Careers and babies. Can they really go together?

My husband has a colleague who keeps complaining to him (he is her boss) that despite all her hard work she is getting nowhere in her career. My husband is sympathetic, but points out that times are hard, especially in their field, and he can’t help her any more than he is already doing.

I suggest, that with her working full-time, spending three hours a day commuting, as well as having a baby, she is probably worn-out, guilty and depressed and wonders why she bothers. I say, she should go part-time, and take the opportunity to spend time with her baby.

He says my thinking is out-of-date.

Yet, how wise is it really to expect to carry on full-steam in your career when you have small children? Yes, many families really need two full-time wages to make ends meet. Yet a few decades ago that was not the case.ย  Isn’t it more that our expectations have increased, both personally, in what constitutes a reasonable standard of living, and collectively, in the idea that having small children should be no impediment to getting on with life as normal?

What is important about a career? Is it about improving one’s status? Getting more money? To what end? To enjoy life better? The satisfaction that you are contributing something to the world? Do you need to keep climbing the career ladder to feel that?

When lying on our deathbeds, what regrets will we have? That we never made it big-time? That we could never call ourselves heroes or heroines? Or that we didn’t spend more time with our children?

Author: julie_t

short story writer

40 thoughts on “Careers and babies. Can they really go together?”

  1. Personally, I found that being a baby was a full time career – until I became a toddler and realised how much harder that was. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  2. I’m sure this will provoke some strong opinions Julietee! Good idea for a discussion!

    As a starter for 10 – if a woman wants to have both a career and small children, then she should be “allowed” to try, but don’t expect any special treatment (as happens now, certainly in the public sector)

    But, I do ask why people (I mean women here) are so selfish and demand and expect so much without thinking through the consequences of their activities ie. having children who are expensive, time consuming and rather contrary to a successful job. It stems from the greedy 1980’s attitude of go grab what you want B*ugger everyone else.

    I have more, but will sit back and watch what fellow charioteers say first!

  3. Papaguinea, Bearsy,I agree with you.
    Cuprum426, not sure whether you want me to take you seriously, but I will.

    It’s basic human nature to want children. Besides, we need them. Otherwise, who will look after us in our old age? So society has to allow for it. Women are the natural primary carers but that doesn’t mean all mothers have to be confined to the world of teething and nappies. Women are an asset to the wider world. Society needs them in both places. We do need to make allowances for this dual role. But how?

  4. Good question, Bearsy! (My mother worked and was ‘career minded ‘after she returned to nursing’ when I was 7, my brother 6 ish and my sister 6 months. We had to be latch key kids)

    Each to their own choice I suppose. Before children I was quite career minded, but that totally changed once I had my first – and I struggled to make myself go back to work (part-time) as I felt I should contribute to the family purse, when I would rather have been at home with him and then the second.
    When the second came along I gave up a ‘proper job’ – but have always worked (part-time) either through the nurse bank or through a zero hours contract (think along the lines of supply teaching in nursing)

    This has given me flexibility to be the ‘available parent’ as needed… for sickness, hops appointments, parents evenings etc, always being home by the time they get home from school, etc but give me no ‘status’ at work and not so much job satisfaction. It has worked for me, but not sure it would work for others, but who are we to judge how other folk chose to lead their lives?

    What has changed?
    Yes I think we expect more material things in life, plus the pressure for women to work has crept upon us in different ways… socially it is now the accepted norm, and therefore to be a non-working mother is a luxury.

  5. Bearsy,

    Yes she did, but my point was that she didn’t then ask for special treatment, extra time off, promotion opportunities not open to others, demand this and that or complain about being tired all the time. For those that can, great, crack on and reporduce. My point is those selfish people who think because they have a biological need to reproduce, everyone else has to fit in around them. No I say, make the decision when you can manage, not when everyone else takes the pain.

    Even now I work around my children as best I can, but my job pays the bills and so I have to abide by those rules first. And if it means I have make sacrifices, I do so with pride and my employers wouldn’t even know I had chilren – neither would my mother’s employers have known if she had chosen so not to reveal it.

    Also, it isn’t necessarily a basic human nature. I know many selfless people who don’t want children. They get nothing in return, nor do they expect it.

    Women aren’t always the primary carers either. Us men are capable too. My first wife and mother of my two children did sod all in raising my two when they were nappy bound.

    If you can’t afford finacially or morally to make the hard decisions, don’t reproduce. Or, stop moaning and don’t expect special treatment.

    An example of special treatment. An office of 6 staff, four of whom have children. Guess who works all the weekends, bank holidays and xmas? There’s a policy at my work that causes the non-children workers to cover for those with brats. That’s just plain WRONG.

    Soap box removed, sorry. ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. Cuprum, that penultimate paragraph or your rant does seem to be taking things too far! Why shouldn’t they work the weekend?

  7. My mother worked. It was a bone of contention between her and my father, who believed that a woman’s place was at the kitchen sink. When I was eight, a long time ago, my mother wanted a separation and the Judge told her she was extremely wicked and should stay at home to look after her child (me) and husband. She didn’t, of course – and I’d love to see what the media would do to a Judge who said that today!

    Some few years later there were newspaper articles about ‘latch-key kids’. My mother still has a copy of my letter to “The Evening Standard” in support of “working” women.

    Needless to say, when it came time for me to be a ‘mother’ – I found I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing more. It was ‘my right’ to do my own thing…

    My opinions have changed and I’m no longer sure that anyone can or should ‘have it all’: children and career. No one benefits – not the parents, not the children, and not society. Someone has to provide the necessary care, love, and training of the future generations and I’m not at all sure that “Day Care Institutions” are the right way to go.

  8. Pseu, you have summed up the situation well. And I would go further than say to be a non-working mother is a luxury: she is a social pariah.
    You were lucky to find a satisfactory solution, yet it gave you no status or job satisfaction.
    Does it have to be either career or children? Given that we, collectively, need to keep reproducing, I think that we, collectively, should find a way of letting women rear children that doesn’t impair their chances of participating fully in society without exhausting themselves.

  9. Cuprum, as I said before, we do collectively need tokeep reproducing, otherwise you will have to work as hard as ever until the day you die. Given that, we as a society need to work out the best way of doing that, without letting the burden fall only on mothers.

  10. I can’t agree with ‘she is a social pariah’ at all, Julie.

    One of the problems with the changes in society is this: the value of the caring for children role has been diminished to such as extent that women don’t feel they are doing a valuable ‘job’ when in fact that role is one of the most important ones in society. (And I’m not saying this has to be the woman, it can be either parent)

    I feel one parent at least has to be ‘available’ for the children in a way that a highly focussed career woman may not be able to be very often. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    I know my choice of occupation has helped me to have this flexible work approach, but I certainly couldn’t be considered (and shouldn’t be considered) for management material – which means my income is low in relation to my experience and learning. The service wins: they get that experience and skill for a lower price.

    Interesting that Boa’s opinions have changed over this matter over time.

  11. Boadicea, I agree that no-one benefits when mothers try to ‘have it all’. Yet don’t men have it all? They can have children and it doesn’t jeopardise their careers. But when women try it it doesn’t work; there just isn’t enough of a working mother to go round.

    But society benefits when women participate in the wider world. We would do well to find better ways for them to cope with both roles.

  12. Damn you Bearsy, why do I always bite?! ๐Ÿ˜€

    One or two points further, if I may. I certainly don’t expect my children to look after me, as I know my parents wouldn’t want me to look after them! They couldn’t think of anything worse, I’m sure!

    I know there is an economic arguement over taxes and pensions etc., but that’s why I work hard and save for my retirement, exactly so I won’t have to rely on anyone else. My Grandparents are proof that this is totally achievable.

    Please though do understand, I am no misogynist, woman have every right to make their own choices, as do men, alas most of both don’t think things through before they do. And men don’t have it all their own way Julie. Trust me, some women don’t let us and I speak with bitter experience ๐Ÿ˜€

    Finally, Boa is right, love is the most important thing (cars are optional!)

  13. Its very simple in my view, one of the parents must be available to care for their offspring. Man or woman it matters not. That carer must accept the fact that the child takes priority over all else and if the career suffers as a result they should have thought about that prior to taking on the awesome responsibility of parenthood.

    In a work environment we are judged on our performance in relation to our peers. Outperform the other guy and reap the rewards. Why should others be disadvantaged because they chose not to accomplish the amazing feat of becoming a parent. Hardly a difficult task there are illiterate 14yr olds who can do it without spilling a drop of white lightning or kebab.

    High flying career or children, you simply cannot have both.

  14. Cuprum – ‘I wonโ€™t have to rely on anyone else. My Grandparents are proof that this is totally achievable.’

    But you Will have to rely on others. Pension schemes are all about trust, as is all money – I promise to pay the bearer etc.

    Stuff it under your mattress until you need it if you like, but you will still be relying on someone else to care for you when you can’t do it for yourself, and those people will have been somebodies’ children.

  15. Ferret ‘hardly a difficult task’ ??? !!!

    ‘you simply cannot have both’ Then we have to put up with (childless?) men and childless women running everything. That would be a great tragedy.

  16. Julie,

    “โ€˜you simply cannot have bothโ€™ Then we have to put up with (childless?) men and childless women running everything. That would be a great tragedy.”


  17. On the whole it is very easy to become a parent, like I said people who can’t read, write or add stuff up can do it. Why should anyone be afforded special consideration over others at the coal face just because they managed to reproduce?

  18. Julie – I am appalled that you should consider a non-working mother to be a luxury and a social pariah.

    You have, in my opinion, fallen for the biggest con-trick ever perpetuated in Western Society – that the only real worth that a woman has is what she contributes to the Greater Economy. Let’s just pay women to have children, put the babies in Institutions and send the mother back to doing what is Really Important – making widgets, or whatever, to keep the Economy going.

    Children are, as my latest set of in-laws taught me, a privilege not a right to be acquired along with the dishwasher and a second car – and far too many people see them as ‘Just Another Possession”.

    Pseu has it absolutely right – the ‘former’ role of women has been devalued. The feminine rights mob were so determined to press for the right to operate in male society (and I would have been one of them!) that they ignored the fact that women held the most important role ever – “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. Some One – not some Institution – has to guide the next generation – or we are all lost.

    Your comment that men have it all is almost true. It’s changing. My first in-laws were appalled that I expected husband #1 to change daughter one’s nappies – he had no problem – just as well! Some things percolate from the top down – others from the bottom. Society is still male-orientated, But, most men recognise and acknowledge women’s aspirations – it will take time for the world to change. And I, for one, hope that Ferret’s opinion triumphs:

    the child takes priority over all else and if the career suffers as a result they should have thought about that prior to taking on the awesome responsibility of parenthood.

  19. Boa, thank you.


    Oh but I have been.

    Lets take your argument on one generation shall we? We encourage parents to work all hours and reward them handsomely for the extra effort they make over those horrid, misguided individuals who can’t or won’t have their own ankle biting snot gobblers.

    The next lot of workforce are not ‘childless people’. They are latchkey kids who grew up mostly on their own, with absolutely no moral compass. Now which demographic would I like to see running the show? Hummmm let me see.

  20. Boadicea, When I referred to non-working mothers as ‘a luxury’ or ‘a social pariah’ it was tongue in cheek. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the value to society of bringing up children. I only wish everybody would too.
    But mothers should be able to participate in society too. Good for the mother. Essential for a healthy society.

    Ferret, I agree. We absolutely do not want latchkey kids – running the show or anything else.

  21. It now sounds like I am defending the very position I started out critising. I was really wondering aloud.
    Ideally, I think the mother of a small child should be able, with good childcare, to work just the number of hours she feels comfortable with and no more, and resume taking her career seriously only when it suits both her and the child, and to be able to do this without being penalised for taking years off. Why not?
    She should not have to work flat with the minimal maternity leave just so that she can hang on to her career.

  22. Sorry Julie but that stinks like last months mackerel.

    The first question a person should ask before they even think about a child is “Can I look after it?” not “Where can I get child care?”

    Hell if you don’t pass the necessary at the Blue Cross or other animal shelter they won’t let you rescue a dog FFS.

    If neither of the parents are prepared to make the child their sole priority, perhaps they should consider a kitten or a hamster because they certainly are not ready for a kid.

    I note that you refuse to acknowledge that a father can be a stay at home parent. Can only women perform the task in your eyes? Perhaps you should be telling Elton John and his current bum buddy that.

  23. I agree, Ferret, but looking after a child involves having enough money.
    And yes, of course, the father can be the stay-at-home parent.

  24. We seem to be standing on the same side of the fence here Julie.

    Why then, should you not consider affordability before having a child?

    It seems to be the problem with most stuff now, folk don’t see not being able to afford it as any kind of excuse to not have anything.

  25. Put it this way, Ferret. What if nobody ever had a baby ever again? What if everybody but everybody decided they were too expensive and not worth the bother?

  26. These decisions demand maturity! My three daughters who are also mothers have all been working part-time (in their chosen careers) while the children are young. You can say they are lucky to have the choice but they would say no luck was involved. They planned it!

  27. It is pretty damned obvious in society that you cannot have it all.
    Just look at the results!
    Most British children are a total embarrassment within the acceptable ethics and mores of a truly civilised society.
    It is quite obvious that most households consider the acquisition of goods and lucre to be far more important than their children’s development and most of the mothers therein seem to have full time jobs.
    Pretty grim place to be these days is the UK.
    Great believer in the old adage, don’t breed what you can’t feed!

    When you actually look at most of the jobs they are pretty bloody soul destroying and women are willing to give up their families for that mess of pottage?
    Must be soft in the head!
    One of the few ways that you can actually have a better proportion ‘of it all’ is to restrict yourself to 1/2 children and go self employed. It probably actually satisfies more goals for women than most other routes.
    Strikes me that pseu has it about right for balance.

    Personally I always paddled my own canoe and never gave a tinkers fuck what anyone or society ever thought of me, (discarded husbands included)
    With what is around in society what higher accolade than social pariah?
    I assure you it is a creditable status and to be aspired to diligently!!
    It is also surprising how many people want to be friends with you and still extend dinner invitations.
    Note to self- Must renew land mines to repel friendly natives.

    jt advise friend/self to cease seeking approbation of others, life is much happier that way.

  28. Oh…where to start.
    Well, with an apology, I suppose, for my brain being addled after work and childcare ๐Ÿ˜‰
    The simple fact of the matter is that, for most working women, there is no choice. I would love to fall back to part time work and get my life – and my sanity – back, but everyone knows that in a recession, with the very distinct possibility of job cuts looming, the part timers are the first to go in any workplace. So I muddle along, like every other mum with little ones, frazzled and short changing everyone including my kids and myself.
    The second thing, I suppose, it that I used to agonise about the moral side and social aspect of these things – am I a bad mother; what will people think if I do such and such? – but I have come to the conclusion that everyone slates you whatever you do when you are a mum of little ones, either for working, or for not working, or for being a part time slacker – so it is better to just get on with it, rather than sit around navel gazing.
    There is the rather frustrating feeling as if you never have any time for yourself; that the fantasy of learning Latin or writing a novel is vanishing into the ether. Or, as one French woman once told me; on m’a volรฉ ma vie, which roughly translates as, my life has been stolen…But that is the constant lament of all working people not just working mums, and is somewhat egocentric, at the end of the day.
    As to the more important question of whether it is affecting my kids…yes, I do worry about that. But what is the alternative; not working, and living off the state, or having to worry about how to provide for them? So,my conclusion is that working full time is not a crime.

  29. Christina, “Most British children are a total embarrassment within the acceptable ethics and mores of a truly civilised society.” Another of your classic, and totally groundless generalisations. As far as I can see, your own ethics leave much to be desired (I hesitate to use the banned words, cherished colleague and cherished colleague) and your idea of what is truly civilised has yet to be defined. The mind boggles.

  30. Thanks, Claire, Janus and Christina. These are all interesting comments. I don’t have time to reply now but I will later.

  31. Janus, I have a sneaking suspicion Christina’s definition of civilization would be more akin to Stalinist Russia than a liberal democracy. Am I right Christina?

    Claire, the crux of what you so rightly point out is that most mothers have no, or little choice. Either they work themselves to exhaustion to keep a foothold in their careers, or they give it up and dedicate themselves to their children,or they try to muddle along in some kind of compromise and probably end up satisfying nobody and exhausted anyway.

    Cuprum,Ferret and Boadicea seem to think having children is an optional extra,an indulgence, rather like having pets. But children are not the same as pets, they are the future.

    It is neither fair nor wise to leave the task of raising the next generation entirely to parents. We are all responsible because we will all need them and we want the job done well.

    Don’t we want the the guardians of the next generation to be healthy, happy, well-balanced, wise and well-integrated into society? For that, they need the support of the rest of us.

  32. You’re absolutely right, Julie. I do think having children is an option. It wasn’t years ago – women had one child after another and had no choice but to look after them.

    Women do have a choice these days and I, for one, find it a strange state of affairs that they expect to make that choice and then expect the rest of the population to pay for making that choice: huge payouts to have a child, huge payouts to maintain a child, and then government subsidies (from those who do not make that choice) for child-care. On top of that, they expect employers and other employees to accommodate their choices so that they can hang onto their careers. What happened to taking responsibility for one’s own actions?

    I understand that it is no longer possible for one income to provide for a family – but it never seems to occur to anyone that it is precisely because there are more people chasing fewer jobs that wages and incomes have, relatively speaking, fallen.

    It is a fallacy that we need an ever growing population – stretch resources too far and there is only one solution… war or famine.

  33. Boadicea, you’re dead right. We absolutely do not want an ever-growing population; we want to reduce it.

    But wages have not fallen because there are more people chasing fewer jobs. More people make more work: more people to feed, house, clothe, educate, more houses, schools, hospitals and facories to build and staff, etc. Wages have fallen because those with the money have got away with it.

    Yes, I do think the rest of the population should support the raising of children because they are our future. Look upon those screaming brats as the next batch of doctors, nurses and dustbin emptiers. Having children is not an optional extra. We need them (although preferably not more than two per couple).

    Look at it this this way: what if nobody ever decided ever again to have children because they couldn’t personally cope with the cost and bother?

  34. Julie – simple, basic economics. If goods are in short supply the price goes up, if goods are in abundant supply – the price goes down. It is precisely the same with labour.

    You blithely quote the standard propaganda that ‘More people make more work: more people to feed, house, clothe, educate, more houses, schools, hospitals and facories to build and staff, etc.’ It may do to some slight extent – but the ways of working have changed immensely and that is no longer the case.

    We no longer go into a shop and have half-a-dozen people trying to serve us. Technology has streamlined most industries – so that far fewer people are needed to produce food, clothes and all other goods. Then we have the fact that the ‘Free Markets’ have opened our Markets to cheap products produced overseas by workers earning a fraction of what our own people need to earn to survive.

    If more people = more work opportunities why are there so many people looking for far too jobs? The only people profiting from too many workers are Big Business, who can keep wages and conditions at a low level.

    I’m afraid I cannot look at the screaming brats of people who pass on the responsibility of caring for their children to Institutions as the next round of doctors and nurses… they are being brought up to believe that they can make choices on the backs of other people’s labours – not their own.

    If we must subsidise children – and I would suggest that we only subsidise the two you mention – then let us subsidise one of the parents to stay at home to care for the children they have chosen to have. That way, at least, those children would be brought up by people who really care for them not in Institutions by strangers who doesn’t give a damn what sort of people they grow into.

  35. Good points Boadicea. You are right on all these points. I probably didn’t make myself clear enough about what I was advocating.

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