can females really have it all?
June 13, 2015 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm 24 and about to embark on a lot of schooling for a career that I'm passionate about. The loans from said schooling will take me 10+ years to pay back, but my job security will be pretty much guaranteed and I'll have the flexibility to live where I want (i.e., somewhere with low cost of living). However, I'm certain that I want to have children and that I'll want to spend a lot of time with them. Is it silly to pursue a serious career?

I'm asking partly because I don't really have any good role models of this: women who balance a good/high-power career with parenting. I know it exists, but I grew up in a cookie-cutter suburb where the women go to lunch and pick up the kids, while the men bring home the dough. My friends are mostly teachers/therapists/or working jobs they don't particularly care about, with an eye on getting engaged. Some have gone to grad school for 2 years.

I want to hear from people who logistically made this work in their own lives.

In my own (very dysfunctional) family, my dad was the breadwinner-- but because their marriage is a shitty one, my mom has always urged me to choose a good career that will give me financial security and independence, so that I don't end up stuck with someone like she did. My parents are also very bad at money management, so I was brought up under the false pretense that the solution to financial challenges of any sort was to make more, more, more money, with no emphasis on budgeting. My dad makes $140K but we were always struggling with finances. I also have a childlike 31-yr-old mentally ill/substance abusing brother who historically milks the finances dry in the household.

I graduated from college in 2012, spent a year deciding on a career path, and then took prereq science courses for 2 years to help me get into professional school. My parents have been helping me (i.e., paying for rent and school) on the condition that I keep a part-time job to cover some expenses. I'll be doing a one-year masters this August, and hopefully starting dental school in Fall 2016 (or re-applying after the masters, if I don't get in the first time). I'll be taking out a loan for the masters (~$35K) plus dental school loans ($200-$300K). This amount is pretty standard. I worry that I won't be able to work part-time ever with those types of loans though, unless someone else helps out, in which case I'm depending on a guy anyway.

I told my therapist I felt like I was making my life more complicated by choosing to go to school for 5 more years, and she said I was making it a little complicated now so that it could be less complicated later: i.e., I'll have the job I want (dentist), flexible hours, and autonomy. We've talked in depth about my separating from my family, and the last thread tying me to them is the financial dependence.

I have depression and anxiety but working through both using therapy, meds, meditation.

I'm scared that my life will pass me by while I'm in school. I won't be done until I'm 29-30. I want kids and pets and to travel and fall in love and make art and do yoga. I know that some of this is just cold feet. I've been working towards this goal for 2+ years, and now that I'm on the brink of applying, I'm freaking out. I wish I hadn't wasted so much time trying to figure out what I wanted to do.

One last point: I've never had a full-time job and that makes me feel guilty. I've worked a string of odd jobs since graduating, and I can't fathom that I won't have a real job until I'm 30. I feel like this will stunt my development somehow, or isolate me from my peers. I do want to meet new people, and I think grad/dental school will be great for that.

I should note that I'm studying for the DAT so my anxiety levels are currently through the roof.

I worked at a dental office since high school, and it's always been a happy place for me (even an escape from my household). I like working with my hands, I like teeth, and I like the quiet hum of the instruments. I like getting to know and catching up with patients one-on-one, and seeing them consistently over time. I'm also very empathetic and intuitive which I think would make me a good healthcare provider. I'm an INFJ.

TL;DR-- I'm 24, want to be a dentist, but won't be one until I'm ~30. I will have a huge amount of debt from dental school, but I'm passionate about the field and people in practice are usually able to pay it off. I definitely want kids and a family. Is it really possible to balance a career like dentistry with being a doting mother? Is 30 too late to start my professional life?

Please share any advice, anecdotes, etc. Thank you so much!
posted by DayTripper to Human Relations (34 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Is it really possible to balance a career like dentistry with being a doting mother?

Yes. In fact, lots of women go into dentistry because it is both flexible, lucrative, and self-driven, when you have your own practice.

Is 30 too late to start my professional life?

The short answer is "no." In the medical field, that is pretty normal. The longer issue is that your professional life is happening now. Don't think of your life right now as a set of steps towards someday beginning your professional life. Rather, look at it as part and parcel of your professional life. You're at one stage of being a medical professional now. Dental school will be another stage. Specialization will be a different stage. Opening a practice or working at a clinic will be another stage. It's all part of your professional life, and it's happening now.
posted by deanc at 11:38 AM on June 13, 2015 [21 favorites]

So kids are ony young for 6-ish years. Say you have kids at 35. They'll be in school by the time you're 42. What do you do for the next 20 years until retirement? This is your mom's point, and it's a good one. I even know a lot of women who went back to law school or medical school after their kids were in school.

However, I won't tell you that some of your fears re: dental school are not justified because they are. NOT from a "wife and mother of kids getting in the way" standpoint though- I think you're identifying the wrong problem there. Purely from a "do I actually want to do this" standpoint, however, your concerns are valid. You have to be really sure you want this career for life, will stick with schooling for that long, and will pay back the loans before you sign up. This is true for men or women, kids or no kids. And honestly, it is a bit concerning that you haven't had the experience of working a full time job. Maybe do that for a year?
posted by quincunx at 11:39 AM on June 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

First, you should discuss all of these specific anxieties with your therapist, if you aren't already. (It's awesome that you're in therapy - just make sure you are discussing your specific, career- and gender-related issues with him or her.)

Second, yes, there are absolutely women who have high-powered careers and families. If you don't know any such role models personally - and aren't convinced by the ample stories on the Internet - then perhaps you would benefit from finding a women's mentoring group in your city (or, when the time comes, at your dental school).

Finally, I just want to gently point out that work-family balance is not a strictly "female" issue. Men who want challenging careers and families also have to strike a balance between the two. There are loads of insidious social norms that encourage women to be "mothers first, workers second" and men to be "workers first, dads second." Neither is beneficial to actual real-life women and men. You aren't doing yourself any favors by getting bogged down by these tired gender stereotypes. All the more reason to talk this through with your therapist.

Good luck!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:40 AM on June 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

Anecdote: my mother is a doctor and, when I was growing up, was a trainee surgeon working very intense hours. Logistically, she managed by paying for some childcare, sometimes relying on my dad (who was also in full-time work but had more regular hours) and sometimes relying on my grandparents. She married at 27, when she was still in training, and balanced her family life with work through a combination of paying for help and relying on family for help.

She made it work, I think. She was a fantastic parent throughout my childhood, warm and attentive and present, and my sister and I are both in our thirties now and doing relatively well in our lives. I don't know how, because she wasn't physically there the whole time and sometimes came home at 2am or whatever, but I always felt like she was there in the background of my life and I could 100% rely on her if I wanted or needed anything. That feeling of security was the key thing. On top of that, her financial independence from my dad, and her passion for her career and the well-being of her patients, were both net positives: her job and her talent enriched my life as a child rather than depriving me of anything. I very vividly remember thinking about what surgery was, and looking at her hands, and thinking how amazing it was that she did that with them. I can't imagine growing up believing that being a mother was somehow inconsistent with being a professional. The two have always intertwined in my mind. My mother being a good doctor was part of her all-round good-mother-ness, or so I felt as a child.
posted by Aravis76 at 11:52 AM on June 13, 2015 [50 favorites]

So dentistry is high powered in the sense that it requires a lot of education and pays well, but it's not the kind of career with high stress and unpredictable hours (like say, law) that can be really difficult to balance with a family. You can actually have a decent amount of autonomy and it's in high enough demand where you don't have to worry as much that if you took any time off you wouldn't be able to come back at your same level. So I actually think it's a great choice.

The only downside is, of course, the debt, but that is partially outweighed by the salary and ability to live in a low cost of living city. But still the more you can minimize it (say by going to a school with in state tuition or where you get a scholarship), then more comfortable you'll be.
posted by Asparagus at 11:55 AM on June 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hi! I am currently in a somewhat similar situation, just a few years down the line. I am 2/3 of the way through law school and have accumulated the typical debt. I have started working in a litigation firm that is considered "high powered" etc (I'm in the Canadian context so I don't know the American version of what I am talking about). The women I work with are absolutely on top of their profession. They speak at conferences, they mentor, they get interesting and varied clients, they (seem to) love their jobs. And the grand majority of them have children. And partners. Happily. They go on vacation, they go out for dinners, they put their kids to bed and go to their soccer games on the weekend. I know that some of them have nannies, which seems helpful, but they all seem to have happy home lives. It is possible to balance these two things: a professional career that you love and a family that you love.

As for the age thing, 30 is absolutely not to late. I am summering with a girl who is turning 30 this year. There are real benefits to not starting professional life too early - you get to have other experiences, for one. Feel free to send me a message if you have questions about being a woman in a professional context - I probably will not have a concrete answer but I love sharing experiences and anecdotes about this kind of thing.
posted by hepta at 11:56 AM on June 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

My friends are mostly... working jobs they don't particularly care about, with an eye on getting engaged.

When you go to graduate/professional school, you will meet a lot of people who have higher ambitions than this. I think it will help you put things in perspective, because these people you meet will also have families, kids, and futures involving families and kids, but they will be fully invested in their training. My read of your question is that you're worried that if you don't split your attention between career and family, you'll miss your window on one or the other, but that splitting attention isn't going to be good enough for you to really succeed in dentistry. I think it's actually the reverse - if you don't focus on having a life while doing this intense long-term training, you may end up resenting dental school for getting in the way of opportunities to have the kind of domestic/relational future you want.

Sticking with your yoga, art-making, and pet-having will be an incredible asset to you in any kind of graduate training, because the one thing you really need is stress relief. What about focusing on part-time jobs you can have that cultivate your hobbies or put you in contact with people/things that renew your energy?
posted by katya.lysander at 12:31 PM on June 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Another anecdote - my dentist has kids, and in fact was a single (divorced) mom for much of their childhood. Everything worked out fine for her. I think it was a big help for her to own her own practice (therefore, she could set her hours and take time off when needed) and establish herself in business before starting her family (she had built up a great reputation and has NO trouble attracting patients).

So I think even being a single mom - if you eventually go that route - is do-able with a career in dentistry. But the good news is, if you want to get married, college grads are much more likely to both get and stay married. And more men are interested in being active participants in their kids' lives - your professional status and income mean you can be the main breadwinner with a stay-home dad spouse if that's what you end up doing.

I think that finding a women's mentoring group - whether for dentists in particular or professional women in general - is a great idea. Meeting professional women who have successfully balanced their personal and work lives would inspire and reassure you.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:48 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

However, I'm certain that I want to have children and that I'll want to spend a lot of time with them. Is it silly to pursue a serious career?

Historically, people died young and had a huge brood of kids. These days, we tend to live into our 70s and have one or two kids. When social security was invented, it was envisioned as taking care of people for a year or two in extreme old age. Life expectancy has gone up and people are increasingly finding that they need to work at least part time to keep living decently after age 65.

So women used to raise kids their entire adult lives. If you have only two, even a few years apart, you are going to be left with a whole lot of years still to fill after they are grown. If you have only one, you likely will need to find a way to fill at least three decades of your life somehow. Filling it with a career that pays adequately is going to a better use of that time than nagging your child to have a grandkid or feeling like a burden to your child.

I think the question isn't should women pursue serious careers, but how can they while also doing right by their kids? Of course, I think this needs to be wrestled with at a societal level as well, but I don't think that exempts any of us from wrestling with that question as individuals.

It is very hard to have a fulfilling marriage and fulfilling career and fulfilling social life and be a devoted parent all at the same time. I once saw someone in an interview say something like "you need to pick 2 out of 3" or something. In other words, she had a career and kids and also wanted to spend time with her husband, so she gave short shrift to social stuff that wasn't family related. I have also read that "you can have it all, just not all at the same time" as a good rule of thumb.

I wanted to do the two career couple thing and ended up a homemaker and mom. I have spent a lot of years trying to figure out what went wrong. In my case, one thing that went wrong is my health. Another that went wrong is I married poorly for that goal. He was career military and that wasn't in the best interest of supporting my career goals. So I will suggest you stay healthy and be very careful about whom you marry. Think about his attitudes and his career goals and how that will impact your ability to be both mom and career woman.

Also, don't view that as depending on a man. Men are not asked to choose between career and parenthood in the same way that women are. If two people have kids together, they are both responsible for raising those kids and they both need to work out how best to do that while also making life bearable for both parents. The nuclear family model of having one breadwinner and one full time parent is logistically simpler to work out, but it also has a lot of inherent pitfalls. Be aware it is inherently harder for two people to both have fulfilling lives and marriage and kids than the old nuclear family model. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth shooting for, even if you ultimately agree that you can have it all, just not necessarily all at the same time.

best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:52 PM on June 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hi. I'm 30 years old and just finished a medicine residency. I'm here to tell you that, during dental school, you will probably not be able to hold down a part-time job. The reason why you take out loans for professional school (and why almost nobody works) is because school is your job, and the level of intensity is such that you just don't have time. When I was in medical school, I was in school for about 40 hours a week, and then studied another 30-40 hours a week. I did manage to do some tutoring on a cash-only basis for the first couple of years, but once I started clinicals, I had to cut that out, too. But, as you have realized, you take on the debt because you will (theoretically) have a job that will allow you to make quick work of paying them back.

I wouldn't be worried having never held a full-time job before school, if you've had a diversity of experience in your part-time jobs up to this point. The balance in the health professions is shifting towards people who are coming in slightly later in life, but there are still plenty of people who have never, ever had a job ever. Some people handle their responsibilities better, but I vastly prefer working with people who have at least carried some of the responsibility of having to show up and do a job that you may not necessarily like.

As far as relationships, I'm in a great one with a person who does not work in the health professions. I've also had serious relationships with other people in my field. I can't stress enough how much I have appreciated being able to come home to someone who has NO IDEA what my day was like. Do what works for you, but when you're in school, take care to cultivate a social circle that includes people outside of the health professions. It keeps you sane.
posted by honeybee413 at 1:08 PM on June 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

My dentist is a striking-looking woman with her own practice, a bitchin' Mercedes and three beautiful children. I'd say she's doing it right.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:43 PM on June 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I can echo honeybee413's points. I'm a medical librarian and my school trains dentists as well as other health professionals, and I interact almost daily with students, faculty, and preceptors (professionals who supervise students at clinical experiences).

Dentistry in particular attracts an older crowd; my school's entering DDS class average age is 24, and many students have spouses and kids, or acquire them during school. Also, students who have had any sort of regular job-- like, say, showing up to be the receptionist/tech/records clerk at a dental practice for several years!-- tend to fare much better. They are better at showing up on time, getting their work done, and noticing/following office norms like dress code, OK topics of conversation for work, etc., and they are preferred by faculty and preceptors.
posted by holyrood at 1:44 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a 48 year old dad of one child who has two working parents and the simple answer is: no, one can't have it all. Giving full emotional support to your child is more or less a full time job. Work drains your energy. The hard truth is that yes, you can manage to have a great life with the whole family, but there will be times when the relationship is suffering; there will be times when work is suffering because of "how things are at home" and there will be times where you have deep regrets about how you neglected your child's wishes. The challenge is to keep it all within reasonable limits. Those who can't do this break up their marriage, end up with psychotic children, experience a burn-out at work, etc. I would certainly go after your dreams, but be prepared for compromises. Good luck!
posted by hz37 at 1:54 PM on June 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Your plan sounds great!

And I'd invite you to consider what your alternatives might be. The working mothers I know who are credentialed professionals are busy, yes, but they have a lot of advantages over their less-credentialed counterparts.

If you don't go to dental school, what will you do? I don't personally know any families in which both parents don't work. (Except for maybe during the children's very early years.) If you're not a dentist, you might find yourself in a much less enviable position. Working two jobs, having less control over your own schedule, working for significantly less money, etc. In short, your plan sounds like a very good one.
posted by Susan PG at 2:46 PM on June 13, 2015

Oh and also -- you sound like you'll be an amazing dentist. Dentistry is one of those occupations that some people are just clearly born to do. You sound like one of them :)
posted by Susan PG at 2:59 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had my kid when I was 21 years old, and I left my husband a few weeks later. All I had was a GED, so I enrolled in a state college, got some Pell grants, and worked on campus while I got my schooling. I did stay with my parents while I was in school, and they helped me out with babysitting and things like that, which was invaluable for me. But I do know people who have lived independently while they were in school, even a couple who raised their kid for a couple of years while both pursued graduate degrees. They seemed pretty happy with it.

Once I got my first corporate job, I did pretty well overall. Not super high powered or anything, but I got pretty far along in a technical track in my day job, and also did a fair amount of freelance work. My main trick was that I made a conscious effort to adopt more productive hobbies and to cut way down on time and money sinks. So I took up things like cooking and home repair and tinkering, and spent less time going to shows and hanging out the way I did when I was younger. Also, I did that loathsome hipster thing and didn't have a TV until a well meaning relative got us one when my son was about 7. It is amazing how much time there is in a day when you don't have a distraction like that. I did internet, but at the time, it was a dialup thing, so I didn't spend the amount of time on it that I (or most people) do now. I suspect that would be the one major distraction to cut out now if you want to carve out more hours in your day.

You do have to make sacrifices here and there, but I think you might be surprised at how many of those sacrifices aren't a big deal after all.

And as far as parenting goes, I don't feel guilty about not parenting my son full time. On both sides of my family, there are women who are just kind of mean and bitter, and it occurred to me not long ago that the one thing they all had in common was that they were smart and had pursuits they were interested in, but were stuck at home doing childcare and housework. They probably would have been happier and more nurturing, and even better parents overall, if they had been able to work outside the home. I love my son like crazy, but honestly, I think it would have made me pretty mean and bitter, too, if I'd cared for him 24/7 like that. I don't even think he would have liked it. He liked being out in the world and seeing different people and doing stuff, too, and we had some pretty action-packed weekends doing things together.

It's a pretty recent, and I think pretty Western phenomenon for moms to be isolated in their homes caring for their children. It's a great, workable model for some people, and that is fine, but I don't think everyone is really cut out for it, and I don't think it should be a universal goal.

And dentistry sounds just about ideal. It's a lucrative career with pretty regular hours as I understand it, so it seems like a great sort of career to balance with raising a family. Also, thirty is a totally normal age to be starting out a career, especially one like dentistry. Don't even worry about that part.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:38 PM on June 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think the dichotomy between being a great parent and being a serious professional is overstated. It's repeated because it's clickbait and it's offered up as an excuse by people who are unhappy with other aspects of their life.

I know some full time parents - (who don't work outside the home) - who seem happy enough, and that's great. But honestly? I know more who seem stir-crazy and deeply bored, who focus their loneliness and anxiety on their kids. And the kids, especially once they're in preschool, would be better off with a parent who has their own life and work and friends, and for whom being with their kid is a happy respite rather than being their "job."

Once you go to professional school your peers will be other people who want careers, so don't worry about that. And dentistry is not a career that requires travel or night hours or unpredictability. Go for it!
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:06 PM on June 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dentistry is like a dream job for its intersection of predictable hours / part time flexibility and high pay. I don't know why more people don't become dentists, honestly.

Lots of women are / get married and have kids in medical school and residency. I assume the same is true of dental school. But they tend to have very nice childcare set-ups: mom / mother-in-law in the house, family money or husband's income to cover a live in or high overtime nanny. It's not a very good fit with hustling to and from a day care that only runs during business hours.
posted by MattD at 4:09 PM on June 13, 2015

"I'm scared that my life will pass me by while I'm in school. I won't be done until I'm 29-30."

Something like 50% of professionals meet their spouse in professional school, and professional women often don't have kids until their 30s. I went straight through law school and finished when I was 25 (got married at 24), and I still didn't have my first kid until I was 31, and I think I was the youngest of my close friends.

I'm an at-home mom right now and I'm the only one of my girlfriends, all with children, who ISN'T in a high-powered professional career -- federal defense attorney, doctor, postmaster, architect, Six Sigma blackbelt, and two of them went back to school in their 40s and just embarked on second careers as a therapist specializing in end-of-life care and a librarian. We all have kids under 5 except for the two who just went back to school (they have teenagers).

Keeping your commute short and/or finding a daycare near your office is helpful. One of my friends goes twice a week to meet her daughter for lunch, because her daughter's daycare is in her building right downstairs. She's able to pop in for an hour for birthday parties, and to drop by to see fingerpainting, and so on. When her daughter was a baby, she would pump twice a day (morning and afternoon), and go feed her daughter at lunch.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:37 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

You mention few role models. One extreme example is Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America and mother of 2 children. She spends time with them every day. And manages to work very hard.
posted by jander03 at 6:38 PM on June 13, 2015

I've never had a dentist who works f/t. My current dentist is on a 1-year mat leave. She'll probably come back 3 days a week, like most of the other dentists I know. I have a friend who is the business manager for her husband's dental practice. He works 4 days a week and so does she (she's not a dentist) and, on the Friday, every second week, they all pack up and go to a ski resort with the kids, while he puts in a few hours there for a dentist who prefers to work p/t.

If I had known that dentists, lawyers, doctors and all sorts of professionals who run their own businesses could work p/t, I would have looked at those careers.

$300k at 8% is $3600/mo over 10 years. The lowest 10% of dentists make $71k. I don't know about the US, but you can write off loan interest here. And that still would mean you are clearing $2k a month if you're working f/t. So, yeah, if you want to work part-time for a few years, you might not make as much. But you could work evenings and weekends and have your partner do more parenting during those times. Or you could hire care. And I'm assuming you wouldn't be in the lowest 10% at the end. It doesn't sound so bad and, if you run your own practice, you can probably achieve some efficiencies with taxes.

But go get a job and volunteer a lot before you commit to $300k and a life as a dentist.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:55 PM on June 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I want kids and pets and to travel and fall in love and make art and do yoga.

I might not be a doctor, but I'm a 32 year old engineer with an M.Sc. and circumstances have only recently worked out that my career, my love's career, and our general life situation is stable enough to start trying for kids, and now I'm pregnant. I know a lot of other women in the same boat, some women are a lot older than me, too. It takes time to get your ducks in a row, doesn't mean you have to forego everything else you want in the meantime.

Keep dating. Though you may not have a lot of time for it, it's a good idea to try and fit it in. This is your most likely time for finding a partner, and increases your odds of being in a viable relationship and possibly in a position to have a kid in your early thirties. A dog may not be doable, but depending on your living circumstances another kind of pet may be a possibility. Even a goldfish or beta fish is something to look after. And yoga - come on, this you definitely should keep up a few times a week, for mental and physical well-being... you will need the stress relief.
posted by lizbunny at 9:01 PM on June 13, 2015

These things are by no means mutually exclusive but you will have to have a different emphasis at different times. Sometimes you switch the emphasis daily, sometimes it's seasonal, sometimes it may be years. And you may not fit everything in before you have children and thats fine. Take them with you on your travels or take great pleasure in jetting off somewhere for a month at a time when they are at college.

Strengthening your earnings potential and giving yourself a good basis to meet your and your children's material needs as a sole earner (if it comes to that) is never a bad thing. It gives you security and options. If all goes to plan you're not a sole earner and it helps you have a very good family income that allows you to outsource some of the family work like cleaning, ironing, gardening and a bit of childcare, not just for your job but for the yoga class/retreat you really want to take.

And as others have pointed out children are young for a very short period of your adult life, you'll be working many, many more years . And hopefully you'll be in good health and have pets, travel, do yoga and art and be in love for most of these years. A good income will make all of that easier, including a good retirement. And dentistry does not have the same time creep and unpredictable demands as other careers.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:17 AM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kids are designed to love their parents fiercely. As long as you give them lots of love and attention when you're with them, the overall amount of time you spend together is less important. You can totally have a career and well adjusted kids!
posted by betsybetsy at 4:49 AM on June 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Let me tell you where I am right now. I'm 29, and right now I'm putting the final touches on my doctoral dissertation in neuroscience while my toddler takes a nap. The dissertation is due next week and I'll be Dr. by mid-July. I'm married (4 years, but we were together for 10 years before that) and we have two cats in addition to our son.

The last few days have been some of the most brutal days of my entire life. My son is in a rough patch this week - his roughest patch every, actually. None of us have slept enough. Finishing a doctoral dissertation is a fucking slog, emotionally, intellectually, interpersonally, and practically. I have done every combination of early morning, late night work you can imagine. I have had 3-hour meetings with my advisor and I have just about killed myself getting final, perfect data at the absolute last second to put in that dissertation. I haven't sat down to eat lunch at work in several months, in part because I've committed to putting my son in daycare for just 6.5 hours a day, which makes my working life unbelievably rushed. In the last two weeks, I've gotten two infections from my son, my husband has also been sick, we've done a million loads of sanitary laundry, our dishwasher broke, we've rescheduled and backed out on several obligations and had several more appear out of the blue, unplanned. I had to work when I was sick, give a presentation when I was sick, take care of my son when I was sick, and get along with my (fortunately wonderful) husband when both of us were so short on patience you'd think we were going to explode.

We didn't explode. Nobody has yelled at anybody. I was just offered a job last week. I have completed the dissertation and I'm now just adding final touches. We have gotten through the illnesses (though the toddler has another one now, oh joy). I had several days this week when I thought I couldn't do it, just couldn't hold it together. I cried and I kept going.

Here's what's damn hard about my life: I have virtually no discretionary time. Because of my husband's rigid work schedule, I handle the lion's share of the unpredictable vagaries of toddler life, and trust me, there are many. I work like a dog when I'm at work and I have to turn down almost every invitation for lunch or chatting or whatever because I keep my nose to the grindstone. I haven't seen a movie or gotten a totally peaceful night sleep since my son was born and I certainly haven't "gone out", which puts a lot of distance between me and my peers. I'm a graduate student, so we don't have lots of extra money to pay for the things that would make life much easier, like professional cleaning, buying takeout whenever it would be helpful, etc. I carry my son to his school on public transit (with all his stuff and all my stuff) and it's tiring. I have long days, long nights, and no breaks. We can't afford a nanny or a babysitter more than once in a blue moon and we don't have family who spell us more than a couple hours every few months. Finding time to take care of myself can be a challenge. We live in a very small space and really, really wish we had more room.

Here's what's great about my life: I am almost a PhD. I am so close, and I am going to make it. I did it even with a baby who didn't sleep. I got a postdoctoral position doing exactly, precisely what I always dreamed of doing, at an institution that has a big name and will be good for my career. My scientific paper is under review right now and it looks like it will probably be accepted and published. I ran a 5k a few weeks ago and I get my 12,000 steps a day every day, so it's not impossible to work in exercise and self-care, just challenging. I play my violin sporadically in my symphony orchestra, so I have been able to hang on to something that's "just for me". We cook breakfast and dinner virtually every day and provide healthy, tasty food for our son. We are saving a little bit of money. On the weekends we get to do fun things like going to beaches, parks, ice cream shops, and dozens of playgrounds.

Most of all, I have a family that I love. A good, stable marriage has allowed my husband and I to pull each other through this brutal year and a half, and we're finally almost done with this demanding chapter in our lives. (We get all of August off after I defend!!!!) I love my son fiercely, even when he's a PITA (which he has been this week), and I have kept my resolution to never, ever yell at him without ever slipping up. He's been in a good daycare next to my building for 6.5 hours a day, and I have spent early mornings and late afternoons with him almost every day. (This is a huge advantage of graduate student flexibility - I work after my son goes to sleep, and on weekends.) When I couldn't (due to lengthy experiments), I knew my husband was with him and it was OK. We have fun together - toddlers are a blast - and we laugh and play and enjoy life. When it doesn't suck, which it sometimes does.

So that's my life. Right now it's so exhausting and challenging I could cry (ok, yeah, I DID cry) but I wouldn't give it up.
posted by Cygnet at 6:36 AM on June 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

So, this is a good chunk of what "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg is about (just picked it up).
Basically that women often start second guessing themselves years (or even a decade!) before they actually have kids, and turn down opportunities for advancement, they have less satisfying careers, less financial security, and then less to go back to when they do go back to work, which almost every woman will do. The idea is just, until you are actually pregnant, go as hard as you can, and have better job opportunities to come back to.

I would be worried about becoming a dentist without having worked full time, except that you have worked in a dentists, and know what you are getting into. Sounds great! Go for it!
posted by Elysum at 7:05 AM on June 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

The nice thing about dentistry is that once you are a dentist that's it, no promotions to keep chasing and no risk of being laid off when younger more competitive people come through the ranks. So that's a great career choice straight off.

It's flexible (at least it is in the UK) and I know many many dentists who work three or four days a week to spend time with their children - it isn't frowned on at all. I'm a hospital doctor, and almost all of my female bosses have children, including the postgraduate dean (who has five children, yes five, and works part-time). Healthcare is a great choice in that regard - if you're doing the job well when you're there then nobody thinks any the worse of you when you aren't.

A couple of my colleagues are completely married to their jobs and are single, but a) two of those colleagues are male, it's a "no life" problem not a gendered problem, and b) it doesn't sound like that will be you. I have loads of outside interests and there's no problem maintaining them alongside my job. Sometimes I need to focus on work more, but that's just for short bursts of busy time (pre-exams or something). The people married to their jobs are not doing any better than I am.
posted by tinkletown at 7:30 AM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

> I'm scared that my life will pass me by while I'm in school.

This is a reasonable concern.

You have your career plans pretty well locked up. Your question is supposedly about living life and having a family, but most of what you tell us is about school and money and future work. You're on that shit.

I think it is a mistake to think you're going to focus almost entirely on school, career, and money for ~12 years and then when you have become A Dentist things like husband and kids and work/life balance will fall into place. (Yoga, that you can probably pick up any time.)

In particular I think a marriage where both partners are Career Comes First is going to be rocky. Can it work? Sure, people do it, and sometimes very admirably. But here's my little anecdote: my dentist was married to another dentist when I started visiting her and they had a practice together. Met them both, they were both likeable, capable people. I thought they had a really cool little family business together. But they got divorced shortly after we found them. Now we have two Dentist Distinctivenames on opposite sides of town, which is a little weird.

"Can it ever work" is a different question from "is it likely to work".

If you are sure you want a family (are you?) I'd start thinking seriously about this now. I don't know what you should do differently. You might divert a little energy from that big brain of yours to this question. Probably you should try to find someone you could love and spend your life with sooner rather than later, and start planning (not just dreaming) together now. See Cygnet's comment above. Of course, if this was easy, traffic on AskMeFi would be a lot lighter. Good luck.
posted by mattu at 8:48 AM on June 14, 2015

I think you can totally do this. There's degrees of what "it all" means that apply to everyone, male or female, but this working mom of an almost 9mo old says that what you are wanting is do-able. I'll nth everything Cygnet said.

I think a big part of it, for me, was picking the right guy. My partner is not some career-driven type-A alpha-male bro... at all. FWIW, I'm not super career driven either - but I have a well-paid day job. Anyway, he's my partner - like Ben Wyatt (to Leslie Knope) or Paul and Julia Child. I took six month's leave when our son was born, and then we swapped. I cannot overemphasize the value parental leave has had for my husband and son's relationship, my husband's confidence as a parent and primary caregiver, and for establishing an egalitarian co-parenting early on.

Also, download YNAB, see a financial planner, and marry someone who is responsible with money!!! A large percentage of divorces are over money, and being on the same page as your partner in this regard will eliminate so much stress.

I want kids and pets and to travel and fall in love and make art and do yoga.

I/We travelled a bit in our 20's, and will again, though I'm not taking an infant/toddler on a plane anytime soon! Our downstairs neighbours (an English teacher and political campainer/writer) have just taken their two children (1 and 3) to visit family in Ireland though. We have two cats, I've started doing "Dirty Yoga" at home, and I'm managing to take a college class and crochet a bit here and there. We have a good marriage, but like Cygnet no babysitters on hand so it's pretty intense and we don't have much of a social life right now. Saturday some friends brought us take-out after bedtime and he stayed asleep and we had a great time (!) but hubby bailed on the late movie in favor of an earlier bedtime. So I guess, as has been mentioned, we're having most of it and not all at once. I went back to work full-time when he was six months, and I'm still mommy and he still adores me; personally (and YMMV) while I miss him during the day I think I'm a better mom for it in the long run.

MY GP has two little girls, works three days a week finishing at 3pm, and goes home to Wales (from Australia) every year. =)

I'm scared that my life will pass me by while I'm in school.
There's just life. Life in school, and out of school, but neither is less real or meaningful than the other. I travelled during school and after, then got married, travelled some more, went back to school etc... I think you'll feel better once you've taken the DAT!

I have depression and anxiety but working through both using therapy, meds, meditation.
This is, like, almost everyone I know. Half, easily; my husband included!

Oh, and if it makes you feel any better - lots of people don't know what they want to do at all, or stumble into something, or change their minds repeatedly... deciding to become a dentist at 24 (finishing at 30) sounds very young and focused to me! I think you're doing great. You know what you'll be in six years if you don't go to dental school? You'll be 30 anyway.

As someone with genetically crappy teeth - you sound like you'll make an excellent dentist. I love my dentist.... LOVE. And I give him lots of my money!
posted by jrobin276 at 4:21 PM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in this new book that just came out called I Know How She Does It, which looks at time logs entered by women who have >$100,000 a year jobs and at least one child under the age of 18. To tell you the truth, I haven't read it yet (on hold at the library), but I've read the author's blog for a while now and I'm familiar with her message, which is that the lives of such women are hardly the frenzied wrecks they're made out to be in the media. First of all, they have money, which gives them options both at home and at work. Secondly, they have bargaining power, which often allows them to craft solutions that will work for them at work. I'm not sure where this pernicious idea came from, that you should work a low-paying, throwaway job if you want to be a mother -- often it's the high-powered jobs that give you the autonomy and flexibility to figure out how to fit everything in. The nice thing is that the book actually shows you through time studies how that can happen. Otherwise, I can tell you only anecdotal evidence -- my mom was an absolutely great mother, fully involved (almost too involved) in every aspect of my childhood, and also had some pretty amazing positions at work. I can only say that as a girl, it was incredibly inspiring and there's no point at which I wished for a SAHM.

I will say though that your choice of partner is extremely important. My dad was a total partner to my mom (though she was definitely the organizing powerhouse). My husband is also a partner to me in a way that bodes well for when we have children. Before you make any big romantic decisions, think about whether this person will have your back career-wise -- it's incredibly important.
posted by peacheater at 6:43 PM on June 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

Why are you going for a masters if you really want to go to dental school? Sounds like a waste of 35k. Why not work full time (maybe two jobs?)and save money like crazy while you apply for dental school? You'll reduce your dept as well as have the full time experience and could even use some of the money for a cool trip before school starts. I took a year off to work between undergrad and vet school and have no regrets. You can reapply for grad school or defer as a back up ( if that's an option).
posted by morchella at 9:17 PM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

My awesome cousin-in-law is a dentist who is part of a pediatric dentistry practice. Her husband (my cousin) is a surgeon. They have the greatest kid who's almost 3. They take advantage of relatively flexible schedules, private childcare, and enthusiastic grandparents to take care of their kid. They are in their early thirties and (at least to my eyes) look successful, happy, and remarkably balanced for a pair of high-powered overachieving badasses who met while in dentistry/medical school.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:13 AM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

There have been a lot of good answers and advice so far - but what I want to talk about is the money & financial side of "it all." You mention this:

"[M]y mom has always urged me to choose a good career that will give me financial security and independence, so that I don't end up stuck with someone like she did. My parents are also very bad at money management, so I was brought up under the false pretense that the solution to financial challenges of any sort was to make more, more, more money, with no emphasis on budgeting. My dad makes $140K but we were always struggling with finances. [...]

I'll be taking out a loan for the masters (~$35K) plus dental school loans ($200-$300K).
I'll be doing a one-year masters this August, and hopefully starting dental school in Fall 2016. This amount is pretty standard. "

Debt of any kind in your life is *challenging*, and a Student Loan debt of over $200K at graduation from dental school will be a giant hobble. It will loom over and influence your decisions for decades into the future. You seem to have already grasped this, but I wanted to re-emphasize it. Please critically re-examine the amount of debt before you sign on the line.

For example, do you really need the $35 K Master's degree? Is it going to help you in the long run in terms of getting into Dental school?

Why are you paying for a Masters, anyway? My understanding is that Masters students usually get a full-ride, or at least heavily subsidized price, for their contributions to research and through part-time employment with the University as a teaching assistant. If your school isn't willing to subsidize your Masters, that is a sign that they don't value you as a Masters student.

Would you be better served by working full-time and saving for Dental School to help reduce the loan burden? You can set up a 529 plan for yourself, bank your earnings, let them grow for a couple years, and then ideally pay for your own tuition during the last year of Dental School.

Look for scholarships. Treat scholarship hunting as your full-time job. Apply for every scholarship you can possibly, even marginally, qualify for. Research how to win scholarships and position yourself to be that winning candidate.

Also, regarding finances - considering your family's shaky financial background and their belief to just "earn more" to out-run expenses - please, please take some time to educate yourself about personal financial management. For a good basic plan, start with Dave Ramsey's book The Total Money Makeover. Ramsey also offers a 9-week class on personal finance called Financial Peace University, if classes fit your style of learning better than books. FPU is usually given in evenings or weekends by churches or community organizations, at a minimal cost.

Because earning a big salary is not going to do you a damn bit of good if you don't know how to manage the money coming in to your best advantage.

Learn to budget. Learn to stick with the budget. Learn to become financially self sufficient... not just in salary, but in money management.... and this will enable you to find a spouse who you don't have to, won't have to, depend on.

One last note regarding those Massive Student Loans. You don't have to pay them as they are scheduled. Once you're starting out as a dentist, you'll be tempted to upgrade your lifestyle to match your new salary. See, after being a penniless student for 3 years, a $70K/yr paycheck suddenly in your pocket sings a siren song to you - "Buy a new car! Rent a larger more modern apartment! Get new furniture!" RESIST IT. Stick with the student lifestyle for a couple of years and funnel all your extra cash into paying off that Student Loan. If you throw $50K a year at a $300K student loan, it could be *gone* in 6 years instead of 10 (or more). Or, throw $40K a year at the loan, save $10K a year, and your $300K loan is gone in 7.5 years and you have $75,000 plus interest in the bank.

I know a couple who married while in college, got good jobs after college, and kept their student lifestyle for 1 year - banking all one $70k salary and living comfortably on the other $55k salary. They used that $70K to start a real-estate business in year two after college. Now, 17 years later, they are living in a million-dollar home on the beach and neither one of them report to a 9-5 job. Staying debt-free and banking savings early in life- and of course good stewardship of savings, hard work & a sprinkle of luck - set them up for an ascending trajectory throughout life.

Lastly - and this is related indirectly to the financial advice - since you mentioned you want marriage and kids someday, think carefully and critically in advance about what you want in a life partner. Not just looks and common interests, but compatible values. Will your future spouse also manage money well and have a good career? Or will you be comfortable being the primary breadwinner and spouse can be a stay-at-home-parent or part-time worker? Compatible values, life goals, and viewpoints - in addition to attraction - are key to a long-lasting, respectful, loving union. Spouse choice is critical.
posted by Ardea alba at 11:50 AM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

My boyfriend works in the dental field and is employed by the federal government. He has worked with a number of young (~30ish) dentists who took jobs with the government because of the public service loan forgiveness program. Go to dental school, take out those loans, and see if you can get a residency with the feds after you finish school. Many new hires are pulled from the crew of residents that come in every year, and let me tell you, the talent bar is LOW. The stories I have heard, oh my... Plus if you can get in with the federal government, you'll have a regular schedule, you can take vacation when you want (not as much of an option if you've got your own practice and staff to worry about), and hiring/firing is on someone else.
posted by jabes at 5:25 PM on June 15, 2015

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