We all get direct and indirect pressure from family, friends, colleagues, and even the hairdresser, about starting a family. In particular, women who are smashing the glass ceiling in their career are suddenly asked about what they are going to do with their ovaries rather than their promotions. You and your partner are constantly hearing unsolicited advice which has no relevance to you, your lives, values and situation. At the end of the day, it is no one’s business about what you do with your lives and body, but it will most likely bother you (as it did me before I fell pregnant).
Prior to starting a family, you have built a career on your name, your hard work, your grit. You are independent, self-sufficient and financially sound. Then suddenly you stop work to have children. Starting a family, having children, seeing them grow, change and develop is one of the most precious things life can give you. However, the thought of having to balance that with your career can be daunting for some, like me.
Gone are the days where women happily relied on their husbands to ‘bring home the bacon’ and give up their career hopes and dreams to be a housewife and raise children (but if that’s your hope and dream then kudos to you – you do you!). We are now in 2020, where many women have a good education with great careers that follow, who own property, shares, assets, and marry for reasons other than financial gain and security. Women want to have a family, but they also want to have their careers.
So after being independent and smashing your career for so long, how do you go from being independent, to dependant, starting a family and maintaining your career all at once?
My advice – PLAN IT.
By planning your parental leave, you can be comfortable knowing your job is secure and your career will not stop. Of course, not everything goes to plan, but you can always readjust and revaluate as you and your partner travel this journey together.
Here are some tips to plan it
Start a family when YOU believe you are ready.
I know this is an obvious one, but as I highlighted at the start of this article, people, most likely women, are often subtly “encouraged” into having babies. Unfortunately, some do give in when the fear mongering sets in. Remember that it is your body, lifestyle and career that is going to change forever.
Make sure you and your partner agree on timing and talk about how you are going to manage financially
This may seem like it doesn’t have much to do with your career, but trust me, it does. It is hard to go from earning a fulltime wage to potentially less than half, not only from a financial perspective but from a ‘being an independent woman’ perspective. If your company provides paid parental leave that is great. For some the only payment received is from the government and others may not receive any supplementary payment. Start those spreadsheets and agree to a plan. Finances are the last thing you want to be fighting about when figuring out how to raise a baby.
Be open and honest with your principal / director / manager and keep in touch
Do not be afraid to tell senior staff you are pregnant or are expecting. You may be pleasantly surprised to the support you will receive. Work out a plan together for while you are on leave, for keeping in touch and for when you come back into the workplace. This will reassure you that your job will still be there and reassure your work that you will come back. It benefits both parties.
Do everything you can before you take leave
Put your hand up for everything and anything. Even if this means giving up a weekend here and late nights there – do it, if it’s within your means. It may be hard and tiring as the pregnancy goes on but do all you can to make the most of your career while you have it full time, child free. This chance may not come around again for a while.
Get onto those committees
Committees are a great way to keep your network thriving and keep current with your contacts. Even if you attend meetings and say very little, it is a great way to keep up to date with what is happening in your industry and keeps your name and face, front and center. However, take your time getting back into action once baby arrives and let your committee members know about your life change.
Whether its CPD points, events, online seminars, podcasts or reading – keeping up to date means you will have a small amount of catching up to do when you return to work. Once again, take your time getting back into action.
Starting a family is a huge decision and should not be taken lightly. It is a physical, emotional, social, financial change; scary, fun and exciting all at the same time. By planning your parental leave, you are also planning how your family and career will fit together. Your success in life should be what you determine it to be, not what others think it should be. If your version of success in life is to be a great mother and have a successful career – then you go get it.
Sally Jones is an Associate Architect at KPA Architects and a LASA Next Gen Ambassador in WA