Navigating a Two-Career Marriage: It’s Not All Pretty! An Interview With Joy Jordan-Lake (3/3)

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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

n your book, you broach a time when conversation ceased in your home.

Yes, I talked about the difficulties of marriage, and that part was hard to write. In our premarital counseling we met with the dynamic duo of Boston—both medical doctors, both ministers, parents, and now grandparents. They were honest and vulnerable with us about a difficult time in their marriage. Not a lot of details but they put it out there: "We were going under and didn't care who we took with us."

I was 24 or 25 with a shiny new engagement ring. I thought how awful for you! But years later their words were a gift to me at a couple of difficult points. Their honesty framed for us that marriage struggles are as natural as learning, growing, and making mistakes. Part of the journey is learning forgiveness, how to hang on, how to be honest with each other.

So how does a couple get back the conversation?

One thing is having support. In the book, I mention turning down lunch with a friend and just telling her to pray for me because I was in no mood. That's what a community of faith is about, being there to hold on for people when they can't hold on for themselves.

It helps to know the other person is also committed to the end goal of talking again. You're both mentally asking, "What do I need to apologize for? What change do I need to ask for?" One counselor early on told us the most important thing is to know that you can't change anyone. But in my marriage, sometimes I screw up and need to change and sometimes he needs to. You've got to be willing to do that for each other.

Marriages can be an amazing testimony and not in syrupy religious ways. Christ can be this transformative power in our lives, and we need to take it seriously. We have the power and expectation to change, not just settle for mediocre marriage or friendship. We need to help couples from the start to know that marriage means getting through some unpretty things together.

So the answer to restarting the conversation is community … willingness to change … the transformative power of Christ … and advance notice that it's not all pretty?

If you take the gospel seriously it's about going through death to get to the resurrection. Getting rid of destructive tendencies and starting over again. After some hard days and hard conversations, you can come out with something on the other end more beautiful, more powerful, more fulfilling.

You use a good phrase in your book. You say we err when we let pace replace focus. Say a little about that.

It's like in driving, you've got to keep your foot poised above the brake. You've got to know at all times how to slow down, where flexibility and conversation must come in.

Two spouses have to make time for conversation. Whatever that means, no shortcut on that one. With your kids too. And everyone has to know that whatever happens affects everyone. When one kid wants to join travel soccer, how does that affect all schedules? You've also got to have regular space to be quiet enough to pray, to think, to let God rattle your cage.

The point is how we do what we do, not just what we do. Some people are gifted in law, or the arts, and there's a strong sense of "what I do." For people of faith, it's how we do what we do. How does this tie in with my faith?

Now, your book goes into some length about your hectic life, and you seem to say that the mayhem is the message. But is it even slightly possible that we've acclimated to a culture sped up and out of control, and now we're trying to normalize it? Should life be this hectic?

No, the point isn't to normalize mayhem. At the same time, I wanted to get across that the ultimate picture of a family that really loves God isn't necessarily a 1950s woman in white gloves and a well-ironed dress. I see that nowhere in scripture. I wanted to argue against the idea that peace in the Christian faith, as it's put in a lot of the books out there, means outer calm—meditation in the desert. Peace as I understand it in Christian terms is more about the state of your spirit, your being in conversation with God. And peace can exist in the midst of a busy schedule.

The opposite mistake to the 1950s model is just as dangerous: the harried, full-career, out of my way, throw a pot-pie to the kids as you drive away, no time to talk to anyone model. That's not it either. We want to always suspect our own assumptions or motives. And we want people around us who can reflect back to us. Time-challenged people like me should ask for input. It can't come from the people already looking to criticize. You need a group of trusted people. It also helps to be watching other lives. That was a gift in writing this book—to look at other people's lives and ask questions.

And few Christian writers take on the subject of two-career couples.

In writing this book, I thought also about families in poverty. In that light, the conversation almost becomes elitist and out of touch with the real world. Two-career marriages in which both people are passionate about their work are a small percentage of the world's population. But someone needs to talk to the couples with a lot of choices. We're setting people up for trouble when we encourage young men and women to get great educations … and then what?

One woman, a neat person, interviewed me for Grandparenting Today. Fifty years ago she quit her job and stayed home with young children. She said, "To be honest I missed my job so much." But this was the 1950s and she couldn't say that. She couldn't have that conversation to at least keep a toe in the water. When we talked, she was celebrating the broader choices her daughters and sons and daughters-in-law had.

The family you describe, everyone looking out for everyone else—different members sacrificing in different seasons or benefiting at different times—pictures a Christian community. It's Paul's description of the body. The other thing that comes to mind is the statement that nothing worth having is easy.

For a while, I was a minister at a church in New England that had a lot of people brand new to faith. It was the neatest setting to be a minister in because people would walk in the door saying, "I have a problem with anger. Here's what I said this week." One guy asked everyone to pass around their checkbooks and credit card statements to show him how to live in a radical Christian way. That kind of vulnerability is rich—to create authentic communities, ask hard questions, end up helping each other by admitting something worthwhile is not going to be an easy journey. It may be beautiful, but it might not be easy.