How to plan a career in your 20s to stay home with kids in your 30s

Forbes just published a survey that shows that 84% of working women want to stay home with kids . The new job that everyone wants is stay-at-home mom. This makes sense to me. It’s clear that women don’t want to bust through the glass ceiling, or they’d have done it by now. And it’s clear that men are not pulled by kids in nearly the same way women are, because women’s careers tank when they have kids and mens’ careers don’t.

So now that we are acknowledging that women aspire to stay home with kids, the question remains, “What should women do in their twenties to get to that life they want in their thirties?”

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, is famous for telling women don’t quit before you quit. She says women should see if they want to stay home with kids before they start fading out of the their work life. This is great advice for the 16% of women who don’t want to stay home with kids. But for everyone else, it seems very smart to start preparing to shift your work life to accommodate the shift in your identity to becoming a mom.

Here’s how to make that shift work for you:

1. Know your personality type.
Take this personality test. It’s free. And reading your score is like going to a fortune teller. It’ll tell you a lot about what it’s going to be like for you after you have kids.

If you are an INTJ or INTP you are most likely to not want kids. And if you have kids, it won’t be terribly difficult for you to compartmentalize and go to work during the day. If you are an ENTJ, less than 1% of all women, you are so performance-driven that you will likely keep working even after you have kids. For everyone else, it’s likely that you will want to stay home with kids. That’s where we get the 84% of women wanting to stay home.

Sidenote: The personality type that will have the most difficult time managing kids and a career is ENFJ because you are ambitious and also very committed, so you will struggle between commitment to work and commitment to kids and you’ll have a very hard time giving up either or feeling like you ever got it right.

2. Understand that your job performance is ephemeral.
For those of you who will fall into the 84%, understand that the life you have as a high performer at work (or a low performer) is going to end when you have kids. Priorities will change, and it will not matter that you are a high performer because you will not choose to sustain that when you have kids. Work is a place where you get external rewards for being smart and productive and a good team member. You do not get that at home. So you need to figure out how to get what you need in your twenties if you want to stay home in your 30s. Don’t get addicted to people telling you how great you are. You have to give that up to stay home with kids. Kids do not give performance reviews. They give tantrums.

The hardest part about leaving the workforce is not the money. That’s hard the first few months. Over the long haul, the hardest part is that you miss workplace accolades. Your identity as a strong performer at work will fade, because we don’t have a way to rank parenting skills. So be careful to not make top performer an identity that’s hard to give up. The harder it is to give up, the more you will be torn when you feel the urge to stay home with your kids.

Sidenote: Go to yoga. Learn to be with yourself because you like yourself instead of to impress people. Really. I’ve done Ashtanga for 15 years, and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how to get good at something because it feels good rather than because others believe you’re good.

3. Live below your means.
You know at age 23 if it’s likely that you’ll want to stay home with kids. Which means the minute  you get married you should adjust your spending for one income. This will always keep the door open for you to stay home with kids. The biggest reason that women who want to stay home with kids don’t is because the family has become dependent on the second income. Don’t let that happen.

So living below your means isn’t about frugality and savings. It’s about making sure you’ll feel like you can stay home with your kids.

Ways to get along on one income are living in a small house, living in a low-cost-of-living city, having friends who also live on one income. Because your sense of financial well-being is mostly dependent on you feeling as well off as your friends are.

4. Pick your spouse carefully.
If you want to stay home with kids, don’t marry a guy who can’t earn a living. If you want to stay home with kids, make it clear that even though you earn more than the guy, the guy will be the breadwinner. If you want to stay home with kids then you put all your financial hopes in the guy’s career. Whatever his earning ability is, then that is your earning ability, because you are a team, and he is the breadwinner.

Here’s something about stay-at-home moms: they all want full-time nannies. It’s indulgent, yes. But it’s nice. Really nice. I tell you this to let you know that if you marry rich, staying at home will be easier than if you don’t marry rich. But you already knew that.

Sidenote for women who don’t want kids. If you have even read this far: Even high-earning women want to be with men who earn more than they do.

5. Start freelancing before you have kids.
The best way to stay home with kids and not lose your mind from boredom is to pay someone to take care of your kids while you do freelance work. If you read the Forbes survey of women carefully, you can see that women want some sort of interesting work while they are home with their kids. This is also consistent with Pew Research surveys which find that most women with kids would like to stay home with kids and have some sort of part-time work on the side.

When you think plan remember that you should not plan to do anything more than break-even on this work. This is not moneymaking work. This is work that addresses the fact that you miss the workforce. You’ll miss accolades for a job well done. You’ll miss being paid to be smart. You’ll miss being thought good at what you do. Establishing a freelance career to address those needs is reasonable and do-able.

But you have to start early, before the kids start coming. Because once they’re here, you won’t have time or energy to build up a new business. That is a full-time job and you won’t want a full-time job. Freelancing with the clients you established is a very part time job. And that will make you happy. For every personality type there is a part-time track that will feel fulfilling to you. You just have to find it. Remember to be true to your type if you’re an S you need to be following rules, if you’re an N you need to follow your ideas. Learn your type and pick part-time work that caters to that, rather than striving to earn a lot of money.

6. Accept that you will fall behind.
Women are performing at a higher level at work than men are right now. So, statistically speaking, when you decide to stay home with kids, the people you were better than will start moving ahead of you. It will kill you. Prepare for this. It works best to think of your career as a time in your life. You were a high performer when you did it, but now it’s over. It’s like being the head cheerleader. You were great when you did it, but high school is over and you’re onto the next challenge.

The good news is that for women who hate work, and never find their place to fit in, everyone starts over when they have kids. No one has been a mom before, everyone has a new identity and you have a fresh chance to fit in and do well among the 87% who think staying home with kids is the ultimate job to have.


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  1. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    “The good news is that for women who hate work, and never find their place to fit in, everyone starts over when they have kids.”

    Thanks for adding this. Not everyone has a fulfilling career, or stakes their identity on it, even though we’re all told that we should.

    Bright side of grad school–there’s very little pay or praise to get used to! I’m quite excited to start the baby-raising years and dedicate my efforts to something I’m actually passionate about.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      I’m a Jungian snob as much as anyone else, but MBTI is not as deficient as it seems. Yes, if you think that *finding* one’s own or another’s *definitive* type is as simple as the MBTI dichotomies, then I agree with you. However, I find it funny that you feel like you can type someone simply based off reading their blog. True, you can determine a lot about a person through, writing, but not enough to think you can type them better than they can just because you think they don’t know anything about the Jungian functions. The functions are not as cut and dry as it seems like you think they are. They do not always manifest in the same ways. Life experiences (which are outside the realm of type–which is static throughout life) also plays a huge role.

      MBTI and JCF are not so different in that whether your top two functions have Te or Ti, it’s still “T,” it just depends on whether you are a J or a P, respectively. One who tests TJ on MBTI will likely also test high on Te on a JCF test. They are not *that* different. You don’t have to flaunt your brand new knowledge by taking an extreme stance. (Maybe you actually have known about JCF for a long time and just haven’t questioned your own understanding of it as it relates to MBTI).

        • Daniel Baskin
          Daniel Baskin says:

          Also, SJ and NJ’s are very similar in their tunnel vision. Ni and Si can both seem rigid. The difference is that an Si’s tunnel vision centers around conventional wisdom, whereas Ni’s tunnel vision centers around one’s own idiosyncratic views, to a fault, in most people’s eyes. Two Ni’s can disagree with each other and think the other is an S / Si because they are not “forward thinking” enough, if they have different visions of the future. Two Si’s can dislike each other and think the other is “weird” / “N” because they disagree on what is the proper / traditional / best / has stood the test of time way to see things.

    • Tommi
      Tommi says:

      I must disagree, Penelope seems to know herself well enough and the rest of her pretty brash categorizations (concerning for instance type, kids&work) seem to be in the right direction and sound very ENTJ to me.

      One of the reasons I read her is because I want to understand my wife better, she’s similar in type. And otherwise too.

      Btw, I have never met an ESTJ who is as turned on by type-theory as ENTJ:s may often be. It seems to be a really fantastic tool for them.

      Tommi, ENFP

  2. Louisa
    Louisa says:

    Because of your intellectual disillusion (if not plain dishonesty) and wishful thinking Karl Popper must be turning in his grave.
    You need to learn about logics and take classes in methodology in social sciences ASAP. Your reasoning is so shaky I don’t know where to start.

  3. Ruth Zive
    Ruth Zive says:

    I read your blog often. I love you a lot. I generally agree with your insights.

    BUT…the most exciting part of this read was learning that you are a fellow Ashtangi! I had no idea!!!

    Now I love you even more.

    Be my mentor, please?

  4. CL
    CL says:

    Mr. Money Mustache, a popular blogger, left the normal workforce with his wife around age 30. They got serious about #3 and lived way below their means when they were earning money at a full time job. They saved 65-70% of their income during their twenties.

    Now, they do work that they want to do, but they don’t worry about money. They can spend all the time they want with their 6 year old and they frequently volunteer at his school.

    • Jake
      Jake says:

      CL, If you look closely at the Mr MM’s history, they were not putting away 65% of their income. At most they were maybe doing half of that rate (which is still very good).

      Much of their success is due to timing. They had very good paying jobs (for twenty somethings) and they came into the job market just before the housing and stock market heated up.

      • CL
        CL says:

        You’re right – there are definitely times when they weren’t putting away 65% of their income. In the first few years, they aren’t saving at a high rate. However, in Year 6, they were putting away 58%. So while it may not be 65% consistently, it was more than half of that. Plus, they traveled a lot in those years. And now they spend very little money compared to when they were traveling to Australia and Italy. It’s still definitely possible to retire around 30 when you have children.

  5. C628
    C628 says:

    Great post! Everything you wrote here struck a chord in me except i have one brewing concern regarding your point on planning to work part-time just enough to break even point; and that is the risk that one day, we are put in a situation where we become a single parent in the family due to a sudden unfortunate event (ie. death, disability). Sure, there can be insurance payments to help carry your family financially for a time, but that cannot be a source that that can be solely relied on. The risk averse part of me is inclined to mitigate that risk by working more than a break even point, if at least as to the extent that it is more psychologically comforting to think I would still be capable of making money to support a family should circumstances require me to become a breadwinner, not just bc I miss the accolades of professional life. (also think I am more attuned to this risk nowadays bc I have seen this happen to women I know- and whom have young children and were previously stay at’s heartbreaking and scary to think that could happen to me too). Any thoughts on how to address this?

  6. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    Everytime you write variations of this message, you depress/distress the crap out of me. What do you advise for 31 year old ENFPs in the midpoint of their career with sizable school debt and no savings, who are unmarried but in love with a guy who is talented but not rich. What’s the strategy for these gals who want to stay home? I am an N but I want you to tell me/them what to do :)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, this is pretty much the situation I had when I was 31. I have been the breadwinner forever. And I have been married twice, both to men who are very talented at really cool things and don’t make a lot of money.

      It’s a tradeoff. It’s a fun to marry a man who does something artistic etc that is fascinating but doesn’t earn a lot of money. Those men are so interesting and often they are so attentive.

      A guy who loves doing his high-earning work is not going to be as available at home as a guy who is not as involved in his career.

      You have to choose. Do you want a guy who is at home part-time? Then you only get to be at home part-time, too, because you both have to earn money.

      In my case, I have interesting work and I get to stay home with my kids, and I have a husband with a really cool job. But i give up financial stability. I get overwhelmed with earning money and I take a break. And then I earn a lot and then I take a break.

      None of us can have everything. The smartest of us are very conscious and careful about what we choose to give up. You should give up what feels okay to you to give up.

      I can give up financial stability because I am able to cope with the nonstop, low-grade pressure of not knowing where I’ll get money week to week. Someone else would be able to cope with the constant low-grade pressure of not knowing when they will get to spend a whole day home with their kids.

      We each pick to give up what we can handle giving up. You have to do that, too.

      Also, do it fast. You’re 31 and you want kids. It’s time for you to make decisions!


      • Joselle
        Joselle says:

        I am married and pregnant. My husband doesn’t make a lot of money but he financially supports us entirely. He’s done it for 3 years while I’ve been in school and school didn’t bankrupt us because I go to an Ivy–they have tons of money–and we’re sorta poor so I got mostly grants and scholarships. I plan on staying home with the babe for at least a year before having another kid or working part-time as a nurse. I am 32. I have a previous degree and worked In the corporate world for a few years until I decided I was more a nurturer and hated work. I eventually plan on making money writing (the shit show that is nursing school is a memoir), the only thing I’ve ever loved doing. But for now, I’m focusing on being a mom and got backup skills as a nurse in case my husband loses his job. We live in a city with a lower cost of living, don’t have cars or iPhones and are frugal about most things. I am living proof that you can redesign your life in your 30s and stay home even if you’re not rich. Sure, I wish we were but you can live in one income, even if it’s small.

      • Kristin
        Kristin says:


        I realize this is stupidly belated, and I’m sorry about that. I want to thank you for responding to my comment with spot on, tough love. Thank you.

        I wish words delivered like a slap in the face actually came with a slap in the face — I need the adrenaline rush to keep playing this stupid shell game.

    • Mel
      Mel says:

      I’m a 31 year old ENFP too. Luckily, I don’t want kids so I don’t have to beat myself up over all this cr*p like other women have been conditioned to.

  7. jim
    jim says:

    Sorry. Normally I enjoy your posts and find them thought-provoking at the least. But this one gave me pause. Where is the data to suggest that the Meyers-Briggs test is predictive. Most of the data I have read about its use states it is best used as a sorting mechanism. To use the personality types to predict someone’s life choices is specious, at best.
    Nowhere in the Forbes article, and yes I read it, did it mention men being surveyed. In other words, 84% of women would stay at home? Ok, how many men would if they could? Probably not as much as women for a variety of reasons, but I would guess there are more men out there who would make that choice, if we had it.
    Ultimately in a marriage both partners have to make their best decisions for their interests and that of the marriage whether that is child raising or anything else. To tell women that, if you want kids you basically need to find a high-earning guy, strikes me as a bit sexist. But that is just me.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      There is great data that Myers Briggs is predictive of what you will want. It’s all here, from this company.

      If it weren’t predictive of what we want, why would people even use it? Almost all Fortune 500 companies give Myers Briggs tests (or similar type tests) to new employees to predict what the employee will want to do at the company based on what the employee will be good at.


      • Stephen J.
        Stephen J. says:

        “The research comes from asking people who choose not to have kids what their type is.”

        Sorry — you just invalidated the whole point of the survey, by putting the statistical cart before the horse. Without knowing how many people who *do* have/want kids are also INTPs/INTJs, that’s a correlation, not a demonstrable causation.

        I have been an INTP most of my life, although depending on my self-image at time of survey I’ve occasionally veered over into ENTP or INFP, and I have *always* wanted kids. The birth of my son marked the day I felt I could call myself a grown-up.

        • Daniel Baskin
          Daniel Baskin says:

          (Sorry, last comment, I promise). Are *you* using anecdotal evidence? I’m INTP as well and want kids, but that doesn’t mean INTP’s are generally just as likely (as say SJ’s and SP’s) to want kids.

          I agree that just asking the type of what people are who don’t want or have kids doesn’t consider the uncontrolled variable of those that are INTP with kids. But consider that INTP’s are no more than %5 of the population, and INTJ’s even less % (the average is 6.25%). If these types are well represented in the survey of non-kid-wanters, then how many would be statistically left in the pool of INTP kid-wanters?

        • Rachel G
          Rachel G says:

          I hope that that is not actually where that statistic comes from!

          (Did you hear the one about the non-statistician who walked across a lake with an average depth of 3 feet? He drowned.)

      • Tzipporah
        Tzipporah says:

        Well, I’m an INTJ who wanted kids until I had one. Then I realized what I wanted is to have adult children when I’m old. So now I just need to wait another decade or so for The Kid to grow up and move out – long time to live with a bad choice.

        • LadyBird
          LadyBird says:

          Well, I remember taking MBTI a few years ago as part of a training program at work, and clearly remember coming out as INTJ. I just took it again and apparently I am now a ESPF !

          Anyway, I have always hated kids since my childhood and if there was one thing I was sure of, it is that I didn’t want children. I thought my husband always wanted children but he would tell me he was cool with or without kids after a few years of marriage . I thought he was just being nice though he still wanted kids. But as I grew older and mellowed and we spent several years as a couple, I really thought I wanted a child of our own and we had our daughter when I was in my mid 30’s.

          What happened after her birth has taken both me and my husband by surprise. I was never the nurturing type and never liked kids but I cannot bear the thought of leaving her in somebody’s else’s care to go back to work. I have become a proponent of attachment parenting, my high flying corporate career be damned. Call it nature, hormones, instinct or whatever. I often think that if I had stuck to my original plan and not had a child, I would always continue to think that I am not missing out on much and am doing the right thing.

          So bottom line is that you change as a person and at different stages of your life, you can actually want different things. Nothing is cast in stone and you often surprise yourself to the point of thinking ‘Is this really me ?’. You cannot really plan your life according to some prototype and you can at best make informed choices depending on what you want at a given point of time in life.

  8. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Great post and so true. It has taken me 3 years to figure out how to work and keep my kiddos with me at home, and I am so glad I stuck to my guns. The breakeven idea also makes sense. It is not about becoming wealthy, it is about investing in your family and yourself. I am just grateful it is working for us. My kids are the better for it.

  9. AJ
    AJ says:

    Very interesting… I have taken several Myers-Briggs and I sometimes am ENTJ and sometimes INTJ. I have also worked outside of the home since my son was an infant, and couldn’t imagine it any other way. I was under intense familiar pressure to be a stay at home mom, and I knew that it wouldn’t be a fit for me. Interesting that I’m part of the “16%” of woman for whom that may be the case!

    • Helen W
      Helen W says:

      Wow, I’m the same! I have taken the myers-brigg i think everytime Penelope has linked to it and I also get either INTJ or ENTJ. My own experience was that after having one child, I went back to work after my mat leave was up, feeling ambiguous. I wasn’t dying to stay home, and wasn’t really looking all that forward to going back to work either (I was home for six months). It is so true when Pen says our types can easily compartmentalize work and home in their boxes. I always knew I would have kids (actually thought I’d have more than one), but never felt a strong longing for another child, nor a strong aversion to it either. My reasons for having only one had to do with developmental issues my son had when he was younger and it worried me to the point of not having a larger family. I look back with just a bit of regret now that I am too old to have that second one, but it is never more than a passing “what if” every blue moon. Funny, now I get why I was like that about motherhood, light bulb moment here!

  10. roberta
    roberta says:

    This post bothers me. In this economy is it even an option to stay at home? Is everyone rich in your world? Unless one moves off the grid, lives in a yurt, grows all their own food, how sustainable is this? And if all the women want to stay home, why are they taking up so many slots in the medical schools? They drop out? We have no doctors? If this is the new world, count me out.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      Don’t accept what you are fed (informationally / as to what is convention). You can make it work if you are willing to break enough societal rules.

      • My honest answer
        My honest answer says:

        This. I’m often told by friends they ‘can’t afford not to work’. What they really mean is, they can’t afford expensive cars and big houses unless they work. That’s a huge difference.

        • Karen
          Karen says:

          Or maybe they need to work because it keeps them interesting to themselves and to their husbands and to their children. Nothing wrong with not working but I gotta tell you, I know men who want their wives to work because they want to be married to a certain kind of woman. I know men who don’t want their wives to work because they want to be married to a certain kind of woman.
          I really believe keeping yourself interesting and keeping your marriage interesting is a good thing for your kids.

        • Pirate Jo
          Pirate Jo says:

          Median annual earnings per U.S. wage-earner is only $25,000. Two people working to each earn that are not going to be buying fancy cars or expensive homes. You might argue that they cannot afford to have children either, but that doesn’t seem to stop most people.

    • Dave
      Dave says:

      My experience has been that you find a way to make your life work with the income you have and maybe some luck and help from family and friends. We own a beautiful home in the city of Boston and are raising 3 kids on one income of around 80k. It can be done but there is no room for extravagance.

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      I agree. This whole post is written for a very narrow (and fortunate) slice of the population. It only applies to women who are able to marry a man who is earning well above the median national income at a fairly early stage in his career (or is much older than her), has a career with very unusual benefits, or has substanital inheritted wealth. As a practical matter (i.e. excluding the odd outliers) this means graduates of top universities (and more often than not has a graduate degree too) who went into well compensated lines of employment. Further, unless the couple is quite risk acceptant, it better also be a fairly stable job too – it would be very risky of a woman to drop out of the labor force If her husband faced a substantial risk of unemployment or imprisonment. (Death or disability of the wage earner can be insured againt, but even still insurance against anything much beyond Social Security level benefits is generally not free.) She also needs to be quite sure she will not end up divorced.

      The other career option this post doesn’t examine is government employment. This is quite attractive to mothers who want out of the rat race, as after a few years of employment, the performance standards to keep an income and very good benefits are often quite modest. While performing a government job while caring for children is certainly more demanding than being a stay at home mother, they are much more realistic aspirations for most women than marrying a husband able and willing to provide for her and the children. After all, the supply of twenty and thirty-something single men able and willing to provide for a stay at home wife and children is quite limited and the competition for them is pretty fierce, especially for women who are not well above average in eduction or attractiveness.

  11. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    “If you are an INTJ or INTP you are most likely to not want kids.”

    I agree with this, but I must add that if you are one of these types and you do want kids, then it’s because you consciously, philosophically, REALLY want kids because you’ve determined that this has been deemed an important aspect of the life you want to live.

    Number 3 is important to me. And number 4 goes hand-in-hand with this for me, because she led me to think more in line with number 3.

    On a related note, we were watching “House Hunters” yesterday and just cringing at the complete lack of perspective / just falling into the rules or convention placed in front of the buyers. All the houses are boxes (rather, post 50’s “modern” architecture), too big, awful feng shui, and in a bad environment (like next to a freeway). Anyway. We’re trying to find a small plot of land to build a tiny house so we can live there until we can build a final house on a better plot. This is all so number 3 can work.

  12. Diane @ DixieJulep
    Diane @ DixieJulep says:

    I actually think #2 is good advice for all parents. If you’re used to measuring yourself against high grades and high reviews, it’s a bit unsettling when you realize that there’s no one “right” answer to any parenting question and you probably won’t know how well you did for another 18 or so years. Even when you have work in your life, the uncertainty of first-time parenting can do a number on your confidence if you let it.

    P.S. – INTJ working mom here :)

  13. Meghan
    Meghan says:

    Well isn’t that my luck: I have a one-year-old and just got an awesome new job that I’m dying to throw myself into, but I’m an ENFJ.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      ENFJ here who struggles like hell with balance. Penelope posted an article a while ago with a genius paragraph about a career not just being about upward mobility from the time you are 22-65. Some years it could be about a planned descent. Some years it could be about maintaining. Some years it might be all about some major professional goal and spending less time on parenthood. If you’ll notice too, Penelope says she works to make money and then she takes a break. I think the trick is to realize that women have the most power in their 20’s to set the stage for all these things. In your 30’s, it’s harder. In your 40’s, it’s a lot harder.

  14. SpinnerHawk
    SpinnerHawk says:

    This is a lot of yadda yadda. Women:get married young to a quality male and have kids. Make the kids your job and forget a job in the traditional sense. Men (and not boys masquerading as men) have adapted to providing for his woman and children.

    Executive summary: Women need to marry a quality man, not a boy. Then have children and make them your job.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    You all need to read jungian functions and get past this surface crap that is MBTI. Once you understand the jungian functions, from which Myers Briggs derived their superficial letter system from, then you can see its manifestations.

    For example I see referenced here in various places that Penelope typed herself as INTJ or ENTJ or whatever. From reading these blog posts, I don’t see it. The extroverted thinking preference is clear, which indicates that you are some sort of XXTJ, but not much that points to an iNtuition type. There are more stuff pointing to XSTJ instead. People are also getting caught up in letter dichotomies. For example it is possible to be ENTP and prefer alone time or have an antisocial bent.

  16. Mary
    Mary says:

    What about those of us in our early 20s who are just trying to figure out who we are! How do I plan for the future and make these decisions so young and clueless! I’m 22, almost 23 year old ESTJ or ENTJ (or something else entirely?) and just began living with my INTP boyfriend pursuing his PhD (his research is simulation/theory based). He wants to stay in academia and do research – It is so so true what you said about the more artistic types doing fascinating work and also being more attentive/sensitive – but not necessarily being a super high earner. I’m sure he’ll do well, but definitely not the stereotypical “rich” super high-earner type. I feel like I exactly relate to what you mentioned in a response to another post about deciding what to give up. Do I want to be with someone who I find so interesting and exciting and understands my thinking- but maybe not provide an extravagant lifestyle where I can stay at home with kids comfortably without working?… or be with someone who is not as available but provides a super comfortable lifestyle where I wouldn’t have to work? To me, the second sounds more boring. I think I would need to continue to do some type of work. But we’ll see.

    The thing is, us young 20s don’t really have it all together to make these decisions when it matters! Life just happens! I’m sure when I’m 30 or 40 something I’ll look back and it will be so clear the perfect path to achieving work/life/love/kids balance – the challenge is figuring out how to take these steps now when they matter and really understanding how each decision will affect other parts of your life, etc (but how can you ever really know!). As always, I loved the post- so thought provoking and really does the hit the nail on the head for issues to be thinking about in early twenties!

  17. Pamela @RedWhiteandGrew
    Pamela @RedWhiteandGrew says:

    Love this. I use True Colors in my own how-to-homeschool workshops (and my forthcoming book) along with a couple of other techniques picked up from my years as a career adviser. Those sorts of contemplative exercises tend to lead to multiple revelations about lifelong learning. Really great advice. Off to share it on Pinterest.

  18. Anastasia @ eco-babyz
    Anastasia @ eco-babyz says:

    I’m amused by the comments :) I agree with your post, for the most part. Thankfully when I was 20 I knew that I would want to stay home with kids, got married at 23 right after college – had a nice career. Wasn’t fanatic about my job or being a career woman – even though I did mostly like what I did (Interior Design). Had my first child at 25, stayed home since. Had my second last year. I work from home, nice side income, not yearning for the work force the least bit. To the commenters: you don’t have to be rich to stay home or have a high earning husband! We have a modest income and manage to live within our means. Little by little we’re paying off debt. Sure we have no iPhones, iPads, fancy cars, not even a second car, no large home in a prime town, but we get to spend our time with our kids! It usually takes some life altering event for some people to realize that your career isn’t everything, earning enough to buy stuff isn’t everything. If you have read the biography of this blogger, you’ll know that she went through a life altering event – being present at 9/11 – all priorities change when something like this happens to you. It pains me to see so many kids, entire generations, raised by daycare workers and public schools – seeing their parents for a couple of hours a day and getting mere minutes of actual quality time with them. Who will teach them character? Love? Peers? The prisons are full with those who listen to their peers instead of parents.

      • Karen
        Karen says:

        I went to school with a lot of wealthy no good kids in high school. Their parents had the money to bail them out. The more money you have, the more cushion you have. Doesn’t mean you’re a better person. Doesn’t mean you didn’t do a bunch of illegal mess, it just means you had more of a support system to keep you out of jail. Wealthy hard working people raise no good kids all the time.

    • Tzipporah
      Tzipporah says:

      “It pains me to see so many kids, entire generations, raised by daycare workers and public schools”

      Why does no one ever worry about all the children getting medical care from doctors instead of from their loving parents? There are some occasions when it really is best to leave things to the professionals.

      • Micha Elyi
        Micha Elyi says:

        Why? Because most Ed and School of Social Work students are dummies and most Pre-med and Med school grads are super-smart and studied a very tough program for a lot longer than the dummies, that’s why.

        When the government passes a compulsory attendance law that makes us go to hospitals and doctors offices on pain of penalty and those hospitals and docs pass out free goodies, get back to me. Until then, we parents have no reason to be impressed by anyone’s teaching or social working credentials.

  19. redrock
    redrock says:

    The 84% is only statistically meaningful if we know how the pool of participants was selected. It was a pretty small pool of 1000 or so, which makes it hard to derive a general conclusion. And, the participating partner driving the study were thebump (which I am not convinced has an entirely unbiased agenda).

    And, no, overcoming the so-called “glass ceiling” is not only a question whether you want to or not. It is a much more complex issue.

  20. Steph
    Steph says:

    This works, it’s the story of my life so far. As an enfj I married a infp. We met at 26, worked had fun and saved over $300,000, by living below our means. At 30 had our first of three boys. Of course my personality forced me to stay home and unschool the children while doing the equivalent to free-lance. I am also very idea driven and have helped “start-up” a variety of community based support networks. My partner is my “perfect match” personality and I approach our marriage as a if we are running a successful business. My ability not to work as helped him out earn anything we would have believed possible in our 20’s. People always say, “You’re lucky”, but I’m an enfj, and I respond to them with, “No, I’m just smart”. Thanks Penelope, you are spot on!

  21. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    I find this fascinating, for many reasons but most of all because when I was at business school there was a LOT of talk about how some enormously disproportionate percentage of the class was ENTJ. I have never, ever seen the statistic that this is less than 1% of all women. How incredibly fascinating and telling. I think a lot of your advice is both practical and sage. I work mostly part-time but very flexibly in a career that I started out in by taking a backseat kind of job when I graduated from business school, well before I had kids. I do sometimes wonder what might have been had I really tried for a “real” career, but I also really love the flexibility I have now. Who knows.

  22. Jim
    Jim says:

    No worries. It is just that I have had several practioners/researchers over the years tell me the Meyers Briggs is best used for sorting rather than prediction. That its predictive ability is questionable at best. I don’t know why corporations use it. Obviously those that do use it feel it is worthwhile. But I am not sure it isn’t self-fulfilling.
    As others have stated, my experience has been that my results change depending on when I have taken it. I test to about three types whichever way the wind blows.
    I would not chose to not marry a woman if she told me she was an intj, for example. If our goals and values, and attraction, were such that we agreed to make it work, I wouldn’t care what her type, or astrological sign, or hair color, or the size of her feet were.
    But more importantly, I feel each couple needs to make their own decisions and choices with what works for them. If that means women in their twenties all need to go find a wealthy guy, and if they can find such a guy when they are young, great. Maybe that is the ideal. But life is rarely ideal. I have known women whose great guy never appeared and they ended up adopting, or having in vitro. In cases this didn’t happen until their thirties or forties. Or , yes, the guy stayed home to raise the kids. You may not think it the norm or wise but it does happen.
    In any case, your posts are always provoking and insightful.

  23. sas
    sas says:

    Awesome piece, Penelope!

    What you wrote completely resonates with my experience. I’m an ENTJ. After my son was born, the option of slowing down or staying-at-home NEVER crossed my mind. If anything, I opted to take on more responsibilities at work and eventually a higher-paying position that keeps me very engaged. Couldn’t be happier.

  24. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    This sounds like a pretty miserable plan. Marry a guy with money instead of an interesting person so you can stay home with kids. No thanks. But of course this sounds awful to me because I’m an INTP that doesn’t want kids.

  25. Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel
    Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel says:

    Well done. As usual, I love where the comments are going. Interesting debate about the merits of Meyers-Briggs. At any rate, your advice came to me as I head down the backside of a career (meaning ten years to retirement or so). I read your column because your thoughts and ideas are good ones, and very important especially for woman making choices early on. For me, it helps me understand why I made my choices. I am an NTJ and 50/50 split with E/I. Never thought about having kids, until I had one. After that I thought, DANG, why didn’t I realize having kids was so cool (bad word but I can’t do the paragraph on why being a parent has totally changed me)? At that point, I was what I was and made the best of it. Luckily I am far enough along at work, that I can also focus on my kid, and I am reconciled to the fact I won’t get any farther. Took a little while but I am reconciled.

  26. pam
    pam says:

    How about some advice for someone turning 50, who did the career thing then stayed home with the kids for 10 years, and has been stagnant back in the workplace for 8 years and maybe wants to switch careers.

  27. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I agree with you completely on the above – except that I’m not sure everyone feels this way quite so much these days. Putting that aside, there’s one thing that I believe goes against what you have said else.

    Of course this is only my experience.

    I was home with kids for 4 years, then worked part-time for another 6. Went back full time in my 40s and am now an executive. (BTW, I would still have liked to stay home and have more kids, wasn’t financially possible.)

    Here’s the thing. If you need to go back into the workforce at 40, that graduate school degree you’ve derided turns out to have A LOT of value. It’s sort of a certificate that says, Being A Mom Didn’t Make Me Stupid.

    Just saying.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      First of all, it’s insane to think you have to prove that being a mom does not make you stupid. If you are smart before you have kids, you are smart after you have kids. Duh.

      Also, there is absolutely no evidence that people with strong careers before they have kids have trouble re-entering the workforce. The people who have trouble working after they stay home with kids are the people who had trouble working before they had kids.

      There is a comment above, about what if you have to support yourself for some reason, after you quit to stay home with kids.

      And the answer is that if you could support yourself before you started staying home with kids, you can support yourself after.

      There is absolutely no evidence that women with good careers before kids have trouble re-entering the workforce after kids. You re-enter a little lower than when you left, but so what? You regain what you lost quickly.


      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        I found that my MBA from an Ivy League institution helped substitute in for career experience I hadn’t had yet when I left the workforce.

        • Daniel Baskin
          Daniel Baskin says:

          Yes, but this blog’s criticism of graduate degrees is mostly centered on MBA’s and humanities degrees with the specification that it only matters if it’s from an Ivy League school.

  28. Diamond Richardson
    Diamond Richardson says:

    Hi, Penelope

    This was a really interesting post. I do however, have to disagree about every personality type other than the ones you listed wanting to stay home with kids. I am an INFJ. I do want children, but I have no desire to be a stay at home mom for an extended period of time. I also have a close friend who is an INFJ who has no desire to either. Of course we could be the exceptions :)


    • Ann
      Ann says:

      Interesting. I am INFJ, still not sure if I want kids, but if I do have them, there’s no way I’m going to be climbing a corporate ladder.

      • Diamond
        Diamond says:

        Hi, Ann

        Great to see more INFJ’s commenting on this post! I do think I am an a-typical INFJ, as I am extremely driven by career-related success and achievement. Not that it is the end goal of my entire life, but it motivates me. I think a lot of that comes from my being an athlete for 10 years, four of those competing at a D1 school, so I grew up learning how to be comptitive and driven to acheive specific goals! Athletes never truly loose that, I believe. For many, it transfers to their career aspirations, as it did me.


  29. Karen
    Karen says:

    I had to laugh that most women would like to stay home but to have full time help. Isn’t that “having it all”? Raising your kids and getting to enjoy the emotionally fulfilling part but outsourcing the chores of raising kids (the laundry, the meals, bathing, combing out the knots in my daughter’s hair, homework, etc.) It’s a great situation if you can get it, but most women in the U.S. can’t afford it.
    (Unless they have a dedicated mother or mother-in-law who plays this role willingly) This is a conversation about “class” and creating strategies to stay in a certain financial class. I’d bet most men and women would like to work with a professional assistant — someone to outsource all the chores of work, so they could enjoy the parts they’re best at. The other thing is women who don’t work have to have a husband who cannot only support them financially but a husband who is not a jerk.
    If you have a husband who has money but who is a creep — you’re stuck in a different kind of way. You’re trapped because you have creature comforts that are too good but you’re living with a jerk.
    Being at home in the U.S. with full time help where you have no income or little income and he makes all the money — hmmh. Sounds like that woman doesn’t have tons of leverage or power.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The leverage and power stay-at-home moms have in the US comes from divorce law. Women are seen as valuable contributors to the family even if they don’t bring in money, and they are entitled to money in a divorce.

      I’m not saying that women should get a divorce. In fact, I think divorce is a big cop out. But I do think that solid, fair divorce laws enable people to feel more secure in marriages — however they set that marriage up. Because US divorce laws are generally 50/50.


      • phase
        phase says:

        The reason divorce laws are 50/50 is to encourage women to divorce so the attornies/judges, real estate agents, etc. will have steady streams of income. And also to increase throughput by minimizing the number of long, agonizing court trials. Ba da bing, ba do boom. Surely you don’t believe the government players give a rat’s ass about either party in the divorce?

  30. Phase
    Phase says:

    Some guys want to stay home with the kids, too. Take my situation. My ex-wife found a good half-time job working nights (while also working full time days) in 2003, before we had kids. When our first kid was born, she quit her full time job. Fast forward to 2010: she raised the two kids alone 5 days a week while I earned a lot (so we could eventually afford a bigger house), and I raised them 5 nights every two weeks while she earned a little. The kids were always with a parent, never in daycare. I thought she had it pretty good, until she decided that I wasn’t “there” for her emotionally. She signed up for Facebook and started cheating. Needless to say, we made some adjustments. The Court helped her understand what was fair for the kids. Now, she lives in an apartment, while I have a new low-interest mortgage on the family home (not to mention a lot more closet space). The kids are with her half the time, and only 3 nights per week. And, drumroll please … she has to work as many hours as me (we’re now both at 32 per week). Only bad part is I still have to send her money each month (because I earn a lot more per hour), which was tough at first, but after a year of this I’m realizing the reason divorce costs men is because IT’S WORTH IT!

  31. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I’m an INTJ who wants kids. I will stay at home and work.

    I find it ironic that the moms who want to work are seen as less traditional than the moms who want to stay at home and cater to their kids’ every whim. The recent industrial revolution is the only reason it’s possible to even have the choice to stay at home and do nothing but follow your kids around the house. In many countries today, and everywhere 150 years ago, it’s normal for the mom to stay and work at home. Kids work at home too. They are important, but they are not little members of royalty. That is how I plan on balancing motherhood and work, by being a normal traditional mother who teaches her kids to contribute to the family or at least be capable of playing by themselves once in awhile. I will not be playing with my kids all day. That doesn’t seem conducive to being a good person, for me or them.

    • Jake
      Jake says:

      Just as many brats come out of homes of duel income families as from single income families. Parenting approach (or lack of) rather than mother’s income drives the outcome

  32. Mrs. Thomas
    Mrs. Thomas says:

    So grateful that you wrote this honest piece! I have been trying to figure out how to prepare my two teenage daughters to combine new realities (career) and old joys (parenting).

    I had started writing a list of family-friendly careers for women that allow them to build up a head of steam in their twenties and thirties so they can switch to freelance or part time during child-bearing years. So far, I’m heavy on writing/editing, and home health services.

    What other ideas do you all have for specific career choices that work for women? I’d love to see a big, long list!

  33. Ann Stanley
    Ann Stanley says:

    The best thing about this great post for me is giving me a way to think about my 17 year old daughter’s desire to meet a rich husband and have a baby. I was initially gobsmacked by this dream of hers, and put it down to a generational reaction. I was born in 1962 and encouraged by my mother to get a career so as to have choice (and equal power to a man). My daughter was born in 1995 when I was 32 (having spent my 20s pusuing work and avoiding marriage). She’s gen Z, whatever that is, and I’m an old baby boomer or young gen x. I’m INFP and she’s possibly ESFJ. This post and what I already know is helping it all make sense to me.

  34. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    You do yoga. I just love you even more.

    Ashtanga is demanding. Do you jump through your arms to transition? I’m asking because I’m tall (5’10+) and –based on the photos I have seen, am built similar to you.

    I cannot tuck my legs enough to jump through my arms. Plus– I don’t like the feeling of falling, so inversions and balance poses are where I meet my edge.

    Excellent advice. I’m sending this to my little sister who needs all this PRECISELY NOW.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have long arms. I think that helps. But I had a teacher who told me the jump throughs are mostly about belly muscles. That advice helped me. Maybe it will help you.


  35. Starla Dearest
    Starla Dearest says:

    A certain amount of planning is ok, but i wouldnt stress about not having a plan either. Life is extremely unexpected and it can get you down when things don’t go to plan, so live more in the now, and practice your ‘winging it’ skills! For those in their twenties I would say, just be open to opportunities and always strive for balance.

  36. Irene
    Irene says:

    I bet you looked at the demographics of people reading your blog and now are trying to write posts for 20-years old. Firstly, I am unsubscribing from it. Secondly, it’s very easy to give advice with a benefit of hindsight (and based on your own mistakes.) But the truth is that the young ones will make the same mistakes as we all did, and your advice is useless for them.
    Not to speak about the fact that your blog is more driven by marketing, SEO, sensationalism and artificial provocative posts, that have little substance grounded in reality. There is nothing authentic left. Therefore I will not be contributing to the growing reading audience of this blog – commercialization is against the whole idea of blogging!

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      “…[your blog has] little substance grounded in reality.”

      Is not that disagreement the epitome of the difference between someone who sees the world as it is (Si) versus someone who sees the world as it could be (Ni)?

    • Jake
      Jake says:

      Shouldn’t all experienced based advice involve hindsight?

      Maybe most of the twentysomethings will probably ignore the advice. But it should give them something to think about – – especially the living below your means.

      Once the golden handcuffs on your wrist, it takes a lot to get them off and they can control many aspects of your life. It is really about freedom of choice. This is just one option that many families want but can not have due to money constraints.

      • Helen W
        Helen W says:

        I have some twentysomething nieces and nephews who I want to shake some sense into. It is extremely scary to see how willing they are to get into huge amounts of debt at such young ages. You are right, they do not listen. I was just like them and let me tell you, if I were to do it over again, I would approach my finances a lot differently! Ah, what can you do, those golden handcuffs don’t become apparent until it is too late.

  37. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    P, this is the one post of yours that I wish I hadn’t read. I think the data is skewed; the 84% is women who feel that staying home is a luxury. That part I believe. But you’re skimming the blog sites and getting a very skewed view of the world. I think this happens to all of us. Because if women really wanted to stay home, we would.

    You’ve covered this topic again and again. Time to move on.

    Hugs to you and yours. And Shanah Tovah. May peace be with you.

  38. Melita
    Melita says:

    This is the most stupid post you have ever written. That Forbes article is crapola. The stat about women spending less than $100 a month on themselves is frightening, but it’s more frightening that the first and only example they give of women spending money on themselves is “the salon”. Jesus. And I would like to see those 1000 women surveyed again after they spend a few years at home with their kids, not working. I’d like to know how much they enjoyed it. And I’d like to know what they do with themselves once their kids aren’t in school anymore.

  39. OnTheRunNY
    OnTheRunNY says:

    I think this is a great topic, one that is almost avoided, in a work-obsessed society such as ours. I live in the beautiful city of NYC and found out the hard way that the path to happiness is not an office, or doing the “power lunch”.
    So many women strive for a more peaceful way of life, and they feel ashamed to admit it. Why is it that only having kids gives you the right not to join Corporate America?
    I recently stopped working for someone else and take it upon myself to prevail; I will trade being more at home, for less stability.

  40. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    As always Penelope, good stuff to think about.

    However, I was wondering if this post could be re-written with an emphasis not on planning for children but also for planning on a lifestyle change. For instance, if someone in their early 20s knows that they want to own their own home by the time they’re 30 or so, then rules 1-3 can be applied to this process. In living below your means, understanding that your job can be gone tomorrow, and understanding just how your think, work, and prioritize, can go a long way towards have that 10%-20% down payment for your dream home. Likewise, if you want to have a more flexible lifestyle, such as being able to get up and leave when you want to, finding ways to develop that type of career path when you’re young can pay off down the road. Answering points 1-6, I feel, are especially crucial for this because if you date this great man or woman who really just wants to settle down, be prepared for the conversations that you’ll have.

    Of course, nothing in life is ever set in stone and even folks who follow steps 1-6 may still have issues with family, work, and cost of living. With that in mind, perhaps the big take-away from this piece is that we should start thinking now about what we want in life, how we’re going to get it, and figure out what we will or will not compromise on.

  41. Holly
    Holly says:

    I thought this advice was so good I forwarded it to my husband. As an ENFJ in my 20s, I struggle with the idea of having kids and working, because I just don’t see how I could balance the two. Reading through the comments people seemed to suggest that my generation isn’t going to plan ahead and Penelope’s advice is a waste of time. That just isn’t true. My generation thinks ahead because we know “having it all” really means exhausting yourself while being mediocre at everything. I’d rather spend some time planning my life so that I have everything I really want.

    Also, recruiting is great contract/part-time work. HR is an industry dominated by women and can be more accommodating for women who take time off for children.

    • OnTheRunNY
      OnTheRunNY says:

      Holly, great point about HR. I am also doing recruiting and recently left a safe, yet unsatisfying job, to start my own new adventure in HR consulting for non-profit. It’s been a while since I’ve been so passionate about a professional endeavor.
      Good luck in finding your path to peace of mind and success!

  42. microtechnica
    microtechnica says:

    Seriously this is going to help me a lot to chose my career. Oppurtunities for career selection usually comes only once in a lifetime. we need to be careful about it. Thanks for posting.

  43. Virtual Jobs Gal
    Virtual Jobs Gal says:

    This is a great article! Sometimes it can even be done without the best of planning. I went to grad school to be a teacher, as a) I love teaching and b) wanted a good career that would allow me to also have time with my children.

    I ended up becoming a freelance curriculum writer through odd jobs while I was teaching and ended up transitioning from there into non-fiction reference writing. I’ve done this for 10 years, and while it’s hard to work at home, it is SO rewarding to be home during these years.

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