Written by Jan Turner Tuesday, May 08 2012
Jean Paul Sartre’s assertion that “We are the choices we make” is open to debate. But there is no denying that your choices – especially those involving careers, kids and marriage – do shape your life in powerful ways. And since many of the most important work/family decisions are made when you are in your 20s, chances are that you will still be dealing with the repercussions 40, 50 or more years later.
It’s a daunting thought. And it makes you wonder how and why women make those decisions and what outcomes they produce.
The Choices We Make: Careers and the Kid-Free Woman
For author and entrepreneur Aimee Elizabeth, the decision to forego children for business pursuits was made at age 17. “I was a broke and homeless teenage girl, a throwaway kid by the age of 15,” she says. Malnourished and impoverished, she received no help from her parents, other family members or government assistance. She was on her own.
“I believe that being on my own at such a young age terrified me out of wanting to have children,” she states. “I knew first-hand how hard it was to keep myself alive. I never wanted to have anyone else depending on me, especially not an innocent child.”
She adds that before she was “thrown away” by her parents, she took on the responsibility of raising her little brother while her troubled parents drank, fought and tuned out. This was another driver in her decision not to have children.
“I fed my brother, clothed him, got him to school, helped him with his homework…he even called me Mom,” she says. “You might say that I experienced ‘the joys of motherhood’ very early,” Elizabeth says. Any mothering urges were met by the time she was a teenager.
Refusing to take on the role of victim, Elizabeth started her first business at age 20 (lingerie modeling) and retired a multi-millionaire at age 38 after selling her fourth business (real estate rentals). Now, the Las Vegas resident spends her time consulting, speaking and promoting her book, “Poverty Sucks! How to Become a Self-Made Millionaire” (MFM Trust, 2011).
Any second-guessing her choice? No, says Elizabeth. “I’ve always been 100 percent sure of my decision. I don’t believe I would have been nearly as successful if I had decided to have children.”
The Choices We Make: No Kids, No Regrets
For Dr. Antonia Martinez, the “Inner Power Doctor,” the choice not to have children “was more an inspiration than a decision” springing from her adventurous spirit. “I’m the kind of woman who likes to do whatever I want whenever I feel like it,” she explains. “I’m a risk-taker with big ideas, and I’m partial to freelance opportunities and entrepreneurial ventures.”
A New York City resident, “Dr. M” has made a career of helping people transform their businesses and lives. She has developed a variety of transformational tools, including classes, videos, events, group travel and books like “The Inner Power Workbook” (Mystery School Books, 2009).
“The decision not to have children was one I made in my first or second year of college,” Martinez says. “Raising children takes a lot of time, money and work…I frequently joke that taking care of my cat is all the parental responsibility that I can bear.”
She has no regrets, firmly believing that she would not have had the career and lifestyle she wanted if children had been part of the equation. “In my particular case, my skill set really evolved as a direct result of me taking chances, being spontaneous and experimenting… things that I could not afford to do if I had mouths to feed.”
The Choices We Make: The Not-Now Mom
Kristin Marquet is the 32-year-old owner of a boutique PR agency, Marquet Media LLC, in New York City. She is getting married in October, but she and her fiancé have decided to delay children for three years. The reason? Right now Marquet is working 60-hour weeks growing her business and completing a second master’s degree.
The key considerations in making her decision were “…finding the right partner, finishing my graduate degree, building my business, being settled in my career and having financial security,” Marquet says. She adds that she is choosing motherhood at age 35 because after that, the risk increases.
One clear advantage that Marquet will bring to her older-mother status is fitness. She intends to maintain her regimen of running up to 20 miles weekly and weight training six days a week right into motherhood. “I think that I will have nearly as much energy in my 40s to play with my children as a mother in her 20s.”
The Choices We Make: The Have-It-All Woman
Kimberly Foss and her husband have a blended family that includes four children. Because her husband travels extensively, the majority of child-rearing and household duties fall to her. After a short first marriage and a baby, Foss spent 10 years as a single mother before remarrying. Her decision to “have it all” meant putting in place the support people, paid help, technology and time-savers that would help her and her family thrive.
Foss, who is a Certified Financial Planner and founder of Empyrion Wealth in Roseville, Calif., remarks, “It can be really difficult for the alpha female who wants to do it all and do it well.” But, she adds, there is such a thing as getting “too much on your plate in the buffet of life. Then you risk breaking down. You get cancer or get in an accident.”
Foss says it is better for everyone, including the husband, kids, clients and employees, if the working mom takes good care of herself. “Women need to take care of themselves physically, fiscally, mentally and emotionally. They need to take some quiet time for themselves each day and not feel guilty about it.”
The Choices We Make: Working Mom and the Stay-at-Home Dad
Nancy Popovich is a top financial advisor at the investment firm Robert W. Baird in Reston, Va. She and her husband based their decision to have children largely on their commitment to family. “We are really family-focused, and we wanted to have the best family experience that we could have,” she says. At the same time, Popovich says she did not want to give up her career.
The solution: Husband Milan Popovich, who also worked at Baird, stayed home to take care of their child while Nancy returned to work. And Milan has re-upped. The couple is expecting a second child in a few weeks, and Milan has agreed to be an at-home dad for another year or two. “But that’s it,” Popovich says. “We are leaving the issue of a third child open-ended for now.”
Despite her demanding job, Popovich says, “When I get home I am 100 percent engaged in being a mom and wife.” It’s a lot of work, she admits. “I think it is a gift that women have the ability to handle more, juggle more, than men. I really take pride in the fact that I can juggle so much.”
Her final word on the stay-at-home-dad arrangement? “It’s awesome. I would recommend it to anyone.”
The Choices We Make: A New Model for Accommodating Mom
Attorneys Erin Giglia and Laurie Rowen responded to the challenges of combining careers and children by creating Montage Legal Group, LLC. Established in 2009, the Irvine, Calif., company now has a freelance network of 46 women attorneys, all of whom went to top universities and held positions with large, prestigious law firms before deciding to have children.
Moms with Montage are independent contractors, working part-time from home while also attending to the needs of their families. Giglia says that, altogether, the network now has more than 70 children, all of whom are welcome in the office and at Montage’s kid-oriented parties.
Giglia says that she was 29 when she decided to have both a work and family life. It all turned on a single question, “Do I want to be a mother?”
“Once I knew that the answer to that question was ‘yes,’ I knew it would be up to me to figure out how to make it all work.” She doesn’t consider career to be any sort of impediment to raising healthy kids. “There is a full spectrum, from full-time stay-at-home moms to 80-hours-a-week-plus working moms. And they are all capable of having happy families and well-adjusted, happy kids.”
Montage co-founder Laurie Rowen, who was 27 years old when her first child arrived, says she started a family very early compared to most women lawyers. “I chose to have children about a year after I was married, knowing it was not necessarily the best choice for my career, but it was the best choice for my family.” She adds, “I specifically chose not to wait until I was ‘ready’ in my career to have children, because I knew that day might never come.”
Rowen and Giglia say that the soul of Montage is its commitment to working mothers. “Working part-time during motherhood doesn’t only impact the culture of Montage – it is the entire premise on which we base our group,” Rowen explains. The camaraderie, understanding and support of other working moms are the reason women are attracted to Montage, she says.
In addition to offering the support of other working moms, the Montage model also helps women overcome the stigma and costs of dropping out of work completely. “We hope our group keeps women lawyers in the workforce or brings them back into the workforce after taking time off to raise their children,” Rowen states.
Tips for Making the Choice
- Know thyself (and thy priorities). “You’ve got to know what is really important,” says Foss. For her, it is “God, myself, my marriage, my work, my kids.” Marquet’s top two: having the right partner and financial security before having kids.
- Make a plan: Advises Antonia Martinez, “Have a family plan. Just like you come up with a business plan or a career plan, come up with a vision, mission, goals and plan for your family.” She also recommends a personal development plan for family members so that important needs and goals aren’t overlooked.
- And make a Plan B. Is it self-sabotage to acknowledge that there may be pitfalls ahead? No. You don’t have to park your brain on Failure Lane to put legal and financial protections in place before adversity comes calling. Says Kimberly Foss, “At least in California, where the divorce rate is 60 percent, there is a real possibility that the husband who is there at the birth of your child will not be there later.”
Additional Tips for Moms and Moms-To-Be
- Find the “right.” All of the moms profiled here said that it was crucial to have the right partner. “My husband supports me the most,” says Laurie Rowen. Finding the right employer is also key. “You have to have a supportive work environment,” says Nancy Popovich. Look for an employer with ample maternity leave, flextime and a willingness to accommodate family emergencies.
- Remember the power of proximity. Three of our five moms intentionally live close to work, allowing them to stop home for visits and to respond to kid emergencies quickly. Nancy Popovich moved from D.C. to Reston so that, in addition to phoning home four times a day, she could also pop in to visit her son.
- Use your tools. “Using checklists, files and calendaring systems at home – just like you do at work – will help keep your stress level down as you try to find that ‘balance,’” advises Laurie Rowen.
- Get tech. Like the other moms, Erin Giglia says, “I work remotely, so technology plays an important role in giving me that flexibility.” Moms are using everything from cell phones to Skype to blend their work and home lives.
- Get creative. Antonia Martinez, who frequently counsels women on work/life balance, says that it is effective – and fun – to find new solutions to the balancing act. “You and your kids both have an assignment? Stay up together doing your ‘homework’ at the table…Working late? Share a dinner break with the kids.”
- Re-visit and re-balance. The plan you made when you’re 25 simply may not fit when you are 35 or 45, and kids change everything. “Challenges do not disappear as children grow – they just change,” explains Erin Giglia. “Rebalancing has to happen, probably month by month!”
- Get help on the home front. “Every working woman needs a wife,” says Foss. Coach your husband and older kids to do their part. Get a nanny. Reach out to neighbors, relatives, the other moms from school.
- Get support from other women. Giglia and Rowen, in addition to finding support at Montage Legal, say they really benefit from “Mommy, Esq.,” a new committee of the Orange County Bar Association. “I have learned so much from other lawyer-moms on everything from time-saving apps to how to put healthy meals on the table,” Giglia says.
The Choice is Yours
All of the women profiled here emphasized that women need to be the ultimate decision-makers on matters as intimate and important as careers, kids and marriage.
“You have to find the right balance for your lifestyle,” says Kristin Marquet. “Don’t let anyone pressure you into having children if you’re not ready for it. It is a life-changing decision.”
“Choice,” according to www.thefreedictionary.com, is “The power, right or liberty to choose.” So, embrace that power. Enjoy the rights and freedoms that allow you – as never before – to reach high, choose well and find the balance that feeds your soul.
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Jan Turner lives and writes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. For more than 20 years her articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, USA Today Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor as well as on wire services in the United States and abroad. Turner has written on subjects ranging from leadership and business culture to diversity awareness and faith-based organizations, and she has a nonfiction book underway. Turner has an advanced degree in intercultural communication and has traveled solo on many continents, exploring cultures from Ladahk and Sumatra to Malawi and Turkey, seeing first-hand the contributions and resilience of women.