Over on Medium.com, Amy Westervelt wrote a very compelling article on being a working, middle-class mother in this modern day and age called “Having it all kinda sucks“. And I’m quite inclined to agree with the title. Having it all does suck. After all, as my anti-gun friends are so quick to point out to me: with rights and privileges come responsibilities.
And much of what she lays out in her initial observations I’m sure you’ve heard before. To summarize, women are largely expected to work and have children, while still being the devoting wife to home and husband. Or, to borrow Amy’s eloquence:
Here’s what we tell women today: You not only can, but should have a career and children — because if you don’t, you’re basically a) lazy, b) weak, c) not a real woman. But also, you should do it without any support. Without government-paid maternity leave (what are you, a socialist?). Without too much childcare (because then you’re a shitty mom) or falling behind on the job (because then you’re a shitty employee — typical woman!). Without too much help from your husband (because then he’s a pussy).
But, as Amy later points out, and it’s something I’ve observed as well, it’s actually other women who tend to be the ones who hold this standard over other women:
I have routinely had women pass me over for work because I’m pregnant, or complain that I can’t make an evening meeting because I have kids. In fact, I’ve had more women penalize me for having kids than men. And it’s only been other women who have called my parenting into question because I work.
Thankfully, though, she’s willing to actually tell the truth. And one major fact of life many either hope they can avoid or want to avoid — whether by some miracle or by the government reimbursing them for the costs of their decisions — is simply this: choices come with trade-offs. Again, going on Amy’s eloquence:
I do think, though, that we should cut it out with the fairy tales already. Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here’s the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer. You will never feel like you are devoting enough time to either. You will never feel like you are good enough at either. You will never get time off (at least for the first several years). You will always be choosing between things that need your attention, and you will almost never choose yourself. You will be judged for nearly every move you make and you will never measure up to anyone else’s expectations.
And the rest of Amy’s article is spot on with every point she hits. Except one.
I’m saying let’s make it okay for women to admit they’re pregnant, or take a little bit of time off to recuperate from having a baby without having to worry about tanking their careers.
The thing that needs to be kept in mind is, again, choices come with trade-offs. As Amy admits, as earlier quoted, trying to have a child and a career means both suffer.
It’s great that women have the choice to work. My wife’s work means we have more money in the bank to afford many of the luxuries we’ve indulged that otherwise would’ve still been largely out of reach. And now that I’m enjoying a better salary going forward than before, my wife has been able to cut her hours without us really feeling it. At the same time, my current work allows me to take home more money while working fewer hours closer to home.
But moving to a new job for the better salary and hours comes with one hell of a trade-off: the loss of seniority. On my team at my previous job, I had the highest seniority of all employees reporting to my manager. Now I have the least seniority on my team. But I was willing to trade seniority for having better hours and better pay.
Having a child means time off. It means you can’t be nearly as devoted to your work or career, as Amy again points out. It means lost seniority and falling back on advancements and advancement opportunities within your career path.
If you think the train called your career path is going to just pull into the station and wait till you’re ready to get back on, then a heavy dose of reality would be in order. Just like a Formula 1 race, the rest of the pack keeps going when you pull into the pits. They’re not going to pull in with you to wait until you’re ready to go again just so you can maintain your standing. It’s one of the reasons the daily grind is called the “rat race“. If you’re not running it with everyone else, you’re falling behind. And having a kid means falling behind. And you’ll keep falling behind as you keep getting nudged out to handle family affairs.
After all, if you could just hit the pause button on your career at any time and take as much time off as you feel is desirable without any consequences to your career and your standing within your career path, that provides some very dangerous precedents and incentives.
One trend we’ve seen in the last decade is a push toward the government reimbursing people for the costs of their choices. Currently we’re seeing that with the “forgive student debt” movement, and we’ve seen it as well with pushes for government-paid maternity leave among other things. Actually Bernie Sanders’ entire political platform seems to be a good summary of everything the people want to enjoy without the associative cost.
While you may not necessarily tank your career by having a kid or two, it does mean you cannot devote yourself to your career the same way as before. But if you feel that not being as devoted to your career means you shouldn’t suffer any kind of penalty, the world has never worked that way.
If I were to take six months away from my work and my career, and not do anything with regard to my profession during that time, I cannot and should not expect to be able to walk back into my career as if I never took any time off. My standing in my career will and should suffer, just as a woman’s standing in her career will and should suffer if she chooses to have children and all the burdens that come with that. It is the significant trade-off that comes with that choice, so make sure you are positioned appropriately to absorb it.
As such, don’t expect that having kids means no deviation from your career path and no penalty to your career. The career velocity of a 20-something with no kids will be higher than a 20-something with kids, and higher still than a 20-something unmarried with kids. That’s just how it works. A 20-something with kids can have the same career velocity as a 20-something without kids. It just requires putting a lot more fuel into the engine, which means, as Amy has already pointed out, you cannot be the devoted mother and wife. And if you’re a 20-something unmarried with kids, you’re going to need even more fuel.
But again that’s just how it works. A pick-up towing a half ton on a trailer requires more fuel to accelerate to highway speeds than a little Fiat with only the driver. And if you don’t have the energy to pull all that weight — the kids, the marriage, the career — then that means rationing your available energy, meaning they’re all going to suffer in some way.
Welcome to the rat race.