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Is it easier to combine a career and motherhood if you are a younger Mum?

(128 Posts)
margerykemp Sun 25-Sep-11 15:57:19

Years ago I read hunger which basically said that if you want both a high powered career and to be a mother then your best chance is to have your first child before you are 26.

That's what I did and a decade on it's still to early to see how my long term career will compare to my contemporaries who start families in their late 30's.

As a feminist I dont know what advice I'd give to younger women/DD.

Anecdotally younger Mums I know seem to have more energy/drive to go back to work and have partners who are more 'hands on' Dads than men 20 years older but they seem to lose out in terms of relationships (more frequently left as single mums) and have to suffer the stigma from society of being a 'young' Mum- and I'm talking about women in their 20's not teenagers.

WilsonFrickett Sun 25-Sep-11 16:02:55

I think for my age group (40s) a lot of people don't really 'start' their career until they were well into their twenties. By the time they finish college/uni, bum about a bit, have a couple of 'starter' jobs - that all takes time. Certainly I didn't have a 'proper' job till I was 28/29 so obviously I could have had DCs in that time as well (not sure how I would have paid for them at that point, but that's another story!).

I wonder if the recession will have any impact on this though? Are young people starting out now thinking 'crikey, better get on the career ladder right away' or are they thinking 'no point stressing about it as it's so unstable anyway'?

For me, being established in my career before having DS meant I was at a level where the organisation wanted to keep me - I was an important asset to them, so was able to negotiate the right deal for me on my return for mat leave, I then quickly moved to a job-share. Not sure if that would have happened ten years before, as I would have been entirely expendable.

stripeybump Sun 25-Sep-11 16:05:33

Very few women in their twenties can afford to have children unless they have significant help from their parents or a high earning partner. Society judges you on your career and financial stability - especially now that there is so much increased competition for every job. The best bet for most women is still to build up their career in their twenties and have kids at 30 or thereabouts, and fire straight back to work asap (if that's what they want)

The main barrier is obviously how the working world is so male-orientated, you pretty much have to pretend to be male to be successful.

oranges Sun 25-Sep-11 16:05:41

No, because part of having a really successful career - ie one you love as well as money and status, is through self discovery, And while some women can do that with children, many can't I think if you have children very young, your entire adult life is spent thinking first of these small beings, when its good to have some time figuring yourself out first. That's just my tuppenceworth, and of course its different for lots of people.

margerykemp Sun 25-Sep-11 16:44:58

But I think the 'afford to have DCs' is a red herring. I read that almost all parents spend the same proportion of their income on their DCs (c. 20%).

One of the biggest costs of having DCs is childcare and if you are a younger Mum you are more likely to have younger, fitter parents who are more likely to be able to help with this.

Also, if you are on a low income there are tax credits to help (although I know there is a faction within MN which disapproves of this reliance on the state).

I think that another good thing career wise about having DCs young is that you can 'hide' maternity leave as a gap year/further study. No employer of mine has guessed i have DCs from my CV.

I think some young women are taking the plunge and having babies sooner because of the recession- if they are already out of work then the baby penalty lessens. Who would want to wait until the economy picks up and then miss out on all the good career opportunities?

WilsonFrickett Sun 25-Sep-11 16:48:13

I have young parents though margery and they are both still working, so very little help on childcare there.

tallulah Sun 25-Sep-11 17:22:59

I don't think you can generalise. I had 2 children before I was 26 (and a 3rd at 26). I went back to work but it certainly wasn't a high flying career. A colleague who managed to climb up the promotion ladder in her 20s before having children found it very easy to just slot back in after ML.

I don't think any of my DC have any chance of a high flying career but if they decided to have children before age 26 there is no way we could help out. We both work FT and retirement is a very long way off (and getting further away by the year sad )

margerykemp Sun 25-Sep-11 18:04:06

I still think that working GPs are better than very elderly, frail or deceased GPs. Not everyone works 9-5. And at least they themselves dont need care and have a decent income (not a pension) to help out with costs.

olddog Sun 25-Sep-11 18:07:28

I think if you have children young and then went back to work at say, age 26 and had a 40 year clear run you might do better than a woman who took a gap between aged 30-35. Women who wait until they are quite senior often do well as they are more likely to be indispensable or at least to have proved themselves and are more likely to be able to afford a nanny (or a SAHP) so can be more flexible about working long hours. I think the middle way ie having dcs when you are early or mid 30s is probably the most difficult career wise.

Moomit Sun 25-Sep-11 18:17:00

I had dd when I was 35, and never really had a problem. I did go back to after 6 months ML though. I had reached a level where they were prepared to 'put up' with me being called to the nursery on a bi-weekly basis, and I could work from home easily. I could also afford the nursery fees without suffering unduly. I personally am glad that I kept my career going. I do agree that if I taken 5 years out at that point, I wouldn't be where I am now.

Moomit Sun 25-Sep-11 18:17:58

I had no family help available.

SurprisEs Sun 25-Sep-11 18:22:47

I became a mum at 20, am now 22.
Plan was that when DC are 20 an capable of looking after themselves (hopefully earlier) I will only be 40 and will still have over 25 years worth of career. But it does mean that the grandparents are still working and unavailable to help most of the time and that savings, mortgage and steady career havent been facts of life.

Hopefully they will be, one day smile

Moomit Sun 25-Sep-11 20:24:58

And what career do you plan to start aged 40? You do realise that in the vast majority of cases, no one wants a 40 yo with no work experience? 40 yo's WITH work experience struggle enough these days. I would be building a life plan, doing some study, and thinking about what you want to do with your life - now!

LittleWhiteWolf Sun 25-Sep-11 20:35:11

I'm 26 with a 2 year old DD and another on the way (which work don't know about yet). TBH the decision to have children early in our lives didn't take my career into consideration, it was because my mum was so deathly ill (thankfully she is still with us, due to a lung transplant when I was pg with DD). I don't have a degree so I'm working part time in a prison as an admin officer. It's a pretty nothing job, but I don't see this as my career. I have a lot of hope for the future; there is still time to find my career.

Maybe that sounds naive, but its how I feel.

peppapighastakenovermylife Sun 25-Sep-11 20:41:53

Interesting. I am fairly high up in my career for my age (got a lectureships in a research led uni at 27).

I am 29 now with a 5 , 3 and 1 year old. I didn't really ever stop though - first and second DC's were whilst I was doing a PhD and working part time. DC3 I went back after 6 months but carried on writing at home from when he was about 3 days old.

I certainly look at my career future now and am very glad that the maternity leave stage is out of the way. I guess I am ahead of peers my age who have the same career stage now but are planning DC's in the future. I have come back and am able to say no more DC's now and take on bigger roles.

I have no idea where I would be if I hadn't had 3 DC's though. They limit my career too in that it is very difficult to move about.

I didn't mean to have them this my plans I should be having my first and only in about 5 years hmm grin

purits Sun 25-Sep-11 20:59:22

Hmm, what counts as a high powered career?
I qualified in my twenties, got letters after my name, experience and contacts. I then had the DC in my early/mid thirties and went back to work. The good pay meant that we could afford childcare and, because I had the network, I went freelance after a while. This last bit is brilliant: it means that I am my own boss so there is no trouble getting time off for DC-related things.
I am not high powered, as in running a FTSE 100 company, but I am well paid and master of my own destiny. Suits megrin

TeddyBare Sun 25-Sep-11 21:55:40

I noticed when I lived in Germany that it seemed to be fairly common to get married the summer after graduation and have dc straight away. About half of the people I knew well enough to know when they got married did this. The women didn't start their careers until their youngest dc was secondary school age, which is usually 10 in Germany. I think the delay of going back to work is partly due to social pressure against being a "raven mother" which is an offensive name for a mother who doesn't conform to social expectations about mothering. I also think that women who have dc younger are more likely to take more advice from their own mothers and mils, therefore holding back change because the older generation has comparatively more say, and they are typically more socially conservative. Also, German schools are 7.30am to lunch times, so it is impractical to use school as a child care provision.

TeddyBare Sun 25-Sep-11 21:58:44

Forgot to actually answer the thread.

I think you can see a pretty significant difference in men and women in work in terms of wages and high powered / interesting-ness of job. A lot of the women I was friends with ended up doing less prestigious jobs than the men who had been on the same course. For example, a lot of my friends did Business and English. Most of the men ended up working in banks in Frankfurt somewhere, only 1 of the women did, the rest used the English half of the degree and became teachers or something along those lines.

TrillianAstra Sun 25-Sep-11 22:04:59

partners who are more 'hands on' Dads than men 20 years older

Isn't that about generation rather than actual age?

If I were 22, then a man my age now might be moreof a hands-on parent than a man who was 42 now, but no more or less hands-on than a man who was 42 in 20 years when I am 42. IYSWIM

TheSmallClanger Sun 25-Sep-11 22:13:37

In my last job, I was the youngest female member of staff. I noticed that several of the women closest to me in age had children much younger than DD, and they did struggle with certain issues more, such as getting time off for school events, and dealing with nurseries. If I had stayed in that profession, I did have a longer "clear run" of fairly uninterrupted career time in front of me.
However, my career had already taken a knock earlier on, partly due to DD, but partly down to other factors, chiefly DH being ill. Things would probably have panned out very differently for me if I had stayed on that track.

That said, I like my current job.

HeavyHeidi Mon 26-Sep-11 08:51:00

Teddy, in Germany women have their first child on average at the age of 29.6 and average age of marriage is 33 for men and 30 for women, so the people you knew seem to be more of an exception than a rule.

BikeRunSki Mon 26-Sep-11 08:57:10

i agree entirely with Wilson's first post. I had my first DC at 37, and my second is due in the next month, 2 weeks before my 41st birthday. I had a well established careertucked under my belt, was chartered and well respected and work wanted and expected me back. I went back to a promotion and a job share, and all has gone well. My job share partner was in a similar position to be, although her DCs are each about 10 months older than mine. We have flexi hours too. No way this would have happened 10 or more years ago.

No family near by either.

WilsonFrickett Mon 26-Sep-11 09:37:42

Not having a go OP but I thought it interesting that you referenced people relying on the state, but seemed to also assume that people could rely on DPs for financial help. As I said earlier, my DM had me young (so she's 60 this year and I'm 41) but she has always been skint. No help coming from that quarter! And even if she did have an income, it's not her place to help me with my childcare costs. It's one of the things that really pushes my buttons tbh (and again, not having a go!), this assumption that a generation of women who have already brought up their children and made the career / financial decisions (sacrifices?) that go with that should then be delighted to spend more time and money bringing up the next generation.

Of course GPs want and need a relationship with their grandchildren but this shouldn't be wifework by stealth!

Purplebuns Mon 26-Sep-11 10:13:21

I am hoping having children young will work for me, I was 19 when I had my first unplanned baby and have another on the way. Then I have finished having babies.
I am about to start a second lot of training since having DD 2 1/4 years ago at the moment I work part time and do voluntary work, hopefully the course will enable me to be paid for my enjoyable voluntary work.

GPs only help with childcare when my childminder is on holiday but it isn't their place to look after my children for me.

The things I find hard are; I don't have the house or other material things that I had imagined I would have when I had children. And I won't be able to have a house until they have left home as saving for a deposit is unrealistic for many years.

I am having to be mindful of my future employability, I have had to work when I haven't really enjoyed my job, as who would be interested in a woman who had a baby as soon as she left college and then hasn't worked? I am constantly juggling everything and can't help but think I wouldn't have to worry about as much if I was older. However I hope I will have an advantage in 15 years when my peers are having babies and mine are almost grown up. Ask me again then.

Oh and Dh is a very hands on dad and is 24 now, so does comply with the idea that young dads are hands on. He is also what allows me to do all that I do and is very supportive of me, and works full time to support our family.

LRDTheFeministDragon Mon 26-Sep-11 10:21:26

peppa, you terrify me and inspire me in equal measure!

I think part of the 'have children young' pressure comes from the generation above mine (I'm in my 20s), who did not as a rule have children young, and who look back and think 'oh, if only I'd been in my 20s when I had them, instead of my late 30s, it would have been great!'. And the generation before that was saying to them 'have children later! It'll be fantastic!'.

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