I thought that everything I had worked for was gone, as quick as the double pink lines appeared.
How could I be ambitious and successful, yet take the time to be the mother I wanted to be? I always assumed I’d focus on my career first — be financially stable and independent, at an acceptable height in my career — before switching gears. That’s the model laid out for us Millenials, especially in a place like New York City (where I was living).
So my (now) husband and I made a promise to one another: we’d continue to pursue our professional ambitions, and never let our unexpected pregnancy define or limit us. (Disclaimer: We didn’t want to be surgeons or CEOs; we’re creative types.) I then created a Web site for other go-getter young moms — moms who were similarly grasping for any indication that they could be successful and happy. A Web site to support, encourage, and inspire those of us determined to not be a statistic.
People pitied me, at times. I felt judgement and isolation, especially from those on the fast-tracked life that I formerly called my own. And so many Early Mama readers felt the same thing.
But then a funny thing happened: my career blossomed. I carved my own profession — which was a direct result of determination, perseverance, and sleep deprivation. It was a direct result of taking foolish risks and having a bloated belief in myself (as maybe only a young person can do). I became more confident as a mother and a woman, and I realized that there are so many successful women out there who got started having kids at a young age.
And then I read an article by Penelope Trunk — the #1 career author, blogger, and expert who spent years studying the 20-something generation. Her advice? “Get pregnant at 25 if you want a high-powered career.”
And that’s when I high-fived myself for being awesome. (I momentarily considered posting it on my Facebook wall, for all of those “her life is over” gossip-ers, under a comment like “na na na-na na,” but then I stopped being 14 years old.)
Even though I regularly read Penelope Trunk’s blog, sometimes she makes a part of my brain cringe. Like when she says things like, “women hate the feeling of out-earning their husbands,” or that plastic surgery is the “must-have career tool for the workforce of the new millennium.” (And I know that makes her sound incredibly anti-feminist, but you should really go read it in context.) I’ve come to respect her blunt style that’s always based in truth, even when it makes me uncomfortable, or when I don’t 100% agree. (Like her criticism of Generation Y, for instance, that I hate to admit is spot on.)
So with that in mind, I’m uncomfortable with telling women to find a life-long spouse at a very young age. Mostly because not everyone finds the right person in a set time-crunch. And aren’t young people stressed enough, without adding this archaic pressure?
BUT for those of us lucky enough to find the right person, and those of us who have children a little earlier on the parenting spectrum (whether by choice or by accident), Penelope has a point. We might have a big advantage on the career front.
Have kids at 25, build your career slowly, and then you can go full speed ahead when your kids are grown — because you’ll only be in your mid-40s. Penelope says that “of all the ideas for having a big career and being a mom, this is the best one out there.”
And I’d have to agree. Of course there are variables — maybe you have kids young and then decide to have more kids in your late 30s, completely throwing you off track. But, overall, while many of my 40-year-old colleagues will be caring for sick toddlers, taking time off for dance recitals, and calling in on Snow Days, my son will be in college. And then I can soar, professionally.
Here’s Penelope’s recommendation, in a nut shell:
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.
What do you think of Penelope’s blunt pregnancy advice? Is this what we should be advising the next generation? Read her entire article.
I know everyone’s profession and lifestyle is different, but for me, this just might work in my favor.