Behind Closed Doors – Career vs Motherhood

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For 10 years, I’ve worked hard to establish a career in a relatively new field – I’ve studied and worked hard to get to where I am. It’s also a role where I am often the only person in the company doing the job so in past roles, there has been no opportunity for development or progression.

But now, I work for a company who are actively planning my development – by the end of the year, I will lead a small team and take on a managerial role. It’s exciting and I feel positive about my career for the first time in 3 years. My manager is great – he’s understanding, motivational and completely honest and transparent. On paper it all looks pretty perfect.

There’s one complication. I desperately want to have children in the next 2 years. I swear I can hear my ovaries screaming at me to just get on with it already. And I always hoped that when I did have children, I would be working for a company who were supportive of that and who had flexible policies in place.

Right now, I absolutely do not work for that company. There is no maternity provision beyond statutory maternity pay. We could cope financially, what’s worse is that no mothers have ever been allowed to work part time hours after returning to work. The ones I’ve spoken to have said that their return to work was a stressful process where their commitment was questioned and their priorities judged. Whilst my manager is great, he wouldn’t be making any decisions about work patterns. In fact, it’s unlikely that he will be my manager then as he also has a development plan!

My job requires attending global conference calls after 6pm most nights – not something that is particularly easy whilst caring for children. And the fast-paced nature of what I do means that I couldn’t take a break and go back to it in 5 years – if I give it up now, it’s with the knowledge that I’ll most likely have to find a new career and start again.

It seems I have two choices. I can change job again, choosing a sector that I know will be a little more flexible but giving up on my dreams of progression. Or, I can stay where I am and get promoted but in the knowledge that it will likely impact on my family life (if and when I have one!).

I feel like I’m letting my inner career girl down – I’ve worked so hard for this and I really love what I do. But do I want to look back on my life in 20 years and wish that I’d worked less and spent more time with my family?

Oh wise women of AOW, what would you do?

Categories: Behind Closed Doors
25 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Vivienne
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Jobs, careers, retraining and education can be picked up at any age….but your fertility only lasts for so long. If you can already hear your ovaries shouting, it is only going to get worse. Having children doesn’t mean you will never have a successful career again, but a successful career isn’t worth sacrificing a family for xxx

  2. Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    This is something that’s been driving me potty too, and the annoying thing is that there isn’t a right answer. You can’t plan for how you’ll feel after you have children, or how long it will take to get there, or begin to understand how much they’ll need from you when they finally arrive. As somebody who is clearly ambitious and focused, that’s a lot of control to relinquish.

    But if it’s what you want to do, if you absolutely want a family, you have to jump and have faith. The career you have mapped out now in your head might not continue in exactly the same way, but you are on a track now, you have experience, you do have this under your belt. It’s not going to vanish overnight. You won’t wake up in five years time and think “shit, I forgot to go back to work, and now it’s too late” – you’ll find a way to keep your hand in, whether it’s staying where you are now or finding something similar that’s a bit more flexible.

    Does your partner have any provision for work flexibility? I know couples where mat leave is being shared, with a view to the husband being a stay at home dad potentially after the first year, depending on how they both feel at the end of it (she is the main breadwinner). This might help in the short term at least…. although perhaps the real issue is that you want to be there yourself, and have the career too (understandably), which is always going to be hard work, and there will be compromises to be made.

    Without going too deep into my own excessively boring situation (waiting for a baby to materialise any day and not having an effing clue what I’m going to do after my statutory pay runs out in 8 months time – sadly the no maternity provision thing seems to be incredibly common) you are not on your own, there are a host of women trying to figure this out – that’s before, during AND after starting a family. I think I can honestly say this is the one instance where it is probably sensible not to have too much of a fixed plan about it (others may disagree here, will be interested to hear comments) as it’s a lifechanger in a way that none of us can predict until we’re in it. What is certain is that if you take the plunge, how you feel now is going to change, so stay flexible, stay positive, follow your instincts. You’re fortunate to have that career to start with, although I appreciate that at the moment it feels like a lot is on the line, if that’s still what you want to do after you start a family, just having that focus will help you in the long run.


    • Katie
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      All my friends working in the private sector, are on statutory pay. One gets 10 weeks at 90%, rather than six, but that’s it. My public sector friends are all on either half pay plus statutory, or it is made up to full pay for the first six months.

      Compared to USA we’re lucky to get statutory though.

      • Becca
        Posted May 21, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        I think it depends where you live. I get 6 months at full pay but that is purely because if they didn’t give that, everyone would leave for the regions. Interestingly, some of it is given as a bonus when you go back to work to make you go back!

        It does frustrate me where I hear that women are supposed to live in London on £127.40 a week. It should be measurable to salary because, hello Government, women aren’t always the lowest earners in the household anymore. And whilst you can “give” your maternity bonus to your partner, its dependent on his work agreeing to him having the last 3 months of “maternity” leave on your behalf.

  3. Katie
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Oh hon, that’s a tricky one. Does your partner have the option of flexible working once your statutory maternity leave is up, if you had to return full time?
    I’m not in your situation yet, but I have friends who had been. One of whose job she loved and had worked hard at involved her and her baby living on the other side of the country from her husband during the week. They made it work for two years, but now baby #2 has come along she’s reassessed her priorities and is planning on spending her second maternity leave setting up her own business.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that if at the moment you want to work on both your family and your career then go for it. In the next couple of years hopefully both will have developed and grown, and so will you. You can’t make decisions now for you down the line, you can only make the best decision for you now and trust in two-years-older you to make the right decision for herself!

  4. Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I had a career before children and yes I was able to go part time whilst having children, and I’ve had a career after having children(4). The career post children is a totally different one and so much more suited to me and my personality. Having a baby does not need to be the end of your career vision, it’s just the beginning of a different view point, a different way of seeing things and a creative way of implementing your dreams.
    If you want a baby I urge you to get on and start trying. Your generation will be having careers most likely at 70 still, but no one’s told your ovaries this. It’s all very well knowing that more first time mums are older, this doesn’t tell you about the women that couldn’t conceive. Hatch those eggs whilst then good & young. ;)

  5. Katie
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I’ve been going through the same dilema also, i’ve been promoted and there is a plan in place for my progression but I know that I want to have children very soon and often feel like I am letting my boss down especially given the fact that I know I couldnt do my job part time, I struggle to fit it into 10-12 hour days as it is. My plan is to stay, progress, learn, have a baby when the time is right (if I am lucky enough to have a baby that is), take maternity leave and then decide what I want to do, stay here if I think I can or move on and find a different job, women’s priorities and situations change whilst on maternity leave so i’d rather decide when I am at that point. As much as I think that I am letting my boss down being like this, I still think that if it came to it, he wouldn’t plan his organisation around me and in planning my life around this company I would let myself feel compromised. I hope i’m making sense?

  6. Kate G
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Deep down you know the answer. Just be honest about whats in your gut, and go with that. If its being a mum and giving up your current career – make your choice boldly, being aware of all the consequences. ( I dont mean consequences to have a negative overtone here!). Same if you feel after 3 years you’ll be in a better place in your career wise to then take time out to start a family. Ultimatly its your choice and you know whast best for you. If you remove all the periphery of should, would, cant, will, wont, and focus on what’s in your gut, being aware of choosing, and what it means for you, you’ll make it work.

    Good luck!

  7. Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    This is hard stuff, but I echo Vivienne, education and a career can always be re-started and it seems you already have experience and lots of knowledge in an innovative field, so you won’t be starting from square 1.
    Like Penny said so well: “you can’t plan for how you’ll feel after you have children, or how long it will take to get there”. I was naive enough to think that we would have the babies easily…. 2 years 8 months and 5 IUIs later, we are now contemplating IVF. There was no indication that would make us believe/ guess /imagine that we would have to go through this, you never know what’s going to happen (we are both perfectly healthy, my cycles are regular, we have never smoked, I never took the pill, etc.)., so in my humble opinion it is best to start earlier than later.
    Like others have mentioned, maybe you can look into possibilities for your husband to stay at home for a while, or daycare? (For this last view I strongly recommend Meg’s thoughts… she has a balanced perspective on these issues). And there was also recently a series comparing working from home or staying at home while having kids.
    There are possibilities, but we have to advocate for them, create our own opportunities and slowly change the system…. as it is right now, so much still has to be done.

  8. Cheri
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Maybe ask yourself this: If you delayed trying for children, to find you couldn’t, or it would take medical intervention, how would you feel?

    If you see children in your future then in my opinion that is the priority (depending on how old you are now, if youre 25 you can probably wait!). Jobs and careers can come and go, can be changed, can be progressed in you4 40′s/50′s, you can be made redundant etc etc, we only get a relatively small window to have children.

  9. Becca
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Tricky. I agree that there is never a “perfect time” to start a family – there is always going to be something that holds you back, whether its a bigger house, career prospects or maternity benefits. I don’t know where you are but I wonder if its London. If it is or you are in a bigger city, then clearly living on statutory maternity of £127.40 a week or whatever it is, is going to be a lot harder when you have to pay £2,000 a month in rent and your parents or support network is unlikely to be on hand. Clearly that is a factor in whether you need to jump ship now to find something where you can then build up two years of “credit” before you are entitled to anything other than statutory benefits (whole other issue isn’t it?).

    I will say that plenty of people I know work early or stay late and do shifts with their husbands. Or have Nannies. I think part of the problem (and I’ve said it before) is that we are told that, as women, we can have everything – a happy homelife, lots of sex with our husbands or partners, 2.4 children and an Andrex puppy, Oh and be the MD of a company that turns over £64 squillion a year.

    I actually think, like the other commenters that you know what you want to do. Having recently watched Aladdin, I think you should close your eyes and juuuuuuuummmmpppp……

  10. Fee
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Reading between the lines here, it kind of sounds like you know what you’d rather do but not sure what you should do.

    Whilst I agree that there is obviously a limited childbearing age, if you’re 28 for example then waiting a couple of years won’t make a huge difference.

    It sounds like it may just be very unpleasant to work at your current place with a baby (commitment being questioned etc) which flexible working, daycare etc wouldn’t fix. It sounds like you need to move on if you want to have a family soon. But try to be sure it’s a sacrifice you are willing to make even if things don’t work how you think they will family wise.

    Lots of luck x

  11. Peabody_Bites
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    So tricky. Truly the trickiest, and something I am hugely wrestling with at the moment.

    My personal opinion would be to throw yourself at everything – the promotion, the baby etc. and see how it goes; it may not be as binary as it seems. Your company clearly really value you, you never know whether it may take a little time to get pregnant and taking the promotion they are offering you only improves your chances of (a) negotiating an improved maternity package; or (b) getting a good new job in due course. Other people’s careers are a little like other people’s marriages in that it is very hard to know what lies beneath – while the other people you have spoken to may have had a difficult time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will.

    In the much wiser words of Nora Ephron “What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind.”

    • gemma c-s
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      that Nora Ephron speech is AMAZING x

  12. gemma c-s
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I totally agree that you have to go with your gut, absolutely, and I echo Vivienne and the others who’ve said that training and career progression can be picked up at any age (especially as our generation probably won’t retire til we’re nearly 70, which gives us at LEAST another 30 years) however… just because other mothers ‘haven’t been allowed’ to return to work and do part time hours doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t, if you want to, fight for that right for yourself. If you are good at your job, which it seems you are, don’t give up on trying to make it work with a baby without, you know, actually trying to make it work with a baby… You don’t ask you don’t get.
    Why not give your understanding manager a chance to come through for you? If you stay, take your stat mat leave, give it a try and THEN it doesn’t work out, your inner career girl will have nothing to judge you on. I think that women ‘having it all’ and that idea of perfection is a bit of a myth, but it’s suprising that a company like yours, which sounds progressive, wouldn’t be open to other solutions, like you working from home, or splitting your hours. Good luck anon – I hope this hasn’t come across as me being blasé xo

  13. Posted May 21, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I agree with most comments here. If you want a family at some point then you’ll just have to go for it and trust or find another way. Like many have said it may take you a while anyway. You may take stat maternity leave and find you hate it, and can’t wait to go back, or love it and can’t imagine going back, but either way there will be options.

    I think women do get held up and held back by worrying about this – but it’s your partners ‘problem’ too, and between the 2 of you you will find a way. I think the career woman inside of you can still strive and exist :-)

  14. Posted May 21, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    While I echo others that education and new careers can be picked up at any age, I have a slightly different perspective on this one. I’ll try not to bore you with too much of my story but essentially it is this:

    In 2011 I got my PhD, then moved for my now husband’s job, where despite assurances that it wouldn’t affect my career as there would be lots of job opportunities, there really wasn’t. As a result I haven’t been working since then. In 2012 we got married, and at the beginning of this year had our daughter.

    It’s only very recently that I’ve decided what I want to do, and surprise surprise I need to do yet more training to get there (and that’s after work experience, voluntary roles etc to enhance my CV). All of these things I’m willing to do, but it is SO, SO hard to jump through all these hoops with a small baby in tow. My Mum and my husband are having to take time off work to look after Olive while I’m getting this experience, and in reality we will have to put her in nursery for one morning a week so I can do some volunteering. As I say I’m willing to do that, but we have to find the money for me to go and do something that is unpaid – essentially we’re paying for me to work for free. On top of that, we have to find the money for my course fees, as well as full time nursery costs, which as I’m sure you’re aware aren’t cheap!! It’s going to be a hideously stressful year, but we’re going into it with our eyes open and seeing it as an investment for our family’s future.

    So yes, education and re-training are an option but you have to be 100% certain that you are willing to put yourself under that kind of pressure (and your family). Personally, if I were you I’d start thinking about whether you want a new career now. If you’re waiting a couple of years before having a baby anyway, those two years might be better put to finding a career that has better maternity pay and will be much more supportive when you go back to work. Getting pregnant, being pregnant and having a new baby can at times be stressful enough without worrying about going back to work before you’ve even left!!

  15. Posted May 21, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    This is, as lots of others have said, a really common dilema. Cruelly it seems the more qualified you are, and therefore the harder and longer you have worked to get to where you are (and the more money you’ve invested) the more of a dilema the baby question poses. And whilst you are in this situation with your partner/husband, I think you will naturally take on a lot of the pressure of this issue yourself, because you are the one that has their career at stake.

    Imagine for a moment that you had had your babies years ago and then spent these past 10 years getting to this point. You would, with the usual working parent sacrifices and compromises, be able to fulfil your current role and be a parent. And having babies now wouldn’t involve starting from scratch again, however fast paced your profession is. So those 10 years will never have been a waste, even if it sort of feels like that as you contemplate this dilema over and over again in your mind. So what if it does take another 10 years after children come along to get back to this point? It probably wont take that long but if it did? It is doable. Y

    ou’ll still have decades before retirement to progress even further.

    Having babies later does throw spanners in the works for women who pursue the kind of careers that dont easily accommodate them taking time off for children. But these careers may also offer you the most job satisfaction. If this career is as important to you as I think it is, babies aren’t the end of the line for you. They are just another hurdle for you to overcome, and you are good at hurdles if you’ve got your career this far, no? You are clearly an intelligent, well educated, hard working woman. Yes having children may mean for some mothers embarking on further training, for others it may lead to a different role, perhaps even in a totally different career, others may completely reassess their priorities and stay at home. It almost always results in a lower household income at least for some of the time after the baby is born. That’s life. Maybe you can start planning for the financial aspects now.

    I wouldn’t leave this role until you know where you stand fertility wise, and I’d agree with others that its better to reassess once you’ve had a child and tried to make it work within your current role. I wouldnt wait any longer to start trying for a family either. Maybe you’ll find that the more of the unknown factors you elimimate from this dilema, the easier it is for you to deal with and plan for the future.

  16. Steff
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    It’s a tough one, something I wrangled with a lot before I got pregnant. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted a family but I did wonder how my career would react to it. I studied for 7 years to get my degree (working full time) so it wasn’t something I was about to give up easily. When I fell pregnant and my boss expressed concerns that I might not want to return to work I laughed, of course I would, look at how hard I’ve worked to get where I am… but you know what? I couldn’t give a monkeys about it now.

    It just goes to show that you may be convinced you’ll react one way but when you’re actually in that situation it can turn everything on it’s head. I’m absolutely dreading going back to work but I have no choice because it was written into my maternity agreement that I would have to return to work for at least a year following maternity leave or I would have to pay back everything that the company had paid me over and above statutory.

    It’s not in my nature to just take things as they come, I hate things being unpredictable, I don’t like chaos, I like lists and plans and itineraries but had I planned each meticulous detail and thought through every scenario I wouldn’t be sitting typing this with the two most wonderful bambinos napping (finally!) in their swings beside me and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

    Everyone is different, all the comments above make very good points which you will have to weigh up and apply to your own circumstances, relationship and personality. Whatever your choice it will be the right one for you. Do it with conviction, don’t second guess yourself and remember that there are other women right here in very similar places in their lives to give you support and advice whichever avenue you pursue. xx

  17. Anon
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Slightly overwhelmed by all of these comments – I knew that AOW would come through for me.

    I first wrote and submitted this a few weeks ago. It’s an amazing coincidence that it went on the site today, because I was headhunted for a job yesterday. A company who I interviewed with last year – the role would have few or no prospects and is definitely not what I love. But they have a subsidised nursery on site and fully support flexible working. It’s so odd to be comparing jobs on that basis rather than the work itself.

    So much to think about, thank you all for your wise words.

    • Becca
      Posted May 22, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Wow….it’s funny how these things work out. Congrats on the headhuntedness!

  18. Another anon
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    (I’m not the anon who wrote this piece but am anonymising because am not quite ready to out myself!)

    I could have written this piece a little while ago – I’m working somewhere where I was told I had great prospects, I have a supportive boss, the maternity policy is pretty good (although no one has ever been on maternity leave and come back – it’s a pretty new company and the demographic doesn’t include many younger women – so no one has come back to work part time or flexibly yet). So, we’ve decided to start a family and after a few months of trying have succeeded (hurrah!). It’s still early days yet so I’m not taking anything for granted, but we’re really happy.

    Except now our company’s US parent has decided to close the UK office. And we’ve all been made redundant.

    I’m pretty lucky – I’ve been asked to stay on for an extra few months to help close things down and I will get my maternity benefits as part of my redundancy package, so we’ll be able to eat at least (I’m the breadwinner in our marriage) but it’s still scary. I spoke to a recruitment consultant the other day and she suggested I start job hunting when the baby is 2 months old. Now, I love what I do, but I really don’t want to be going to interviews at that stage – I want to be able to enjoy being a mum for a few months before I start thinking about starting back at work.

    I think other commenters are right that you have to be quite flexible when it comes to this. You don’t know what life is going to throw at you and you have to decide what is important to you. There is never going to be a perfect time but I’m not sure I would change career now if I were you – as Gemma C-S says, you don’t know how it will be for you when you get back from mat leave until you do it, and if you love your job you will fight for it. You’ll find a way.

    Good luck!


  19. Meredith
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m not in your situation and I can’t pretend to understand what you must be going through. But I can imagine it’s very tricky! The only thing I do know, without going into personal detail here, is that family is the only thing that lasts forever. Though it may change shape and form, time with your family is, I think, the most valuable investment one can make. Well done you for being so successful and well done for bringing this challenging topic up for discussion. I’m sure there must be job in your field somewhere that can accommodate your obvious career talent and your desire for motherhood. I do hope you can find a happy medium! Keep us posted! <3

  20. Victoria
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Hi, it’s kinda nice to see someone else going through the things i’ve been thinking about a LOT recently. But it sounds as though you’re maybe not in a position for kids right now anyway? Same here. Just keep going and doing what you’re doing in your current role (and it sounds like you’re doing REALLY well). Keep reaping the rewards you clearly get from your current job, and when the time comes, then decide what you want to do about the job. Don’t decide to jump ship until you actually have to, and remember that you should just do what is best for YOU (and perhaps a bubba on the way in the future). I don’t think many companies truly practice loyalty (especially for mothers in your case) so stay with your current employer only until it suits you.

    I’ve made it sound quite harsh!! Didn’t mean to. I actually have no idea what I’ll do when/if I have kids, as “part time” in my role just doesn’t exist… actually I’m one of the only women in the whole company. This might not be your thing, but I trained to teach yoga for a couple of years and recently qualified. Maybe you could do some part time study on the side now ready for if you do decide a career change in x years’ time?

    Everything works out for a reason, you will be fine!! All the best x x

  21. Anon
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Ah the joys of maternity leave – we’ve only just seriously started thinking about kids and so I’ve started to take notice of maternity leave provisions that I’ve always sort of glossed over before. Unfortunately I realised their importance just after accepting a job abroad for a non UK based organisation – my employment contract would allow me to take a maximum of 4 months off for maternity leave: 1 month paid after 1 year of service (2 months after 2 years), the rest unpaid. I had no idea the maternity provisions would be so bad when I took the job (it’s a bit of an awkward thing to raise at interview stage, particularly within a small organisation) and only found out when going through the policies about a month after I started… I now feel like a bit of an idiot to have the worst maternity provisions of any job I’ve ever had at precisely the wrong stage of life!

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