Traditionally, a woman will give up some or all of her career when she is ready to start a family. It is still generally expected for the woman to take on the lion’s share of the housework and the rearing of children. Of course, there are exceptions and men become househusbands, but overall it is still seen as the woman’s role. However, many women now also have high flying careers, which they have worked very hard for, and do not feel comfortable having to give that up, even in part. Is it really necessary to choose between career and family or can both co-exist? If they can co-exist, then how do you manage the two? And if it has to be one or the other, how do you make that decision?
Is it Possible to Have a Career and a Family?
This day and age, there can be two reasons for both parents, or in a single parent household the only parent, having a career. The first reason is by choice, the second is by necessity. Either way choosing to work when having a family does not, in any way, make you a bad parent. It is unfortunate that having a career when having a child means that the amount of time you spend with your child is significantly reduced, but what truly matters is the quality of the time you spend with your child when you are with them, as well as the quality of the childcare you arrange whilst you are at work. There is a wealth of options available for working parents, such as nurseries, playgroups, child minders or friends and family.
Try, as much as you can, to find childcare arrangements where your own values and morals are respected an instilled on the child as well of course. Although perhaps not ideal, as you will have less time to spend with your child, it is clearly possible to have both a career and a family life. The focus should always be on quality, not quantity – spending a little time with your child but that time being meaningful is better than spending a lot of child with your child but not having an impact on their lives.
How to Choose Between Career and Family
You may be the type of person that feels a career and a family do not mix and that at least one parent should be at home with the children. For this, you should be applauded, of course. Two main decisions need to be made first, being firstly the decision between what is more important to you – having a career or having a family. If you choose having a family, you will need to decide which one of the two parties will need to give up their career.
The first decision then, is whether you want a family or a career. It can be very hard to weigh these issues up against each other, as both can seem so important. Ask yourself whether it is possible to put either on hold – could you wait for a few more years before having a family? Could your career start again in a few years? It is not so much a case of putting off the decision then, but it could potentially allow you to have the best of both worlds. However, it is important to remember that if you postpone having a family, you may find yourself in the exact same situation several years later, when your career has advanced even further and you may find it even harder to give it up. Of course, from a biological perspective, waiting to have children cannot go on forever either.
Next, ask yourself why you want a career and why you want children? Do you want a career because you have something to prove, or is it something you truly enjoy and couldn’t do without? Do you want children because your biological clock is ticking, or do you feel your life will not be complete without a child to love and cherish?
Weigh up all these issues and try to determine what is the most important to you and when, this can go a long way towards helping you make up your mind.
Once you have made a decision to have a family and to have one parent stay at home, the time will come to decide which one of you needs to give up their career. It would be very easy to say that the highest earner will continue to work, for financial reasons of course. However, this is not always the best solution. It is important to determine which one of the two enjoys their career the most and which one feels most committed to furthering their career. Another aspect to consider, potentially, is which career is most likely to develop further.
It is also important what your views and values on child rearing are – perhaps you feel it is the woman’s role to stay home with the family, in which case the decision is also made. However, in this day and age, it is just as possible – although still not common – for the man to become a househusband and stay home with the children.
Whichever one of you decides to be the stay at home parent, it is important to have some strong decisions about expectations in relation to the child rearing, just as you would with a different child carer. You need to ensure that you both agree wherever possible on how the child is being raised, even if you are the one continuing their career. And you also need to make sure that the decision of who continues with their career has been taken soundly. This means that you cannot at a later stage resent that party for continuing on with their career whilst you had to stay at home.
Another solution, if possible, is for parents to "take turns", whereby one party works for a few years and the other party works for another few years. Many companies will now allow you to take a career break, meaning you will be able to return on the working ladder even if you have been out of it for several years.
How to choose between career and family is very difficult and it depends on a lot of factors. It is by no means impossible to have both a career and a family anymore, although you do need to have a balance between the two: if both parties work 70 hours a week, there will be no time left to look after the children. Of course, there is a strong argument to saying that if you choose to have children, you choose to take on that responsibility and in effect forfeit your rights to a career.
However, this is not always possible and certainly not necessary if you ensure that the time you do have with your child or children is quality time and by making sure that you have the best possible childcare available, that follows on your own feelings and beliefs about child rearing. If you do feel the decision needs to be exclusive: either a family, or a career – make sure you make a fully informed decision and that you stand by this. Giving one of the two up needs to be a very conscious choice.