How to have kids without destroying your career
Via LinkedIn : People talk about balancing work and kids, like it was some kind of gymnastics exercise. But it’s more like a military exercise: strategy and stamina. Depending on the kind of career you want, you need to think hard about who to marry, and when. Here the three most likely scenarios along with tactics for making each scenario successful:
1. Don’t hold off on kids in to grow your career. That doesn’t work.
No matter when a woman has kids, those kids throw the woman off track. She will start to earn less money even if she takes no maternity leave. And a marriage starts to feel unequal, because all the research shows that children need one primary caregiver for at least their first year of life.
The pressure on women to have a big career before kids is extreme and something men do not experience. Creating a career that matters a lot to you is hard to pull together by your late 20s. But that’s realistically how much time you have to make it happen, before kids throw you off kilter.
If you want to have kids, you should aim to be done by the time you are 35, because that’s when your eggs start going bad fast. I know, because that’s when I started having kids. The geneticist showed me and my husband a graph of the Down’s Syndrome statistics, and we nearly keeled over when we saw the cliff at 35. We had no idea. This means you need to get started when you are 30, which means you need to get the guy you want to have kids with by the time you’re 28.
That’s why I tell women that if you haven’t found a career you really are dedicated to by age 28, you should just start a family. If you don’t have a career yet, you don’t have anything to worry about cutting back on anyway. What you do have is a biological clock that does not pay attention to issues of gender fairness.
So line up the marriage first, then the career.
2. Ladder-climbers should marry older and up
If you are hell-bent on making it to the top of the corporate ladder, you need to marry a man who can support that goal. You probably think that means you should find someone your own age on an equally ambitious path. But that will lead to two mediocre careers because both parents will need to scale back to pick their kids up from school/stay home with sick kids/but cupcakes at the last minute, etc.
Also, statistically your marriage is high risk if you and your husband are both in the workforce and you earn more than he does. Surveys show that women hate the feeling of out-earning their husbands. This is not logical, or social, it is primal.
Your ambitious young husband who is climbing the ladder to the top alongside you is also not going to want to take time off to take care of the kids so that you can keep on climbing. And at the point you decide to have kids, even if he’s doing well, he’s not yet going to be making enough money to pay people to take care of those kids in the way you will need. Because what you will need is to stay on that ladder all day every day and well past the dinner hour.
You cannot have both the big career and reliably be at home with your kids. So you should know what nannies costs. When I had a startup and two young kids in 2009 I had two full-time nannies that cost a total of $110K a year. Anyone needs that if they have a job where they travel and a spouse who does not want to be at their beck and call.
What you need then is an older man, probably 20 years older than you. When you’re in your early 30s, and really hitting your stride, he’s in his 50s. His career is established, his income is stable and it’s also at its peak, so when you choose him you know exactly how much you’ll have to spend. You won’t out-earn him until he’s already retired, at which point it no longer matters.
Attracting him should be easy. If you’re in your late 20s you have a powerful weapon that the men climbing that ladder don’t have – which is that you are perfectly positioned to attract exactly this kind of mate. All men want to sleep with women in their 20s.
3. To be self-employed, marry a high earner
If you want to get off the corporate ladder completely, there are two real options: start-ups and self-employment. Let’s just agree that start-ups are horrible for women at any stage of their lives because start-ups are places for insane risk takers willing to invest on average 80 hours per week.
Women in their 30s are having kids and trying to figure out how to work less. That’s why there is a salary gap between men and women: Because women focus on work and family after they have kids, but men are more likely to focus only on work.
So women might not want to join startups, but they might want to work for themselves. Working for yourself might give you more flexibility – you don’t have to be in the office at fixed hours, you can do what I do and have your work calls from the car as you shepherd your children to their ten thousand hours per week of lessons. But that flexibility is also a trap. Working for yourself means constantly hustling for the next gig, which can put you at the mercy of demanding clients. And you have to be able to navigate cash that comes in in fits and starts. All of that means you have only one real option for a husband: a high-earner.
A high-earner can cover your costs when your clients pay late. He can also pay for the exorbitantly expensive last-minute childcare you’ll be needing when those big projects come in on short notice, and that only you can take on because you are the company. He can buffer you from some of the consequences of your decision to leave steady employment in pursuit of that flexibility. The more unstable your business, the greater and steadier his income needs to be.
It may make sense for men to work full-speed ahead on their career straight through their twenties, but women cannot afford that. Women need to make time in their lives to search for a mate in the same systematic, focused way that they’ve learned to pursue their careers. But here’s the good news: a large body of research shows that you will gain more happiness by being married than by having a good job.
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