The pandemic-induced shutdown has showed us, among other lessons, how hard it really is to juggle work and family.

For example, one married couple, both academics, tracked a workday at home during quarantine. They recorded an average of 15 interruptions by their two children each hour; the typical uninterrupted stretch of work was a mere three minutes, 24 seconds. During this season, the idea of having a successful career and a flourishing family can seem impossible.

Another couple, Christians Jeff and André Shinabarger, started wondering about this tension long before the pandemic. They were living out these big questions under their own roof.

“We say oftentimes that if we change the world and lose our family, we lose,” Jeff said. “And that starts with my relationship with André, our individual relationship, and how that impacts the rest of our family.”

Over two years ago, the Shinabargers—husband Jeff, the founder of startup network Plywood People and wife André, a physician’s assistant—launched a podcast called Love or Work, interviewing couples and relationship experts about marriage, family, and purpose.

They road-tripped in an Airstream to hear from families prioritizing their vocations and their marriages. And they partnered with Christian research organization Barna Group to survey 1,500 couples about work-life balance.

Now Jeff and André have co-authored Love or Work: Is It Possible to Change the World, Stay in Love & Raise a Healthy Family? The book seeks to answer this question through personal anecdotes, lively debates between Jeff and André, and their research. (A detailed report of their survey findings can be downloaded here.)

The couple recently spoke from their home in Atlanta with author Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, who has also written about the unique dynamics around faith, calling, and marriage. The Shinabargers discussed how we as Christians might think through the tension around work, ambition, relationships, and parenting during these unusual times. The interview has been edited for length.

André, in the book you address head-on that managing work and family is much harder for women. Even now, I’ve seen several doomsday articles about how the pandemic could spell the end of the working mother. What would you say to women who are really struggling to have it all?

André: We wrote this book before COVID. And now, we’re like, “Oh, it’s even more important.” The tension was real before COVID, and now the tension is exponentially more real. If anyone feels it, it’s the working mom, and especially, especially the single working mom .... In our research, it was pretty evident that men did not sacrifice their work for their partner as much as women sacrificed for men. As we’re seeing with COVID, all of a sudden all the childcare responsibilities seem to automatically get delegated to the woman.

I get that we often birthed the child out of our bodies, but the kid belongs to both of us. The male, the person you’re partnering with, has just as much responsibility for the childcare and for what happens to these kids than the woman. It’s hard for me to see that women are the ones who are going to pull out of the workforce.

If it was a true partnership, men would be just as likely to pull out of the workforce as women. Jeff and I talk a lot about moving from patriarchy to partnership, and having the viewpoint that whatever works best for your family, that’s what should be done.

What statistic in your research most surprised you?

André: The first is that people are so optimistic: 95 percent of people believe that you can do it all. You can both work, have a healthy family, stay in love. 83 percent of couples say that working has made them better parents. I thought that was really interesting too because oftentimes I think I’m not the best parent because I’m out working, and I feel guilty or somewhat discouraged that I’m not with my kids more.

Article continues below

Yet there are also so many that say they’re exhausted, they’re tired, they feel overwhelmed. They aren’t able to really stay healthy. Only 29 percent say they’re satisfied with their physical health, 21 percent with their financial security. These are dual-income couples. It was interesting to see that the things that we are sacrificing are health—our physical, spiritual, mental, emotional health. We’re going after it, we’re doing it all, and then we’re needing to sacrifice. We’re sacrificing ourselves, really.

How has your faith affected the way you’ve pursued all these things together—marriage, family, and work?

Jeff: Both of us have a deep perspective that we were made to do things unique, and that is part of our calling. What’s interesting is that pieces of our past would say that only one of our callings is most important. And that is not true with what we believe related to our faith, how we were made, designed, and created.

What’s interesting is that, if I believe those things for me and I believe those things for André, then it’s shaped how we live, not just how I live. We’ve had to have some interesting conversations about how we were raised in our faith, and what our faith is today. Those have been constants for us—how we’re made, what our sense of work and calling includes, and how that has played out in our partnership.

Coming from an evangelical background, I can sometimes think it’s wrong or selfish to want it all. It’s like I have a voice inside of me saying I should just be content with what I have. I shouldn’t strive so hard to have so much.

André: I 100 percent agree. That is something that we as women who have been raised in the church have often felt. It’s been modeled for us. We haven’t been able to speak in the churches. We haven’t been able to be pastors. We’ve been relegated to childcare and hospitality ministries. When that is your model, then what do you think that you’re supposed to do as you get older?

I think it’s so limiting to the fullness of what God has created for women to be and do. We’re limiting the gifts that we have, that God has given us as women by just holding onto these patriarchal viewpoints that the church has taught us throughout history. I’m just not for it anymore. I can’t imagine a God that would hold me back and say you’re not quite good enough for that. I don’t believe it. I think God wants the fullness of us to be lived … We never question a man if he has these huge dreams and passions, and wants to live them out. We never question him and ask if that’s selfish. But we definitely do that for women.

Jeff: Sometimes we think that voice is the right voice. We think that’s God. If André said that to me, I would tell her, “Don’t let the voice of patriarchies past define or minimize your purpose of the future.” That is the not the voice of fear that our family will listen to going forward.

I have my own wrong voices I listen to too. And she has to speak into me, saying, “Jeff, the story you’re hearing is not the story we’re going to live going forward.” That’s part of us really understanding our purpose and being for one another.

Article continues below

We are collectively in a really difficult season right now. Most couples I know, especially if they have young kids, are overstretched. Many families are struggling significantly with financial stress and isolation. What encouragement can you give to couples during this season?

Jeff: This is an unusual time. It’s a time that hopefully as a family we’ll all remember as uniquely different. We’ve spent more time as a close nuclear family than we may ever in our lives. Accepting that as the new reality and enjoying the time together is the opportunity. That’s the beautiful side of it. I’ve talked to many families who feel closer than they ever have to the people that they should be closest to.

I also would say that if you haven’t addressed things in your relationship with your partner, a lot of that stuff will come out during this time also, which makes it very difficult.

One thing we learned through our research was the importance that we each individually need time on our own, and we need time together. Every week, we’ve really tried to do that. Andre will give me some time to be by myself, and I will give her some time to be by herself. And even in the midst of the pandemic, we need to get creative and figure out what a little date night can look like. When we do, we are reminded of how much we love each other.

Now that you’ve completed all your research and written your book, how would you answer the question in your subtitle?

Jeff: I do believe it’s possible. And I think it’s really hard. The only way it can work for us is if we’re on the same team and are for one another. In order for us to both do this, we both have to give up things at times to be able to maintain it all. And we have both given up opportunities as times for the sake of the other.

One of the things that came out in our research is we would ask all these people this question at the end of our podcast. Again, 95 percent of the people said, “Yes, it’s possible.” And then they would all say, “But...” And they would have some caveat they would say—every single one of them. So that was this commonality we saw. A lot of things have to work together, and you have to work together with the person you love to make it happen.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer, editor, and international communications consultant. She is the editorial director of the new Reclaim Magazine and the author of Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love with Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-up World and Let There d.light: How One Social Enterprise Brought Solar Products to 100 Million People. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.