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Rachel Laser Headshot

12 Tips for Balancing Two Careers With Kids

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We wrote this piece together to kick-start an optimistic and practical conversation about raising kids while having two professional careers. We consider ourselves CLIPS- Career-Loving Involved ParentS. By "career-loving parents," we are using a phrase from Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In that conveys our dedication to both home and work. By "involved," we mean that we place a high priority on feeling plugged into our children's lives. We capitalize the S to emphasize the plural -- that it is both parents. We believe that our professional and personal choices have mostly worked well for us, and we have learned from when they have not. Our hope is to help those couples (gay or straight, married or not) who are interested in a two-career path with kids.

  • Start off on the right path, or get there as soon as possible. With kids at home, it is tempting to let priorities other than interest and culture dictate one's job choice. Although a desire for a certain level of income is an important factor, we are not surprised when parents, usually women, drop out of the work force because the job is unsatisfying and not a workable fit with home life. If you want a CLIPS life, you both need jobs that you like and that are practical, given your home lives.
  • Expect ebbs and flows. Dual career success relies on each parent supporting the other during moments of career opportunity. Still, the inevitable result of a career push is some tension at home. We relate to the line from the movie The Devil Wears Prada: "That's what happens when you start doing well at work, darling. Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. That means it's time for a promotion."
  • Remember that more time for career is just around the corner. For CLIPS, the most demanding phase is definitely when the kids are very young. The toddler years are also challenging ones. But this phase does trickle out. As kids move through the elementary school years, they get busier in ways that free the parents up. The days are long, but the years do fly by.
  • Consider a "reduced full time" schedule. We are fans of one parent working four days a week. The regular three-day weekends provide extra time with the kids and reduce the weekend chore burden. From an employer's perspective, this reduced-full time schedule also works well. Fridays are often more relaxed, and it is easy to remember, and plan for, an employee not being in the office on Friday.
  • CLIPS need a lot of help. If at all possible, do not limit childcare to the hours both parents are at work. If both parents are trying to be super-productive at work, rushing home to grab kids and relieve the babysitter is not going to make for a happy home. A second child makes at least some extra help beyond work time critical. With two kids, the parents are running in separate directions and there is little time for breaks. This is a time to accept all offers of help and still stretch for more. CLIPS often need more help than they think.
  • Do the right childcare math. Do not weigh the cost of hiring childcare against one parent's anticipated net income. The cost of childcare should be allocated to both careers. Also, the math should include increased future earning potential and should account for such intangible benefits as the satisfaction that comes from using intellectual energy and the security of financial independence.
  • Managing is hard. Regardless of the precise form of childcare, the key to success is effective management. Most new parents have never before hired, managed or fired. Managing requires clear expectations. There is no mindreading in child care. Take the time to communicate exactly what is wanted and listen to the day's events. Management experience at home translates directly into better management skills at work.
  • Do not force a 50:50 division of domestic tasks. Our domestic sharing of responsibilities has turned out more traditional than we expected. In rough terms, we estimate that over time we are closer to 60 (Rachel) to 40 (Mark), maybe 65:35. Rachel's higher percentage largely reflects that she assumed overall responsibility for many of the home-related tasks. Even though the uneven ratio masks some real variance over time, both of us are disappointed in this outcome. Still, do not let the best be the enemy of the better. If 50:50 does not feel right to both spouses at a given moment, find another division that feels better.
  • Trust and support each other's priorities. One difficulty all parents face is that they themselves are changing as the kids change. With little left over energy for personal reflection, it is easy for new parents to lose themselves. It is best for each partner to help the other partner achieve whatever he or she wants to do. As our revised version of the country song lyric goes, "If Mama -- and Dada -- ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
  • Volunteer at school or in activities. By volunteering to work on an activity or in a school where their kids spend time, CLIPS connect to their kids in meaningful ways. It is true that often stay-at-home parents run these activities. But that does not suggest that CLIPS should not also participate.
  • Catch the key moments. Showing up for the key moments is a critical way of staying plugged into children's lives. In the early years, the important moments may include walking the child into the classroom each morning. Later, the key moments become more episodic, such as parent-teacher conferences, ballet recitals and camp parent visiting days. An unhappy reality is that with both parents working, at times no parent will be able to participate in something important. That can hurt.
  • Take family-only trips. With so many pulls in different directions, getting away together works wonders at regaining family harmony. The time is difficult to protect because there are many other ways to spend precious vacation time. But trips together when possible are keystones of our child-raising.

Many people have helped us have the life we love. We wrote this article as a way of 'paying it forward.'