You started your junior year yesterday, and motherhood is (and should be) the furthest thing from your mind, but it is one of the single largest determining factors in your career path, trust me. You’re just like me in high school, you’ve already sworn off kids because you’re devoted to your career and your future, but there is something that happens that no one can explain to you in terms that you’ll understand because it’s chemical, it’s innate, and it’s unavoidable for some people, men included. This thing that happens is that for any number of reasons, blinders are put on and parenthood becomes the single most important thing ever in the history of ever. So let’s talk about some different scenarios so you’ll be able to ignore what everyone says about motherhood.
In all scenarios, let’s pretend that you graduate college, meet the love of your life on a trip to Europe when you’re 25 and have a few career years under your belt, and have a planned pregnancy. This isn’t realistic for most people, nor is it necessarily the superior route, but as a mom, it’s what I can see in my crystal ball.
1. You have to give up your career for a baby
What is the first thing everyone will tell you when you get pregnant? Your elders will tell you that it is your duty to step away from work and stay at home with your child or children until they begin kindergarten. Ignore that. You don’t have to leave work, in fact, it is sexist to assume that you’re the only one equipped to care for a child. Your husband is equally equipped and with the rise of paternity leave, he may even have built in benefits for staying at home.
Also, it is an outdated notion that there is a deadline on how long you have to stay home with the children, if at all. For some, a nanny or daycare comes into play when a baby starts walking, for others, it is never.
Ignore what everyone says about staying home with your children because only you know best. When people offer advice, just say “thank you for your thoughts, we’re still considering all of our options.” Motherhood is not an either/or proposition – many parents, both men and women, juggle work and children.
Hopefully you have built a life that allows you to make decisions based on what feels right instead of finances, but if not, worry less about what everyone tells you is good for your child and judge for yourself.
2. Motherhood is a distraction
People that either hate their own kids or are jealous of you will tell you when you get pregnant or are considering it that motherhood is an unavoidable distraction. They’ll tell you that you can’t possibly be a devoted career woman and a devoted mother. This is one of the most ridiculous notions ever, and I encourage you to ignore it.
Sure, there will be an afternoon that you’ll have to take off of work because your tiny baby is sick, and you’ll have late nights staying up with it all night, but you’ll also take work home with you and finish that report in between crying sessions. What you may not know yet is that while you’re constantly thinking of your child, you are also still capable of focusing at work – it’s not like you’ll sit there on a conference call and not hear what is being said because you’re obsessing over what Baby Einstein video you should buy on the way home.
The assumption that you can’t handle both is an insult and should be taken as such. You’re capable of focusing at school right now, even when there are deaths and illnesses in the family, and while the bond a parent feels to a child is different, you’re already practicing your abilities to focus.
3. Your boss will treat you differently
Many people fear that having a baby will make them less of an asset because they are limited in how high they can jump. If you have a baby, you may no longer be able or willing to be the volunteer to take home boxes of work over the weekend, or to work on holidays.
But remember that most bosses have or have had children, so they know how it goes. Don’t let the idea that your career will be negatively impacted sway whether or not you choose to be a mother. Your boss may notice that you take home less work, but you’re not the type whose nose will ever leave the grindstone, so it’s not like you’ll be slacking, you just may not ask for extra credit as often.
Studies reveal, in fact, that when female bosses are expecting babies, the very way they offer raises shifts, giving women the advantage and women get better raises than men when a male boss is expecting a daughter. Your boss is in the same situation as you are, pondering how parenthood changes their career.
4. You have to become a mother to belong
You may not be able to have children. You may not feel called to have a kid. You’ll feel pressured culturally to do it, but you don’t have to. If you have a child because it seems like the next thing to do after you’ve mastered your career, you’ll resent your baby and it goes without saying that that is never good.
The truth is that women are having children much later in their lives, so if you’re enjoying your youth and hopefully a happy marriage, and you’re a beast at work, just keep working it. Your body will tell you when it is time. Seriously, you’ll have baby rabies and your hormones will go insane, and your body will be like “we are having a baby now now now now, let’s have a baby” and you’ll do sweet faces at every baby that passes, you’ll secretly search for baby cribs, and maybe even stow away a onesie or two.
BUT… if you never have even the slightest case of baby rabies, it’s okay. You’re no less feminine without motherhood. Even if your coworkers are all popping out babies. When the time comes, feel free to tell people that you’re not closed to the idea, it just hasn’t happened yet.
Do what you want
You want to stay at home until your child graduates high school? Do it. If it feels right for your spouse to be the stay at home parent, that’s great, and increasingly more common. Want to put your child in daycare like millions of others do every day? Do it. Want to be a career woman and a great mom? Do that. If you don’t feel called to have children, don’t.
You don’t have to worry about it now, but you’ll have friends get pregnant in high school or college and you’ll see their lives change – knowing the options in advance could help you to better plan and weigh out all of your options without any accidents happening (although accidents happen at any age, and accidents can be blessings (but please, let’s try not to have any accidents until after 25, please!)).
The point is that motherhood does not spell the end of a career, in fact, it can be (and usually is) more rewarding than any job could ever be and actually be an amazing supplement to an already fulfilling life. On the flipside, not being a mother is a viable option that people may discourage, but only you know what is right for you. Culture be damned – ignore what everyone is going to tell you about motherhood and plan your life according to what is right for you and your household.