Navigating being a working mom in a two-career house
When I was growing up, I thought I’d be just like my mom. I thought that, after college, I would work for a few years, get married, then stay home with the kids.
I didn’t really have a picture of what it looked like to have a mom work outside the home. My mom, my grandmas and most of my aunts stayed home and supported their husbands by keeping the family and home. I loved my childhood and my family—so I didn’t really think hard about a different path for my life.
For me, the journey of becoming a working mom—and a two-career household (my husband has an enormous job) —emerged slowly. It wasn’t a declaration I made when I was young, and there was never a definite moment where I chose it. Staying home just never felt like the right choice for me.
So this life I find myself living—20 years in a two-career household and 15 years as a working mom—is one where I’ve had to piece together a quilt of advice and best practices from hundreds of conversations and moments watching families living the life I am trying to build.
Here is some of what I’ve learned so far:
◗ Successful marriages are not accidental.
You are both changing. You are both growing. You are both regarded in your individual worlds. You are both struggling. You are both fighting with your inner voice as you step into new challenges. You are both navigating the new identities of becoming a parent. If you do not work to understand, listen, revere and choose your spouse, like any relationship, you will grow apart.
In business, we often say, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” The same is true of our marriages. Work together to create your formula for how you will stay connected. Don’t make the mistake of believing the next stage in life will make it easier to prioritize your relationship.
◗ Learn to accept help.
If you let me, I will repeat these words to you 1,000 times. You have to learn how to accept help. You will not be able to do everything exactly the way you want it to be done every time and have time for the relationships you care about—and time to take care of yourself. It’s impossible.
Figure out what you’re OK with delegating, then do it. Yes, sometimes I can’t find a spatula for a week because it’s in the wrong drawer, but that’s better than me having to empty the dishwasher every time. Done is better than perfect.
◗ Complexity requires grace in communication.
With different demands, a big family and varying degrees of control over plans changing (my husband often learns of same-week travel plans), navigating the logistics of the family requires close attention and a big dose of grace.
My advice? Assume good intent. If you both start there, it will alleviate 50% of your arguments. “No, I didn’t mean to forget to tell you there was a choir concert tonight.” “Yes, I know you didn’t mean to schedule a work trip over my girls’ weekend.” If you both start with assuming good intent—that what happened was an honest mistake—it keeps you on the same side of the argument.
◗ Choose your priorities, together.
My husband and I have always both pushed hard toward our career goals. And we’ve always clearly articulated to each other whose job—in that season—is taking priority. That does not mean the other one is not working hard and is not moving forward in their career.
For us, it means knowing who is the default one home for the kids after school. Who is the one that can book travel without asking if the other is going to be home. This has simplified the tug of war. There are seasons where I have said “no” to opportunities because we said “yes”—as a couple—to things for my husband’s career, and vice versa. I’ve found this keeps us on the same page instead of feeling a tug of war inside our own home.
◗ Opportunity abounds.
I love that we live in a time where there is so much opportunity. Opportunity to start businesses, lead businesses, work alone, have a team and customize the work environment that works for our families and lives. But I also see secret questions in the eyes of college students, of new moms, of young families, asking, “How do we do it all?”
I’ll share the framework that has helped our family move past the madness in my next article.•
Sauder is CEO of Element Three, an Indianapolis-based marketing consultancy, and host of the podcast “Scared Confident.” She is also owner of Share Your Genius.