effort. Everyone sacrifices. And everyone listens to the kids' needs. And everyone thinks in terms of personal gifts and who can do what in what season. The question isn't "Must my kids suffer for me to have nicer things?" The question is how two spouses use their individual gifts and approach the privilege of parenthood.

You're writing to women in marriages with superior choices. Their conflicts come from crowding two achievers into one family. What is your chief message to them?

Part of the problem is that the conversation tends to stay among women. The Tufts University writing class was just before I got pregnant with my first child. Of course, the men saw themselves having it all. The women were educated for the same futures—but they already were riddled with anxiety about fitting children in the picture. It struck me at the time, as I was also entering new waters, how they both wanted professionally accomplished partners but the men assumed the wife would figure out the children thing. The women were eaten up. Some of them were from homes with no role model of career and kids. Or homes where things didn't work out. They were feeling like pioneers though this wasn't the beginning of the women's movement.

So what do you say now?

The question can't always be, "Is the woman going to be home full time or work full time?" On the front end, both partners have to ask: "Are there ways I can sacrifice at this season of my career—or do I go full bore? Who can do what and how does that fit together?" To assume that the woman's career has to take it on the chin ignores giftedness. It feeds into our cultural idea that the woman is selfish or egotistical, even with all her education and experience, to say, "I love this job and I adore my kids. And now what do I do?" We've got to get the conversation just out of the woman's camp.

Well, there's the rub. As you saw in class, how many men are jumping into that discussion?

My husband has been the one to push me in good ways when, say, our middle child never liked outside house care. Our daughters loved the new friends and activities. Our son hated every minute. In conversation, my husband and I asked, "How can we both keep our middle son feeling secure and stable without [the mom] just completely ditching all work entirely?"

Your husband may be the exception.

I know it. He's extraordinary. But more men can learn to think along these lines, too: being willing to sacrifice for the sake of their families, being eager to affirm their wives' gifts, being willing to think together as a couple about what's best for the kids.

But you've met couples who do have that conversation.

In my interviews of couples who navigate these waters, the one common factor was a high view of the other spouse's professional gifts. It worked as long as both spouses were saying, "How can we make sure you stay active even if someone needs or wants to back off work outside the home for a while?"

Most of the navigation is through the childbearing years.

That's right. In that season, given the choice between higher pay and higher prestige vs. flexibility, the thing is to choose flexibility. In the two-career couples I talked to, the most dissatisfaction came where both spouses' professions had low flexibility in time or location. At the same time, we know that more and more companies offer ways to telecommute, to go part time for a while, so it's either/or less and less. People are figuring ways to be with young children creatively.

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