The New Normal – Two Careers, Three Jobs

A group of sociology researchers at UCLA video recorded 32 middle-class dual income LA families to study their lives, time management and stress levels (New York Times). I am a member of this “new” sociological phenomenon that has grown from 36 percent of families in 1975 to 46% of families in 2008.  UCLA generated 1540 hours of research and determined that parents like us are stressed, juggling and constantly negotiating. They found:

 “a fire shower of stress, multitasking and mutual nitpicking.”

They also found that both parents spend considerable time (and roughly equivalent amounts of time) with their children.


Unlike many of these families, I don’t work just for the economic necessity (although if one of us stopped working, we’d have to make serious adjustments like selling our house); I work because I’m ambitious and I enjoy it.  But the stress of coordination is real.  This week, my working girlfriends and I:

  • Tracked field trips/lunches/end-of-school parties
  • Coordinated after school activities/performances/competitions
  • Set up doctors appointments
  • Paid bills and negotiated with insurance companies
  • Arranged/shopped and packed for weekend outings
  • Determined the dinner menu for the family and cooked
  • Participated in community service governance

None of these things (except the doctor appointments) are absolute necessities and I’m not complaining.  But they are part of the real juggling act we perform daily.

 A good friend asked me how we should counsel our young daughters about their career choices and work:life balance. Can we fulfill our professional aspirations while maintaining a marriage, a home and being a good parent? Do we have to compromise on all three? Our husbands are good partners, but (just like in the research) somehow the coordination responsibilities are usually ours.

The study showed

“Parents generally were so flexible in dividing up chores and child-care responsibilities — “catch as catch can,”

one dad described it — that many boundaries were left unclear, adding to the stress.

The couples who reported the least stress tended to have rigid divisions of labor, whether equal or not.

“She does the inside work, and I do all the outside, and we don’t interfere with each other”, said one husband.

That’s what my friend and I determined over a glass of Chardonnay.  We had to communicate what each parent would do and how we needed to ask for help or say we were overwhelmed.  We needed to touch base with our girlfriends and share the load. And that’s what I’ll hope to cultivate in all three of my children so that they can realize their ambitions, the ambitions of their partners and manage the inevitable stress in their lives. What will you tell your daughters and sons?

This was originally posted at SVMoms.