Mother's Day Series: Deciding When to Start a Family as a Young Professional
Today is Mother’s Day, and I am blessed to be spending it with two of the cutest kids in the world. I have been asked a few times to consider blogging about being a mom and today seems like a good time to discuss a question I hear being raised at many of our programs at Engage! Cleveland: When should I start a family?
Young women have asked this question time and time again during our Next Generation of Women events and our inaugural Professional Development Week. It has become apparent to me that starting a family is a really scary thought for many young women. They are concerned about not only what it might do to their personal lives, but their professional lives as well.
I will be honest and say it is a REALLY tough decision. There are so many questions to consider:
Am I ready to be a mom?
Will my professional career be put on hold or even worse, completely tank?
Do I have enough money to support a child?
Can I survive without my weekly happy hour with my best friends?
In all seriousness, all of these are very important questions, even the last. For many, it might be the biggest decision of your life. You will be bringing another human being into the world you will be responsible for over the next 18 years. Wow...mind blown.
If a young woman was to approach me today and ask, “Ashley, when is the right time for me to start a family as a young professional trying to grow in my career?” my simple answer would be:
There is no clear cut answer and it is different for everyone.
In all honesty, children change EVERYTHING. I’m not sure there is really ever a good time or the perfectly right time for any one person. It is more of a question of if YOU are ready given everything YOU have going on in YOUR life.
I personally knew I was ready when I was 30. I had an awesome career, terrific husband, money saved in the bank and have always loved kids. To be a little more specific, here are some of the factors I considered:
I was 30.
Both by husband and I come from families of three kids and we knew we wanted at least 2 to 3 children. I had friends who had gone through a lot being pregnant in their mid-thirties due to being considered high-risk, and I knew I didn’t want that if I could avoid it. In addition, my husband is two years older than me and wanted to make sure we were young enough to actually enjoy our kids and be there for all of their milestones.
We owned our home.
We had purchased our home, added on to it and were otherwise very responsible. Buying our first home was a big shift from our renting days. Apartment living offers many benefits; someone else cuts your grass, shovels your snow, provides maintenance, etc. These things not only take time, but are EXPENSIVE. Being a homeowner is rough. Right when you think everything is going well...something breaks. This leads to my next point…
There was money in the bank.
Children are EXPENSIVE. Are you noticing a theme yet? The sheer amount of things they need is borderline mind blowing. In addition to owning our own home, we had finally paid off all of the student loan debt (woohoo, cheers, yay!). We had enough money saved to feel confident in our decision and knew that even if things changed, we would still be secure.
My company would support me.
After a rough few years of being an independent contractor, I was finally a staff member (exciting!). However, working for a small organization like Engage! Cleveland, I did not automatically receive FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) or anything of the sort. Luckily, I had a new Board Chair and Governance Chair who both advocated for me. As an organization that supports young professionals, we discussed how we must “practice what we preach” and offer both maternity and paternity leave. For me, this was the final step in deciding to start a family.
To say becoming a mom has been a game changer would be an understatement. However, it is BY FAR the greatest accomplishment of my life. No award or recognition could ever come close to the feeling you get when your child says “mama” for the first time or takes their first steps. I literally remember smiling from ear to ear in such awe of what this amazing little person had just accomplished and then thinking, I made that little person and I taught them those things.
So if you are scared of taking this leap into motherhood, think about why you are really scared and weigh your opportunity cost. Work will always be there. Friends, whether new or old, will be there too. All of this will help you figure out if you are ready to start your family and find, what I like to refer to as, your “new normal.” My new normal consists of being a boss lady by day and a superhero mom by night, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The new normal means less time for just about all of my former priorities and a new focus on my kiddos.
Tune into the second blog in my Mother’s Day Series next Sunday to learn more about my “new normal” and how I balance work and life.