In yesterday’s post, I declared that parents (women in particular) need to choose between focusing on their kids or focusing on their career. It’s not kosher to speak about choosing your career over your kids, but I want to clarify that I personally don’t think that this has anything to do with how much you love your kids (I'll be delving into this further on Thursday).
Today I’m going to focus on the expected effects of the decision for one spouse to choose kids above her career.
I focused on women, because more women will want permission to not have big careers than men (although there are some men who want this permission). I also focused on women because I am a woman, and I have struggled with this, but my husband never has.
Self Perception Expectations
One of the hardest shifts for women (or men, but typically women) who either drastically tone down their career or who opt out of the formal workplace altogether is dealing with their own perception of wasted potential.
I am a well-educated woman, and I am a top performer in my career. I make a lot of money, I receive a lot of awards, and I get critical feedback that helps me improve regularly. While I'm not overly jazzed about making people buy more stuff, I have no doubt that I'm good at it. It's clear to me that my potential is not wasted.
Most well-educated women who opt out of the workforce struggle to feel like their potential is wasted. Of course, nobody says, "It's a waste of your potential to focus on raising your kids," but it's a very real undertone in the conversation surrounding parents (in particular moms) opting out of the workforce. And it's no less driven by the moms who opt out of the workforce than it is by those who remain in.
It requires a strong sense of self-actualization to believe that it is okay to spend your time dealing with arts and crafts, potty training, storytime at the library, and shuttling kids to activities instead of driving commerce forward or solving societies maladies. Children do not give very good immediate feedback. They don't give you raises, or awards. Sometimes it seems like they regress instead of progress.
It's one thing to know that your potential isn't wasted on your kids, but it’s different to feel like its not wasted. I think most women have to find a practical coping strategy for this problem; for me, the strategy is part time work, for others it might be a highly structured day, or a rigorous social life.
Choosing kids over a career doesn't mean giving up working altogether, and it doesn't mean you never ever get to have a big career. It means that you accept that children will limit how much of a career you get to have right now.
With minimal outsourcing, you can hold down a variety of jobs, and perform well in your job duties. You cannot, with minimal outsourcing, go above and beyond expectations. You cannot wake up for a conference call at 6, and go to a work function that night at 8. You cannot travel 3-4 months out of the year, nor can you work 60-70-80 hours a week to get your business off the ground.
If your kid gets sick, it means that you pick him up from school or daycare instead of having a babysitter or having your spouse on call to do that for you. It means that you know that your annual review is coming up, and you read Goodnight Gorilla several extra times instead of working on the review. You will consistently choose family time over investing in yourself, and you'll be okay with that choice.
Kids don't have to limit your career, but if you aren't willing to outsource, you're extremely unlikely to achieve big career success, or I should say, big career success has to wait.
Personally, I believe that most "knowledge jobs" are too demanding to fall into the category of full-time jobs that you can maintain while focusing on kids, but some professions lend themselves to this better than others. My understanding is that a handful of jobs in the medical field offer extreme scalability benefits, and some entrepreneurial adventures are more "lifestyle" than not. I won't say it's impossible to focus on your kids and maintain a full time job, but I think it's rare.
What about part-time work?
Part time careers are not big careers. If you choose to pursue a part time career, it’s important to note that you’ve really decided to choose your kids. However, you may feel like a better human (and therefore a better mom) if you engage in some marketplace work. This might be because it's easier for you to do a small amount of work, and pay someone else to watch your kids for a few hours than it is to never get a break from your kids.
However, part-time work can be the worst of all solutions if you don’t earn “enough”. Part time work means that you need to earn enough money to pay for someone else to take care of your kids or house, enough to pay taxes, and enough to feel like your work is worth it. If you have a high earning spouse (putting you in the 20%+ marginal tax bracket), and you pay a babysitter $10/hr, then you’re probably going to need to earn around $35 per hour doing part time work to make it worthwhile.
I don't know if $35/hr seems high or low to you. To me, it seems reasonable. I personally have four skills for which I’ve been paid $35/hr outside of my full time job, and I bet you do too. Business intelligence consulting ($75/hr, but on a very limited basis), writing ($35/hr is my goal rate, but I’m consistently hitting between $25 and $50 depending on the client), waiting tables ($30-$60/hr was typical), and teaching tennis ($35/hr).
Choosing kids over a career means forgoing whatever illusion of independence that I had. I will, for all practical arguments, be economically dependent upon my husband (good thing he wants to outearn me). He will, for all practical purposes, bear the responsibility of earning income for our family.
He will depend upon me to take care of the practical and daily emotional and spiritual needs of our children. I will bear the responsibility for those daily decisions.
Of course, our dependencies are connected, and I won't pretend like we won't be in each other's space a little bit, but we will not generally share our domains.
Because we will be dependent upon each other, WE need to make a joint decision about kids and career. This is probably one of the most difficult decisions to make because it requires a level of vulnerability that most of us don’t like. You have to admit that you want to be dependent upon your spouse.
Practical measures, like how the finances will work MUST be part of your decision, but factors like stress, trust, and domains of responsibility need to be part of the discussion too.
If you’re wondering how many times you’ll have this conversation, I would say that Rob and I have discussed career and kids at least 2 dozen times in the last year (most conversations lasting 5-7 minutes), and we only recently came to a decision that seems like the right choice for our family (namely, me working part time).
Talking to my husband about these choices doesn’t scare me. Being economically dependent on my husband doesn't indicate to me that we are unequal in value. It does mean we are different. It does mean that I have to trust my husband. It also means he has to trust me.
What about contingencies?
What if I'm wrong to trust my husband, and we get divorced? What if he becomes disabled? What if his career doesn't pan out very well? What if you want to re-enter the workforce?
Will I regret my decision?
I cannot plan for every contingency, and I may even find that I may want to make a new decision in the future. Rather than worry about the fact that I don't have a plan for every possible outcome, I'm going to take some comfort in the fact that I am making a choice, and as far as I can tell, it's the best choice for me and my family right now.
Life will be full of unforeseen troubles and unforeseen opportunities. As new circumstances arise, my husband and I may need to re-evaluate our decicsion. Perhaps, we will look back, and in hindsight think that we made the wrong decision.
I still think it's better to make the decision than to let a decision happen to us.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.