Q: I recently found out I’m three months pregnant, graduating from law school, living with my boyfriend, and studying for the bar exam. For those of you professional women with families, what do you do? Plan ahead, pick career over family? What job benefits have you found absolutely essential to you as a mother? Flex time? Ability to work from home? For those of you who quit jobs over lack of certain benefits, or if you have a wish-list of benefits, which ones would you like to see? Is it possible to ‘have it all?’– 20-something
A: Can you have it all? It’s a difficult and age-old question. Most women will say, yes, but you have to define what your “all” is.
Dear 20-something. You have experienced what many 40-something women have learned — you can’t control what life throws at you. We also know you’ll be able to handle it. From your question, you’re planning on keeping the baby so get ready for planning to go out the window. You’ll hear a lot about how hard it will be, and it is. You may also have heard, in this blog even, that having a child young is difficult because you haven’t learned a lot about yourself yet. But there is always another side the story. As this mom says, you will learn about yourself through your child:
“There are so many unknowns. You’ll be always be facing yet another issue. They’ll always be something. But you learn about yourself through your child. In a weird way because there is all this advice and all these parenting books and eventually you just sort of let go and go with what’s right for you. Your kid will be fine. You’ll be fine. It’s such a cliché but being a mom is a gift really, a really great one. Enjoy it.” – 40-something, working mom, Santa Monica, CA
And this from a professional woman who thought she knew it all, until she had a baby:
“When things get hard, take a deep breath and know everything will be okay. The answer is in you. You may have to reach deep to get there, but you can do it.” – 40-something, working mom, New York, NY
So on to your questions. Having it all. After years of hearing about work/life balance many women are coming to realize that it doesn’t exist. Balance suggests there is some right equation but as any mom can tell you…there is no magic formula. As one women commented, “We all have friends who’ve quit their jobs for kids with no regrets, and friends who have worked up to their delivery day and taken only three weeks leave, and they’re happy too. It depends on your individual personality and family situation.”
You have to figure out what works for you. Some things will come by triage, some by gut-instinct and some by listening to others who’ve gone through it and deciding what is right for you. You’re asking the right questions. It comes down to priorities, choices that make you happy and above all being flexible, not just with work (which is a must) but also with the pressure you put on yourself.
Here’s the 40:20 perspective on putting career or family first, having it all and the benefits of flexible schedules. The viewpoints aren’t all the same but they will give you an idea of what to expect and what may work for you:
1. On having it all. “All” is relative. You can get it over time and it changes over time.
“You can have it all. You may just not get it all at the same time. I really believe that. So maybe when you start your law career it will take a little longer for you to get promoted because you can only work 40 hours a week not 60 or whatever new lawyers do. That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful on your own timing.” – 40-something, working mom, Oakland, CA
“You can’t do job, kids and husband full-time. It’s just the way it works. You have to be okay with that or you’ll be perpetually disappointed. Something has to give. But that’s where the tradeoffs come in…whether it’s taking a lower level job or maybe your husband stays home or maybe you can negotiate flex time.” – 40-something, working mom, Chicago, IL
“The good thing about having it all is that you can keep redefining “all” to include more or fewer items, depending on what you want at any given time. The “all” I have at the moment isn’t the same as the “all” I wanted as a 22 year old, and it’ll probably change a lot over the next few years. For that matter, it’s not the same as the “all” my friend down the street has.” – 40-something, working mom, Los Angeles, CA
2. On planning ahead…career vs. family. It’s doesn’t have to be either or. You can delay career a few years and still find success.
You don’t always plan a pregnancy but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on career plans. This woman interrupted her thesis when she found out she was pregnant. She had the babies and then started her career later. Today at 40 she has teenagers and has been director of a global company. She says on her choice:
“There are some cons, but mostly pros, including that it’s easier to have babies physically when you are young and doesn’t put a stop to a career at all. And it means that now I find myself in my early 40s with teenagers and lots of energy and free time – vs. exhausted and worried about babies! I definitely would do it this way round again!”
This woman left a career in academia when she had her first child but it ultimately led her to a career in secondary education that gave her more fulfillment:
“There’s no right time to have a baby. I thought we’d time everything just so. But there came a time when I wasn’t sure about my career and I was sure about wanting kids, so I just decided to go with the certainties over the doubts and make the rest up as I went along. But I’d be really unhappy if I had given up on a job that I liked. I think kids are happier with happy parents who are busy doing things they like than they are with parents who are resentful and unfulfilled, and that would have been me.”
The law isn’t going anywhere:
“You can’t control everything. You have a baby on the way. So maybe you’ll wait to start your law career for a year or two – the legal field will still be there.” – 40-something, San Francisco, CA
And you can always change your mind:
“Try it (going to work). If it doesn’t work, stop. If that doesn’t work, try to start again. At every step of being a parent everything changes and you will have to change how you want to participate in that. It might surprise you what you want to do. Going back to work after the baby (or not) is not the final decision. Every time I thought I made the decision to stay home… I went back. Then I stayed home. I kept changing.” – 40-something, working mom, Chicago, IL
3. On flexibility…YES!
“Flexibilty is THE key thing a new mom needs. Not necessarily flex time – you can work 8 – 5 every day. But flexibility in case you need to work from home because a baby or nanny is sick or those days when the day care center is closed.” – 40-something, VP Marketing
“Flexible work time is crucial for me because I don’t earn enough to afford child care assistance. But it also helps to have the flexibility of a short commute and a partner who can share the responsibility of driving the kids to daycare/school, or being at home when someone is sick. It can’t always fall on me to call in favors at work when I need coverage. In an ideal world more businesses would provide financial planning and daycare evaluation/ location services to help new parents.” – 40-something, teacher
“A lot of women think, ‘I’ll have kids and then I’ll come back to work and be flexible.’ It’s hard to do. I’m sounding harsh but I think you have to realize you can’t do everything. I went to business school and thought, ‘Oh I’ll just pop back in and out when I need to.’ It’s harder in reality. You may have to start over and you have to have the right expectations, which are, “I’m going to make less money or I’m not going to progress as fast. If you want to work part-time: stay up-to-date on your industry, keep current on technology and know your value-added. What can you do better, faster, differently so they will keep you on than hire someone else full-time? It helps if you can develop a specific area of expertise so you can consult.” – 40-something, consultant
Whether you can “have it all” is a big question, but you haven’t asked the toughest question. Can you do your “all” all by yourself? While you didn’t specifically ask, it’s not clear whether your boyfriend will be a part of this process. Is he going to be an active partner? Are you getting married? The point is, how are you going to support yourself and who is going to support you?
4. On supporting yourself…the one thing you should plan on is financial support.
I don’t know if it still needs to be said, but whether you choose a full time career or not, you need to be able to support yourself and your child ‘s future.
“Always keep up with a job or do something part-time because when you lose it you lose it. It is so hard to get a career back if god forbid something happens. The unfortunate thing is that resumes don’t recognize raising a child is a job” – 40-something, working mom
“I don’t work anymore, but who’s to say I won’t have to support myself again someday. You can’t pretend like it’s never going to happen. Or you may want to work. People ask why I keep renewing my teaching certificate. Because I can’t go into banking. I keep taking classes so I know what’s going on and I renew my certificate and know what I would need to do to go back to work.” – 40-something, stay-at-home mom
5. On who is going to support you. You need a support network. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Most of the women represented above had partners or husbands that contributed to raising their children in some way…financially or emotionally. Some of them can’t imagine doing it on their own:
“Having a baby is hard, hard, hard, hard, hard. I can’t say it enough. But it’s even harder to do on your own. My husband can be a child himself but he physically helped me out when I just couldn’t do it anymore and no matter what he shares the emotional responsibility and joys. But be warned, they will still want your attention and won’t understand why you’re too tired to have sex.” – 40-something, fashion designer, starting own business (husband is in Law School)
At the same time, millions of women do it on their own and don’t regret it. This woman who became a single mom at age 24 knows you can make it work.
“I loved having a kid when I was young. We learned all these activities together It’s not for everyone, but life provides a way if you follow your heart. There’s really nothing else you can do. You need to provide as much stability as you can. You have to make yourself happy because you cannot be miserable for your child. I wouldn’t want to be destitute, but you can do it without money. We just did other things. Go to the beach. Make fun. You don’t’ need a lot of money. There was so much love though. That was it. We would just laugh. I could never get that out of a relationship.”
Whether you are co-parenting or not, you need a help. Think about who you can line up to depend on hand help out.
“Have a lot of help teed up when you have a baby. Grandmas, babysitters, whoever can help you – even if it’s just the laundry. Just to make your life easier because it’s not easy for the first couple of months. – 40-something, Chicago, IL
“I had my first child in medical school. I got a lot of support from my parents. Feeding us, feeding the kids. Allow people to help. Allowing people to be involved. Extended family is so important. I never could have done without that support. – 47, mom, wife, medical professional, New York, NY
This was a big answer to a big question. In the end, as one woman wishes you to know:
“Children will thrive under a variety of family settings – two full time working parents, 1 stay at home parent, a mom who works part time, etc. The key is for you to be happy with your choice – and then the child will be fine. “
That’s the 40-something perspective. We look forward to getting more advice from our readers. I also shot the question, especially the part about what benefits are most important for moms, to my friends at Alpha Mom for their expert advice. I’ll share that feedback as well.
And from us all….GOOD LUCK.