How important was your career to you after you became a mother?
November 22, 2008 5:08 AM   Subscribe

How important was your career to you after you became a mother?

I’m 32, and have always wanted to be a mother more than I’ve wanted to have a career. I work as a financial services copywriter, and purposefully tried to climb the ladder before I was thirty so that I could drop out of the corporate world (which I feel completely at odds with) and have kids. As a result, I now have a decent income and the flexibility to consult, but I’m truly bored to tears with what I do. I don’t feel it reflects my values as a person either, so I try to address this imbalance by writing advocacy articles at night.

Over the next year I’m planning on trying for a baby, and I’m interested to know how important your career felt after you became a mother. I understand that it will be different for every woman, but the reason I ask is that I’m wondering whether I should put off trying for a baby in order to take my career in a meaningful direction for the rest of my life (read: retrain), or count my blessings that I have a certain degree of autonomy in my job and even in times of economic downturn, opportunities exist.

Currently, I intend to spend 2 years at home full-time with my baby, but I’m aware that my plans could change when I understand the realities of parenting first-hand, and how I adjust to mothering. Either way, like most people, I will have to work again. In your experience, when you returned to work after becoming a mother, did your feelings about the purpose of your job change? Or did you view it in the same way?

Obviously I understand that I’m largely responsible for the way I view the purpose of my job, but I’m curious to know how much becoming a mother changed your perception of a career - or didn’t – so I can try to understand how it will – or won’t – change mine, and tweak my goals accordingly.

(I recently read The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It which inspired this question.)
posted by elke to Human Relations (18 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
This will not be as clear and well thought out as I'd like, as it is breakfast time and soon to be gymnastics time....

I've been with the same company for 12 years and a mother for 4 1/2. I took 10 weeks off after each birth. My husband is a full-time stay-at-home dad, so I am quite fortunate.

Since becoming a mother, I very, very, very rarely leave after 5:30. Most days, I leave at 5 on the nose. Occasionally, I leave at 4:30, just to see more of the kids. A few times a month, I let my husband sleep in and I take the kids to school. I spend my single vacation days hanging out with them instead of shopping, getting my hair cut, running...whatever I did in my late 20's. I have only missed one pediatrician appointment in their lives. I occasionally leave work at lunch and pick them up from preschool, just so I can spy on them in the playground.

In my former life, I would move mountains to not miss work. Now, all it takes is a Thanksgiving play at the preschool for me to take a 2 hour lunch. I get in a little earlier and try to work very hard while I am there to make up for my missed time. I'm a type-A girl, so I don't see mothering as getting in the way of my future career. I've worked for some really great women and men who are also parents and are quite respectful of that part of my life. (Conversely, I've worked for some a-holes who thought I was a slacker. Pay them little attention.)

It's not easy, but I bet climbing the ladder from graduation to wherever you are now wasn't easy either.

I don't know if it matters or not, but I have been promoted once since baby #1 was born and I think I am on the cusp of another promotion (fingers crossed).

Good luck!
posted by beachhead2 at 5:34 AM on November 22, 2008

I've talked about this before in askme--yours is a question that presents itself with quite a lot of demand for answering once you become a mother. In fact, while I think it's useful to start to contemplate before you have a child, you just won't have the whole, crazy, amazing picture until you have a child.

I will say that if you are ambivalent about your career now, before motherhood, that it is likely that this ambivalence will intensify into a complete inability to do what you're doing now--and I say this from my own experience and from conversations with friends and other mothers. However, for me, it meant that I finally found an kind of inspired bravery to really pursue something else entirely--like you--something that had been the real seat of my happiness for a long time. You'll want to impress this new life you love so much; you'll want to be worthy of him/her. It's much like being in love that way.

The desire to make sure that my son has a happy life meant, for me, that I wanted to make sure that I was happy, too. I wanted him to grow up with a fulfilled and actualized mom--not a grumpy and cynical one. There was a certain kind of idealism that I suddenly wanted to infuse into our lives. For me, it meant that I went back to school (after already completing a very high level of education and having a very successful career) in my thirties in a totally different field--but I'm weirdly mostly fearless about the whole thing. Perhaps it's surviving the early weeks and months of motherhood and realizing that nothing is as hard as I thought it was; but mostly I think it's because insane and boundless love is a great motivator.

So, specifically, my life felt important in a way it never had before, and my career was a part of that, but what mostly became focused for me after motherhood was the desire to make a life that made me happy, and by extension, my little one.
posted by rumposinc at 5:50 AM on November 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm a stay-at-home mom of two in diapers. I miss work like a limb lost in the war, but then I liked my job. You can't know how'll you feel until you do it. I'll just point out that while the child(ren) are little is an excellent time to go back to school -- taking classes is a lot more flexible than a full-time job, especially if you do the online route.
posted by libraryhead at 5:53 AM on November 22, 2008

You won't know really until you are in the thick of it. I love my job and chose my career because it is family-friendly; I knew it is a delicate balancing act for working mothers. After my first baby I returned to work part-time after my six months paid leave was up, visited her everyday at lunch and brought her to staff meetings. My boss was completely understanding that she was my priority and fully supported me (Thanks Gary, I send love your way!) I was in a horrible job, for the money, after my third and took an entire year off (paid) and then an unpaid year off before returning for a few weeks (for the money) and quitting when a better full-time job came up. That is the job I am in now, although part-time. I love my job, I love my kids too, but I feel fulfilled doing meaningful for helping others. I am an extrovert so it is necessary for me to be around people. After the birth of my fourth child I could have taken a year off (paid) but knew at the third month I needed to return to work (part-time 15-20 hours a week, which I did at her fifth month). My husband is an introvert and he is taking the paid parental leave for a year and is considering taking an unpaid break from work beyond that (after the other births he would usually only take a couple weeks off his part-time job). From personal experience I would say it is hard to drag yourself off to unmeaningful work when there are so many other, more attractive options out there. You might also want to look at The Two-Income Trap for economic reasons for staying home.
posted by saucysault at 6:36 AM on November 22, 2008

I was just starting my career (counseling psychology) when I had my first child. We didn't intend to have any kids at all and so getting pregnant (while not trying at all and doing everything we could to prevent it) was quite a derailing. I was nearly finished with a graduate degree and was really looking forward to taking my career to the next level, getting a PhD, traveling overseas to broaden my options, etc. Then I had my son and my entire life changed. After much discussion and hand-wringing, we decided that I would change everything to become a stay-at-home parent. My husband was further along in his job and was making better money and benefits than I could have at that point.

Almost ten years after my son's birth (and the addition of another, very much planned baby), I am now nearly finished with culinary school, I'm working as a professional chef, and I'm exploring a career as a gourmet food buyer for a large grocery chain in my city. I'm so happy now and I can't imagine my life without my kids. I'm really thankful that my son came along and made us look really hard at our priorities and that I was fortunate enough to realize that my first career probably wasn't going to fulfill me in ways that my current one does.

So I guess my answer to you is: the career I had when I started having kids wasn't at all important to me once I took a good, long look at my life. The career I have now, while I'm raising my family, is the one I hope to continue for as long as I possibly can.
posted by cooker girl at 7:12 AM on November 22, 2008

I was like you, always wanted to be a mother, that WAS my career goal. In college, I chose education so that I could be more in tune with my future children's schedules. I enjoyed my job, was very good at it, got lots of praise and acclaim but as soon as they handed that baby to me, all thoughts of job went out the window. That was eight years ago. Now my second (and last) is almost two and I'm getting a post grad degree (slowly, not stressful or taking any family time) so that when he is in full day school, I can go back to work in education, add to the family coffers and still be there for my children. Being a mother is such an important career and often not seen as such. Be proud of what you have accomplished in your career but it is ok if that path changes once the baby is here. Enjoy it, that time FLIES by!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:27 AM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mother of grown kids here. I had a career I loved-- working artist and gallery manager-- that motherhood completely derailed. (Like any work situation, self employment is next to impossible without childcare, which we could not afford.) However, I was able to use the skills and connections I had to stay in the arts and built an alternative career in arts management that was flexible and remunerative enough to allow me to be the kind of mother I wanted to be (namely, around when my kids were small).

Now, here's the part that it's hard to see when you're 30 and starting out on this journey. It doesn't last very long. You have 4, maybe 5 years when the kids are small and really need you. You may not end up in the President's inner circle, but 4 years of part time or mommy-track work is not enough to entirely derail your career, and it might be exactly the time you need to establish yourself in something you actually like doing.

Fast forward (and it does go fast) about 7 years and that kid starts pushing you away. Now you actually can start to reestablish yourself in a chosen field. In another 5 years, they're gone. That's it. 18 years. It's just not that much time. You will live without your children waaaaay longer than you live with them.

My advice, then, is to give them those 4 years at the start, and use the time to take care of yourself as well. I was never able to get back to being a working artist, a great regret in my life (tho I have other joys that have made up for it.) You are moving away from something you hate. That sounds like a gift to me.
posted by nax at 7:45 AM on November 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

My career is about as important to me as it was before children. Which is to say, not very important at all.

My work is just a job, and I would have it no other way. I work because I have to; my salary is half our household income, and my insurance through work covers me and my son.

I certainly don't hate or even dislike my job, in fact, I appreciate the benefit of having a reason to shower, dress nicely, and converse with adults every day (which I mention because I did NOT do this on my maternity leave.) And my son is much more social than I am, so I'm glad he has a circle of friends at daycare as well as being exposed to other adults besides family.

But in the end, again, my job is just a job. I don't take my work home with me, I'm very rarely stressed at work, or about work, and this job is not a part of my identity at all. This has never bothered me.
posted by peep at 8:10 AM on November 22, 2008

It all depends on your family situation. In my case, after my three month maternity leave was up I went back to work and my husband was a stay at home dad. I started taking my career very seriously, much more so than I had before. This did not translate into longer hours; it translated into taking a longer term view of my career, seeking development opportunites, and making strategic career moves.

I work at a large company, so I am very fortunate that I have a wealth of internal transfer opportunites, training resources, and mentoring resources at my disposal. I took advantage of all those things. I stayed in my mellow but boring job with no advancement opportunities for the first year while I got my bearings, and then I spent several months planning my eventual transfer to a different career path at the same company with a higher growth potential.

My job can be stressful, and sometimes I wonder why I made this bargain to chain myself to my desk while my daughter wants me home. There are a few reasons. Purely selfishly, I love talking to adults during the day, having lunch, and using my brain to solve hard intellectual problems. My husband works construction, so he has a constant risk of career ending injury that I simply don't face at my desk. I earn double what he would earn at his job. Also, my immigration status is such that if I quit my job, we have to leave the country and sell the house, which is not an appealing prospect.

I fantasize from time to time about chucking it all, moving home, taking time off with my daughter, and then starting again in a new field. And then the stress abates at work, I wind up taking on a cool project, I become bullish on my future career prospects, and then I'm fine with the way things are again.

I do all of my family's financial planning. I am proud of myself for supporting our family and for molding my career into something that will carry my family forward for the next five or ten years. We are in a pretty good financial position. I don't think (knock wood) I'm likely to be laid off, so I think we'll weather the financial crisis and move forward in a pretty good position.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:39 AM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

From my experience in childcare, there are many, many mothers whose career becomes more important to them after they have a child.

Someone has to bring home the bacon. Or, in this case, the preschool tuition, health insurance, rent...
posted by sondrialiac at 9:27 AM on November 22, 2008

I chose a career in financial management, which is NOT my passion. But, once I had my first child, at 31, I was so glad I had a source of income that wasn't personal and didn't actually require a level of passionate investment. I would not have had the energy or focus for it.

If the work you are doing right now, while unsatisfying ultimately, is predictable and fairly flexible and somewhat rote for you- I'd say keep it and start your family. When your child/children is/ are older you will have time to explore a second career. You will be completely amazed to learn how much you will train yourself to accomplish in a short time after you start a family. Your newly honed time management skills will almost automatically make it possible for you, if it's what you really want, to start a new career.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 9:55 AM on November 22, 2008

Oh, I'd wanted kids from my teens. My "plan" was college, some work, then four kids by thirty-two. I ended up having One of Two at 33.

I kind of liked my job but didn't like the workplace at the time when I had my first baby. My boss was hoping against hope that I'd want to stay home permanently, but spending 24/7/14 time with a very high needs baby kind of put the high needs babies at the office in perspective. Since I was the only breadwinner there really wasn't a choice but to go back anyway. Things that had spun me up before barely touched me, because hell, I could go home at the end of the day. I needed to save my energies for home.

The workplace dynamics changed, and had improved somewhat when I had my second child. I was in a position that was really going nowhere, so I grabbed any opportunity to redefine what I was doing. While I was on leave that second time, I had both children at home with me, and it was a real trial. I found myself "marking time" until I could get back to my "real life".

That's a kind of damaging position too. Around six weeks in I decided that all of it was my life and I was going to be in as much control as I could. So, I work to live (60%) and live to work (40%) so that I can enjoy what I'm doing all the time - or at least as much as I can.

nax has a good perspective here, too. The nights last forever but the weeks fly by. Older Boy is in school and Younger Boy is almost ready. Now that they can walk and talk and (semi) feed themselves I have a lot more time for myself. I'm very glad that I took off as much time as I did when they were wee bairns because I don't feel like I missed a whole lot, but now I'm ready to have different adventures.
posted by lysdexic at 10:10 AM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Does anyone have additional input on what it's like to be self-employed/work from home with small children? We're contemplating having children and I am lucky enough to have a job I can do from home (editing a magazine, owned by other women with children, so flexibility should be no problem), but... what are some things I should keep in mind the first few years?
posted by at 10:56 AM on November 22, 2008 "Does anyone have additional input on what it's like to be self-employed/work from home with small children? "

I was self-employed/ working from home with small children, freelance tech editing books written by ... by... well, by you, among others! I just had to give it up, as one of my kids takes up 25 hours a day of my time. But it worked for a while and I loved it, as it helped me not feel isolated and kept my resume and contacts up-to-date.

If you're going to do it, make sure you have a babysitter for a good chunk of every day you're hoping to get work done. Trying to work with one hand while raising children is a recipe for stress and misery.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:46 PM on November 22, 2008 A job is a job. It's the rare job that can survive the needs of an infant. Get childcare to the extent you can afford it; don't force yourself to choose, as there is no good choice there. You'll end up resenting either the kid or the job (speaking from bitter experience). That said, I ran a small arts business with my second child parked under my desk. I did this for 12 years (and yes, they still hung out under the desk at age 12. What can I say). Had about 9 to 12 hours of paid child care and sis-in-law childcare, then worked while DH watched the kids. Memail me for the essay I wrote about trying to be a feminist artist mom.

elke, thanks for letting us hijack your thread!
posted by nax at 4:35 PM on November 22, 2008

When my kids were little my husband and I ran a software business from home. We ended up using a wonderful babysitter 20 hours a week and juggling work/childcare between us so we were both active in their care when they were tiny and both could pursue our careers. I went back to grad school while pregnant with my third and realized that I really didn't want to continue working in software but rather, wanted to go back to my first love - making art. My undergrad degree is in studio art.

Since then I have juggled making art, being a member of an artist owned gallery for years, curating shows and teaching art with motherhood. It's worked out well since it's the sort of career that's flexible although doesn't produce a lot of income but lets me be there to volunteer in school, drive kids to music lessons and practices and run more of the traditional "wife" jobs in our household. At the same time my husband's career became more traditional since he now works in an office for more typical work hours although he has the flexibility to leave when he needs to to go to games, run kids to practices after work, etc. Right now our roles look far more traditional than when the kids were little - partly for financial necessity.

So has my career become less important to me? Not in the long run but while my kids were tiny yes. As Nax said, those years go by very fast. My kids are now 13, 16 and 19 and only 2 are still at home. I was glad to be able to focus more on them when they needed it but being home solo full-time in those years would have driven me mad since I needed adult conversation about ideas to balance the baby talk. We were both lucky in being able to arrange our lives to have it work that way but we also worked very hard to set it up to be able to do so.
posted by leslies at 8:06 AM on November 23, 2008

I babysit regularly for someone who freelances out of her home. I've been doing it for about 4 months. She has a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. I don't have nearly any childcare experience, but because she's there she can supervise, I can ask questions, her 1-year-old's separation anxiety isn't as bad because Mom's in the next room and mom can breastfeed her to sleep. And I'm cheaper than someone with more experience. So that's one benefit.

However, without me there to tame the 3-year-old, she has a very hard time working on anything, so mom does a lot of work when everyone else is asleep. It's also hard for her to get out of the house, which is extra frustrating because she lives AND works there.

You will need to hire someone to come when you have important phone calls to make, so having two or three babysitters on call is a must. Ideally grandma/partner/neighbor would let you drop the baby off whenever.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:16 AM on November 23, 2008

My career is extremely important to me, not least because I have the opportunity to make quite a bit of money and provide financial stability for our family. I have the opportunity to show my kids a woman succeeding in a field with significantly more men than women. I also have the opportunity to show them that a stable worklife is important to us in the long run, and they're the most important thing, ever day AND long term. So you can imagine the difficulty of taking all those opportunities (Call the waaaahmbulance! Acute case of unwarranted self-pity!)

I'm also hoping to ramp down to merely full-time work from full-time high-powered plus. I don't want to put my career on hold, but I need to make sure that my kids' importance to me is reflected in my activities, and I am tired of feeling like I"m short-changing everything and everyone all the time.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:36 AM on November 23, 2008

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