One of the questions I am frequently asked by younger women is, “how can I advance my career and plan a family at the same time?” Since I work among a large group a women physicians who have spent years in school, training and nurturing their careers, this is a typical topic. It’s very challenging for these career-driven women to start thinking about planning a family. Frankly, I don’t recall ever having been asked this question by a man. It’s usually women, often very sheepishly, who ask me how they should approach the decision. I always give them the same answer; if you make a list of pros and cons, the cons will almost always win.
When looking at the situation from a purely logical point of view, it’s true, the decision to start a family appears to lose. Here’s how your list will shape up: children increase the family budget with daycare, cost of food and clothing, etc., having children increases your time commitment away from work and there’s less time to care for yourself. While all of this may be true, it doesn’t mean that if you want children you should avoid it. What is immeasurable and fights against the logic is the unconditional love that comes from a child and the joy of watching them explore the world around them. Having children while advancing your career is not for everyone, but it can be done. There are many examples of women, like me, who have done just that.
In order to launch yourself on the journey, you need to throw away the list of pros and cons. First, focus on developing your support systems. It’s critical that you create a good partnership with your co-parent, making sure you communicate what you expect from each other, and that you are both set up to take an active role. Next, set out to create your broader support network that may include grandparents (if you’re lucky) other family members, neighbors, other working mothers and day-care providers. A note here: ease up on pressuring yourself on the daycare situation. I know that many women feel guilty about leaving their children with someone else and struggle over making sure every detail is perfect when making this choice. Remember this: your child’s future college application is not dependent on their daycare situation. All you need to do is find a loving, supportive and safe environment for your child.
It’s no surprise that having children changes everything. In order to feel like you can balance everything you will likely need to create a new routine in your life, one that makes space for quality time in the evenings and weekends for your children. My kids were always the last to go to bed in my neighborhood. I kept them up just a bit later so that we could play, read or just sit and talk about the day. There is no one right way to create a work-family balance, you have to decide what works for YOU and your family. Lastly, if you do decide to take a break from work, it’s very important that you find ways to keep your skills current and stay involved in developing your career. Read publications about what’s happening in your field, make time to have coffee with colleagues, and socialize with other moms — think of it as a networking opportunity!