There’s a story out there that for a family to function, one parent has to “lean back.” Two big careers will lead to misery.
Long time readers know I think that’s ridiculous. However, there are a few fields that, by the nature of their requirements, make life more challenging for a spouse to accomplish their professional goals. I’ve written in the past about the Department of Defense’s efforts to increase the earnings and employment rate of military spouses. I’m glad they’re doing this, but shipping service people around every few years will inevitably complicate life for their significant others. Likewise, career diplomats wind up in new international postings every few years. American embassies will reserve some jobs for spouses but those jobs might not match with a spouse’s particular skills. A couple with one person in one of these careers might decide to have a long distance marriage, but what do they do when kids come along? Does someone have to give up?
Not according to this week’s Best of Both Worlds guest. Masha Saunders is a manager in one of the Big Four accounting firms. Her home office is in the greater Washington DC area. Her husband is in the foreign service, currently stationed in Eastern Europe. They have a toddler. I was drawn to her story because this family has been committed to making this situation work.
(OK, also because Masha mentioned that she did a running streak while pregnant with her toddler, right up until the day she gave birth. Impressive!)
Both Masha and her husband have sought out all opportunities within their careers to spend time together. He had a reasonable paternity leave through the State Department, and he spent that time in Virginia with them. She was able to take a sabbatical as one of her company’s benefits, during which the family lived in Europe. He has sought out training opportunities that take him back to the main headquarters in the States. When she’s on a project that allows for remote work, she goes to Europe, and works a schedule that allows her to spend the morning with her daughter, then work from early afternoon to night (to coincide with the US workday).
None of this has been easy. Masha has been the primary day-to-day parent to this point, which means she’s spent long chunks of time as a solo parent. Many people find combining parenting with work at a Big Four accounting firm challenging enough when they do have a partner living on the same continent! Her parents have provided a lot of help with childcare, and she also relies on friends to help give her a break on weekends. It has obviously not been easy on her husband, either, to go weeks sometimes without seeing his family.
But they have managed to make enough transatlantic trips to make it feel OK, and they are also looking at long term solutions too. For instance, the location of her husband’s current posting doesn’t feature clients of the sort that Masha usually serves. But as her husband puts in for his next posting, he can aim for countries where her firm does do business. Likewise, if they decide that the two-countries thing is no longer doable, there is always the option to apply for jobs at the State Department itself and to build his career on that track.
In any case, I thought this was a good story of a family being intentional about making the most of a situation that is inherently challenging. I hope you will agree!
In the listener question section, we tackle a query from a woman who works at a tech company and who has a new baby. Hers is a big job in its own right. Her husband is in the partner window at his law firm, with all the pressure to maximize billing that comes with that. The situation has become very stressful as she worries that his career might wind up limiting hers (and since she currently earns more than he does, this is adding to the resentment too). We recommend having an honest discussion about whether his leaping through this hoop is a family priority or not. If not, she can say that (though she cannot control what he decides to do). If it is, there are various things he and she can both do to make the situation more tolerable, such as moving closer to work, outsourcing various tasks, and making sure he is smart about working with the people who are most likely to lobby for him.
Please give the episode a listen! And if you’d like to leave a comment – how have you managed a period of time when one partner’s job was very demanding?