Benefits and Challenges: Our Dual-Career Family
by Susan Howell and J. Dwayne Howell
Ours is a dual-career family. We value family and are devoted to our children, their well-being, and development. We are also devoted to the well-being and continued development of each other as the adult members of this family. While commitment to family values can be effectively lived out in a variety of ways, for us it involves both spouses being actively involved in full-time careers and actively involved in parenting our two children. We have developed a lifestyle that has proven well-suited for us; however, we realize that ours is only one model among others that might be as compatible for families who have different goals and needs.
This article simply presents our experience as a dual-career family, the benefits we have experienced, the challenges we have encountered, and the ways we have addressed those challenges in building a Christian home and family. Our hope is that through reflecting on our experience, the dual-career possibility will be considered as a viable option for those who are committed to equality in the home as well as to the nurturance and well-being of the family.
We have benefited in numerous ways from the balance between work and home that our lifestyle provides. We each enjoy the creative outlet and fulfillment that comes with jobs to which we feel called. We have each felt God’s leadership in our education and career planning and believe God has led us to the jobs we now hold.
We also experience the fulfillment and enjoyment that comes through sharing in the parenting of our two children. Sometimes our sharing means we rotate tasks. For instance, we alternate taking them to school and supervising them afterwards and we take turns being the primary caregiver on weekends. Sometimes, depending on the specific activity and our own interests, we take on different childcare tasks.
For example, Dwayne enjoys the outdoors so he is more likely to help the kids with their garden, take them fishing, or go camping with them. On the other hand, Susan is more likely to shop with them for school clothes, help them create a dessert, or read with them.
Shared parenting has helped us each stay informed and knowledgeable about our children’s needs and interests. Whether we are alternating a childcare responsibility or taking on different tasks entirely, we seek to balance the time spent with the children and the jobs we do with them so that we are both actively involved.
This balance between home and work keeps us from feeling deprived of either experience while preventing us from feeling overly burdened by either. Without having to fill the traditional role as the sole financial provider, Dwayne is able to spend more time with the children than he might otherwise. Without being solely responsible for the children, Susan is able to enjoy fulfilling work outside of the home.
Our appreciation for the balance encouraged by the dual-career lifestyle comes from our understanding of the relationship between man and woman in the creation account of Genesis 2, which deals with the development of human relationships. While the male is created first, he is not complete until the woman is created. The purpose of the creation of woman was not to provide a worker for the man, but instead to provide a peer (the ‘ezer in v.18) to complete the man.
In this account, man is not totally complete until the woman is brought to him and the woman is not totally complete without the man. The writer underlines this with the pronouncement that the “two shall become one” (not one shall become like the other). One of the most important things that one spouse can do for the other is to help him or her to be the most that God wants. We believe that the balance our lifestyle provides helps us to move toward such fulfillment.
It is important to realize, however, that the husband and wife are not the only ones who benefit from the dual-career lifestyle. Often the assumption is made that for each parent to have occupational fulfillment, the children will suffer, but this does not have to be the case. Although we are both committed to our work outside the home, our children are the first priority for each of us.
As mentioned previously, we alternate childcare responsibilities and divide tasks according to our own interests and abilities. The result is that our children have two parents who are actively involved in their lives, who are knowledgeable regarding their needs and interests, and who make it their primary job to provide for their well-being. Our children are well cared for by two parents who are committed to them. We see this as a benefit.
Our children are also benefiting from the role modeling our lifestyle provides. Our son and our daughter see their mother and father working outside and inside the home. They see both a father and a mother using their abilities and being appreciated outside of the family for their contributions. They see both a father and mother sharing housework and childcare.
We want our children to feel equally competent inside and outside the home and confident in their ability to be successful at whatever they are called to do. Our daughter will hopefully not question her occupational potential based on gender; our son will hopefully share in household responsibilities, respect the abilities and contributions of women, and see himself as capable of being a competent father.
Another benefit is that since we are both employed full time, more of the household workload must be carried by both spouses and children. Shared work is a good way to emphasize the importance of each person contributing so that the family can function effectively. Our children have gained a certain amount of independence through the chores we rely on them to complete.
In addition, this sharing of the workload emphasizes that the woman’s role is not just to make her husband’s and children’s lives better. She also has a life outside of the home, and her goals and activities are as important as those of her husband and children. This seems to be an important lesson for each of them as they form their impressions regarding what it means to be male and female.
Even though, for us, the benefits outweigh the challenges, the challenges exist nonetheless. When both spouses are committed to their careers, finding a place to live where each can work within his or her chosen field can be a challenge. Relocation would be easier if there was only one job to be considered. It is more difficult to make a move when you must consider the opportunities a relocation will provide, or eliminate, for a spouse.
What if one of us finds the perfect job, but the other is left waiting for an opportunity to surface? How long should we wait for an opportunity before moving again? How do we decide whether to make a geographic move—based on Dwayne’s work? Based on Susan’s work? Based on which job provides the greatest career advancement or the highest salary? Will his career or her career have priority? These are some of the questions that the dual-career family must face and decide on their own criteria.
The solution for us, however, has not been as complicated as the questions. We decided early on that we would base such decisions on what we felt God was leading us to do, staying or relocating based on divine direction. As it has turned out, we have moved when Susan had a job, but Dwayne did not; we have also relocated when Dwayne had a job, but Susan did not. In each instance, we have felt God’s leadership and benefited from the experience of following divine guidance.
Finding free time has been another challenge. Household chores, which in some families are completed by the wife while the husband is at work and the children are at school, must be accomplished for the most part during evenings or weekends. One solution for us has been in dividing the tasks between spouses and children. As mentioned previously, we hope this teaches the children that housework is not “women’s work,” but work to which each family member has a responsibility to contribute.
We have found however that using a “divide and conquer” approach to task completion can backfire. In dividing up household tasks, errands, and childcare in a way that is equitable, we too often find ourselves going in separate directions and then realize that our time together as a couple has suffered. This has required intentional effort to take advantage of pockets of time that can be spent together. For instance, during a hectic week, we make a point of eating lunch together. During a busy day, we call or email each other just to touch base. We have recently started writing together. In these ways we increase time spent with each other.
Another way we have addressed the lack of free time is to limit our involvement in outside activities. Although the children are involved in extracurricular activities and we are all involved in church, we intentionally limit the number of activities that would pull us away from our having several evenings a week at home together. We eat dinner together most evenings and are intentional about having a good number of evenings and weekend times free to spend together.
In meeting the challenges we have encountered, we recognize that several factors have made it easier for us to live out our values in our chosen lifestyle. For instance, ours has always been a dual-career family. We began our marriage with both of us working toward professional goals and planned our children and our lifestyle knowing that we both intended to work full time in the careers to which we were called. Having never made a transition from another lifestyle, we never had different patterns to unlearn. We have each been committed from the beginning to our own and our spouse’s career goals. We realize that some individuals who want to develop a dual-career lifestyle find it difficult, if not impossible, to do so without the support of the other spouse.
We are also fortunate to have jobs which are very conducive to the dual-career lifestyle. We are both on faculty teaching at the same university and have the flexibility of creating schedules that work for us and our family. We avoid teaching classes at the same time so that if a child is sick, one of us is free to care for him or her. On an alternating basis one of us is free each afternoon to pick up the children from school, and take them to their activities, oversee homework, and provide supervision. For the most part, we have summers free. In the event that both of us are busy with work, we have family in the area that can provide help as needed. We realize that often parents do not have jobs that allow this kind of flexibility nor people around who can and will help.
In conclusion, our family has experienced many benefits of the dual-career lifestyle. Although there have been challenges, there have also been circumstances which have helped us effectively meet those challenges. Like other families, we have times when we struggle and life does not run as smoothly as we would like. We are still in process. However, we seek to continue to be sensitive to divine direction, to our spouse and children, as well as our own personal needs in order to live out our values of family and gender equality within our home.