New Career or Family or Both?
October 21, 2008 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Ladies in your early to mid 30s: How do you choose what to focus on next - family or career? A lot more inside.

I was released from my job recently, but finding a new job isn't exactly easy since I'm not sure what steps I should take next. The path I was on (project management) is not right for me. I was only doing it because I found myself on that path when a manager put me in the position 4 years ago because she thought I'd be good at it. It made ok money but was tedious and bored me to tears. I haven't figured out the thing I want to do next which has put a cramp in my job search. I thought about switching entirely to a new field, healthcare or teaching or nonprofit organization, or something that I feel would be a big change, but that would require investing years going back to school. This wouldn't be a big deal if I weren't 33 and might want children in the next couple of years. The fact that I might want children is holding me back from making any education plans, because I know a child would put my life on hold. Yet, I also want to have a solid foot in a career (that I enjoy) door before becoming a parent, because I think it is important to set that example and have a life outside of parenting. So, ladies reading, have any of you switched career trajectories in your mid-30s while also planning for a family? Secondly - how do you know when that time is right to start trying for a family? Seems like something I want to do in the future, but in the present, I find a million excuses not to (and the major one is not having the career I want).
posted by delladlux to Work & Money (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You didn't say - are you single or are you in a committed relationship?
posted by amro at 1:15 PM on October 21, 2008

Response by poster: Amro - yes that might effect the answers! I'm married, so I guess we're pretty committed :)
posted by delladlux at 1:18 PM on October 21, 2008

Project management can be incredibly interesting, if you are working on incredibly interesting projects. (Yes, i am a Project Manager.) What vertical were you working in? Maybe you just need to change industries, which would be less of a career change than a realignment, and would allow you to get your family plan underway sooner.
posted by micawber at 1:19 PM on October 21, 2008

Not a Lady, just married to one.

Though I'm not necessarily advocating that you start a family now, what I can tell you from personal experience is that having children after the age of 35 becomes much more difficult.

We did have kids after my wife was 35 but between the miscarriages and fertility treatments, it was a nightmare. If I never have to give my wife another shot again, I will die a happy man.

I wish I someone had done a better job of explaining this to my wife and I when we were your age. So I'd suggest doing the research and talking to your ob-gyn.
posted by cjets at 1:27 PM on October 21, 2008

Sooner you have kids, sooner they're off to college and out of your hair :)
posted by zeoslap at 1:30 PM on October 21, 2008

I totally, totally feel your pain. I am in a somewhat similar situation. I have often (privately) railed against the difficulties of planning a family for women who are also ambitious in their career paths. I'm applying to go back to school myself, and this particular issue is one that has frustrated me immensely.

I'm assuming, from your post above, that you have at least a Bachelor's degree. There are many many programs out there that will allow you to get state teaching certification in less than one year. Where I live, there's a public university that offers a 12 month MAT plan in addition to plain certification. I say this because it's possible you could go back to school for less time than you think. Even if you elected to go back and get a general Master's in something else, most of those programs only run two years.

Also, (and I'm totally going to sound like my mom when I say this) there isn't going to be a perfect time for you to have a child. Ever. That's something I'm trying to come to terms with myself. While it's certainly not advisable to have a child if you don't have the means to support one, tons of very successful parents juggle education and career goals. Consider the possibility that you could try to become pregnant at the tail end (last semester) of whatever program you enter. That way, you don't have to worry about going on pregnancy leave and possibly encountering a situation where you must return to work before you feel ready. If you're able financially to take extra time before finding a job, you'd be able to in that scenario. Also, having a child is, in my opinion, a totally reasonable explanation for a gap in work history. As you can tell, this is my plan as well.
posted by theantikitty at 1:36 PM on October 21, 2008

I agree with cjets. As a 37 year old woman, I don't believe that we get the full picture when it comes to how fragile and fleeting our fertility is. I had difficulties getting pregnant twice (27 and 35) and from my extensive research, I think that young women are being sold a bill of goods by the popular culture. I taught high school girls who thought the normal time to settle down and have children was around 40!!! We are being tricked into believing that we can have healthy pregnancies later and it isn't always true. Have a frank discussion with your OB and make the best decision for you but I wouldn't recommend that you wait much longer to start a family if you know that you want one. It is an amazing experience! Good luck!
posted by pearlybob at 1:57 PM on October 21, 2008

I just had a baby at 40 - my first and presumably only child. It wasn't really planned but I have to say it's kind of nice to have waited. Sure there are potential medical complications but I had a totally normal uncomplicated pregnancy and science has advanced a lot in the last decade. I really think I would have resented the loss of my "lifestyle" such as it was, as a 30 year old. I'm much happier hanging out a home at my age and don't feel like I'm missing out on anything. It helps that very few friends of mine had children much younger than I did. If they had, perhaps I would have felt differently surrounded by babies and friends who could only go out to eat if it was Chuck E. Cheese. I got to do tons of stuff as a childless person in my 30s that I'd have a hard time pulling off now (or at least for the next few years). Having children doesn't mean your life comes to a halt, but it does change things.

It also meant that I was fairly established in my field by the time I took time off for baby-having. It's not like I'm super senior in my field or anything but it's definitely easier to have flexibility in a job that for which you've already proven yourself.

If you're not ready, don't push yourself to meet some assumed deadline. You have lots of options.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:58 PM on October 21, 2008

....Just for the record: yes, it is more difficult to conceive your own child after you turn 35. But -- as I told myself when I first heard that at the age of 33 -- "...shoot, though, you can adopt at ANY time."

But it is an important point. As to whether it affects you, it all depends.

It all comes down to figuring out what your priorities for yourself are, which is precisely what you're asking - which is also precisely what only you can answer. Rather than thinking about timing, first figure out what your priorities are, period. Is having a child itself a priority? If so, is it a priority that that child be genetically yours? Is it a priority that you have a certain standard of living in place already before having that child? Is it a priority that you stay home with that child at least part of the time? Is it a priority that your child see you as being a woman with a career?

These are all questions that only you can answer for yourself. And once you start answering some of them, the timing will kind of fall into place -- if it is important to you that your child be genetically yours, that answers some things about timing right there. But if not, that gives you some more time.

Personally, I decided that it was more important to me that I feel emotionally ready to be a mother first, and whether or not that child came out of my uterus or someone else's didn't make anywhere near as much difference. And, both of those issues were trumped by the fact that I wanted to make forDAMNsure that there was a father that would always be in the picture first. I also knew that I wanted to have a career of some kind, so if I had a daughter she would see that "mom" was only one of many hats a woman could wear.

Once I figured that out, my path started getting clearer, but I had to decide about those points first apart from figuring out the timing for a while.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:17 PM on October 21, 2008

I know a child would put my life on hold.

I don't think of my life as being "on hold." I work (freelance, part time), I volunteer, I'm involved in community activities, and I'm raising my two children. I try to keep my computer and professional skills up to date.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:19 PM on October 21, 2008

Not a lday, but I know from my wife's conversations with our friend of similar ages and backgrounds, all of us having kids in our early to mid thirties... well, put it this way: most of them were told to get their career underway and have kids. most of them now think that's terrible advice, and that they would have been better having kids younger, then getting a career underway, rather than getting the career off the ground, and then having to stop for a few years.

Also, consider how old you want to be when the kids leave home. I'll be in my fifties, with having my first child at 33. Do you want to be a sixty-something parent of teenagers?

And, to echo The corpse's comment, my wife is working part time, with a nanny while she's working from home, and being a parent the rest of the time. It's not really a life "on hold."
posted by rodgerd at 2:31 PM on October 21, 2008

You don't have to "put your life on hold." Or even your career. Many women go back to work shortly after giving birth. Some of them have stay-at-home dads. Some have nannies. Some send their kids off daycare right away. All of these kids turn out fine. Some women would be miserable staying home and taking care of a kid.

If you want to take time off from work upon having a child, that's great. But it is not required.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:24 PM on October 21, 2008

In my case, having a baby in my thirties actually inspired me to quit my work in college administration and go back to school in a completely different field. This isn't something I predicted, at all, but whenever I would look at this new amazing person I suddenly really, really wanted to be a happy and fulfilled mother--I wanted him to grow up with the story of his birth including his part in his parents' pursuits of happiness (my partner was likewise inspired).

This is just to say that having a child is such a paradigm shift that I don't believe you can know what doors the whole experience will open for you. Make particular plans only if you're the kind of person 100% OK with completely changing those plans (and plans will change, somehow, usually in the most inconvenient manner possible).

The writer Antonya Nelson told me (at a similar crossroads) that having a child doesn't make anything better or anything worse--it just makes everything more of what it was before. If you're a sloppy, loving, nutso couple--you'll be a sloppy, nutso, loving family. If you're contemplating doing something different with your life--that basic desire will flare up even more (just not necessarily in ways you might think).

Children holding one back? In my experience, my son has rocketed me forward, faster than I ever would have gotten here on my own. The only difference is that we're all heading forward in a future I couldn't have previously contemplated. To put it back into my specific experience--I didn't continue to climb up the ladder in academia, I did leave something behind, but I am so happy I found the bravery to do so. I have so much conviction and anticipation for what I am looking ahead to, working hard on now. I didn't know this is how it would be, all I decided to do was to try to get pregnant. And the only value I let inform that decision was "do we want a child, do we want to deal with the craziness that would be making more of what we are, right now?"

You can't know what happens after the stick turns blue. That's why it's called procreation.
posted by rumposinc at 4:58 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Started working at 16 had child at 32 still working 55. Having a child or children should not put your life on hold.
posted by bjgeiger at 6:08 PM on October 21, 2008

A number of lawyers I know had children while attending law school and suggested to me that graduate school is the best time to have kids. When except for graduate school, they would argue, are you both an adult and home during the day most of the time? If you choose a more laid back graduate school, and are not a complete perfectionist, it can work. I myself did not have kids while I was in law school, but I did spend countless hours at the gym, having coffee, and hanging out with friends. Now that I work full-time, I realize that then would have been a good time to have a baby.
posted by kellygreen at 6:12 PM on October 21, 2008

31 year old mom checking in.....the first thing that popped into my mind was the whole "35-years-old and fertility" issue. Of course adoption is an option, (and I can't speak for domestic adoption) but international adoption is becoming much more challenging, limited, more road blocks (probably especially now that we're Hague ratified), than it was in years past. Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly pro-adoption (We have a DD from Vietnam and are in the long, long wait for China - 5 years? 7 years? 9 years?. We also have a bio son.) Long way of saying, if you are interested in that path, it can be a long, uncertain - but very rewarding - rollercoaster ride.

From my experience with having 2 wee-ones around the house; it would difficult for me to complete another education with them running around. (unless you have your DH to watch the kids while you study and maybe daycare/nanny while you are in class?) Then you'd have to put a few work years in after your degree, and you're looking at waayyy in the future. Fertility likely would be an issue, then maybe a year or two of IVF, then maybe adoption if you decide which could be several more years.

Alternativley if you weren't as interested in a new education, it would be easier to enter the work force just in a different position since you have a valid reason for your leave from the workplace.
posted by texas_blissful at 6:13 PM on October 21, 2008

I had my first child at 28. Didn't stop working. Went back to grad school while pregnant with my 3rd child at 33. Now at 47 I look at friends with much younger kids and am glad to not be at that point in my life because I have less energy to chase little ones than I did 15-20 years ago.

Having kids certainly changed my work life balance but in ways I don't regret at all.
posted by leslies at 6:36 PM on October 21, 2008

N'thing the fertility issue, way too many friends have been shocked at how hard it is to get pregnant in their thirties. I've been working since my teens, got a "career" at 25, had my first child at 27, second at 30, third at 31, and felt ready to advance in my career and take on more responsibility when the youngest was around two. I just had another baby (surprise!) so again my career is on a plateau while I just balance everything. I have definitely noticed that parenting is physically harder now, even though there is only eight years between my eldest and youngest.

I think it is easier to have the children first and THEN focus on the career. I think the fact that I was rising in the ranks but then kept getting pregnant really held me back, especially with the last one (having one or two children is seen as normal but as soon as you have three or four people start wondering if you have confused your vagina with a clown car). Depending on the culture of the organisation you work at you may be perceived as "not serious" about your career by choosing to become a parent (I've heard grumblings about new hires that get pregnant within two years of being hired). However, if you are already a parent when you are hired and can do your job well then you may be accepted.

I have no regrets that I have had children or that my career has been delayed for a few years because of them. I like what I do a lot and I plan to work until I am 55 anyway, why not take a few years off at the beginning of my career and put my energy into my children now and put more energy into my career later. Personally I would have been upset to not have children and adoption is definitely becoming more difficult. In terms of needing a career in order to set an example, your child won't really be aware that you have a life or identity outside of being "mummy" for at least four or five years. That gives you time to get back into the groove of things.
posted by saucysault at 7:38 PM on October 21, 2008

I know several people who either wrote their masters thesis while pregnant or nursing or who got pregnant six months (or fewer) after starting their first permanent job just out of grad school.
posted by salvia at 10:05 PM on October 21, 2008

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