Can You Prepare For Having It All?


Today we have a big question and a few practical and common-sense answers from our amazing 40-something panel. There is so much debate on having it all but like many 20-somethings, our questioner today can’t imagine what it is like on the other way and wonders if there is any way to prepare ahead of time for navigating kids, career and budget.



Dear 40-somethings:  I’m a 20-something woman. I have an awesome job, a loving husband, and just recently bought a house. Next Step? I’d like some advice for this stage in life where it feels almost “in limbo.” We want kids someday and I want to work part time when they are small children, then go back to working full time after they start school.  But I wonder…is it even possible nowadays to be able to have children and still do all the things we need to do financially as young people? Things like paying the bills, saving for retirement, college tuition, daycare, and living a somewhat “comfortable” lifestyle.


Is it possible to leave the workforce for several years and still make it? Would it hurt my career? My husband feels it may not be possible. But I worry that working nearly 50 hours a week and trying to raise very young children would be very taxing on us. Our relatives would have to help or we have to pay for childcare. It seems like either way I’d be losing out as a mother and financially.


I know we aren’t the first couple to consider this, but no one seems willing to discuss how they did it. This makes me worry if having kids is even a possibility. If so, what are some tips? If you were able to work part time and raise your small children, how were you able to do it financially? What about if you had an awesome career and small children, how did you balance family and work without guilt?


I’ve read articles about “having it all,” but for a 20s something who hasn’t had kids yet, is there any way to prepare? I understand everyone’s situation is different, but advice from others who have been through what I will be (hopefully) pursuing someday would help me make some decisions to prepare either way.



When it comes to “having it all” discussions there are so many answers.  I’m a fan of Anne Marie Slaughter’s advice to start thinking about work/life balance as a series of shifts between caregiving and breadwinning. Other 40-something women here have adhered to the similar adage that, “You can have it all…just not all at once.”  To heed Sheryl Sandberg’s advice, you definitely don’t want to prepare for your future life by “leaving before you leave” — meaning don’t  let your fears about combining work and family lead you to avoid advancement opportunities before you even have a child. I do think balance comes into play with finances. You have to split  your twenties with saving and spending on experiences. You don’t want to be so afraid of the future that you don’t live because that is how you will learn what is important to you.

Now…here are two honest answers from real women on the other side. — CV
This is certainly a hard question for a 40-something to answer because the financial environment has changed so much. Although I have a child and career, I think I was not as careful as I should’ve been about finances and thinking ahead. You are already one step ahead because you are thinking about this so early. Step 1 would be to find a really good financial planner (ask friends and parents for one they like in your area). Work with them to set goals and start saving. Save for a house, college, and rainy days. And don’t beat yourself up if you can’t “have it all”, there will always be trade-offs. But your goals seem realistic and you are young enough and already ahead of the game to be thinking so far in the future. – 40-something, advertising, mother, NYC


Dear 20-something:  My best advice would be to slow things down a bit!  Enjoy being a couple first and enjoy this time in your life before kids.  Sit with your husband and make a 5-year life/goal plan and make a budget – what you earn, what you spend.  Work and do your best to save in a 401k if your company offers or an IRA if not.


When you are ready to have kids (assuming it is on both of your life/goal lists), you must consider work and childcare.  For some, it is better that one parent works and the other provides childcare.  For many, this is tough financially and both may need to work.  As you noted above, childcare can be expensive.  It is great if you have family near by that is willing to pitch in.


I have had both the experience of working and being home.  My husband and I both worked the first 4 years of my daughter’s life.  We hired a nanny for Monday – Friday and got help from family several times a week.


Many women struggle with guilt about leaving their children to work.  If working makes you a better, happier person, then there is no reason for guilt. You’re a better parent when you are happy.  Is there stress? Absolutely!  Cramming laundry, grocery shopping, eating and family time into short evenings and busy weekends is definitely challenging, but plenty of us do it.


I got laid off when my daughter was 4, and I decided I did not want to return to a volatile industry and wanted to be home with our daughter more. I also decided to start my own business. This coincided with my husband deciding to go to law school!  Our income became 0 and we lived off of an educational trust that my husband had (at very reduced levels to our previous dual income).


We decided to keep our nanny in hopes of having other children (good child care is hard to find!).  This was a different kind of stress, financially.  We learned to adjust our living expenses to our new income.  We looked at our budget and saw where we could make cuts.  Plenty of people do this with and without tons of money.  If you and your husband remain honest about your goals, honest about your budget and really want to have kids, you will make it work. – 40-something, fashion, design entrepreneur, Brooklyn, NYC


Here is a series of related posts (somewhat long posts as the topic is not easy) with more thoughts from the other side on having it all.

Is it possible to have it all? Feb. 2011

More on having it all. Feb. 2011

What is your having it all – the 40-something perspective

What having it all means – the 20-something perspective


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