Was having a second child a career killer?
June 25, 2014 2:53 PM   Subscribe

For you full-time working mothers, was having a second child a career killer like my googling suggests? Are there other potentially negative ramifications of having a second that I'm not considering? Feel free to ignore the special snowflake details inside; I tend to ramble.

If it's relevant, the mister and I are currently balancing two careers (him: inflexible hours; me: flexible and I am home by 3ish), one side business, one highly sensitive two year old, and a blossoming social life. Are we crazy to think of having one more? I am filled with doubts when I think about days like today where I had to rush home to take care of my sick kid.

FWIW, the mister is completely on board with having another and I am ambivalent. I gave up my career the first go-round and luckily landed a job when the mini me was 18 months old but I also gave up around 10k a year and a management position. Not willing to give it up again. But I feel strongly that some children should be home with a parent if possible until age 1 to 1.5.

Other (possibly irrelevant) details: Our side business is not quite off the ground but will be by Q4 this year. Also we have to do IUI with a sperm donor (relevant only because it's not as easy as getting off of birth control and boom!). Social life is hugely important to us; we go out with friends about once a week individually and about once a week as a couple. Mini me didn't sleep through the night until 15 months and I had PPD. Mini me is currently being babysat by a friend who has one child her age but I doubt my friend will want to watch a newborn. Childcare will run us 2k a month which will eat up almost my entire post-401k, post-deductions paycheck. However, we make a comfortable 6 figures in Utah and fully fund both 401ks with no debt beside our mortgage.

The heart wants what the heart wants so....maybe it's not worth it to weigh the pros and cons with such an emotional decision? I'm willing to take that advice too.
posted by kei02003 to Human Relations (23 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
From the description of Selfish reasons to have more kids: Why being a great parent is less work and more fun than you think:

In Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, contrarian economist Bryan Caplan argues that we’ve needlessly turned parenting into an unpleasant chore, and don’t know the real plusses and minuses of having kids. Parents today spend more time investing in their kids than ever, but twin and adoption research shows that upbringing is much less important than we imagine, especially in the long-run. Kids aren’t like clay that parents mold for life; they’re more like flexible plastic that pops back to its original shape once you relax your grip. These revelations are wonderful news for anyone with kids. Being a great parent is less work and more fun than you think—so instead of struggling to change your children, you can safely relax and enjoy your journey together. Raise your children in the way that feels right for you; they’ll still probably turn out just fine. Indeed, as Caplan strikingly argues, modern parents should have more kids. Parents who endure needless toil and sacrifice are overcharging themselves for every child. Once you escape the drudgery and worry that other parents take for granted, bringing another child into the world becomes a much better deal. You might want to stock up.
posted by deadweightloss at 3:11 PM on June 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

It is not necessarily a career killer, no, provided one parent is in a workplace that offers a lot of flexibility. Two kids means double the pediatrician and dentist appointments, double the sick days, double the sleepless nights, not to mention daycare expenses. We timed our two four years apart so we wouldn't be paying for two daycares or (hopefully) two undergrad degrees at the same time.

But look, my career only really took off in a big way when my second child was about two years old anyway. Now my first is 12 and the second is 7, and I speak around the world, I'm considered an expert in my field, I get to do a lot of extremely fulfilling work, it's all good. If anything, I'm glad I had my kids on the early-ish side (at 28 and 32) because I got the needy-toddler-infant-breastfeeding years out of the way. Now, as I'm pushing 40, I'm free to aggressively pursue opportunities that take me away from my family mentally or physically for an extended period -- and those opportunities wouldn't have come to me when I was in the earlier stages of my career, anyway.

A lot of this depends on your parenting style, your temperament, your career, your support network, and how your family deals with gender roles. I'm extremely fortunate to have a supportive husband who is cool with a mutually poorly kept house and who is happy to adjust his hours and/or take time off when I'm eg. flying to Europe for a week-long conference. YMMV.
posted by Andrhia at 3:21 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

A second kid totally doesn't have to be a career killer if you don't want it to be. Yes, your takehome pay might be completely eaten up by daycare costs for a few years, your house may never be spotless, and you might be busy and sleep-deprived, and you may only see your kids awake for a couple hours a day. This is why some people decide to stay home with the kids. But, there are still some advantages to working after having the second kid, namely no loss in future raises/promotions, no gaps in employment which may make re-entering the workforce harder, and continuing to save for retirement.

If you don't want to quit, and you ALSO feel like it's important to be home for the first year or two, then of course you have a difficult decision to make, because you can't have both. In-between options might be seeing if you can work part time when the second baby is small, or finding a childcare option which allows you to see more of your kid during the day (daycare close by, or a nanny who can bring the baby to you at work, so you can breastfeed and get some bonding time in during the day).

I have a coworker who has had 5 (FIVE!!!) children in the past 7 years, and continues to work AND she's also working on a degree. I do not know how she does it. That's pretty extreme, but I know plenty of women personally who continued to work and further their careers with two little kids, and they're very busy, but they make it work. These women are teachers, engineers, librarians, people with big demanding jobs but it can be done.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:47 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pay attention to Andrhia's first paragraph. The workload *doubles*. There are only 3 places the time for this can be found: your career, your social life and your sleep.
posted by The Blue Olly at 3:51 PM on June 25, 2014 [20 favorites]

maybe it's not worth it to weigh the pros and cons

Seems like you only mentioned the cons, and you asked for negative ramifications that you hadn't already thought of. Are you hoping to hear something in particular?

From your perspective, are there pros? When you wrote that the heart wants what the heart wants, were you referring to what the mister wants? Because you describe yourself as ambivalent.

Is there a hurry? Two is tough. Maybe you will have a different perspective at three?
posted by pizzazz at 4:20 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you need to imagine when you are on your deathbed, what do you think you will be remembering the most? And proceed from there.

It's not a one fit for all situation, and just because one person's career derailed or succeeded with, in spite, of because of a second child doesn't mean yours will necessarily follow that path.

But it also doesn't sound like you're ready to commit to this yet, so unless there's a medical reason that you need to get this decided instantly, give yourself some time to think about it.
posted by zizzle at 4:29 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Social life is hugely important to us; we go out with friends about once a week individually and about once a week as a couple. Mini me didn't sleep through the night until 15 months and I had PPD."

Three excellent reasons right here not to have a second child.
posted by BostonTerrier at 4:35 PM on June 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

We have 2 5 years apart and 2 careers. It is tougher than 1, especially sick days. I had Canadian mat leave though which helped a lot. The big difference is IMO in down time, at least so far (my youngest is 3). During kid waking hours there isn't much. With the 5 yr spread the good thing is my oldest is helpful. But with activities etc. we parents are often playing divide and conquer, and even if one of us is with both boys the other is often doing chores. That was the biggest adjustment for me. Some child is always wanting me.

That said, I was promoted this year and am able to do some work related travel. My husband is an equal parent and we make it work.

Also I love them, watching them interact, etc. I can't at this point imagine not bring a family at least the size we are. (We are done. Baby store is closed.)
posted by warriorqueen at 4:59 PM on June 25, 2014

I'm hoping the answer to this question is no, because I'm about to have a second child and and my career is currently in an expansion phase, an arc I'm hoping to maintain.

But I am not expecting to stay home with them, we have a great nanny who is a known quantity and who will take care of both of them, we don't expect to have much of a life outside of family and work for the next couple of years, I was lucky to do well hormonally/emotionally PP, and we've got some savings which we expect to spend on outsourcing some of our chores so that when we aren't at work we're better able to spend time with the kids. So it sounds like our situations and expectations are pretty different.

We are also lowering our standards in various areas, more delivery/convenience foods, more paper plates, etc. And trying to streamline our lives as much as possible pre delivery - the biggest part of this is to get rid of as much stuff as possible so we have easy, kid appropriate/proofed storage for all the crap so it's EASY to put away.
posted by pennypiper at 5:11 PM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would say no, because granted, my kids were 10 years apart, when I had my son, I was more confident as a mother. I knew how I wanted to to raise him, I had been through the bullshit babysitters who wanted to charge me a quarter for stopping to get gas or milk (or excuse how their daughter had bitten mine).

I knew my skills and I knew my worth. If I got a job offer, I would tack on $1 an hour more and see how it went, fuck you, I don't want to commute that far, they gave it to me. I had a great daycare lined up.

I actually took off about 2 years when my son was born, but I also did some freelance work when he got to be about a year and a half, setting up a point-of-sale system at a retail store my friend was opening. They paid me a small salary but we negotiated daycare (they paid it, he was down the street from me with a trusted babysitter), and I got paid one rate for data entry and another for programming the POS software.

Drove him home with 'nilla wafers and banana in the back, dinner and a bath, singing songs, wrap up in the towel, stories, and put on his music. He seemed happy.

Just don't let the older kid kick box a blow-up rock-em-sockem toy at the overhead light. (like a beach ball). Glass everywhere. But overall, the only problem was that an older child wanted to watch different TV shows than a younger one. I loved having more than one child. Because: baby!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:32 PM on June 25, 2014

It doesn't fix the years where you have two kids in diapers, but if you're lucky, your two kids will get along and then it's much easier than just one. You don't always have the kid asking for your attention. She can play with her sister.

(My girls are 3 years apart. They play together really well most of the time. My sister and I are 5 years apart and didn't really play together. YMMV.)

It's not actually clear to me that two kids = double the work, even when they're young.

If you can continue to keep the job that has some flexibility, modulo maternity leave, then I say, go for it!

I don't agree, however, that it's critical to stay home with the baby until he/she's 1. Lots of babies go to daycare and are totally fine. That probably would be a career killer.

You still have to pay for the babysitter for 1, but the babysitter can watch 2 just as well, so two kids shouldn't crimp your style vis a vis going out any more than just one does (ok, except for the first 6 months after you've had the baby, because, well, baby).

I can't speak to the PPD, although I don't think it necessarily happens twice. And you'll be better trained at how to put the baby for sleep with #2.

Basically, #2 is way easier, because you know how babies work.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:40 PM on June 25, 2014

(My husband and I both work full-time, but we're academics, so we have two reasonably flexible schedules and a supportive department.)
posted by leahwrenn at 5:42 PM on June 25, 2014

I ultimately decided no. I have moments where I'm sad about it, but mostly? Mostly I look at the families with more than one and very very few of them work in a way that I would be happy to exist in. Not just in an employment::daycare sense (we made the decision that a parent would be at home until our daughter went to school and both of us took career hits for it) but in an emotional and physical and social and intellectual and spiritual sense.

It's hard to talk about, because it's judgey as fuck, but even the 'yay baby' people, the people yearning for more, seem so goddamn unhappy and strung out and the kids are raging and destroying stuff and the parents are checking out a lot of the time, or yelling, or flitting from one discipline solution to the next with no real engagement. That plays a huge part in my decision making. The kids play together seems code for 'I ignore them until there's screaming' which I know gets played up as blissful childhood pseudo-neglect in 'back in my day' discussions but god it is an unhappy environment. And I couldn't cope - quite literally cannot cope with that noise level or the emotional negativity.

That said, friends of mine have four, spread right out, and they're one of my happy family role models. Very different parenting choices, but they're happy and connected in a way that a lot of other families I know are not. Another family have two and they're happy as well. Both families have had one parent completely subsume career though (both mums) and one is clawing her way back now, with difficulty.

PPD would worry me a lot though. I was okay(ish) but what was manageable with a baby? Not manageable with a toddler. I could lay on the couch all day with a newborn, getting up to wash or eat and change nappies. I could greet my partner and cry on him, while he held the baby, with little to no effect on the baby. That's downright impossible with a toddler/older child. Same with pregnancy - I sometimes think about having another, particularly walking my daughter to school, and those post-gym days make it hard but pregnancy? So much worse than that. So that factors in as well.

(a friend of mine pointed out that just because I made the decision to have one child, doesn't mean I can't feel sadness for the possibilities - it's okay to put the decision off, to decide yet feel sad, all of those things)
posted by geek anachronism at 6:17 PM on June 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

You can't do it now with your set-up without giving up your career goals. But is there a reason you can't delay this for at least two years when your first child is in kindergarten? And in the meantime set aside funds specifically to hire a full-time nanny for the first year? Because it sounds as though you have the gut feeling that with a second child, given your work vs your husband's, you know that you'll be the one giving up your job and time and sliding into the full-time parent with a sort-of job on the side.

Budget like you have two kids - cut the money you would need for better childcare for you like a nanny (way more flexible with two children with an age difference than two childcare arrangements) and set that aside now so you guys get used to living without that money. Then figure on revisiting the decision in a year.

If you have to decide now (I sympathise - I have a ten month window for another child, and then for medical reasons, that closes permanently and it's terrifying), then I would go for it but absolutely put my foot down about getting a nanny or better infant childcare. I'd also suggest making sure the cost comes from your partner's expenses, e.g. he gives up an expensive hobby or pays 70% of childcare. Pregnancy and newborn care defaults to the carrier unless there's an active and serious effort by the other partner, and putting money on the table is a good way to make that priority explicit. My partner did really well, but next baby, he will be doing even more for the first three months because I burned out. You had PPD and a high-strung baby - that is something to be very cautious about and throw resources at. If you suspect your partner is not going to be full-on supportive, then don't trade your sanity for another child.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:31 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to, then no. If you dread it, then no.

I mean, if your husband wants another one, he can feel free to take the career hit.

That's a joke, of course. It would definitely be you. And it's your body that has to be pregnant for 9 months.

You get an absolute veto and I highly suggest you exercise it for the sake of all of your family's happiness and emotional and financial stability.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:08 PM on June 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

For some reason, several of the very successful women I know have three or more children. Others have stopped at one child. One thing it might depend on is your age.
I have two children. The last one was born when I was 35. I felt having no. 2 slowed down my career, but so did some other factors at the time. I can't really say it was the baby. Right at this moment I am very successful and happy, thank you.

Things happen in life - some of them you have no control over - my specific competences are not valued when there is a booming construction market, so during the 00's, I had to branch out and learn something new while my kids were young. On top of that, my parents became very ill and needed help. Now, I am back on track, but with my new skills and some life-wisdom added on. It seemed tough at the time, but today it's all good.

Recently I had a sort of reunion with friends/colleagues from before no.2 - because one thing I really missed out on was my social life. As it turned out, so did they. All along, I'd imagined they were having a lot of fun together while I was tied up between working and learning and child-rearing and taking care of elderly parents, but they were exactly the same. Some had many children, others had stopped at one, and happily, everyone was at peace with their choices and felt they had done what they could manage. Together, we looked at ourselves and each other, and realized, we are finally where we always wanted to be. A lot of our feeling we have had a hard time came from being ambitious, and just keeping up the struggle while others around us relaxed. The hard times were our own choice.
posted by mumimor at 11:55 PM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have two and I quit working for a year after the second one was born. I actually found a new job fairly quickly once I decided to start working again, and it was an increase in salary and title from my previous jobs. Having a second kid definitely did not slow my career down.

BUT having two kids means, like someone else here said, double the pediatrician's visits, double the chance that someone is sick and you need to stay home, triples/quadruples the mess in your house etc. etc. Actually, what stuck out at me was not so much that a second kid could have an effect on your career but that you and your husband go out a lot. The biggest change in having two kids that I've found is that many people are willing to watch one (easy) kid but it's harder to find people who will watch two. Babysitters charge more and family members might balk at watching a toddler and an infant for free.

My husband and I have way, way less free time now than we did with just one kid. My oldest has always been a good sleeper and if we had just her - well, I feel our social life would be much more active. But we have two, and my son is kind of a shitty sleeper and also a troublemaker who sneaks into his sister's room when he doesn't feel like sleeping!

I love having two kids and mine are best friends (they are 2.5 and 5). They are at an age now where they will play together and occupy each other, even if it's only for 10 minutes at a stretch. But having two is SO much work. We just got back from a family vacation and I feel like I hardly sat down the entire time. Juggling two kids and two full-time jobs has been difficult - not impossible, but difficult. I am pretty introverted so I don't need a lot of social time but I do need some alone time. My husband is very extroverted and he plays games once a week with his buddies, so that helps both of us get our much-needed recharging time. But it's hard for us to go out as a couple. We aim for once a month but honestly sometimes it's not even that.
posted by sutel at 3:28 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you considered adopting? I know that its something easier suggested than done, but it may have several benefits in your situation: you could adopt an older child and thus be able to delay making a decision for longer while still having a smaller age gap; you don't have to worry about PPD or complications with conceiving. Obviously, there are a million reasons why adoption may not be right for your family, but it is something to consider.
posted by fermezporte at 4:27 AM on June 26, 2014

I have two, now 14 and 10. When my first was born, my husband and I were penniless academics. I mommy-tracked myself into community college teaching as an adjunct for several years and my second was born during this time. When my younger was about two I made the jump to industry, my husband soon followed, both of our careers have taken off, we now have more money than ever imagined (and the history to give us the good sense to be incredibly grateful for it). He has always been a very hands-on dad and now due to commute logistics actually does more of the pick up, drop off, doctor visit stuff.

I was never a girl who expected to have kids at all and deciding to go for #2 felt like a big risk. I'm so glad we did--not only is our second child totally awesome in her own right, but she and her sister are really dear to each other. So yes, more work and more money and longer time in kid care, but having the second has been overall fantastic.

With a little bit of distance behind it now, one of the things that I think makes that decision so hard is that if your first is still preschool or younger, you don't have visceral experience of how much easier it gets when they start getting even a little bit independent, kindergarten and elementary age... Remember that it's not going to be that intense infant/toddler/preschool era forever.

If you want it, you can make it work. Definitely not as big a psychological shift as becoming a parent in the first place. Good luck!
posted by Sublimity at 4:34 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having the 2nd child was different than the first, I knew what to expect and was much more relaxed about what was vital and what was not for care. My career just continued to blossom even though I scheduled around taking care of my children because it was flexible. The hard part came when the 2nd was older and was the only child had home. I did not anticipate that she would need much more time when she was a teenager and I was scheduled to the hilt. Then my career took a hit....lesson for me. Life happens, I remember much more about the great things with my children than my career and find both successful.

So, my advice, do what your heart says, you are smart, your brain will figure out how to accomodate your heart.
posted by OhSusannah at 8:05 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

So your experiences with your first will not be your experiences with the second, for good or ill. I have friends that had PPD with one but not another of their kids. I had friends who had a very easy first kid and a difficult second. My first didn't sleep much and was a handful as an infant, but got easier as he got old. My second was a breeze as an infant (slept tons, was content to be not in my arms 24/7), but has becoming more challenging as a 2 year old.

I have friends that are stay at home parents, some because they wanted to, some because it cost as much as their salary to pay for daycare, but I also have friends who have worked through having multiple kids.

I had my first while finishing up my PhD, and my second as a post doc. Both were full time, but more flexible hour positions. I also have a small side business that I help my family run and my husband has a full time, not flexible hours, job. So in that respect we are fairly similar. I wanted two, and so we made it work.

Contrary to others, I don't find 2 to necessarily be twice the work. 1) I already had some idea of what to do with a newborn, so a lot of that was easier the 2nd time around, and 2) my older one (turned 3 shortly after his brother was born, now is 5), helps out by being more independent and keeping and eye on his brother (for short periods of time), and even entertaining his brother for me while I get other things done.

But sometimes it is more than twice the work. When both are having bad days or bad behavior days at least, it is like herding cats to get anything done. And yes, you will have more kid sick days, more appointments, etc. But with a flexible work schedule those are much easier to deal with than otherwise.

In general, there is no reason why having a second kid needs to derail your life or your career. But, the one sticking point I see in what you wrote is your feelings that you or someone close to you needs to be home with your kid until the are 1 year old. If this is truly what you feel, and you can't find someone who isn't you (ie. your friend or some other family member) to provide this sort of childcare for you, then you or your husband will have to stay home. Whether or not this will impact your career really depends on the field. There are plenty of success stories for this, but also plenty of what you have already experienced, of setbacks and lost time, and possibly an end point of not as advanced as you originally wanted to be in your field. Only you can say whether or not you would be comfortable having your 2nd child in some sort of daycare situation earlier, or if not, whether the possibility of a career setback would make you more unhappy than not having a second child.

Though a gut reading of your questions suggests you really want a kid and are trying to talk yourself out of it. If that's true, then stop looking for problems with having a second and start looking for benefits. Then come back to the issues you came up with and see how many of them seem like smaller problems.
posted by katers890 at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2014

Are there other potentially negative ramifications of having a second that I'm not considering? ... Childcare will run us 2k a month which will eat up almost my entire post-401k, post-deductions paycheck.

Pay very close attention to your financial math. Debbie Downer here, and in your financial shoes this would make me way too nervous to proceed, but I am not you and YMMV. I'm all for folks having all of the kids that they can actually afford. With a second child you will have very little financial cushion left over. How do you plan to fund your own retirement? Pay for college? Save for emergencies? How on earth will you handle a job loss? And most importantly, is this going to be in the best interests of the kid you already have?

You are essentially betting that you will have another healthy child, and that you will not incur additional expenses, say, for a bedrest hospitalization or a kidney stone removal during pregnancy. You are betting that your child(ren) will not have special needs down the line that will require vast financial resources you simply do not have. You are betting that you can beat PPD again. This is sounding like quite a tall order.

Research has shown time and again that it's actually child-free people who have the happiest marriages. Kids are great when they are equally wanted (I have 2 of my own), but having another kid usually does not make people per se "happier" - usually it makes them more stressed out, time-crunched, and strains the ever living hell out of their marriages. Given how much you enjoy having a going-out-at-night social life, I would therefore assume that you are not going to be any happier at all having a second child.

It does not help that American society is simply not set up to support dual-working parents (I'm looking at you employer-based healthcare benefits, limited public school hours and so much school break time, very little paid parental leave, lack of high-quality and affordable daycare). You also live in Utah, which I understand is SAHM-central, so I don't imagine a lot of Awesome Working Mother role-models are thick on the ground where you live.

That all being said, if this is a real priority for you, of course it CAN be done. The real question is not "CAN you?" It is "SHOULD you?"
posted by hush at 11:21 AM on June 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Thank you for all the insightful and thoughtful responses. It is reassuring to hear from those who have gone through it and come out of it still happy with their choice. It is also reassuring to hear validation for choosing to just stick with one.

Ultimately I am 90% sure we are going to have another child. The thing I want to clear up is that I wrote "But I feel strongly that some children should be home with a parent if possible until age 1 to 1.5." The emphasis should be on "some". My master's is in child development and I am just sensitive to adapting to children who have different temperamental needs. I do believe most children thrive in high-quality daycare settings. Research does show that a small percentage do not and in that case, I suppose we will accommodate with a nanny.

We have a huge financial cushion, which is the only reason I mentioned that we max out both our 401ks. If we needed to, we'd have an additional ~$2500 a month. This is an option that I'm grateful for. I think I confused people when I mentioned that MY paycheck will be very little after paying for daycare but I didn't clarify that it won't affect my husband's and mine is artificially little due to the amount we're socking away in savings.

I have a VERY supportive and involved spouse but I think that sub-consciously I view this as a huge burden on myself more than him. For example, I view daycare expenses as coming out of my paycheck even though we 100% share finances. This perspective is partly because he was diagnosed with T1 Diabetes immediately after we had our kid and so for the first year while he was figuring out factors that affect his blood sugar, there were many times I felt like I was parenting alone because he hadn't dosed correctly. This has improved now that he understands diabetes and his personal blood sugar factors. However, even the most awesome man can't breastfeed and can't actually BE mom.

I am not exaggerating when I say I only know one other full-time working mother who currently has a <preschooler. And she only has one child. My neighborhood in Utah is 100% SAHM or part-time working mothers. So thanks again for the anecdotes
posted by kei02003 at 12:04 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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