My senior year in college, I read a piece in the Yale Daily News. It was meant as career advice for the aspiring female undergraduate. I don’t remember many details of this article – the impact it had on me was too shattering. What I do remember is that it advised young women to realize that they can’t have a career, children, and a marriage, to accept this fact and choose which two were most important and proceed accordingly.
As a twenty-year-old used to achievements coming easily, I was determined to pursue a life combining the trio of career, marriage, and children. I saw the advice as asking me to “settle” for two thirds of a whole. Determined to succeed as I had always done in the past, I married a week after graduating from college and two months before entering a challenging graduate program. Two children followed during graduate school.
Almost 25 years later, my perspective has changed. After an unexpected divorce, working through “what went wrong”, the advice I’d read and rejected, resonated with me. However, I would never pass the advice, I once ignored, onto my children.
Instead, I’d modify the advice I read in college – you shouldn’t expect to have all three, at full-throttle, at all times during your life. The ugly truth is that there are simply not enough hours in the day to raise children and have a high-powered career – particularly in this era when children require a constant stream of activities to assure optimal development – when taking the wrong sort of prenatal vitamins is almost considered child abuse – or when careers involve salaried positions that require far more than the nominal 40 hours per week to complete well. A woman may be able to juggle all three for short periods – but raising children isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. It is simply impossible to keep up, for years at a time, without skimping on the career or hiring a full-time nanny.
I don’t regret having tried all three but there have been costs associated with my choices. I have been “mommy tracked” and even denied a job because I had children. I have a failed marriage. Struggling to overcome these hurdles, I have emerged as a focused, determined professional with well-honed problem-solving and organizational skills that have served me well. My children have emerged with a clearer idea of what it takes to navigate through life.
As my youngest child prepares for college, I am eagerly planning the next phases in my life, the first focusing on my career as a tenured associate professor of biomedical sciences, the second focusing on work in my pottery studio during retirement. Thus, I believe that women can have all three – career, marriage, and children – but that these need to be spread-out over a lifetime. I believe that there can be balance and completeness, through the phases of life, if we move away from needing it all right here, right now.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.