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posted: 3/7/2013 11:50 AM

Two-career families work because parents find balance

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For a large majority of two-parent families, both father and mother work outside the home. Sometimes it's out of economic necessity; sometimes it's out of a commitment to vocation and career. But for whatever reason, such a family dynamic is more common than not.

A lot of attention has been given over the last few decades to this seeming major change in how our families work. And it is a change from what was held up as the cultural norm in the '50s and '60s. Because the family prototype of those two decades -- Dad off to work, Mom at home baking cookies, two kids off to a new, bright suburban school -- was so powerfully and persistently portrayed, especially in the new medium of television, we began to assume that this was the way healthy families worked.

The fact that women have worked outside the home since hunter-gather days (women's gathering, in fact, provided more of the family's daily sustenance than men's hunting), or that when women did stay home they usually ran some sort of home-based industry or helped work the family farm, or that even during the '50s and '60s at least half of all women were employed at least part time outside the home, has tended to be overlooked by many proponents of the one-style-fits-all, Mom-at-home family model.

Also overlooked has been the conclusion of most of the research done into the impact of two-career families on things like marital health and positive parenting. It now seems fairly clear that having both wife/mother and husband/father work outside the home has no correlation one way or the other with how well families function.

It's true that two-career families do have another layer of complexity to master in their day-to-day lives, but many work just as well as any of the other family models out there.

Recently, researchers at Colorado State University took a look at how well-functioning two-career families actually do work. Out of their interviews, observations and analysis, they came up with a list of 10 characteristics of such families. They're worth considering.

1. Valuing family: Healthy, two-career couples don't value family life any less than other healthy families. In fact, they are just as focused on their families and place their family commitments at the top of their priority lists.

2. Becoming partners: Such families are centered around a marital partnership. Spouses make decisions jointly, assign family tasks fairly and with sensitivity to each other's skills, interests, etc. No "one" is in charge; rather, "two" are in charge.

3. Finding meaning in work: Work is not something that is done just to pay the bills. It is seen as an important and valuable part of life. It is a way to make a contribution, to do something meaningful and fulfilling.

4. Leaving work at work: Work is not brought home. There is a clear delineation between work time and family time. Each has its place and is kept in its place.

5. Working hard at work: One thing that allows such couples to leave work as work is being productive on the job. Many employers have come to realize that employees who are part of healthy two-career families are among their most productive on-the-job people.

6. Taking pride: Family members are proud of their commitment to both healthy family life and healthy work life. There isn't an underlying attitude of shame or regret at these two sometimes conflicting commitments, but a valuing of both and a pride in being able to put each in its rightful place.

7. Family fun: Two-career families tend to put a high emphasis on rest and relaxation, on play, on trips and vacations, on having fun. Family time is special time.

8. Living simply: These families also tend to get down to the basics fairly quickly. They don't waste a lot of time on the latest fads or gadgets or luxuries. They avoid the complications in life that detract from family time.

9. Being proactive: They also take charge of their lives. They don't wait for life to happen to them, but are always thinking ahead enough to manage life so that there is time for each other.

10. Managing Time: Healthy two-career families are also very good time managers. They monitor and limit their commitments. There is often a family calendar or daily planner so that everyone knows what is going on and when they have carved out family time.

There is a lot more we could say about these 10 characteristics of healthy, two-career families. I think you get the idea, though. The most important thing to remember is that two-career families can work just as successfully as any other type of family system. It takes some forethought and hard work, but most success does.

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