Jessica DeGroot would like to change the world - one couple at a time. Armed with an MBA in organizational change and workforce diversity from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, DeGroot set up the ThirdPath Institute in Philadelphia in 1998. Through workshops, an ongoing support group, and an approach DeGroot calls "shared care," the nonprofit helps couples redesign their lives so that both spouses can be primary parents and also have meaningful careers. In an interview with Working Mother, Degroot talks about the principles that can help couples get it all, together.
Don't limit yourself to either/or. Think family and work, not family or work. People assume that most of the responsiblities of child care will fall on one parent. A doctor told us she'd laid awake at night worrying about juggling family with career, never thinking to ask her husband to handle half the childcare. Yet he brought her to the workshop and was interested in our ideas. Another husband and wife both wanted to stay home with their new baby. I said, "Why don't each of you work and care for the child?" They hadn't even thought of that. When a shared-care couple comes to workshop to talk about their experiences, participants look at them in awe. They want what that couple has.
Map it out. I ask couples to set their goal and use it to anchor their parenting plan. Then I have them map out the perfect week with an infant. It's Monday afternoon. Who's taking care of the baby? It's Tuesday morning. Who's on duty now? As couples plot out the week, issues arise. Some discover that both partners want equal time at home. Others are comfortable with a 60-40 arrangement. Parents also tend to become more proactive. One father-to-be, whose scouting job for a local film festival involved a lot of travel, realized he would have to plan for two festivals on his next trip so he would be able to take time off after the new baby arrived.
Later on, couples should reevaluate their plan, recognizing that things will change as their children grow.
Get beyond idealized visions. Everyone has these ideals: the ideal worker, the ideal mother, the ideal father, the ideal lifestyle. And you have to let go of some expectations. So couples discuss their feelings about giving up their ideals. They say, "Okay, those are my feelings. But when I think about what I really want, which is high quality care for my child, meaningful work and an opportunity to build an incredible partnership, then I can begin to get past them."
Keep expenses low. At first, most couples feel that they both have to work fulltime. But sometimes you can expand your options simply by making different lifestyle choices. One couple that was planning for a family decided to buy a more affordable house after coming to our support group, realizing that the one they had intended to purchase was too expensive and would lock them both into working full-time. Also, remember that family life has different stages. In the "new family" stage, when any child is under 3, it can be exhausting to have both parents work full-time. Once children are in preschool it's easier, especially if one or both spouses can do flextime.
Seek flexibility. We look at four areas to find flexibility at work: scheduling - some jobs allow for flexible hours; physical presence - some allow you to improve efficiency with technology or by delegating; work flow - people who keep their bosses informed of what they are working on are less likely to get overloaded.
Sometimes you just have to look elsewhere. One participant left his job as a researcher to become a teacher. Now he has summers off and leaves work at 3 p.m., grading papers at night.
Recognize that men want this too. Women often don't believe that men will change. At the workshops, we have participants listen to a father in a shared-care couple talk about how he loves his life. Women then begin to realize that the men are as excited about shared care as they are. The men get to see this, too. When we split into men's and women's groups, it's usually the first time in any of the men's lives that they've been with other fathers who want the same thing and the mothers gain perspective by meeting together because their concerns are diverse. Some are career oriented, and others are more family focused.
Stay anchored. I talk about "seasons." Things will get difficult. But how great to have a family model that encourages couples to communicate, to understand each other better because they share the job of parenting, and to grow as individuals in their work. When you hit a stumbling block, you can get back on track by returning to your common vision.