Reason #23: Having Kids Young Might Be Best for your Career

I wrote about this on our Facebook page and on Babble.com, but in case you missed it, this might be a major perk for us early mamas. A major perk that directly negates so much of the negativity surrounding being a young mother — i.e. we're unambitious, unsuccessful, and unable to do big things with our careers.

Maybe — just maybe — we chose the smarter path.

Penelope Trunk — author, blogger, and career advisor — said that the key to having a high-powered career is to start having kids young. 25 years young, to be exact. In response to the hoopla surrounding The Atlantic article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," Trunk said that "of all the ideas for having a big career and being a mom, [getting pregnant at 25] is the best one out there."

Her reasoning makes a lot of sense to me, and it's something that I've definitely thought about.

Start building your career slowly (which includes finishing the necessary education — with or without kids — and continuing to work in your chosen field), and then go full-speed-ahead once the kids are grown. For me, Noah will be in college when I'm 40 — 40! — which gives me plenty of time to grow professionally. And, as I said at Babble.com, I'll have 40-something colleagues who are caring for sick toddlers, taking time off for dance recitals, and calling in on Snow Days. They'll be down-shifting in their careers, giving the necessary time and attention that children require. And that's when I shift into Turbo.

Here's Penelope's advice:

"Spend the years from age 20 – 25 focused on getting married. There is no evidence that doing well in school during that period of your life will get you worthwhile benefits. There is no evidence that waiting longer than 25 makes a better marriage. And there is not evidence that women who do a great job early in their career can bank on that later in their career. There is evidence, though, that women who focus on marriage have better marriages. There is evidence that women who have kids earlier have healthier kids, and there is evidence, now, that women who have grown children by age 45 do better at getting to the top in the workforce than all other women with kids."

Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of "Why Women Can't Have It All" sort of agrees, except she has some reservations:

"The most important sequencing issue is when to have children. Many of the top women leaders of the generation just ahead of me — Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Connor, Patricia Wald, Nannerl Keohane — had their children in their 20s and early 30s, as was the norm in the 1950s through the 1970s. A child born when his mother is 25 will finish high school when his mother is 43, an age at which, with full-time immersion in a career, she still has plenty of time and energy for advancement.

Yet this sequence has fallen out of favor with many high-potential women, and understandably so. People tend to marry later now, and anyway, if you have children earlier, you may have difficulty getting a graduate degree, a good first job, and opportunities for advancement in the crucial early years of your career. Making matters worse, you will also have less income while raising your children, and hence less ability to hire the help that can be indispensable to your juggling act."

But these are all "maybe"s, right? Just because you have children earlier, doesn't mean it's impossible to get a graduate degree. It might take a little longer and require more juggling, but we're proving it's possible again and again. (That, and not everyone needs a graduate degree.) And having children young doesn't mean you can't get a good first job. In fact, motherhood might bring new opportunities and ignite new interests and goals that you never thought of before.

The income thing might be our biggest challenge, but living smart and thrifty isn't an impossibility. (Although better, more affordable childcare options and/or flexible schedules would make a young mom's life much easier.)

I do agree with Slaughter in that there aren't too many "on-ramps" for those entering the workforce in their mid-40s. There are younger women, as well as established child-less women, to compete with. I think it's important to continue slowly building your career with children, if you want a high-powered career later on. And there are certain professions — lawyers, surgeons, etc. — that require extensive education and residency requirements early on. I can't speak to these professions, but I'd love to hear from young moms who are/did make these high-level professions work.

What do you think? Has this been true/will this be true for your career?

Photo: Etsy/kensie kate