Two-career couples; tell how they balance jobs and home

Carving out a successful, full career while devoting time and effort to your home life is a challenge most families face. Some face it twice, with both husband and wife taking on career-level positions.

Perhaps as many as 8 million American couples fall into the dual-career category, according to a recent survey by Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit organization that works for the full participation of women in the job market. Balancing career and home life is just one of the challenges made doubly difficult by dual careers. With an additional career in the family, everything from finding a job to coping with a company relocation takes on an extra dimension.

In recent interviews, corporate representatives and dual-career families told how they face these challenges, avoid a few of them, and use their work-intensive life to the best advantage. Here's what these pioneers advocate:

* Become a package deal. Helen Reynolds, a spokeswoman for General Electric, says that many graduate students are "marrying each other and coming to GE for a package deal. If at all possible, we try to oblige them," she says.

There is some evidence that such "inhouse" families receive better treatment when one member must be relocated. Spokesmen for five of the top US corporations report that, in these in-house cases, every effort is made to find a company job for the spouse of the relocated employee.

* Only relocate with two job offers. Merrill Lynch Relocation Management Inc., a sister firm to the stock brokerage, reports that one-third of the 600 companies it surveys annually provide some kind of job-finding assistance to the spouses of employees they relocate. Since such help is often available on a "case-by-case basis," as a spokesman for International Business Machines puts it , dual-career couples advise that you ask for this assistance before you make your relocation decision.

Unless your field is very flexible -- like accounting or elementary education -- it is probably unwise to move before you have a real job commitment lined up. You may run into the same snag as one West German couple. The husband, Christoph Laubrock, followed his Foreign Service wife from Bonn to their country's embassy in Washington.

"Employers saw that I followed Jacoba over here and assumed that I'd follow her to her next post," he says. After over a year of pounding the pavements (and studying for an American law degree), Christoph landed a job in New York, putting the Laubrocks into the ranks of the commuter couple.

His advice: if you have no job lined up in the new city, and if your expertise is limited to a particular field, weigh the moving decision carefully. If one of you must give up a $35,000 salary and the job satisfaction that goes with it, the move may be too expensive for your marriage.

* Avoid commuter marriages. None of the couples interviewed advocate a commuter arrangement that has them working in different cities, and at least one called it a "tangible first step toward divorce." If you must separate -- and sometimes there is no other way -- keep the distances as short as possible, see each other as often as possible, and do everything you can possibly do to work in the same city again, they say.

* Delegate the dirty work. For couples with doubly big incomes, hiring household help can be a solution. A Canadian publisher who hops around a dozen cities annually says she spends her time at home "with my family, not my vacuum cleaner." She hires maids to clean, shop for the groceries, and cook up a week's worth of dinners at a time.

Other couples delegate everything to professionals, from painting the hallway to buying the furniture, but some say they like to do their own shopping, because "it makes life seem more normal when we do all the little things together."

* Support each other. Several people say they use their spouses' careers as a springboard to their own. As Rose Hayden, a high-level civil servant who is married to Sam Hayden, manager of the home office of the Council of the Americas , puts it, "I can take risks with my career -- go for the long shots -- because I know I have Sam to support me."

This mutual support gives the two-career couple greater flexibility in the job market than the single-career family -- a flexibility that companies are starting to come to grips with. Felice Schwartz, president of Catalyst, has noted a "distinct interest" among personnel officers in the problems these couples pose, and the beginnings of a corporate policy toward them.

In addition to offering spouses in-house jobs and making package deals for couples, some companies are joining citywide consortia to exchange job-opening information, she says.

These and other policies are expected to develop as corporations face the burgeoning number of two-career couples.

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