How do I balance big career opportunities with starting a family?
April 10, 2013 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Early 30s married lady here. I have recently been offered some big opportunities for advancement in my career. However, my husband and I have also decided to try to start a family. I'm a little freaked out that this is all happening at once, and am not sure how much of this opportunity/ambition I should take on.

Hello! I'm early 30s, been married for a couple years, and work on the business side of the tech industry. Last year, I accepted a one-year contract position at a cool little company that was a big title bump for me - I was covering for someone who went on a leave of absence. I found out recently that that person does not intend on coming back, and the company wants to keep me here permanently. Great news, and I am very excited for the opportunity. However, this position is still one that I am growing into, and I still have a lot to learn and sometimes feel a little like I'm doing the "fake it till you make it" thing (the person who I took over for was quite a bit older than me and had a lot more experience). My boss knows that I have toyed with the idea of getting an MBA to solidify my finance/marketing/economics skills (I have a liberal arts BA), and now they have offered to pay for GMAT classes and part of said MBA if I go to a part-time program (I would apply this fall and start in the summer of 2014.) There are some great, highly-ranked part-time MBA programs in my city. Oh, and I'm also getting a substantial salary bump now for taking on the position full-time.

All that sounds amazing, right? A company that wants to promote me, invest in me AND help pay for my graduate education. I am a naturally ambitious person who has always worked hard, and I feel like I'm getting to a point in my career where it is finally starting to pay off, and that's really exciting. So what's the problem? Well, my husband and I have decided that it's the right time to try to have our first baby. We want to have two or three, and we really don't want to wait much longer, as I will be nearly 34 when #1 is born (if everything even goes smoothly.) If I got pregnant soon, that would mean I would be, a few months after the birth, working full-time, taking classes a couple nights a week, AND managing an infant. I'm really organized and good with time management, but still, eeep. My work seems to be sort of open to the concept of work-life balance, but my company is mostly men, and the one woman I know here who had a baby was answering emails a couple days after childbirth and was back in the office part-time after two months (and full-time after three.)

What sucks is that I have no idea how I will feel after I have a child. I love my career, but I also love kids and know I want them. What if I decide to take my work up on this MBA offer and then realize when my baby is four months old that I want to have a more relaxed career? Part of me wants to cultivate skills on the side that would allow me to take on freelance or consulting work from home if I end up feeling this way. I also, though, usually look at the "long game", and I don't want to be that 40-something with school-age kids who got left behind. My mother stayed at home with my siblings and I for nearly 10 years, giving up a promising career in the process. She never really made it back into the workforce in the way she wanted to be, and she is definitely sad about that (though she obviously says to me "but I don't regret it because I think you guys benefited blah blah blah.") I have worked so hard up to this point and would hate to feel like I gave it all up.

I think I'm worried, too, about having this company take a leap of faith on me, and then a couple months later being like, "Hey guys, thanks for the confidence in me and the promotion, oh and by the way, I'm preggers now." I don't want to wait another year to try to have a baby. I could maybe ask them if I could delay the MBA thing for a year - but a part of me wants to say yes to everything, because it's so good right now, and also, that way I could complete my MBA with only one kid to manage, and then have kid #2 when I finish the degree.

Oh, and husband is also 30s, works full-time also and does pretty well. Neither of us is in a position where we would want to be a full-time stay at home parent (though like I said, I have no idea how I'll feel when I have a baby, though I could never see myself as a full-time SAHM.)

Obviously, these are all good problems to have, and I know that I'm extremely lucky. But I'd love to hear from any ambitious executive women who have been there. What would you do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not an ambitious executive woman, but from the perspective of someone who recruits and hopes to develop talented people to my company, you should say yes to everything. Your life and schedule, and for a time, your availability, will change if and when kids come along, but over the course of what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career it'll be a blip.
posted by IanMorr at 3:20 PM on April 10, 2013 [19 favorites]

I understand your concern and I still have troubles with some of it, but you sound like a classic case for Lean In. Don't see yourself short yet. Take the career advancement opportunities now and don't hold back thinking you might not be able to handle it later. If you can't juggle it all then, assuming your plan for a family goes as planned, then you make accommodations.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:21 PM on April 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was you.

I took the opportunity while trying to get pregnant. Got pregnant, lost the baby, got pregnant again and had the baby - that took more than two years.

Came back to work, after six months proposed a part time schedule that worked for all involved. Six months after that, left to move to another state. Took another part time position. Am a couple weeks postpartum with #2.

So my advice is: take the opportunity and work it out as you go. The company values you; chances are that means they will work with you. Maybe you'll decide to stop the MBA program or do it even more part time; maybe you'll decide to stay at home with kids; maybe you'll find that working is no big deal. I feel like I have the best of both worlds - I would be a terrible full time stay at home mom; I would lose my mind if I had to work the kind of hours I did when I was 27 and also raise my girls. But 1) you have no idea how long it will take to get pregnant and 2) you admittedly have no idea how you will feel after having a baby, so don't short change yourself in anticipation of what might happen.

Also, you said you feel like you're faking it? Do some reading on imposter syndrome. It's remarkably prevalent among almost all professional women I know. It's the reason that, as a professional with 10 years of experience, whenever my boss calls me on the phone I immediately feel like I'm headed to the principal's office for screwing something up, even though that has never been the case once in 10 years. totally normal. But it leads people, and often women, to shortchange themselves and to make decisions based on their perception of what is best for the company or others, instead of for themselves. Which, I tend to think, is part of the reason that women get paid less than men - because we don't demand our worth (there are other reasons too, of course, but read your question - this place thinks you're awesome! they are going to hire you full time! they are going to pay for your school! and give you a raise! you ROCK! Own that!).
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:23 PM on April 10, 2013 [12 favorites]

Get the MBA credits someone else is willing to spring for; you can always finish them up online later, transferring them to a cheaper option if you need to. Take the professional promotion and pay bump because you want to the leg up into your next position. Even if the current job doesn't work out when paired with parenting, all of these things will leave you with more options moving forward.

Yes, pregnancy with a full time job and a part-time class could well suck. Still, don't take this the wrong way but: don't sideline your career for a baby schedule, because you have no way of knowing for sure what will happen or when. You may get pregnant quickly and have a perfect pregnancy and perfect baby, or, unfortunately, not so much. So you could be parenting in less than a year, or in two years or three or five. You can't know for sure and it will fuck your head up if you make choices now as if you can and it doesn't roll that way.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:24 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

At the moment, only one of these is a certainty and that's the career opportunity. You don't know if you'll get pregnant straight away, so I wouldn't put off anything in your job just yet. Take the advancement and if/when you get pregnant, deal with it from there. If you want to, you'll make it work.
posted by Jubey at 3:24 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

You're right to be concerned. "Leaning In" is great and all, but having a kid is extremely demanding. Working full-time with an infant is exhausting, especially since you're not sleeping at night, let alone classes on top of that.

That said, I agree with the other comments that you should say yes to everything. You can scale back if and when it becomes necessary. The nice thing for you is that this isn't a new opportunity where you have to prove yourself from scratch. They know you, they like you, they want to keep you, and I think that's the best situation you can be in when work-life balance issues hit. Really good employers will understand that careers are long and the time when you're not 100% because you're caring for young children is relatively short. Don't feel bad about saying yes and then needing to scale back later; you don't owe them.

Also: definitely prioritize kids over the career opportunities. If you want them now, have them now. You'll figure out the career stuff.
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:29 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have never personally met anyone in the tech industry who lost their job or got demoted because they had a kid. I have heard about problems with advancement in one case, but she got around that by jumping ship for a better opportunity in another company.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:38 PM on April 10, 2013

You feel like you have this backpack on. It's not infinitely large. You're on a journey. Someone is offering you a platter of money, plus gems, plus a bottle of wine. You think that there may be other rewards down the road and you won't have room in your backpack! But that's all a maybe. Right now you have this in front of you. Take it. You can decide later what you might want to unpack to fit in more items. But, you'll be sad if you get down the road and the items aren't so great or not what you needed and you turned down what was in front of you.
posted by amanda at 3:38 PM on April 10, 2013 [39 favorites]

Your company is not giving you a gift, or taking a leap of faith. Your company is strategically investing in you with the hope that it pays out in the future. Like any investment, they have little control over the outcome, and probably more times than not it doesn't work out the way they intended. To be a little macabre, maybe you get hit by a bus in a few months and the money they spent on training goes to waste. Maybe you take your skills and leverage a new job offer. They can't not invest in you just because they fear a negative outcome.

Take work opportunities now to better yourself now. If and when you do have a kid, re-evaluate.

On reload, I like amanda's backpack metaphor!
posted by muddgirl at 3:42 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Would your husband consider a job share to be at home more? Does he have any flexibility or ability to take parental leave or work from home more? You will both need to find creative ways to accommodate kids - there will be many sleepless nights and you pulling this off will depend a great deal on your husband being an equal partner in child rearing.

How things will go for you may also be dependent on how strong your ties are in your local community. Do you have family close-by who are interested in being active caregivers of your kids? Both parents working full-time in demanding jobs will require access to excellent (and expensive) childcare. Having family and friends who are very involved will also help quite a bit when unforeseen things pop up.

If you want kids, you'll find a way. But, being as prepared as possible will help immensely. Start your research and planning now. Winging it and not planning for the realities of your schedules and responsibilities will make a hard job harder.
posted by quince at 3:44 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Everyone is talking about "Lean In" these days, but it's written for someone facing the exact choices that you are. It won't have all the answers, and it doesn't promise them, but I recommend it because it might provide you with some food for thought.

I recently read about an interesting exercise that some hospitals do in their birthing classes. They give pregnant couples 10 index cards and ask them to write down 10 expectations for how their birthing experience will go. They tell the parents to shuffle the cards, put them facedown, and then choose 5 at random. They then ask the parents to imagine how they'll feel if the things on the other 5 cards don't happen. I thought this was a pretty profound exercise for life in general--what if the things that I just assume will happen in my life don't happen?

Amanda's backpack metaphor is another, perhaps more beautiful way of thinking about this. You never know what may happen in the future or which of your dreams will come true. Fulfill the dreams you can while you have the opportunity.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 3:51 PM on April 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

What if you were infertile, so after you turned down the MBA to make room for kids, four years later you're still going to IVF appointments and doing the same job, but without the same advancement-hungry reputation?

What if you decided to put off having kids, took the MBA subsidy, and got hit by a car at the end of the year and never went back to work or used the MBA?

What if you get pregnant soon, have a kid, and it turns out that it's perfectly ok for you to work part time for a year, and the company will still pay for your classes, and nobody minds at all?
posted by jacalata at 3:56 PM on April 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

I agree with everyone who said go for it all. My boss likes to say, take everything the company wants to give you, even if only for awhile.
posted by cabingirl at 4:06 PM on April 10, 2013

Take the opportunity that's in front of you, yes, but don't let it become a pair of golden handcuffs either. It's a little ways down the road if you haven't applied yet, but figure out if you'll have to repay tuition if you do decide to leave/scale back after having a kid and make sure you have that money. But definitely take what's in front of you now, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush etc
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 4:11 PM on April 10, 2013

Definitely say yes to the opportunities. I was in a similar position a few years ago, and started a new job right after we started trying to conceive. It ended up taking us two years to conceive in the end... I would have been miserable had I stayed in my old position just because it was safe. I was even offered a promotion after I told them I was pregnant - they held it for me for a year during my mat leave.

You never know what will happen in the future, so go ahead and take all opportunities you're interested in. It will work out in the end, even if you do conceive right away; they like you a lot if they are willing to invest so much in you, so just stay loyal to them once you have children.

(Not to mention the fact that they must be aware you are a woman in your early 30s, so there is a good chance you will be starting a family soon.)
posted by barnoley at 4:48 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you like kids and want to have kids, it's hard to imagine you would ever regret having kids. They will be much more important and rewarding to you than your career, and it's more likely that you will end up wanting to stay at home with them than you will think "I should have waited". That being said, your career is important to you and it's important to be financially stable when you have kids, so you just need to try to find a balance, and the way to do that is to make sure you have lots of help (for example, grandparents or other relatives, and a nanny).
posted by Dansaman at 4:48 PM on April 10, 2013

Your company knows you're female, yes? Knows you're married?

They're reading all the same articles you are about leaning in or whatever. They've offered you good opportunities while understanding the risks. Take the opportunities they've offered.
posted by rtha at 5:07 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't get on the mommy track before you're a mommy.

I was 9 weeks pregnant when I was offered a huge promotion--a job that definitely took some growing into. It all worked out. I did send a lot of email from maternity leave, but it wasn't too much, and it was nice to check back in and keep up with everything that was going on.

New job + baby+ classes is definitely a lot, but you can always put classes on hiatus for a semester or a year while you adjust.

I say if this is a job you would like to have right now, you should go for it and figure out how to deal with changed circumstances when they're a reality.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:51 PM on April 10, 2013

Yes. The answer is yes.

You don't owe anyone an unknowable future thing.
posted by desuetude at 9:24 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Please don't feel like you can't involve your partner more in childrearing and care. There's no reason at all why he can't be responsible for looking after your baby after work hours while you work on other things. There are two of you here making a child, and it's only fair that both of you care for it once it comes along.

Don't put off having a child, because it's really only going to get harder. It's the inflexible part of this equation. Everything else, even if it seems immobile, will bend around it, especially if your workplace truly values you.
posted by Jilder at 3:25 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

As part of your new job money start a savings account for childcare; if it all comes together at once, you will need help. Other than that, go for (all of) it.
posted by emjaybee at 5:36 AM on April 11, 2013

Disclaimer: I am not a mother, so please take this advice with a grain of salt.

I suggest focusing on the practical side of your promotion and having a child. For instance, how much free time will you have if you take this promotion? Will be enough to attend classes? Do your school work? Raise a child? How much money will you and your husband have if your take on all these choice? Would all be willing/able to hire someone to take care of the housework you don't have the time and/or energy to devote to? Will you be able to afford daycare or a babysitter? (In fact, I strongly suggest you look at local daycare tuition rates; you'd be surprised how much they can cost.)

As for graduate school, I hesitate to recommend you take this on while working full-time and having a child. An MBA program is likely to include long classes and large amount of class work. I'd suggest: (a) researching alternatives to an MBA (perhaps take a couple of graduate level classes or research some seminars, etc.) and (b) if you do decide to go grad school, I'd recommend (1) talking to current students who are also working full time and mothers and (2) finding out how many months/years your credits remain valid for, in the event you decide to stop part-way through.
posted by emilynoa at 6:53 AM on April 11, 2013

You feel like you have this backpack on. It's not infinitely large. You're on a journey. ...

also, the backpack is much bigger than you think, and has all kinds of useful tools in the pockets. you'd be amazed what you can pull off!
posted by acm at 6:57 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

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