Dual-income families with children are healthy and thriving according to new research.
That, the researchers argue, means the myth of frazzled working-parents farming their love-starved offspring off to daycare is just that – a myth.
Colorado State University researchers Shelley Haddock, Toni Schindler Zimmerman, Scott Ziemba and Lisa Current studied 47 dual-income couples and presented their findings in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.
The combined incomes ranged between $34,000 to $220,000 ; the working hours, from 40-45 hours a week; and the occupations, from baker, and billing clerk to engineer and lawyer.
All couples studied were competent and creative in meeting work and home responsibilities and satisfied with their work and home performance. They believed others saw them as skilled in balancing career and family responsibilities.
The couples experienced dual earning and parenthood as mostly a positive experience and had quality and quantity time with their kids. In short, they defied negative clichés of working parents.
That comes as good news to many of our own dual-income clients, who have to combat many erroneous stereotypes. Among them:
- Working mothers turn out bad kids
- Fathers are job-obsessed ruining their marriages and neglecting their children
- Parents, particularly working mothers, are universally guilt-ridden for working outside the home
The researchers found the couples they studied tended to use 10 strategies in making their family and work decisions.
1. They put family first.
The couples interviewed said maintaining a commitment to family is the highest priority. They said they do this by creating regular family time like pizza night every Friday. They read bed-time stories to their children. They attend their sporting events.
Dual earners in the study sometimes limited their hours, sacrificed career advancement, made career changes or accepted less prestigious positions to keep family No. 1, the researchers found.
For example, one family decided not to support the father through medical school for eight years, due to the strain his absence would place on the children.
2. They maintain boundaries.
Successful moms and dads reported keeping as much control over their work as they could. They tended not to allow their careers to dictate the pace of their lives. This meant developing a healthy relationship with their employers, negotiating realistic time lines for projects and separating family from work by limiting overtime or not taking work home.
3. They are focussed at work.
The limits that balanced earners place on their careers seemed not to affect their productivity. One Dad reported he and his spouse pulled more that their weight at work. The couples didn’t waste time and reported being efficient and focussed while on the job.
That way, they kept their options open with their employers
4. They find work meaningful.
Couples who can find some enjoyment and purpose at work typically brought energy and enthusiasm into their lives at home, limiting fatigue and burn-out.
5. They live simply.
Successful dual-earners tended to consciously simplify their lives by limiting anything that ate into family time, especially TV-watching and too many extracurricular activities. Some families cancelled cable, allowed only two regular commitments of any sort a week.
They controlled their spending to avoid working overtime to pay for fancy cars, getaway places or the latest appliance, clothing or piece of equipment.
They didn’t become obsessive about the neatness of their homes.
6. They are balanced.
Balanced families resisted the urge to allow the pace of life to dictate what happens in the family. Saying no was helpful to dual earners as was having a clear sense of priorities, making family No. 1 and not allowing others to dictate what is important. They didn’t try to keep up with the Joneses.
They defined success as having a happy family, happy marriage and happy work life. The couples tended to refrain from making a good marriage or a lucrative job the sole measure of success. Keeping the bigger picture in mind helped these families remember what was important to them.
7. They value time.
Dual earners tend to be very protective of their time, cautiously deciding how to use it and keeping it sacred.
8. They are a partnership.
Successful families reported making decisions together. Both partners had equal say and each felt respected, appreciated and supported by the other. Having a foundation of equality in the relationship was essential to a balanced work-family life.
One father said parenting involved both earning and caring. He said it wasn’t fair for each parent to work at a job then have only the mother come home and do all the house work too.
Partners in successfully balanced families appreciated what the other did around the house.
9. They are proud.
The balanced families didn’t accept negative stereotypes about themselves just because they both worked outside the home. They believed dual earning was positive for the whole family and did not feel guilty about their family arrangement.
Partners in balanced families tended to achieve personal fulfillment through their children, their spouses and their work. They recognized all these aspects of their lives provided purpose. Some took pride knowing their children would grow up sharing what happens in a home, viewing women as equal and seeing dads do chores.
10. They enjoy family time.
Although their lives were busy and demanding, the families enjoyed a lot of playtime. They used it to relax, enjoy life, stay connected emotionally and guard against stress.
Spontaneous moments were treasured like having a family “camp-out” in the living room with sleeping bags and a fire in the fireplace.
The researchers acknowledged that striking the perfect balance requires work and dedication.
We believe the struggle for family-work balance will continue but at least, this research can allow working parents to breathe a sigh of relief.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.