The Career Minded Mama’s Dilemma

Women who have their first baby over 35 are in a unique situation.  Many of us are established in our careers and and have all of the letters after our last name that we desire.  We have options, however we may feel ambivalent about exercising them.

What does this ambivalence stem from?  Typically it’s a mismatch between the vision of ourselves we and those around us created and our desire.  How you stand today is the result of a lot of hard work, sacrifice, ambition, and blessings.  You didn’t become successful overnight.  It’s like being on an ever moving train.  Even if you never had a destination, you kept moving and going because you had to or because there was nothing there to slow you down.  Many of the women we interview are having children later in life because they married later in life.  Prolonged single hood naturally lends itself to career and education advancement.  If you have to support yourself, you naturally take every opportunity of advancement as there isn’t the safety net of a second paycheck.  Perhaps you were raised in a home where the mantra was “college, career, marriage, then baby”.  It can take a long time to get to the marriage and baby part.  Of course, many partnered women are ambitious, and everyone is a unique individual with their own story.   The point is that when you have a  baby over 35, you’ve had at least 35 years of being one way which is quite a long time and now you have to switch gears to include ‘mother’ in your title. Many people have trouble with this transition regardless of how long or how hard they worked for that title.

We are also heavily influenced by those around us.  If your circle of mom-friends consists mainly of working women, then it can feel strange to be the one who opts out.  It can also be intimidating if there is no one there to guide you. Colleagues may find it strange and question why you would give up a career or may harbor passive resentment at your choice.  Lastly, the media tends to portray mothers, working or not, in a negative light.  The SAHMs are always bossy and dissatisfied and the working moms are always shown as harried and guilt ridden.

It takes a strong person to follow their desire and transition from the person she has created to a different version.  It often means really thinking about what is important to you and how you define yourself.  It takes courage to examine and question how well your actions and choices really blend with your core values.  In other words, are you truly living your most authentic life or are you living the life your parents wanted for you or your friends expect from you.

I have a test for this I call the “Tigger or Eeyore” referring to the well known Winnie The Pooh characters.  When you greet the day are you full of energy and excitement like Tigger or are you merely tolerating your circumstances like Eeyore?  When you think about work are you a Tigger, excited to get there to start the next project or are you simply going through the motions?   When you think about staying home with your baby, do you brim with joy and can’t wait for those long snuggle session while watching the Today Show or are you filled with a quiet sense of dread? We all have Eeyore moments, but the majority of your life should be Tigger-like. Certainly, the major roles you occupy should be viewed with  excited anticipation and joy.

You may already feel confident in your decision about staying at home or working but are more concerned about certain aspects of it.  For example, if you stay at home, how does this affect your relationship with your family finances?  Dual income couples typically have some consensus on spending and may have a shared bank account but they also typically have their own discretional income for personal things like hair cuts.  Most men are also blissfully ignorant of how much a woman’s haircut costs!  How comfortable will you be continuing with yoga class assuming it is in the budget?  It may seem like a luxury that your husband is now “paying for”.

There are some simple steps to tackle this weighty issue.  First, both you and your spouse should be fully informed of your finances.  I have a friend who has a bi-annual “state of the union” in which she and her husband go thorough their finances and make a plan for the next 6 months.  They discuss their dreams, realities, and direction.  This takes compromise on both sides.  If you want an expensive gym membership, what can you give up?  If your spouse is resistant to your wants but you feel you can afford them, then a slow listening-based approach is in order.  Validate his concerns and use facts to show your point.   You need to continue to be actively involved in the finical management of your house hold.

There are two main reasons for this.  First, your family’s well being depends on it.  The old adage “two heads are better than one” reigns here.  Different perspectives and a second set of eyes to catch mistakes will save you a lot of potential grief down the road. You wouldn’t make a major decision regarding your child’s health or education without input from your spouse, the finical situation of your family should be governed jointly, as well.  The second reason has to do with your emotional health.  Many women (especially those of us raised in the ‘70s and ‘80s) are uncomfortable with being fully finically supported by someone else.  Taking co-ownership of the fiancees will help change your perspective and make you feel like a contributing member to the team. Knowledge and shared governance are empowering so you go from feeling dependent to feeling confident.

You may also be concerned about potential reentry later on in your career.  Pattie Sellers, editor of Fortune Magazine, says: “careers are like jungle gyms”.  I learned this quote and concept from reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  (Before you roll your eyes, I can’t speak highly enough of this book and it is an essential read for men and women of all ages, trust me.)  Deborah Jacobs of Forbes elucidates on the jungle gym vs. ladder analogy here .

Of course, we have all heard of “mommy-tracking” and I believe that it is quite real in many industries, however, I invite you to be creative in how you view your professional life.  The most important thing is to not let outside forces dictate the type of career you want and are worthy of.  While at home, keep connections active by having lunch with colleagues and employers periodically.  Read trade journals.  Attend a conference.  Read about other women and learn from their decisions.

Children do best with parents who are content and confident. As you make decisions affecting your career and child care, let that be your lead.  Think creatively and keep the lines of communication open with your spouse.


(Adapted from original post on Psychology Today).

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