Today’s post is the penultimate in a series on making a really hard choice between career and kids. To date, I’ve said that you have to pick that the thrust of your energy must go either towards your kids or towards your career, and I’ve explored some of the emotional and relationship dimensions that often accompany a woman who chooses her kids over her career.
Today, I’ll explore some of those same dimensions that accompany a woman who chooses to direct her energy and focus towards her career instead of her kids.
Mom Guilt to the Extreme
In the Pew Center Research article, only 16% percent of women claimed that they wanted to work full time while they had kids at home. I imagine that even on a survey, it was tough for these 16% of moms to admit that they felt good choosing to focus on their career instead of their kids.
Although I believe that it is possible for parents to choose career over kids while still assuring their kids of their love and being involved in their life, such a choice does not come without sacrifice. If you make this choice while your child is young, you’ll likely receive a video of your child’s first steps from your daycare provider or your spouse, and you’ll run to the bathroom at work crying because you wanted to be there so badly.
You won’t have much opportunity to volunteer at your kid’s school, and as hard as you try, you’ll sometimes skip your kids activities in order to work more.
No matter how much you love your job, and how much you truly believe that everyone is better off with you working, you will experience days when the mom guilt is strong.
These days aren’t going to be made any better by the fact that you may feel guilty that you’re checking your email in the gym while watching your daughter’s third grade basketball game, nor are they going to be made better by any parenting magazine that will insist that you have time for your big career and arts and crafts and to have a clean house. You don’t. I promise (unless your big career is literally being Martha Stewart or the Pioneer Woman).
Your husband likely won’t be a good wife
Men who rapidly climb the career ladder often have a stay at home spouse who is backing them through their assent. For a limelight example you can look to the way that Michelle Obama significantly backed off of her career during President Obama’s candidacy and presidency. 60% of male CEOs have a stay at home spouse, and this type of support removes much of the burden of homelife decisions from men who are blazing on the career path. I assume that the majority of the remaining 40% either do not have children, or they have wives who have taken on primary parenting responsibilities though they outsource much of the care.
On the other hand, only 12% of female executives had a stay at home spouse. In fact, most female executives are part of power couple pairings like Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and her late husband Dave Goldberg (CEO of SurveyMonkey).
Even if you have a stay at home husband, his version of staying at home is likely to have a decidedly masculine flair. He may take on involved side projects (like a home based business or a DIY renovation) rather than focusing as much attention on cooking, cleaning and tending kids. Even women who are primary income earners report that they do more housework than their stay at home spouses.
Of course, you may marry someone like Andrew Moravcsik who puts his wife’s career first even though he continues to work full time. Their solution is to outsource as much as humanly possible which requires a lot of money (which they have).
Earn a lot, so you can outsource
When women choose to focus their energy on their career instead of on their kids, they must find a way to make that focus compatible with their marriage. Obviously this involves a joint marital decision, I only put the pressure on women because it is less common for women to want a big career than it is for men.
Perhaps you and your husband will alternate being a “lead parent” with your husband, perhaps your husband will take on that role instead. Perhaps you’ll just get to be really lucky, and your kids will have a smooth transition from childhood into adolescence and adulthood, and the need for “above and beyond” parenting will not be important in your life.
Either way, if you’re focusing on your career over your kids you need to earn a lot of money. And you need to earn a lot of money, so that you can spend a lot of money. The bigger your career, the more you’ll end up spending on outsourcing everything from shopping to housekeeping to childcare.
Unfortunately, I think there are many women who want big careers, but they’ve chosen low paying fields. For example, teaching doesn’t pay well enough for you to outsource much of anything. If you want a big career, you need to earn big money in your career. It’s simply not feasible to do everything, so be realistic about your ability to have a big career.
Focusing on your career shouldn’t mean ignoring your kids
Focusing on your career doesn’t mean that you don’t love your kids or that you’re completely uninvolved in their lives. Certainly it means that you will miss out on some of the highlights and lowlights, but you can still be an emotionally available and physically present parent even if you choose to have a big career.
My dad is an entrepreneur. His company now employs over 200 people, and my dad wants to see his company grow to over $1B in revenue in his lifetime (this is his landing on the moon goal… so audacious that it just might work).
Growing up, my dad was extremely focused on growing his business. So focused, in fact, that our dinnertime conversation often centered around what we kids thought he should do with his business. Looking back, I may have been the only kid (of five) who enjoyed those conversations, but the point of this anecdote is to say that my dad was home for dinner most nights.
My dad also attended most of my athletic endeavors (as well as those of my siblings). He taught a Sunday school class, and he regularly talked and engaged with each of us. He helped my mom make tough parenting decisions, and he made an effort to fill in for my mom when she would go out of town for a few days on a women’s trip.
My dad didn’t chaperone field trips or pack my lunch or help me find my lost keys, but he was a huge influence in my life. He still is.
It is possible to enjoy both family and your career, but you have to make sure that someone is looking after the daily needs of your family. In my dad’s case that was my mom. Who will that be if you choose your career over your kids?
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.