Planning for Emergencies in Dual Working Families

Working ParentsMany of my clients are married professionals: doctors married to doctors, lawyers married to corporate executives, airline pilots married to dentists, etc.  In a bygone era, the husband was the primary breadwinner, and the wife focused her attention on children and household affairs; that era is quickly becoming an anachronism.  So what do you do when both spouses have equally important work responsibilities, and one of the children is sick, the car breaks down, or the repair man is coming by to fix the dryer?

The best way to deal with an unexpected emergency is to plan for it ahead of time.  Sick children are going to need to be brought home from school, and someone is going to have to let in the plumber when the pipes burst and the basement looks like an indoor swimming pool; therefore, decide BEFORE they happen who will be responsible for dealing with emergencies.

In the same way balanced families plan for financial emergencies, they should also plan for “time critical” emergencies.  A time critical emergency is an event both urgent and important enough that it pulls a person away from their primary professional responsibilities.  The school isn’t going to let your sick kid stay in class because you are closing a real estate deal, and the dead car isn’t going to drive itself to the mechanic because you have an important client meeting; therefore, couples where both work outside the home should create a “contingency” roster to plan for responding to unplanned emergencies.

040303-F-2828D-101When I was in the Marine Corps, my infantry unit was periodically tasked to be the “Air Contingency Battalion” (ACB).  Whenever our battalion was assigned as ACB, we went about our normal operational and training routine; however, in the event of a crisis, the ACB was expected to drop everything it was doing and be prepared to load on aircraft within 6 hours of notice and fly anywhere in the world to respond to a crisis.  While it was possible for us to train and operate close to home, we couldn’t be more than two hours away from the base and we certainly didn’t schedule operations that would prevent us from dropping everything we were doing to load aircraft in a moment’s notice.

In the same way, I encourage dual working parents to create a family contingency roster that pre-assigns one spouse responsible for responding to contingencies.  When an emergency pops up that requires immediate attention, the contingency roster helps prevent confusion or hard feelings about who will respond.

Couples should plan their professional schedules accordingly.  Emergencies are never convenient, and they always pop up at the worst possible time; however, when possible, you shouldn’t schedule contingency duty the same week you intend to be in court, and your spouse shouldn’t volunteer to have contingency duty the days she is traveling out of the country.  To the best of your ability, use grace and common sense to work with each other’s professional commitments to ensure the contingency roster is efficiently coordinated and duties are equally shared.

In a mini crisis, someone is going to be inconvenienced by having to leave a meeting, vacate a job site, or cancel an appointment with their biggest client. Ultimately, the purpose of the contingency roster is to ensure both working spouses share the responsibility of responding to emergencies equally.  Resolve schedule conflicts with your spouse ahead of time, and those assigned contingency duty should be responsible for resolving their own work related conflicts. The spouse who routinely expects the other working spouse to interrupt their professional duties to cover for them will eventually create bitterness and resentment in their marriage.

The contingency roster should be published monthly and discussed weekly to ensure it is understood and workable.  It need not be complicated, really nothing more than a color code or initial on a calendar (like Google Calendar) which both spouses have at their immediate access.

To be honest, having only one spouse working outside the home has been less complicated for Linda and me, and I often take for granted how fortunate we are that Linda is flexible enough to handle most of our mini crises, but for those couples who both enjoy their professional careers and expect their spouses to support them, the contingency roster seems to be a good solution.

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