Get pregnant at 25 if you want a high-powered career

Every once in a while a high-profile woman will divulge the dirty underbelly of trying to be a woman in the work world. I remember the first time I saw it. It was when Brenda Barnes stepped down from a huge career at Pepsi to be with her kids. And she announced that she felt like a bad parent spending so much time away from them. Thereby implying that the other moms with huge jobs like hers were also ignoring their kids.

This week, there is another ground-breaking example of a woman stepping down from a very high place: Anne-Marie Slaughter (pictured above). She is a dean at Princeton and she was director of policy planning in the State Department. She wrote a breathtaking article in the Atlantic titled, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, about stepping down from her State Department job to take care of her two teenaged boys. She says, in the article, that she is taking much better care of them when she is not away from them.

This shouldn’t be groundbreaking to say. But after twenty years of deafening feminist diatribe it is actually controversial to say that a mom is a better mom if she is home with her kids. So that in itself makes the Atlantic article worth reading.

Here’s another thing Slaughter does that I love. She takes down Sheryl Sandberg for telling other women to be like her and spend their days working insane hours for startups. I have written before about how ludicrous is is for Sandberg to think she’s a role model for women when there is a huge amount of research to say that women who have kids want part-time jobs. Sandberg assumes that women want high-powered jobs like hers and don’t have those jobs because there are no role models. Slaughter sets the record straight: women don’t want high powered jobs because they want to be home with their kids.

It’s ridiculous that it’s controversial to say that most women want to parent differently than most men. It’s ridiculous because there is scientific basis for this and a social basis for this and the women who argue against it are always women who do not have school-aged kids and a high powered job. So you know what? If you are going to argue in the comments section that women can have a high-powered job and school aged kids, please qualify yourself with the age of your kids and the number of hours you work per week.

Here’s how many hours I worked at my startup when I had young kids: 80. And my investors thought I was part-time—which I was, compared to how many hours other startup founders work. I’m just putting a number out there so you can have a benchmark for what high-pressure, high-powered jobs demand. Slaughter traveled almost nonstop for her job. And so do most people at that level.

So I loved Slaughter’s article. And I loved that women are coming forward to say that it is literally impossible to have a high-powered career while you have young kids, if you want to be involved in your kids’ lives. The best thing older women can do for younger women right now is to tell the truth. It’s hard to tell the truth because if you are trying to do the high-powered job and the kids, you will kill your career by admitting that it’s impossible.

But here’s the truth for women: You should not plan your life so that you work until you’re 30 and then have kids, and also have a huge career. Because you will be taking care of kids during the very time when all the men you worked with are working harder and longer hours than ever before. Men who have kids are in a great position to climb the ladder. They have wives at home. Women cannot go full speed ahead until the kids are grown up. Slaughter has great evidence for this. But you should be able just to look around and see that this truth. My favorite example: All the male Supreme Court Justices have families. Two of the three women do not. And the one who does, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, did not start her career until her kids were grown.

Slaughter lays out a great plan. It’s tucked into the article, among a lot of other calls to action. But she says, if you want to have a huge career, have kids when you are 25 so your kids will be grown when you are 45, because there will still be time to have a huge career.

Of all the ideas for having a big career and being a mom, this is the best one out there. Young women should use what we’ve learned so far and do things better than the generations that have come earlier. It’s too late for Generation Y since most of them have past the age when they would need to be finding a guy to marry. But there’s hope for the women of Generation Z.

Women from age 20 to 25 should focus on finding a guy to marry, and then build your career slowly, while you have kids. Which is what other generations did—they just started having kids five or ten years later.

This also means women will need to start dating men who are older than they are. This also seems like a good idea. Men, of course, love younger women. But more than that, women who are in their twenties are in their prime in terms of self-confidence. They are physically very desirable, and they are doing better at work than men. Men, on the other hand, are at their nadir of self-confidence in their twenties. They are not making money, which is something that is very valuable on the dating scene. And they are not doing as well as women at work. Men look way better in their 30s when the women have left the workplace and the men have a more solid grip on their earning power.

So men and women dating in their 20s is a lot like girls and boys slow dancing when their are 12. The girls are so much farther along developmentally that it’s absurd.

So look. Here’s my first post directed solely at Generation Z women: 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.



262 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Jill Walker Rettberg
    Jill Walker Rettberg says:

    I’m not sure I agree with all of this, but having kids at 25 worked well for me, anyway. I had my first at 24 as an MA student, took a year off, worked six hour days (with daycare) until she was three and got a phd and enough publications under my belt to make full professor just before having two more kids in my late thirties.

    Now I am just so thankful that I *already* made full professor and have a good publication record because there is no way that I could do all that now, with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. And seeing my first daughter almost 16 now I know how fast this time goes and really want to spend time with my little ones.

    Having said that, I never worked 80 hour weeks. I live in Norway, we have excellent, heavily subsidized child care, my teaching and service burden is far lower than for most US academics, I got a year’s paid maternity leave for each child etc. Nowadays I work pretty much what I’m paid for: about 37 hours a week, but I definitely publish less and do less research and reading than I used to. I’m quite sure I’ll publish more again when the children are a little older.

    I’ve often been glad that I chose to have my first daughter so early. I wasn’t thinking of it as a very career-savvy choice (I just really wanted a baby!) but in retrospect it was perfect timing. To be a really flying academic I think I should have stuck to one kid, as well, but I’m so so so happy to have two more little ones :) And I figure there’ll be plenty of time to work more when they’re a little older.

    It is hard accepting that I can’t go to conferences and keep up with my field and my peers in the way that I used to before the two littlest ones came. It’s a deliberate choice but it certainly comes with frustrations.

  2. Melani Ward
    Melani Ward says:

    I love this post, primarily because I was 35 when I finally got pregnant and it freaks me out that I will be 55 when my daughter goes off to college. It will take an act of God and really good economy to start ramping up at that point.

    Sometimes I think to myself that I have a good 25-30 years left of solid work years ahead of me but I have no intention of not being around when my daughter comes home from school or when she is sick or when she just needs me so deciding at this point in my life to go climb any type of ladder is just not going to happen.

    Whenever I hear you say to young women that they should spend their early 20s trying to find a guy to marry I cringe and I clap at the same time. I cringe because it sounds so outdated and I was a mess at 23 so getting married seemed totally absurd. On the other hand I clap because if I had to do it all over again and I actually thought about what a bad career move it is to wait until you’re 35 to have kids, I would have gotten my shit together a lot earlier. My infertility doctors would not have liked it but my career would have thanked me profusely.


  3. my honest answer
    my honest answer says:

    I do accept what you’re saying, that’s it’s impossible to ‘have it all’. I agree. However, I don’t think the solution you propose is particularly effective either. If you have ALL your kids by 25, you’re missing out on a lot in your 20s, compared to your peer group. So you’d be giving up something else instead. Which really, just confirms our hypothesis.

    • Present Moment
      Present Moment says:

      I agree. I am in my late 20s, gearing up to have kids with my male partner of 6+yrs. I wouldn’t give up the fun I have had in the last decade, the PhD I earner in the last decade, and the partnership I have built, slowly, over the last 6 years, for anything. In academia, having kids before you are tenure-track is tantamount to professional suicide. I appreciated Slaughter’s article, but your take on “the answer” is actually just one possibility out of many. Only what you are asking young women to give up is the time when they could be getting advanced degrees, building trust and companionship with the partner they have chosen before the relationship is tested by kids, and having good old-fashioned, early-20s FUN!

  4. Kirsten
    Kirsten says:

    I think this makes sense. I had my first child at 21 and got married at 25. We are expecting our second child this September (I am 26 now). I have a masters degree and work part-time in a field related to my research area. I am planning on beginning my PhD next year when the baby is 1 year old (here the typical PhD takes 3-5 years). So, I can see my life working out as Penolope has suggested, being ‘free’ enough in my mid-forties onwards to really conecntrate on my career. I find most people don’t seem to ‘get’ this logic and seem almost dismayed by my choice, like I am throwing opportunities away. Maybe I am just ahead of the curve!
    (I will just add that my husband is actually a year younger than me, but he is working in quite a good job and his income has allowed us to make these choices – so he is may be more typical of an ‘older man’ than others his age?)

    • Kirsten
      Kirsten says:

      I forgot to mention our son has autism and I appreciate being able to be at home with him more that might have been possible if I was well into my career at an older age. And I don’t feel I missed out on what my peers are experiencing in their twenties – we still travel etc. Just saving the big adventures for when we are a little bit older!

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m wondering if this article ( ) on “Judging and Perceiving” (Myers-Briggs) which you recently linked to on your homeschooling blog gives insight on a person’s ability to make the decisions mentioned here in this post in a timely fashion. Wouldn’t a Perceiver have a tendency to put off making a decision (especially a big decision) until later rather than sooner? I’m not saying it’s better but may help to explain the why.

  6. jim
    jim says:

    I found the Slaughter article honest and thought-provoking. However she describes the role of men in only a couple of narrowly defined ways: marry an equal, and how her husband has been so great to help with kids even with his own career to worry about.
    In the usual dialogue about women and work, including here, there is usually made no mention of having the man stay home, or work part time etc, to help raise the kids. It usually only comes down to what women have to choose to give up to have kids or a career.
    My point: if men and women are equal then what is wrong with the man taking time off of his career track to help out? Not everyone is born wanting to have a high powered career. This goes for a lot of men I know. Their lives don’t revolve around their work. But what usually stops them from making the decision to be a stay-at-home-dad (other than finances) is the stigma attached; society still by and large frowns upon the man doing that.
    So what we are left with is this ongoing all-or-nothing angst for women.
    Yes, Ann-Marie Slaughter had tough decisions to make. But in her laying out a path for younger women, she failed to mention other options.

    • Maria
      Maria says:

      I disagree that she didn’t consider that – she questioned the very assumption that one spouse needs to stay at home. Essentially, she was using her and her husbands’ academic jobs as the example of long hours but flexible scheduling that allowed for two serious career people to also manage kids in a way that didn’t unfairly burden one parent. It was when she had to be away from home all the time and working 12 hour days that she was like “hey, other people don’t have that setup that allowed us to ‘have it all,’ but maybe they should!” What if more workplaces were set up to allow people to do their jobs at different times and in different places some of the time? (Obviously this doesn’t work for a presence-oriented job, e.g. a chef or teacher, but it can for more professional careers than it does.)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      To be clear, in order to compete at the very top, you absolutely must have a stay-at-home spouse at home. An equal-spouse thing won’t work, because you can’t be pulling 50% at home and competing with men who have 0% responsibility at home.

      So, let’s look at the responsibilities of a stay-at-home spouse that is really pulling 100% at home:

      Cooking for the bake sale where buying would be declasse.
      Buying the mother-in-law gifts.
      Buying a first bra.
      Planning the bar-mitzvah, including handling all the seating arrangements.

      I bring up these examples because they require a special sensitivity and sensibility that only 25% of men can even approach. I get this statistic because 75% of the feeling types in the world are women and 25% are men.

      So 75% of men are not going to feel fulfilled in this role. The bigger issue, though, is that most women don’t want to be married to a guy who does this stuff.

      Which means that the subset of marriages where a woman wants a high-powered job and wants to be married to a guy who genuinely wants to do this stuff is so miniscule that it’s not worth talking about.

      Women who are high powered do not generally want men who want to spend their time managing the household social calendar (something that is a HUGE job for a stay-at-home parent.) Statistically, women, no matter how much they earn, look to date men who earn more than they do. There is a biological reason for this.

      It’s like why girls like pink and boys like guns. It’s not true for every single one, but it’s true that it’s biological.

      Don’t tell me about the exceptions to the rules, okay? Because unless your marriage has lasted 15 years, with kids, you don’t really know if the arrangement works, do you?

      The only thing we know for sure is that most women, given a choice, choose men who earn more than they do. And most men, given a test, do not test as someone who would be fulfilled staying home with kids. So I think the most productive conversation would be one where we assume the majority predisposition instead of the aberrations.


      • Kristen
        Kristen says:

        Ok. So we assume what you have put forth.
        It still doesn’t change the idea that to maximize our society’s productivity (and our own happiness) some women need to have high powered jobs which allow us to care for our families. Just as medical residencies have reduced the work hours, other jobs can as well. We can work smarter not harder. The reason residencies have enacted work hour restrictions was not to help residents’ families, it was a safety issue. After that many hours safety drops off, and I bet patient safety corresponds to something in the business world. For those of us ahead of Gen Z…Who will lead the way if not us?

      • Alicia Saribalis
        Alicia Saribalis says:

        Women are reluctant to accept that they are biologically and hormonally driven. It’s refreshing to have you point this out. We don’t exist independently of the impulses governed by our hormones, which include a predisposition to spending time with the children we bear, which is why the research does show that most mothers of small children want part time work. The irony is that women like Slaughter in academic careers with summers off have been preaching to us for years that we can have it all. They are then are flummoxed beyond measure when forced to cope with the rigid confines of a typical 24/7 business existence which makes spending significant time with one’s offspring impossible. I’ll never understand those who insist that parents can effectively raise children they never see. I also love that you point out that seeking a spouse should be a priority in one’s twenties. Biology wants this for us as well. We’d be so much happier if we stopped fighting our hormonal essence. Perhaps this is why women are unhappier today than they were in 1972.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          (1) women in academia do not have the summers off – they are devoted to traveling and research, conferences and writing.
          (2) jobs in academia have the benefit of more time flexibility – allowing more for working from home; the total number of hours spent on work however is substantial and probably on average somewhere between 60 and 80 hours per week.
          (3) Slaughter never had a regular job – her commitment in Washington was a 100 hour work with frequent travel. So, she tells the story from a very unique place – not anything comparable to the ordinary work week of the average person.

          • Alicia Saribalis
            Alicia Saribalis says:

            My “summers off” comment was a figurative term for greater workplace flexibility and mobility and more opportunities for time with family. Attending academic conferences in the summer is perhaps an additional opportunity to travel with family to attractive destinations. Writing and researching can be done from home with family present. I don’t agree that most women in academia work 60-80 hours a week and I’d be curious as to how you derived that statistic. My larger point is that working mothers enjoying unusual freedom and flexibility in their professional lives have often been the most vociferous advocates of “having it all,” and that their experience of such is vastly different than that of most women in the workplace.

          • Lynn
            Lynn says:

            I’m in a tenure-track position at an ivy league school and easily work this much (60-80hrs/wk) during the school year. During the summers I work closer to 40hrs/wk. Taking my children with me to conference would not be considered acceptable in my field at all.

      • teresa
        teresa says:

        Penelope, I’m not sure where you’re getting the info that girls are biologically driven to prefer pink, but there is very little evidence for this, and a large amount of evidence that it is a cultural preference. At best the foragers-prefer-pink-berries is a teeny factor that is overwhelmed by individual differences, much like the myth about girls biologically not being as good at maths as boys. Please do not rely on the voluable Dr Stephene Briers.

        This is a shame, as I agree with every other point you have made.

        • Alicia Saribalis
          Alicia Saribalis says:

          What I’m saying is that hormones influence human behavior. It’s that simple.

        • OMG
          OMG says:

          mh, actually up until the 1930s, pink was still the male colour and blue the girls colour. Because pink came from red and was strong, while blue was weak. So nope, this one is not driven by hormones whatsoever.

      • JD
        JD says:

        It is NOT biological to prefer pink over blue, are you KIDDING me?
        It’s called socialization.

        This is such a backwards idea… and I am 26/f/unmarried/queer/no kids
        But my mother was an immigrant who worked her ass off while her two young kids were at home with a nanny. Dad worked too.

      • Aaron
        Aaron says:

        You think that female preference for pink and male preference for guns is biologic? That is completely contrary to sociological and psychological research. It’s patently absurd to make such an unquestionably false statement, and quite frankly calls into question your credibility.

    • Kate
      Kate says:

      I think the reason that men aren’t mentioned in the women and work debate is because it’s the woman who makes the decision about whether to have a baby or not. She is the one carrying and delivering the baby, so she is the one having to take time off due to her biological makeup for at least a small portion of the baby’s beginnings, rather than the man.

  7. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I don’t want kids, but this still is hopeful for me. Because I am 25 and I feel like I’m letting opportunities slip by, that already I am getting too old to start doing something important or meaningful. But I know really that is not true, ludicrous even, if I don’t want it to be.

  8. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    i’ve been struggling with this since i’ve gained more and more responsibility at work. i’m the bread winner, work at home/stay at home mom of a 2 year old and i work all the time. i will never be happy that i can’t do it all and i will always regret the need for me to work as opposed to wanting to work. you can find a balance but you can’t do it all – no matter the age. if i had had my daughter at 25, i still think i’d struggle just as much.

    i genuinely feel that you cannot be with your kids for all the needs they have while trying to work – and that includes any job no just high powered ones. but in this economy you can’t decide to work or not, most of us need to.

  9. Scarlett K
    Scarlett K says:

    I am 27 and have no kids and work between 50-70 hours a week as a lawyer. This is my second career. I started off as a primary school teacher. I got married when I was 23. I wanted kids straight away but my husband said no way. I still want kids but he still says no way. He wants kids, he just wants some financial security first. He has given me a magic number: 30. I could have a tantrum and go off birth control or I could make some lemonade. By the time I’m 30, I’ve done three years, I know I will be bored with corporate law, and I’ll be ready for an exit plan. I will take the paid maternity leave and then look for opportunities that fit in with my new circumstances. I don’t give a shit that it “interrupts” my career. I will find a new career. Maybe I will practise criminal law, or family law. Maybe I will teach at university or start a business. If people can replace the ideal of a “high powered career” with an interesting career, or even better, many interesting careers, then kids can be something that moves you onto the next transition, not something that stops you climbing the ladder. And then you’re free to have them when you choose – or when your husband can handle the idea without breaking out in a cold sweat.

    • Mel
      Mel says:

      amen, girl friend.

      both Slaughter and PT seem to be about black and white solutions to “black and white” (not really) issues.

      what about those of us that want to work our asses of now, knowing that our salaries max out at 35 (PT’s words), save and scrimp so that at 35 i can have my kid, afford to bow out of the rat race and raise junior while starting my own business/personal projects.

      ugh, thank god i’m too old to listen to this.

    • Vicky
      Vicky says:

      Scarlett, everything you said was so spot on! We should be striving to have fun, interesting and enjoyable careers vs high powered ones and we should teach our children/future children to want the same thing. The idea that we’re nothing without a high powered career is ludicrous.

  10. Maria
    Maria says:

    While I appreciate older women giving those of us in our 20s advice, and hope that I’ll be able to follow it in spirit if not letter (26 now, just married, and not pregnant yet!), I hope EVERYONE will read the part of Slaughter’s article directed toward people who are not women of childbearing age (which may be hard, because it’s buried toward the end of her long piece).

    She talks about how there needs to be a change in American work culture that doesn’t assume people who care deeply about their careers have a “support spouse” to keep the rest of their lives running – in dual income households, both people have to be both professionals AND caretakers, whether for parents or children or both. She lays out some specific adjustments that she thinks would help, but says it has to start not only at the top, but especially with men at the top, because otherwise people who want to recognize that will be considered on the “mommy track” or not serious about their careers. She says that’s the next end-game of feminism: not just to see women as workers, but to see workers as caretakers with shared responsibilities. I personally found this pretty inspiring, although I’m not sure how hopeful it is.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m not sure it’s useful to women to stand around and talk about how other people need to make changes at the top so women can get to the top.

      It’s so much more empowering to talk about what one woman can do to get what that one woman wants.

      Asking other people to change things is about hope. Not that hope is bad. It’s a low-level form of activism, really. But deciding to take things into one’s own hands seems so much more promising.


    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I understand what you mean Maria. Many years ago a male senior manager asked his female staff if it might be possible for their husbands to take carer’s leave once in a while to look after sick kids. They reacted very badly. I thought it was great – a man acknowledging that husbands aren’t ‘volunteer babysitters’ but actually parents with the shared responsibilities! Perhaps he was ahead of his time.

  11. roberta
    roberta says:

    That is all well and fine but there are those of us who did just that. Had the kids when we were young. But then, had to help with grandchildren during our peak earning years and thus work suffered anyway. It is a crap shoot.

    • Maria
      Maria says:

      Good point. Not to mention how many people help take care of their own parents, or special needs children, in their late 40s and 50s. It’s not just about “choices.”

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t understand the had to help with the grandchildren part. I mean, I can see you have to help if your kids are mentally incapable of taking care of their kids. But in most cases, that simply is not true.

      So, women can be caretakers their whole life, if they choose that. Or women can decide to be caretakers for part of their life.

      Really, if you want to take care of other womens’ kids while they work, I’m sure there’s no shortage – your friends’, your sister’s your sister-in-laws.

      At some point people have to admit that they’re more comfortable in a caretaker role than a business role and so the continuous caretaking is their own choice.


      • Adam
        Adam says:

        That’s a very good point Penelope – left out of both the Atlantic article and your post here. I think there are a lot of people like this in the work world who don’t (for whatever reason) want to admit it.

        • Mel
          Mel says:

          well. I’m a career lady right now but don’t plan to be in 5 to 10 years. I feel like PT and Slaughter’s articles are implying that I should because I have no excuse, like it’s the end all and be all. There must be a solution for women, other than having kids at 25 and hiring 3 round the clock nannies to care for them while I wage-slave for the next 18 years.

      • Kate
        Kate says:

        I think what she’s getting at is that having kids young might be fine and dandy for one woman, but then if it were to happen to her child, who’s to say they’d be equipped enough to handle the situation without their parents stepping in? It happens all too often these days.

  12. Valerie M.
    Valerie M. says:

    100% agree that one can’t have it all at the same time and I really appreciate the value/wisdom of this article.

    I will say, though, that life doesn’t always operate on the timeline you expect it to, either. And – just as encouragement – that’s okay too.

  13. EDM
    EDM says:

    I had a kid at 19 and built my career in my 20s. It was brutal because I was a single mom. And because my basic instinct was to survive without having to depend on a man or my parents, I was a career woman first, and mom second til I was 30.

    She’ll be 18 this October and I just turned 37. My husband doesn’t want kids (great) and I’m in a senior role in a big telco. We live comfortably with no debt other than mortgage. I will literally be an “empty nester” this year. At 37.

    Viva liberacion.

  14. barbidoesmiami
    barbidoesmiami says:

    I read the article last week and do not recognize any of the assumptions P makes. My take was very different but that happens when we read and adjust information our own situation. But what P does is transcribing a very well written article that speaks about high, high powered women already or on their way to top jobs and fits it into her own, by now familiar, agenda. She addresses her own insecurity and feeds it to you, her readers. This is misleading. I encourage you to read the piece in question and draw your own conclusions, but here’s just one example of P’s misinformation: “Slaughter takes down Sheryl Sandberg for telling other women to be like her and spend their days working insane hours for startups”. In fact this is what Slaughter writes: “Sheryl Sandberg’s widely publicized 2011 commencement speech at Barnard, and her earlier TED talk, in which she lamented the dismally small number of women at the top and advised young women not to “leave before you leave.” When a woman starts thinking about having children, Sandberg said, “she doesn’t raise her hand anymore … She starts leaning back.” Although couched in terms of encouragement, Sandberg’s exhortation contains more than a note of reproach. We who have made it to the top, or are striving to get there, are essentially saying to the women in the generation behind us: “What’s the matter with you?”-
    This is not “taking Sandberg down”, it is called quoting, agreeing and expanding on another woman’s position in an intelligent and positive manner that is not self-serving.

  15. Angie
    Angie says:

    I think you have totally ignored the fact that raising children is not a solitary thing, at least for some of us. I’m doing a start-up – traveling every week and working 70 hour weeks. I have a 5 year old. I also have a great spouse who has stepped up to allow me to do this. Prior to taking this job, we both had big jobs in high tech and a small child. We recognized that we both can’t have big jobs and raise our daughter in the environment we think is best for her. When I took this job, my husband took a different job which is a solid 40 hour / week job without any travel. His decision to take a step back for a while has allowed me to do this start-up effectively. I completely agree recognize that I couldn’t do this if we both wanted to have big jobs. However, I don’t think it must always be the women (or mom) who sacrifices their career in order to raise children. Sometimes, it can be the daddy.

  16. Sally
    Sally says:

    Harriet, There’s a lot I could say in response to this post.But first, I want you to read about the life of Marina Keegan And yes, it IS ludicrous for you to think you are too old to start doing something important and meaningful!

    Second, my 22-year-old son spoke at Marina’s funeral. I came late to motherhood, but I did quit my 80-hour week job to raise him. I am sandwiched in the workplace in the worst possible position age-wise, but have addressed this by finding freelance work I enjoy which will hopefully contribute to making people’s lives work better in a very tiny way. Not a big career. My big career was raising an amazingly smart, engaged and joyful human being who will not have to spend the first 40 years of his life figuring stuff out like I did. I could never have done that and worked at the same time. It’s all about what is important to you, and some of it is left to chance. You may not find a partner in your early twenties, you may not even be able to become pregnant when you want to. So many variables. I applaud Ms. Slaughter’s stepping up to this point and telling the truth. Women should ask themselves what having it all really means to them. There are many ways you can do something meaningful and important–so let’s all try to make something happen to this world!

    p.s., thanks Penelope for this post!!

  17. Penny
    Penny says:

    It is controversial because only women seem to experience this conundrum. It would be nice of the default were, “women who have kids are in a great place to climb the ladder,” or more realistically, “people with aspouse willing to stay home and raise the kids are on a great place to climb the ladder.” instead we are swimming against thecurrent to even think that not sharing kid duties 50-50 is delusional or wrong. Few families share 50-50 duties, but when it is the woman who is less than half, this is a problem.

  18. dl
    dl says:

    This life plan makes a lot of sense. The one glitch to it is that at age 45, when a woman is ready and very capable to charge into the career world, her husband is ready to start slowing down a bit and wanting to spend time with his wife.

  19. Tee
    Tee says:

    I am a 35 year old woman with a 5 (soon to be 6) year old. My husband and I are now vacilating over having another child. I wanted to do it earlier so I would not have to raise kids forever, but my husband (who is an only child himself) was resistant. Just recently, he announced that he is ready to have another child if I still want to do it. However, I am torn between leaving my child alone in the world without siblings to focus on my lofty career goals or abandoning my career pursuit to become supermom. I have alot of support with my husband, parents, siblings and in-laws now that afford me the opportunity to move my career forward. I feel like this will surely change with multiple children. I realize that no matter what I do, there will have to be a sacrifice of something, but in this case it is hard to make a decision. I started at 30, so I am off a little bit with your theory, but I wanted to know if you think the amount of children & the amount of support one has skews the hypothesis?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think the support a woman has from a spouse only serves to alleviate her guilt from not being with the kids. It doesn’t get a woman back the time she missed being with her kids. It doesn’t get the kids a mom who is around for them.

      As for number of children. I once interviewed with a guy who asked me how many children I had. I said two. He said that something he noticed is that women cannot climb to the top with more than two kids. It just doesn’t happen.

      At first I wanted to be pissed that we were even having this conversation in an interview. But then I thought, well, he makes an interesting point. And I think he’s right.


      • Lisa S
        Lisa S says:

        I agree. Having 3+ kids somehow tips the scales just enough that motherhood becomes the ‘high-powered career.’ When a young mom tells me she wants to have a career alongside motherhood, my advice (doled out willingly!) (always!) is to have two kids, and have them as close together as possible (under three years apart).

        I have three kids, and 11 years into this gig (after giving up a rising career)… I figure I’ll pick up my professional life once the birds fly the nest.

      • Meagan Francis
        Meagan Francis says:

        Just finding this article, I realize it was written many months ago! I suppose when it comes to family size & ability to climb the ladder, it also depends when you get started. I had my first child at 20 and my last at 31. Now, at 35, I have five children ranging in age from 3.5 to 15. For the past ten years I have been a fairly ambitious writer and author, but definitely in a part-time sense as I was having children every two or three years. Now, though, I can foresee a time coming in just a year and a half where all of my children will be in school all day and my life will be completely different than my motherhood experience has been so far. I have zero interest in a high-powered corporate career, but if I did, it seems like right now would be the time to start building it so that I could really ramp up around 45 or 50 (my youngest will turn 18 when I’m 49.)

        As it is, I definitely think my opportunity to delve into my writing work and start new, bigger projects, etc, is coming…and soon.

        I suppose the question is, if I were even interested in a “high powered career”, would I have any chance of getting hired somewhere after 10 years of freelancing? Maybe that’s the rub.

  20. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    I always felt lack of honesty among women was our biggest downfall and the leading cause for the spread of the unhappiness virus surrounding motherhood.

    The fake appearance of doing it all was always more important than the reality of actual achievement and sharing the truth of how to be successful as a parent OR in your career.

    I learned at a really young age how to see through people and just look at everyone around me, really look for signs and clues to the truth, and never just take someone’s word that they have it all and are happy.

    Up until now, I’ve never been able to take “advice” from other women because the “advice” always seemed somehow flawed in the logic behind the advice.

    Hopefully now this is changing and it won’t be so hard to find the truth between the lines.

    • fiona
      fiona says:

      I totally agree with you. So many women sugar coat or are just plain dishonest about their experiences. This has the effect that other (younger) women are ill informed about the challenges they will face when deciding to pursue careers first- marriage & babies later or vice versa.

  21. Gwenn
    Gwenn says:

    I did everything you recommended in this article. I graduated a year early from college and got married at 23 to a man 10 years my senior, had my first kid at 26 (okay not 25 but whatever) and the next one at 27 so that I could stay home. Now I am working on my start up slowly, like 20 hours a week.
    But the reason for my comment is that I did not enjoy staying home with my babies because I felt like I was letting women down. NONE of my friends were doing the same thing, no one validated my path and I questioned myself the entire time. I felt like a crazy person. Thank you Thank you Thank you Penelope, Brenda Barnes, and Ann-Marie Slaughter for speaking the truth to young women so they can just enjoy their children instead of thinking they are doing something wrong by taking care of them.

  22. Jamila
    Jamila says:

    I’m going to make the same comment here that I made elsewhere:

    When I read the article in the Atlantic and the response’s (both in the comment section of the article and on other blogs) I was most struck by the fact that no one seemed to deduce what I came away with: The author of the piece does not trust her husband to raise their kids as well as she thinks she could raise them. Her two teen sons had a full-time parent (albeit he also had a job) at home. Why does this woman think that she needed to come home and handle the situation when her husband, the children’s father, was already at home?

    If women want to ‘have it all’ then they are going to have to recognize that men can raise children just as well as women, and that men should be just as responsible for the raising of children as the women who give birth to the children. Until women give up on the idea that ‘mother love’ is some special type of love that is way better and more effective than ‘father love’ you will have women throwing away high-powered careers because these women don’t think that their husbands can kiss boo-boos and wrangle teenagers.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      I 100% agree with you here. It’s as though we still treat fathers of children as sperm donors rather than the partners that they are (or should be). I, too, have been amazed that the global discussion this week centered on women’s responsibilities with little more than a passing mention of the role of the husbands and fathers of children – and more specifically, trusting the fathers to parent just as effectively as the mothers. It’s pretty disrespectful to both women and men, actually.

  23. Kerri
    Kerri says:

    I loved this article when I read it last week, and I tweeted it and thought about it, and considered writing about it but then I said to myself, “Penelope Trunk will write an awesome post about this so I’ll just wait for that.” Thanks P! I love your take on it and totally agree that having kids young makes sense for women in this for-profit society. I also appreciated Slaughter’s ideas for truly transforming the work-family balance illusion. We HAVE to decide that human’s are the most important resource we have and shift the system to reflect this. Seriously, the system has to work for us! Not the other way around.

  24. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    I had my kids before I was 30. the last one just graduated high school and I’m 47. I just got hired on by a start-up and I’m so excited to get back to work. I loved your article because it made me realize that there’s still plenty of time to have a successful career! Thanks for making my day!!

    It’s easy to feel outdated at 47 but I’ve kept myself updated in my field by taking occasional classes and reading a bunch. My marketing degree from 1989 is utterly worthless because everything has changed so much. But I’m still glad I have the degree to give me credibility.

    Thanks for making my day!!

  25. Gustavo
    Gustavo says:

    The biggest challenge to applying this theory in practice, however, is the fact that people rarely know what they want from life in their early 20s. To expect a 20 year old to reflect on the expectations they have from life over a time span as long as “the next 30 years” is probably not too realistic (hell, I had a hard enough time answering “where do I want to be in 3-5 years” at that age), in practice.

    I mean, you’ll reach a small percentage of the population, but most people won’t be able to connect to this type of advice on any meaningful level.

    And something as major as having kids is definitely a gigantic commitment for a 20 year old to make. I think this means you need to convince parents, not children. Because maybe then there’s hope that they can raise their kids to share your viewpoint.

    • Tee
      Tee says:

      I think there are many women who are thirsting for this type of dialogue because we are socialized from very young to be wives and mothers. (Think about the toys they have for little girls…doll babies and plastic kitchen sets, etc.)

      Regardless of whether they are mature enough or not to make the decision to get married/have kids, there are many young women in their twenties that are thinking about it or planning for it.

      You may think that young people may not be able to connect with Penelope’s advice, but I believe there will be young people (particularly women) begging for more.

      • rgoltn
        rgoltn says:

        We do not live in a perfect world. Penelope’s advice is 100% spot-on. Having children is for the young. There is a reason why a 25 year old can bounce back easier than a 40 year old does after childbirth. Plus, the sleep-depravation is something at 45, my wife and I would never want to go through again.

        The funny thing is that so many women think they can just decide to have kids one day; just like that. Their bodies will justr conform and say “okay,” let’s have a kid now at age 38. The facts show that the older you get, the harder it is to conceive.

        Sure, you can delay marriage and kids until you are into your 30’s and then have your high-powered career and hire a Nanny or keep your “house-husband” at home while you conquer the boardroom. That will work until “Mr. Big Fifty Shades of Gray Alpha” guy gets you hot and bothered and your wimpy, feminized house-husband starts looky, well like a woman.

        Get real. Women cannot have it all. Nobody can. We all haveto make choices in life. Having kids and making sacrifices are part of lfe. Women need to get over themselves.

  26. Renae
    Renae says:

    I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece, and agreed with most of it– you can’t work 100-plus hours a week and also be at home every night with your children. I’m curious about the evidence that women who are 45 and with grown children move farther up the career ladder. Which studies back this? Does that account for time off to care for young children?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s the crux of Slaughter’s argument. She does a great job of backing it up. But also you can look around. The majority of women in high up positions did not have young kids at home when they were in their mid-forties.

      At some point, you have to admit that you are not exceptional. You are not superwoman. You can look at what other women have tried to do and failed and say “I don’t want to fail at that also, so what can I do differently.”

      The evidence about what works and what doesn’t is right there, for all of us to see. It’s just that we don’t like it.


      • Claudia
        Claudia says:

        This is exactly why, as my mother’s daughter, I feel that I will never rise to her social class or make her income or have the high-powered career she did. She married at 21, had me when she was 24 and my brother at 26, and by the time we were semi-grown, she has been able to move up and up in her career.

        Post-master’s degree, I married at 31 and am only now contemplating kids at 33 (husband is 36). As I look to the future, I see down-shifting my career to have children right when my mother’s was rising (if I am fertile – a whole other concern!).

        A key thing here, however, is that I would never have been ready to marry in my early 20s. If I did, I would have divorced. I am so thankful I had that time to become myself, and I know it makes me a better wife now.

        • Edward
          Edward says:

          Human beings have been getting married in their teens for thousands of years and I would find it hard to believe that those marriages were any better or worse than our current ones. You mention in your comment that we need to “know” our selves first before we can get married. I would argue that today’s divorce rates, still floating at around 50%, demonstrate that “knowing” yourself prior to marriage, does not seem to affect/increase your chances of having a good marriage. If anything, anecdotally, it would seem that if you have had years on your own, with multiple sexual partners, and have grown financially independent, you are less likely to be content living with another person. If you look back 50 or 60 years, the conventional wisdom on marital age was that if men waited too long to marry, they would become unsuitable (terrible) husbands. Perhaps today, this applies to women as well.

          • Gayle
            Gayle says:

            Until very recently, marriages involved treating women as property. They also had rampant physical abuse — and this was more or less accepted in society. Women had no right in such marriages. So when you say you “find it hard to believe that those marriages were any better or worse than our current ones,” I have to wonder — do you really mean that our marriages, based on relatively equal rights, are no better than those of hundreds of years ago?

            Moreover, the divorce is about 40% – 45%. From what I’ve read, it was never 50%. That often quoted statistic came from people misinterpreting data.

            What *is* certain though is that those who get married later are less likely to get divorced. So, contrary to your statement, having more years on your own makes you *more* suited for marriage. And that applies to both men and women. This is not a crazy claim — it’s well backed up by data.

          • Sara
            Sara says:

            Edward – It is well documented that the divorce rate drops tremendously when the woman in the relationship is 25 or older, especially when she has a college degree. One of the links in Penelope’s article offers some of this evidence.

            Speaking of which – Penelope, I’m not sure if someone else has pointed this out, but the link you provided on the “There is no evidence that waiting longer than 25 makes a better marriage” actually says, if I’m reading correctly, that divorce rates fall when the bride is 25 or older, which isn’t really the same thing as what you said. Since people typically don’t have kids immediately, that would indicate that healthy marriages would have women having kids around 26/27 at a minimum.

      • Deborah Hymes
        Deborah Hymes says:

        I love all the honesty here! Yes, it’s a great gift to know exactly what you want and how to get it at the tender age of 25. And kids are the ONE choice in your life that’s truly irrevocable, whether you choose to have them or whether you don’t.

        I believe the most important take-away here is women getting honest about what their own experiences have been so far. It may be impossible to know everything you want your life to be by 25 (or any age!) but having more information about the available choices allows you to imagine different scenarios for yourself. And to choose which ones feel more right for you.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes, thanks for bringing this up, Erin. I think this is the most interesting part of the argument – I mean, how do women find husbands that early? It’s a big shift in how women pace themselves, I think. And it would force men to view available women in a different light.


      • Sue
        Sue says:

        How do women “find husbands” that early or when they are that young? I think that is a major problem–“finding”, then “snagging” or more crassly “trapping” a husband is why people end up divorced or miserable or ABUSED!

        Relationships are not on the same level as a take out menu at a restaurant. Check his age, weight, eye color–whatever!

        The relationship between husband & wife needs to be strong & of the 1st priority. No way should you would be having children or getting married by an alarm clock. You cannot do husbands & children like you are a short-order cook.

        I met my husband when I was 15 & he was 16 at a boarding school. We have been together since then–married 39 years now & have 2 great children who are 38 & 35 w/excellent careers– 1 married for 9 years & she & her husband have decided to NOT have children due to the demands of their careers & realizing that children need much more attention than they could give them…

        I agree w/their decision though they would be wonderful parents if they had the time to devote to the children.

        This “short order” menu P seems to expouse is ridiculous! Please! Marry for love w/a good amount of common sense & planning for the future. This schedule of hers is pushing people to maybe jump into relationships that are not stable, loving or the best for raising these children you are supposed to have before the deadly age of 35…

    • fiona
      fiona says:

      I think finding one is easiest at 25, whether or not you want or are ready for one is a whole other debate…

  27. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Damn…what’s the point. I got my MBA…I’m 41, and will have #2 after I’m 42, and I had #1 at 38…based on Penelope’s philosophy, I’m screwed successfully and haven’t a clue (cos of my MBA).

    There’s more to life than success, such as having one’s own life path, and enjoying the crazy journey that is our lives. I understand that success Penelope’s focus, and this article is no exception.

    The part that I’d like to highlight about Anne Marie Slaughter’s article was a desire to shift the focus to a more flexible schedule; and that Generation Y will help that along. Having flex time and doing work from home will help. Face time isn’t necessary so much.

    But I know this is a little off-topic, but relevant to the article Penelope refers to. The other part of Atlantic article that I picked up was: more parents, mothers in particular, should consider start ups. DIY. If you don’t have the situation you want, change it to empower yourself.

    Start your own company/business. Maybe not working 160 hours a week, but working with other moms to work less hours and still be successful. If it is possible. Start a start up slowly rather than try to lift it up off the ground right away. That definitely is possible.

    Anyway, just had to add my 2 cents.

  28. chris
    chris says:

    Slaughter is like Penelope: she got honest.

    Though I find the article refreshing and thoughtful, I thought it missed some important evidence: children’s needs and activities and structure and teamwork-on-their-behalf-with-teachers-and-coaches, etc. was not fully discussed.

    On the other hand, there were many examples and much evidence presented about the needs/demands of the career, the hours put in, the travel requirements. In other words, Slaughter presented a detailed picture of the high-powered job, but she did not present a detailed picture of what parents do to support and raise their kids.

    I wish parents who commit fully to the caregiver role (SAHMs, for example) would paint a detailed picture. The work of a committed caregiver is inspiring! The creativity needed! The flexibility! The trouble-shooting! The problem-solving skills! And sometimes, “they also serve who only stand and wait”. You’ve got to know when to hold up and when to fold up. You’ve got to join hands with teachers and coaches (and the other parent, it goes without saying). You have to hone your role as exemplar.
    The list of discreet tasks and met-needs goes on and on, especially since it all changes and evolves as the child’s developmental stages progress.

    In response to the person who has a child with autism . . . Penelope knows better than I do, though I, too, have a child with rather severe disabilities, that you have to redouble your efforts and your creativity to help your child find his place/create a place for himself in this world/culture. To me, there is no job more high-level.

  29. Katy
    Katy says:

    Academia is so protected from the real world, and I’m glad that Slaughter recognized this in her article.

    It’s not just that most women won’t be wealthy and fortunate enough to get Phds at Harvard – it’s that the majority of women don’t really want all that sh*t anyway. (I said *majority* women)

    Absolutely ALL of my female roommates from engineering school are on the “mommy track”. Every single one of them has decided children is more important to her inner self than their careers. The only one who doesn’t have kids, dumped engineering so she could start up her own company WORKING WITH KIDS. And none of us were exactly preschool nannies when we were in college – we all studied like crazy and thought we wanted to build rockets.

    This isn’t so difficult to understand, unless you’ve been raised in the feminist bubble and don’t want to acknowledge it. The entire second half of Slaughter’s article on how ways to change this dynamic just made me chuckle.

  30. John @ Easy Read Remotes
    John @ Easy Read Remotes says:

    I debunk this plan based on our personal experience with friends. Close friends got married at 23, first kid at 24, another kid at 26. Broke and foreclosed on by 28. Still back at Mom’s at 30.

    We, on the other-hand, married at 26, house, cars, motorcycles, remodel of house, travel, careers growing, with plans and savings for kids within our 30s. Logic is on our side. Young couples are not ready for kids in our generation, not financially anyway, at 25.

    • Katy
      Katy says:

      I agree that this generation is not prepared for adulthood in their 20’s – and I think if you read some of Penelope’s posts on her homeschool blog, the reasons become quite clear.

      People aren’t expected to grow up before 30 anymore, because public education and college is both useless/generalized AND “mandatory for the job market” – for the most part. Hopefully this is changing for my kids!

      (I’m 33, had 3 kids in my 20’s, and my engineering boring-ass career is doing just great.. I have a lot of angst I’m working out here..) :)

    • Debt Free Teen
      Debt Free Teen says:

      It’s a huge assumption to say that 25 year olds aren’t ready to be financially responsible. Age has much less to do with it than money management skills and being committed to staying debt free and avoiding college loans.

      I don’t know that I will get married that young but I want to freedom to have my wife stay home and raise our kids if that’s what she wants.

    • Jake
      Jake says:

      Her plan does not state that both partners are in their twenties. One would be older and established.

      Basically it was the marriage model that the middle & upper class operated in the 19th Century & earlier. Younger women marry older men that financially able to support them and a family

      • DK
        DK says:

        If that’s her recommendation, then why should women get married and have kids young? Why not make strides in their career, become financially stable, and then marry a younger man?

  31. Sarah Buhr
    Sarah Buhr says:

    I have to disagree. Men in their 30’s, money or not, do not look nearly as enticing as men in their 20’s. 30’s = gut and starting to bald and possibly part of the socially awkward leftovers that didn’t get married in their 20’s. I’ll take a late 20’s guy with earning potential and enthusiasm.

  32. ValterV
    ValterV says:

    “She wrote a breathtaking article in the Atlantic titled, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”

    NOBODY can have it all. This is true for men and women alike.
    A man having a huge career, won’t have much time to spend with his children.

    Life’s about balance: when you get more of something, you get less of something else.
    Many things in life are somehow mutually exclusive, including family and jobs: the more you devote yourself to a job, the less you are sharing your family life.

    The biggest lie and delusion of our modern time, is “having it all”. It’s a dream of omnipotency, but no human being is omnipotent.

  33. Richard
    Richard says:

    I grew up in the 70s when girls were always being told that they could do anything and everything, while we boys were given no encouragement. And this was in a backward, redneck town, mind you. What it was like in Boston or San Francisco I’ll leave to others. As I’ve discussed with my wife (who pointed me here), we dumb redneck boys realized that there was going to be a lot of work at home with a working wife, and we were going to be expected to do more if we got married. Small wonder that men are marrying later (if at all) and those who are promoted tend to be those with stay-at-home wives.

    Please understand I do not regret becoming a husband and father, but it has meant sacrifices, including for my career. This cuts both ways.

  34. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    One of my favorite things about your posts are the great links you provide to research and articles. That makes it all the more frustrating when you link to articles that allegedly support your thesis, when they clearly don’t.

    In your post about how divorce is stupid and why you decide to stay with the farmer to work things out for your kids, you link to research about the negative impacts of divorce on children. That same research clearly states that step-families “don’t count” as making a family whole again, and don’t mitigate the other negative impacts. So how then does this divorce research apply to your current family?

    And today’s post flatly contradicts an entire section of Slaughter article debunking the idea that having a high-powered career is “possible if you sequence it right.” Slaughter writes, “many women still ask me about the best ‘on-ramps’ to careers in their mid-40s. Honestly, I’m not sure what to tell most of them.”

    If you disagree with the authors you are linking to, it would be more interesting to explain why, rather than pretending support for your perspective exists where it just doesn’t.

  35. Katelyn
    Katelyn says:

    BA by 20, book by 21, baby by 22. This was my BBB plan. I got the degree on time.

    Now I’m 27, working on my book manuscript in a PhD program. (That’s what a good dissertation is.) I nannied for a few years after awful office jobs, thought it would be exactly what I wanted, and was miserable. It made me realize maybe I don’t want to stay home with kids. I only think that I want to have had them.

    People are bad at knowing what will make us happy and why. To find out, we have to try and try new things again.

  36. Heather
    Heather says:

    Love this topic! I was fortunate enough to meet the man of my dreams and got married by the time I was 23. Unfortunately, I’m very infertile and we had our first child by 29 and our next two when I was 38. The thing I love about my current job is how flexible it is with where I’m at and what hours I’m in the office or working. Otherwise I’d have no chance in hell continuing to be in my kids life and be able to do meaningful work. That said, I also am starting to see how some men struggle with balancing work and family. My DH is one of them. He wants to make sure he’s present and a good father, however, if push comes to shove and he has to travel for work, we all know I’m on the hook to make sure it gets done.

  37. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I’m of the opinion of doing whatever works for you individually and not following some timeline and trying to cram in a marriage that may not be right or have kids before you may be really ready just to have them by a certain time. I’m 32 (closer to 33) and just now marrying. Not sure if we even want kids, but we might a few years. Also my soon to be husband will be turning 50 four days after we get back from our honeymoon. He’s never been married before and has no children. Earlier, I just didn’t have the emotional maturity yet for marriage. I didn’t have a job that would allow me to move out of my parents’ house until I was almost 26 and I wanted to live on my own, by myself for a while before getting married to someone. In contrast my mother got married at 18, just three months after her high school graduation. This was mainly because my father wasn’t from the United States and had to go back to his home country. She had her children by the time she was 21. I can’t imagine doing that at 18 or even for the better part of my 20s. I didn’t know who I was or what I fully wanted then and only now, feel mature enough to handle marriage, much less children. I don’t think it would have worked out well if I’d married any earlier. Then again, I’m also not trying to be top dog at work. I’m a worker bee content to go in, put in my hours and then go home and leave work at work. I’m not trying to be boss, nor do I want to be. I’m perfectly happy with that. I may not ever make six figures, but I’d rather have a life and work to live instead of live to work. I may be slightly lazy too, so what? I know I couldn’t function well in the other areas of my life if I was just working all the time. My point with all this is do what’s right for you and if you want to follow the high powered career path then this may offer some things to think about on the way there, but women or men shouldn’t feel they have to get married or have children by a certain time if they aren’t truly ready for it.

  38. Gayle
    Gayle says:

    “There is no evidence that waiting longer than 25 makes a better marriage.”

    Where did you get that from? You linked to an article with that line that says the opposite.

    “This means that any woman who gets married before she turns 25 is about four times more likely to get a divorce. (Women in their 30s have even better odds of staying married.)”

    And the problem with your argument is that if you have kids by 25, you need to get married by 24, engaged by 23, and start dating your future husband by 22. And doing all that will significantly increase your odds of divorce — and being a single mother. That will harm your life, career, marriage, and happiness much more than if you just waited.

  39. Ashley A
    Ashley A says:

    I do think women can have it all. It just takes careful planning. We shouldn’t let men keep us down by pinning us at home. Kids take two to make and the village raises it. So why not be able to have a great career too. In fact Penelope has kids and a host of start ups behind her.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Are you kidding? You’re using me as an example of a woman who has had it all? I want to get on a building and scream from the top that I absolutely did not see my kids when I was running my last startup. I had two nannies because you have to have that if you travel with no notice.

      And when I stepped down as CEO of Brazen Careerist, and I got funding for another company, I said no. Because I went absolutely completely nuts trying to raise two young kids while I ran a startup.

      I am not an example of someone who has had it all. I’m an example of someone who is struggling to figure out how to be a hands-on parent and continue to have interesting engaging work so that I don’t die of boredom while I parent.


    • Deila
      Deila says:

      I think women do a great dis-service to other women when they say we can have it all. No one gets it all, and if they think they have it all, they are delusional as to what they are not missing. It does take two to make a baby, but that does not mean the two that made that baby should leave her/him to the village to raise. Really — it takes a village? That is so tiresome. Unless you are an inept mother, no one can replace you or the love you have for your child. Being a mother is so much more — it is just that you will not get the accolades from this society or its village.

  40. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    This is great advice for those women who want to be mothers. Not all of us do. And for those that don’t, it’s ok to admit it. Just because we have the equipment doesn’t mean we have to use it.

    I never had the urge to have children. At 44, I don’t regret that choice one bit.

  41. O
    O says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Date older men, marry young, don’t be unrealistic about “having it all.”

    I do see one potential snafu, though. Women aged 20 – 25 will have to marry someone 37 or above. I love dating older men, but would this be too old for some?

    Forget about men in their 20’s – Penelope’s right – they’re children. But now, due to birth control causing women to be consequence-free sex toys and promiscuity (both male and female) on the rise, most men aged 30 to 36 are still overgrown man children looking to shag a slew of 22 year old women consequence free. As we work to navigate what it means to be a sophisticated, modern day woman, these are the sorts of kinks we’ll have to get worked out.

    • channa
      channa says:

      Seriously. I’m 34 and all but one man I know who is my age is already married and/or has children already, or has egregiously disqualified himself from mate-worthiness.

      I also disagree that women in their 20s are more confident than in their 30s. Most of my circle of female friends agrees that contrary to stereotypes, we feel a lot more comfortable, confident and attractive post-29.

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      I don’t know what Penelope considers as older, but I never thought that a man had to be 10+ years older to be an “older man.”

      When I was 25, I dated a 33 year old. A 25-year-old could easily marry a 30-year-old without there being a significant age gap.

      I’m now 34 and my husband is 40. Yes, he’s older, but not significantly so.

      I think where some younger women mess up is only wanting to date a guy who’s 2-3 years older, at most, and not even considering a guy who might be about 5-8 years older. That could be the best of both worlds.

  42. channa
    channa says:

    Having kids at 25 might be a good way to prepare for a big career, but if you want a big LIFE, not so much… to me, living abroad and trying out a variety of jobs and relationships and basically enjoying the amazing, historically unprecedented freedom of being a childless western adult is worth the tradeoff of having kids in your 30s. What is the point of living in 2012 and being a hot, energetic 26 year old if you have to sit at home changing diapers and watching Dora?

    You don’t have to be a superwoman to marry a man who is willing to stay home with the kids. If you can get that you’re set… if you have what it takes to make the big career happen and you have someone to make the family happen, then you have it all.

    Of course you can’t help who you fall in love with but if you can go out of your way to find someone in a specific age bracket you can look for someone in a specific career bracket. More and more men are happy to do this.

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      I’m 34 now, and used to feel exactly the same way you do when I was in my 20s.

      Now I say all of those things that you mention as being part of a big “life” are highly overrated. I would have been more than happy to change diapers and watch Dora at age 26 versus 35.

      Having a multitude of relationships and dalliances (and their subsequent breakups) is extremely overrated compared to having one great marriage. Travel is great, but by the time I was 25, I had already been to nine countries and spent a semester abroad. Europe/Asia/Africa/South America/Australia aren’t going anywhere. I can get back there anytime, but I can’t have kids forever.

      Trying out a variety of jobs? Eh. It gets very old by the time you’re in your late 20s and you haven’t lived in the same place for more than three years and you aren’t exactly moving up the income ladder and your debt load is increasing.

      All of this “living life” talk does little more than extend adolescence into the 30s while preventing people from growing up emotionally and making sound choices that have more long-term impact on their futures than a bunch of failed relationships, a photo album from Europe and a bunch of going-nowhere jobs.

      • channa
        channa says:

        Funny, I’m 34 too and had my kids at 30 and 33. My life age 23-30 was a.m.a.z.i.n.g. I adore raising children but my experiences living abroad, networking, volunteering and pursuing graduate work are equally important to my sense of satisfaction and accomplishment with my life, and more importantly my feeling that I really understand the world and the things I care about. Asia is indeed going somewhere; the India and China of today couldn’t be more fascinating or more quickly changing. Agreed that Europe is not a great use of anyone’s time.

        A long adolescence is a well-deserved privilege considering that the careers of our generation should last well into our 70s. Child-rearing in my mid-thirties feels about right to me – but I have an intense career that I love and can dedicate myself to, thanks to a full-time stay-at-home husband.

        I truly feel like I have it all – exactly what feminists 40 years ago saw men having and wanted women to have a fair shot at. The point of Slaughter’s article was, how do we make this work equally well for two-career families? Having my children 5 years earlier doesn’t sound like a good solution to me. Age discrimination is a reality in the workplace – who wants to be the middle-aged lady competing with entry-level men?

        • Shannon
          Shannon says:

          Channa, when did you marry? It sounds like you do enjoy your life and have no regrets… that’s wonderful! But I get the impression that you did marry in your 20s, even if you didn’t have kids until your 30s.

          I’m having my first child now. Although I have a career (and plan to continue it), I jumped off the high-powered career track about 5-6 years ago. Many of my peers in my age range who listened to the be young, have fun, drink Pepsi advice when they were in their 20s regret it now (or at least are rethinking it).

          Mr. Right still hasn’t come along (or just showed up) and all they have is a bunch of failed relationships to show for it. These particular women all want kids, and are either facing fertility concerns or are considering whether or not they should do it alone before it’s too late. They have the high-powered, or at least, decent careers, and hate every second of them.

          All of that “self-fulfillment” they were encouraged to seek as a “well-deserved privilege” ain’t looking so wonderful anymore, and they feel they were sold a bag of goods… they would have been perfectly happy to marry and have kids in their late 20s, but were told they needed to “live life” first.

          I think the “live life” advice can be just as dangerous as the “have kids early” advice. There are accomplished and talented women who are perfectly fine forgoing “well-deserved privilege” and who would consider it more of a privilege to be raising children during the ages where other women are out “living life.”

          I think both options should be respected.

          • channa
            channa says:

            You are right – I married at 26 but I met my husband when I was only 21 and moved in together a year later. We had some flexibility in the relationship arrangements at different times but being together from such an early age was a big advantage when it came to having kids and logistical issues. I honestly don’t see how anyone can have kids without having spent 5++ years getting to know their spouse. Kids add so much stress to a relationship. I have always loved my husband but I don’t even want to think about what our relationship would have been like if we had kids when I was only 25 (he’s 3 years older.)

      • fiona
        fiona says:

        Great response, thank you for being candid! I think all this talk is just another demonstration of consumerism- try it all, grab it all, have it all!

    • Jake
      Jake says:

      With that game plan, you had better start looking specifically for the man that is willing to stay home with the children and who is not a complete loser.

  43. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Penelope, let me begin with saying that I am newer to your site and woo-wee, I’ve gotten lost here for the past hour. Shame on me for not allocating time in my week to reading your words. ;)

    I am indebted to you for bringing up this topic. I am 30, engaged, and am familiar with those 80-hour work weeks. My role is with a top communications firm and am no stranger to anxiety and stress with my role to which I’ve committed the past 8+ years of my life.

    In more recent years – might I add I did not have these thoughts in my early or mid-20s – my thoughts have wandered to having children (g-d willing) and being a mother. Point blank, there is NO WAY I would be able to lead a balanced, positive life with my current role with child and extend the type of loving care and dedication as my parents bestowed. While life is about how you handle what’s thrown at you, the impact and effect work travel, deadlines, last-minute projects, evening requests, evening conference calls, (the list goes on) would be, as you note, frankly impossible with child. This is not a foreign thought in my mind.

    I will note that there is the bitter undercurrent ping that the past years of grueling work with slip down the drain not to arise again, but I can only be confident that my skills would be applicable years down the road.

    As I gear up for the next chapter of my life (hopefully with a little one, two or three!), I see no alternative other than to leave my role to be the mother I want to be.

    After growing up in many ways, I’m OKAY with that.

  44. Mina Jiang
    Mina Jiang says:

    I have to disagree with your headline. Slaughter specifically recommends that women focus on their education and building their careers until they have established themselves (ideally by early thirties), and then focus on having all their kids asap. Despite the health/fertility risks of waiting to have kids until career is established (mid thirties), Slaughter felt that in today’s super competitive work environment, a woman who is trying to build her career for the first time in her forties (after having kids in her twenties) has almost no chance of being successful because she will be competing with much younger, pre-kids versions of herself. Better to get the education, degrees and career ramp up taken care of first. Then when you want to take time off to care for kids, at least you have the education, degrees, experience and connections as foundation for ramp up later down the road.

  45. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    Penelope, This is unrelated and maybe better suited for your Homeschooling Blog, but I thought you and your sons might be interested in this 9-year-old boy who is a budding entrepreneur in East L.A. Perhaps you can plan a trip there with your boys the next time you go to L.A.

  46. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I am a mother of 7 children (it will be 8 I just found out thats Im 8 weeks pregnant) ages 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, almost 2 and a 10 month old and I work full time as a tax policy analyst. I started having my children when I was 23, at university studying for a Law and Arts conjoint. By the time I finished my conjoint (6 years later – it should only take 5) and admitted to the bar, I had 4 children and was pregnant with my fifth.
    You may ask how the hell can I do this? The answer is simple – my husband. He supported my ambitious dream to juggle being a mother and student while he worked in a dingey, cold and wet factory processing timber to support our growing family, and when I graduated he agreed (without much convincing) that he would stay home to look after our growing brood so I could work full time, as he always dreamed of being able to walk his children to school (these days he drives them as there are too many).
    So yes it may seem selfish, but my husband is happy being home in a “job” where he sees the benefits of his hard work, I am happy as I get to exercise my brain power, and I go back to work after the baby is around 3 months old, and this works for us.
    My advice to others reading this column is – do what works for you and your partner/husband. No one age is perfect to have a child. We didnt get the chance to do an OE, and we wish we had purchased a house when we were just out of school and we were both working. But hey – we have 7 beautiful growing healthy children, we are (if not more) passionate about each other after 15 years together (cant you tell by the amount of kids we have?), and sure we struggle on one income -particularly after just buying a house in the last 6 months, but a bit of faith and a lot of love and appreciation goes a long way.
    My promotion to a senior analyst may be impinged in the next 6 months given I am going on maternity leave in about 7 months, but when Im back from having number 8 (and my tubes tied), I will work my way up, not just for me but to raise the living standard of my big little family.
    Feminist or not – it takes a village to raise a child, so in the same way I am dependent on my husband and he on me, if the support is there take it. But always remember to appreciate it! perhaps this is too simplistic…but seriously our lives are complicated enough!

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I think that the point Penelope is trying to make is that unless there is a full time caregiver for the children and someone to run the household this is very damaging to the whole family.

      So unless you either have a spouse (regardless of gender but it’s most often the women) to stay at home and look after the kids and run the household, or have enough money to pay people to do that all the time (like a house manager and a nanny(ies)) it just really crumples people emotionally and it’s hard to fully devote the brain power to career and family.

  47. Irene
    Irene says:

    How can I plan to have a child by a certain age?! There are zillions of factors out of my control: finding potential partner is problem N1, being in love and both wanting children, health, finances, psychological state/attitude (you need to WANT kids and sometimes it doesn’t happen till you are thirty), etc. Life is much more unpredictable and full of turns and twists that you cannot plan. So what good is an advice ‘Get pregnant by 25’?! First of all it is not useful for all women 26 and older. Secondly, even younger women cannot just go and get pregnant.
    I agree with the overall content, but there is no really any rule. You just go with what life gives you at a certain point of time and fell lucky if you sometimes have some choice.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I think it’s true but if this is your main goal when other competing opportunities come about you chose the “get married/have kids” one.

      I think that if people come across the career opportunities and there is zero opportunities to marry the one that fits you best and want to have babies with then there’s not much of a conflict. But when you have to choose between those two I think it’s always good to remember this advice.

      I fell into this situation sort of by choice and sort of by coincidence. But it was a close call. If I had read this blog then I would’ve taken my choices in stride rather than “fingers crossed let’s hope this is the best choice!”

      I got married to the love of my life. I just turned 25 in May and will be having my baby in Sept (or August if early). I am taking the plunge and working on commission from home. I am terrified. But I know that if it fails miserably I can always go look for a job; I finished my bachelors I will make it work.

      But it is a personal goal to build a career in counseling psychology. However, I do realize that it was a goal before I got married. I am NOT going to drag my husband and my little kid through the grind of finishing a masters, an internship (hardly paid) and the get-your-foot-in-the-door-crappy-job just for a personal goal.

      Once the kid is old enough that I don’t need to be there 24/7 I will make it happen.

      But it was a really close call because I was 20 when I began dating my now husband and knew he wanted to get married. But I was scared and almost moved to another city. I ended up deciding to stay because I really loved the guy and it’d just suck to have a long distance relationship. Best decision ever!

      If I didn’t have a boyfriend or fiance or anything I’d definitely move away and not wait but I am glad that when competing opportunities occurred I chose to stay and marry the love of my life.

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.