Skip to main content

In Case You Missed It: Picture a Social Scientist in a Two-Career Household

January 19, 2024

Image of panelists

Think of a championship-winning team. What makes it work? Typically, it is not the team with just one superstar, but rather the team with multiple valuable players communicating with one another that wins the game.

Scott Sanders, a professor in the Sociology Department, explained that thinking of his relationship and his family as a team has helped him and his wife, Jennie Sanders, biochemist and vice president at Western Governors University, juggle responsibilities such as getting children to school or deciding which career should take priority at different times.

The Sanders were panelists for “Picture a Social Scientist in a Two-Career Household,” where all panelists shared their sentiment of the importance of a family, specifically a married couple, working as a team. Chris Karpowitz, professor in the Political Science Department, and his wife Jordan Karpowitz, assistant dean of External Relations in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, were also panelists and echoed the importance of frequent and honest communication.

“One thing I’ve had to learn how to do is express my needs and be comfortable doing that,” said Jordan. “I had to gain the confidence that what I needed to do was just as important and valid as what he needed to do. Even if it made it harder for him, it was ok. He was willing to support me.”

Jennie Sanders also expressed the importance of making prayerful decisions and including the influence of the Holy Ghost in the conversations couples have.

“One of the great things about the gospel is that we have the opportunity to seek revelation and to follow it,” Jennie said. “Sometimes that revelation is going to look really different from person to person. I think that sometimes we'll doubt it or push it down because it's not what others expect of us. The three-way conversation is the most important part. God has lots of plans for us.”

Image of Chris Karpowitz

Chris said, “Trust the decisions that you make together as a couple,” noting that each family has unique circumstances and that they change over time.

Some of the challenges felt by families with two careers have to do with not following traditional roles. Sometimes they feel disapproval from family or friends or perhaps they need to search out how men can support women in their work.

Scott answered that he has tried to make his family a priority throughout his professional career. He has taken his kids to meetings and lectures when necessary, or left events early to support his children.

“The way I see these stereotypes or these cultural expectations is often in the conversations I have with students as they come in to talk to me about their career aspirations.” said Chris. "Invariably, when women come into my office to talk about going to a PhD program or going to law school, one of the questions they have is ‘How do I balance this with my family?’ “

On the other hand, Chris shared that male students rarely bring up the same concerns and instead focus primarily on professional pursuits in those conversations.

“I think that's wrong,” Chris said. “I think men should be talking about that just as much as women.” He then encouraged students that it's ok to have those conversations about family and careers with your faculty mentors because those same questions are important to faculty too.

Jennie felt that you don’t have to reconcile the difference in your family to a more traditional family. When others questioned her family’s decisions, she reminded herself that “often if people are applying a social norm, it's because they do think that's what's right and safe and maybe they're concerned about you.”

She believes instead that it’s important “to be able to have some honest conversations and to be able to acknowledge, ‘You're saying this from a place of care. Thank you. I love you too. Here's what I need in this relationship to feel honored right now or to feel respected.’”

When asked how husbands might better support their wives, Jordan expressed that understanding the unseen emotional work woman frequently do — planning meals, thinking about doctors’ appointments, etc. — and taking some of that burden is incredibly helpful. She shared an example of how they took specific days of the week to be in charge of dinner.

“It wasn’t just cooking dinner,” said Jordan. “It was also deciding what dinner would be and making sure those items were on the grocery list. The point was that when it was your night, you were fully in charge and the other person didn’t have to think about it at all.”

Discussion moderators Cambria Siddoway, a student in the School of Family Life and her husband William Clayton, who is studying information systems, wrapped up the events by asking for final thoughts. Panelists again expressed the importance of consistent and frequent communication. “Love is a long conversation,” said Chris. They encouraged others to make time to talk to their spouse every day, create a plan for the week or month ahead, and be willing to be flexible when there are changes.

Read more about previous Picture a Social Scientist panel discussions and see topics for future discussions.