Confusion and the Two Career Family


Power shift and role change confuse couples

“So, Father,” Pope Francis’ Argentine press aide, asked the priest who is Pope Benedict’s spokesman, “how do you feel about my former boss?” Managing a smile, Father Lombardi, Director of Communications for the former Pope, replied, “Confused.” A recent National Geographic cover story on Pope Francis describes a confusion around power shifts and changing role expectations similar to that felt by the first generation of a two career family. Let me show you how confusion develops when power and role expectations shift in the family.

Mark frowns, “I love my wife and support her but… My father took care of all the finances and my mother ran the family. He wouldn’t be caught dead in the kitchen unless it was to grab a bite. Sure I want to be politically correct and liberated but I feel angry, resentful and very confused.”

“My whole life was spent preparing to be a successful career woman, complains Jennifer. From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a lawyer. It was given that a loving husband and two kids would welcome me home at night. Yeah, guess I have it all but I was not ready for the day to day nitty gritty of succeeding in a two career family. It is not easy and I am confused about how to handle stuff my mother never experienced.” Change is in the air!


Conflicts around change

Confusion is a mark of change. In Rome, Pope Francis laments that he can’t walk the streets of Rome or take the subway as he did in Argentina. “Sometimes I feel penned in.” Yet his goal is very like that of the first generation two career family. He wants to ignite a revolution inside the Vatican without overturning principles. According to the National Geographic, Francis wants to put people and their suffering rather than offenses at the center.

First generation two career families are busy igniting a revolution in their extended family, community, work force and the culture. Like Francis, they want to put people, husbands, wives and kids at the center rather than focusing on outdated values. But old cultural expectations are wreaking havoc. Confusion is fueled by conflicts around post-world war II expectations of white picket fenced communities of stay at home moms, clad in aprons and high heels, welcoming Dads from a hard day at the office clashing with the financial, emotional, intellectual pressures and expectations felt by highly educated women and men in the twenty first century.


The Two Career Family: outcome of social change

“I want a gal just like the gal who married dear old Dad but we can’t live on one salary. It’s not her fault but I’m confused. I love my wife and want to help her but it’s a tough job. What will the guys think if they see me cooking dinner or doing the laundry? Other guys in my Friday card group don’t do the shopping.”

“Pam’s an impressive woman, smart, witty, kind, sexy and I admire her skills but sometimes it makes me feel less of a man, especially now that she is making more money than I do. I was raised to think it was my job to make my wife happy but she seems so stressed.”

“On those days, when everything is closing in, I fantasize about what it would be like to be home with the kids all day and not feel too tired for sex.” Sometimes stay at home life looks mighty appealing but we can’t afford it. Truth be told, I’m confused because there is nothing more fun than standing up in a courtroom pleading a case for a person who has been ripped off by a company. Funny, sometimes I feel we are getting ripped off with all the family and community expectations.”

“Although I would love to be with the children all day, I would miss the intellectual stimulation and camaraderie I feel with professional colleagues. Graduate school never prepared me for the dilemma I feel on a daily basis. Am I hurting the kids? Is our marriage suffering? I am so confused and my husband is no help. A part of me wants him to take care of me and make everything okay.”


The two career family: refugee from another time

Family therapist, Lily Ha, describes her parents as Vietnamese war refugees who came to the U.S. in 1975. “Their lives went from having servants to being refugees in a foreign country.” There is a parallel to the confusion of a two career family: In Vietnam, men are considered family authority, decision maker and enforcer of cultural expectations. Both men and women are shaped by these expectations. Key values focus around family, total respect and submissiveness to parents. The Ha’s arrived in a country awash with change. Roles of men and women were transforming at a dizzying rate, at least on the surface. Husbands and wives, are often like the Ha’s, leaving a familiar set of values and expectations around family life and marrying a partner with an entirely different set of values and expectations. Confusion and conflict are rampant.

Overcome confusion: create the family of your dreams

Lily Ha’s parents divorced and as she grew older the conflict between Lily and her mother grew as Lily and her sister “were trying to fit in with our peers and what was considered appropriate in American culture, while my mom was trying to parent like her parents – strict and closed off from what was happening right in front of us. I tried to explain to my mom when I was a teenager that what she was doing was not going to work anymore. We were not her and we were not in Vietnam.” Lily’s mom explained that she was parenting the only way she knew, the way she was raised.

We tend to mirror our parents in our parenting style and in our behavior as partners but it is often below our awareness. We experience confusion and hurt when our spouses don’t respond as expected. But remember they are mirroring values and behaviors from a different family with diverse values and role expectations. There is a bit of the refugee in every two career family. You are bucking social, cultural and familial values.

Reduce the confusion and stay tuned in to Dr Mary Giuffra, a couples’ therapist who has cleared up confusion for thousands of two career couples over the past 40 years. A graduate of four generations of a two career family, Dr Mary walks her talk. Her husband, Bob, their four married two career kids and eight grandkids demonstrate daily the challenges you face. Follow her on Facebook at and check out her website Dr Mary will be having weekly chats to clear up your confusion and your conflicts around changing roles and expectations in your two career family. Leave your email address below and we’ll send you a copy of her book, 10 Secrets of a Two Career Relationship. If you want an online or phone session, email her at

Click HERE for 10 Secrets of a Two Career Relationship




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