Clash of the Timing -- How do you know when to start a family?
I’m 28 years old, just married in February, and my husband and I would love to start a family… some day. But both of us are at points in our careers where a family just doesn’t make sense. He’s starting his own business, which is rapidly taking off, and I’m doing this exciting work in policy advocacy with MomsRising. We both think that this is the time when we can take a few risks with our careers. Anybody who works for a nonprofit, especially a new one, knows that the work is both rewarding and hard. And, starting a new business is no small task. Both take long hours, the ability to get up and go at a moment’s notice, and of course, something like financial security, but not the kind that makes you feel really good about bringing a new life into the world. Not yet, anyhow.
And yet. Our friends are starting to have babies. I was at a baby shower just yesterday that was teeming with adorable kids and excited moms exchanging newly gained mom wisdom, product tips, and the all-out joy of being a parent. A friend and I (neither one of us moms yet) started sharing with each other our own conflicted feelings about becoming parents.
We both had the same story -- feeling that the window of our taken-for-granted-fertility may be closing in the next few years and at the same time knowing that now isn’t quite the time for us yet. And why isn’t it the time? Because we can’t afford to take 6 months off of work to enjoy our new babies and give them a healthy start. Because if our children are born with health problems we don’t have confidence that our health insurance will be enough to cover those expenses. Because we’re not ready to risk the kind of discrimination that mothers face in the work force. Because my husband and I both love our jobs and see a path in our careers that, some day, will have an appropriate place for us to take time off, but that precious time is still a ways off -- not yet reachable until we get just a few more experiences listed on our resume, make a few more key connections, and establish ourselves in our fields.
It’s a tough question for every family -- and especially for every woman who wants to have a child. When is the right time to start a family? And how do you appropriately set yourself up so that having a child doesn’t turn into the beginning of the end for a young family? If having a child is one of the leading causes of a poverty spell in this country, how do I know that I won’t become one of the statistics?
I look with great envy at other countries in the world, most of them, in fact, that have family friendly policies that make this choice easier. In these countries, women are supported by a system that understands the joyful burden of raising healthy, smart kids and giving them the best start possible.
I don’t know when my husband and I will be ready to start a family. And with the current realities for American families, I think there may never be a “right time” -- just a moment when we say now or never. I presume that I will stay fertile for a while yet (if I am even fertile now), and I hope that in the coming years I will get to that sweet spot where I have enough experience in my field that 6 months (or weeks) away won’t make or break my career, or our bank account.
And that’s why, even though I’m not a mom yet, I work with MomsRising. With simple policy and cultural changes, I can help other people (and myself) deal with the tremendous pressures on families right now.
Have you struggled with the same questions I am? How did you deal with it? When is the right time to start a family and how did you evaluate the risks involved? When do you take the leap, and become a parent?
My husband and I are still thinking about it. And, with any luck, we’ll make our own happy, stable, and wonderful family… some day.