Friday, March 01, 2013

Having It All

My wife and I, during a long car trip, discussed three ways for a young woman to "have it all" with a successful career and family.

The first way is simple: the househusband.  Obviously, a woman can have a successful career and family if her husband takes on primary responsibility for the children.  This is how my wife has it all.  Of course there are details for how to make this work well.  I should write about those some time.

The second way can be exhausting to do, but is theoretically simple: get married and have kids during college, when you are younger and have the most energy.  A truth no one wants to mention is that a woman in her twenties can do this much more easily by marrying a man in his thirties.

(Any newlyweds in their twenties husbands the same age, please indulge me: imagine the man you married as himself ten years older.  He is more responsible and mature.  His career has advanced so he can pay for your college education.  His looks have finally peaked and will now decline in step with yours instead of ten years later.  Being single those ten years, he has had time to keep in shape so his energy level has barely diminished.  Sounds nice, right?)

The third way is through careful planning.  With the help of parents and other reliable older people formulate a wise plan for education and starting a career.  Follow it faithfully.  You will have no time for dithering at college with undecided majors, or pursuing tangential hobbies.  Before college develop foundational financial habits of budgeting, expense tracking, paying off debt, and saving.  Maintain sound financial habits all your life.  Find consumable luxuries that are meaningful yet affordable (chocolate, tea, and games work better than cars, electronics, and Hawaiian vacations).  The career you pick needs three qualities: it must earn enough to pay for child care; it must be low enough stress that it does not doom your exercise or sex life; and it must allow you to establish yourself in five to seven years so you can subsequently take years off to be home with young children and then return to the career.  As soon as you can, marry a husband who wholeheartedly supports your plan.  (Look for a lack of drama and grief with his in-laws, and if you two are standing together against other people's meddling and concern-trolling.)  Use those five to seven childless married years to build income, become debt-free, and establish an emergency cash cushion.  Once your monthly household profit would cover child care, start having kids.  Once your monthly household profit would cover a mortgage and property tax, change from renting to home ownership.  Because of your habits of saving money and affordable luxuries you will not suffer the regret many women do when money they once falsely saw as "disposable income" must go to child care or mortgage.

In conversation, someone suggested a fourth way: wait to start your career until after the children are school age.  This certainly can lead to a happy and fulfilled life.  But unlike the previous three options it does not feel like "having it all" during those early years of housewifery.

One important factor in all these ways to "have it all" is that motherhood cannot be treated as a Plan B to prepare for in the distant future.  If you are devoting your life to schooling and career preparation with no visible sign of learning to manage a home and care for children then you are deceiving yourself.  How can you succeed with both halves of "having it all" if you have only prepared yourself for one half?

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