My wife and I recently drove north and spent the weekend with her niece, husband, and their beautiful 17-month-old girl. Just prior to their baby being born, they bought their first home in a lovely neighborhood and refurbished it. Both have full-time careers and work hard at juggling their priorities. This is where marriage, family, and work move from separate tracts and commingle. Their juggling is now a marathon session rather than an occasional sprint, more art than science. Couples with children have to navigate how to create a stable and loving home for their family. This is love in action. Some days may feel more like a battle and others will long be cherished; my prayer for all is that love will win.
Spending the weekend with them reminded me of how far dual careers have come since my youth. I entered university to prepare for an engineering career. Frankly, marriage and children were not in the forefront of my mind back then. Women were increasingly entering male-dominated fields and my freshman undergraduate class had the highest, around 10%. While that average for my undergraduate university has risen to about 33%, my university initially struggled to accommodate this change. My school never denied entrance to women and proudly published this fact. However, few women felt comfortable going into male-dominated institutions until the 1970s.
With more women in my university, it was inevitable that love would blossom amongst the students, along with marriages and children. When I recently scanned my university’s alumni publication, there were many pictures of dual degreed marriages, some followed by birth announcements. What once was uncommon is now commonplace.
It is now normal for both spouses to work but there are still issues to surmount. Few professional couples are fortunate enough to spend their entire careers working in the same city. For example, I was asked to work in The Netherlands before I married my wife. She had a good job in the same company and was able to find a job in the Netherlands office. It wasn’t the type of work she preferred to do, and the transition was difficult. She compromised for me, an unselfish act of love. Although her professional skills created the opportunities to transfer overseas, she had to persevere within a foreign land in a new job. We grew stronger as a couple as we learned to juggle marriage and career. It was her selfless action that enabled me to grow professionally. It was love in action.
When children arrive, marriages must be strong to juggle child-raising. Working from home or getting days off to be with sick children was not an option during most of my employment. Until my children went to elementary school, I never took vacation until the end of the year. I needed to hold those precious days for emergencies. Finding good, dependable, and affordable childcare was a constant struggle. We had to arrange our work start times so that one went in early while the other drove to childcare, then reversed the pickups after work. When the kids began public school, before and after work childcare had to be managed along with arranging transportation to after school activities. Meal preparation, house cleaning, and appointments had to be balanced as a couple. This juggling act left little time for relaxing, something I regret. I was so glad to observe that my wife’s niece does prioritize some downtime into her busy schedule.
To attract the best workers, companies understand the importance of balancing work and family life. Many young workers have multiple employment opportunities, and the US unemployment rate is currently low. This gives today’s workers the leverage to negotiate more flexible schedules which is necessary since children don’t adhere to set schedules. Good workers find ways to get the work done, just not always within rigid structures. Quality institutions understand family needs and structure jobs that are family friendly. If not, then many workers change jobs and seek organizations that are pro-family.
Looking back, I should have compromised more and focused more on the family. I wasn’t a workaholic, nor did I golf every weekend. I should not have assumed that my career had priority. I should have respected and appreciated the compromises my wife made for my career. Even if the ultimate decisions would likely have been the same, acknowledging the sacrifice others make in supporting your career is returning love.
How will families thrive during their juggling years? I think the Apostle Paul says it best. Most couples hear his words during their marriage ceremony, but his truths should be read often, and not just at weddings. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:4–8a, NRSV)