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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Career and Family Choices and our Deepest Values

When we are faced with vocational choices—opportunities around which our family life might hinge—we can’t completely foresee the results of choosing one path or another. We only get to plumb the depths of the values at stake. If those values are rooted in our faith in God and our call to build God’s kingdom, our experience has shown that the pieces fall together. Over and over again, we’ve found that God is faithful.

I was recently presented with an opportunity to explore a new position and it would have completely changed the way our family life is structured. Discerning through that opportunity led me to some important insights—it reminded me of what my work is really about at this phase of our family life.

We moved from Portland to South Bend for Stacey to take her dream job, and I knew that she would throw herself into the work and do a lot of good. Up until then, either I had served as the main breadwinner for the family, or we had shared a position. This move meant that Stacey would be taking on the role of breadwinner, and I would be mainly supporting the home and family life. And I was totally fine with that.

I’ve been really lucky to find meaningful work here that supports my writing vocation and has flexibility to allow me to be the primary caregiver at home. I give thanks every day for this arrangement. Still, every once in a while, I wonder, “Is this all there is?” At times, I worry that I’ll still be doing this part-time work in another five or ten years.

In the last few weeks, I was discerning a position to join the writing staff at a magazine. It was attractive to me because I thought it would be a good next step for my writing career, and I’d be able to work with other writers (right now, all my writing and editing is done solo). In the end, I decided not to apply, for a variety of reasons, and I’m convinced it was the right choice—I’m at peace with the decision.

At the same time as I was discerning this opportunity, Stacey was at a point in her career where she was gathering and assessing the work she’s done in the five years we’ve been here as part of a performance review. I helped her edit the compilation and was very impressed with her work—she’s built a program from the ground up, and it is effectively serving people. Others see the value in what she’s doing and are asking for her input. She’s making a real impact.

When I saw all her work laid out like that, I realized that I have a part to play in her progress as well. By supporting a stable and happy home life, I am giving her the freedom to throw herself fully into her work. I feel satisfaction in that because I know that she is doing what she is called by God to do.

I know that last paragraph sounds a lot like I’m turning into Mrs. Cleaver, but this is simply what collaboration in family life looks like. One of our highest values for our family is that we want to raise our children ourselves. Being with them during the summers, helping them with homework, attending their sports games—we believe all of that makes a difference. That value has been reinforced to us through prayer and reflection—we feel like God is calling us to shape our family life in this way—and so everything else bends around that pillar.

That value has called for sacrifices. I could be chasing advancement; we’ve always had to watch our budget and be careful with our spending. But holding to this value has also led to rewards. Our kids are growing up with a secure sense of themselves. No matter what happens at school, no matter what their friends do or say, they know that they are first and foremost an essential and loved member of this family. That is like bedrock for their personality development—we can see each of them starting to bloom in unique ways.

So the past two weeks have been a time of clarity for me. I’ve stepped away from pursuing an opportunity because of our deepest values, and I’ve seen with greater focus the benefits of following those values over the past five years: the advancement of Stacey’s work and vocational mission, and the blossoming of the well-being of our children.

Where does that leave my own vocational mission? I’m reminded of the important and lasting impact of my work at home. And I’m very lucky to have room to pursue a secondary vocation to write—I have a part-time job that allows me to work with language every day, and I’m squirreling away an hour a day to work on some creative writing projects. It is a satisfying, stimulating place to be. The past few weeks have left me feeling reinvigorated and recommitted to caring for the family, and doing what I can with the time I have left over.

Is this all there is? Maybe. But it’s more than enough.