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Raising a Kid, and a Career

Marriage and parenting forces you to make choices.

One of my mentors won a huge promotion last year. It required her to move across the country, dragging her husband and daughter along as they clawed and wailed. Neither of them wanted to go.

“They basically hate me now,” she said.

Her sex life has gone into desiccation, like a tardigrade.

The marriage itself has turned into more of a parenting arrangement. But here’s the thing. She doesn’t care.

Say whatever you want about my friend. She knew what she wanted, and she made a choice. Her daughter might hate her now, but I doubt that’ll last forever. Despite the long hours of a college dean’s job at an elite university, she still goes to plays and ballet recitals.

Having a kid shouldn’t kill your career, no matter your gender. It changes things, though.

I’m making a slightly different choice. Sure, I’m still pursuing my career. But fuck my old obsessive schedule. Every hour my daughter spends in daycare is an hour I don’t spend with her.

That doesn’t mean either me or my partner stay at home. But it does mean we both give up a little research and writing time.

My mentor still has it easy compared to her counterparts in the corporate world. At least she still enjoys a flexible schedule, as a trade off for immense responsibilities. The wild world of capitalism often doesn’t give two shits about parenting. Pretty soon, it’s going to have to. Gender equality is going to force companies to give their workers more flexibility.

Nobody should have to choose between a promotion and spending time with their family. But companies do this all the time, and it’s completely insane.

Once you have a kid, it doesn’t matter how ambitious you are. Or used to be. It doesn’t (and shouldn’t) matter whether you’re a man or woman, mom or dad. Whatever decision you make, it always impacts your kid. There’s simply no way around it.

No two kids are the same. They’ll have different needs.

Having a kid shouldn’t kill your career, no matter your gender. It changes things, though.

My mentor makes “a shit ton of cash.” She’s not spending it on fancy cars, though. She’s saving it for her kid.

Career decisions in marriage involve more than gender politics. If you’re honest, someone’s career has to come first. Someone has the potential to make more, and it requires longer hours or relocation.

Not every marriage needs an R-rated bedroom. Sometimes, you become friends who are raising a kid.

You can enjoy a G-rated partnership.

But every marriage does need equal responsibility. My mentor gets that. She does her part. She expects her husband to do his. He’s just not the primary bread winner. So he can bitch about moving yet again for the sake of his wife’s career, but only so much. Because my mentor’s making career decisions based on what’s best for the whole family.

True, her husband feels a little bitter about his career. He’s given up promotions. But nothing compared to what she would’ve sacrificed. Of course, he didn’t have to.

He also made a choice.

And he’s starting to realize that.

American culture has started to turn a corner in the way we think about gender, marriage, and equality. Women can expect men to become the trailing spouse now, especially in academia.

But sometimes, you both make sacrifices.

Every year people invite me to apply for better jobs at other universities. I’d love to, except I can’t. My partner and I talk about geographic limitations. After all, it would be nice for my daughter to see her grandparents more than once a year at Christmas.

If it were just me, I wouldn’t care. I’ve moved across the country once for a job, and I would do it again without question.

But it’s not just me anymore.

Some couples spend years in long distance marriages to preserve their careers. Living with your spouse doesn’t necessarily make you happier, if that means giving up the job you love. Sometimes, one has to take priority. The great thing about today is you get to choose.

Decisions about who gives up what involve more than gender politics. If you’re honest, someone’s career has to come first. Someone has a potential to earn more money, and it either requires longer hours or relocation.

Every now and then, couples get lucky. You might move to a bigger city where both can find their ideal jobs.

Or the other partner can adapt and find something they like. Maybe not their first choice. But something they enjoy. Something that fits.

Some couples spend years in long distance marriages. They live six and seven hours apart. See each other once a month.

I’ve known more than one professor in that situation. Four, in fact. You could tell when their spouses were coming visit.

They‘d actually smile.

All that to help each other preserve their careers. That’s not an ideal arrangement, but it can work for a little while. Ask these couples, and they’ll tell you. It’s just a different kind of sacrifice.

Living with your spouse doesn’t necessarily make you happier, if that means also giving up the job you love. Sometimes, one has to take priority. The great thing about today is you get to choose.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom or a dad. Once you have a kid, your own career ambitions change. At the least, you have to reconsider your goals in light of the life you just brought into the world.

Imagine what a single mom or dad sacrifices in terms of career opportunities. They aren’t giving up raises and promotions for someone else’s benefit. They chose to have a kid, and that comes with limitations.

Some of my friends have spouses who contribute. Others don’t. One of my friends can’t get her husband to do jack. She still buys the groceries and does the vast majority of child rearing.

Yeah, that’s bull shit.

My marriage isn’t like that. It’s hard to reach a perfect 50–50 split every week. But we’ve synced up. You can manage household chores like laundry, dishes, cooking, and trash. You can take turns with baby baths, diapers, and even feeding to some extent.

We’ve both decided to adapt our careers. It means I can’t drag us five states away for a cushier position. Not just because his happiness matters more than mine. I’d have to guarantee a raise big enough to offset the loss of his salary. In my profession, that’s just not feasible.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom or a dad. Once you have a kid, your own career ambitions change. At the least, you have to reconsider your goals in light of the life you just brought into the world.

You’re not just thinking about what’s best for you anymore. You have to think about your kid. If they can’t talk yet, you have to predict what they’ll probably want. It won’t always overlap.

Having it all actually sucks for normal people. It’s great for the super rich. Ivanka Trump. The Royal Family. Celebrity parents. Their version of “having it all” comes with maids and nannies and personal assistants.

Growing up, my family only moved once — when I was sixteen. The timing sucked. My dad’s company was going out of business. Zero choice.

My mom had ostensibly quit her job to “raise kids.” But the real reason was she had mental health issues.

My dad actually wanted her to go back to work. Not only did he put in 60-hour weeks, but we were the ones who had to pick up the slack on housework. We all would’ve been happier if she’d found a way to manage her mind.

So my dad was actually the one who “had it all.” If by “having it all,” you mean having all the credit — and the responsibility that tailed along. He became a senior manager, and he also did more than his fair share of raising me. It made him miserable.

He only “had it all,” because the one thing he didn’t have was a choice. Unless you count abandoning us.

Imagine this offer: your dream job with long hours, a big salary, a hot spouse, and a beautiful kid. Here’s the catch — your spouse won’t do anything but occasionally have sex with you, but spends most of the day watching soap operas. You have to do all the housework and child-rearing.

Who wants that deal?

Having it all actually sucks for normal people. It’s great for the rich. Ivanka Trump. The Royal Family. Celebrity parents. Their version of “having it all” comes with maids and nannies and personal assistants.

They have it all, but their version of “all” comes with maids and nannies and personal assistants. So even as we become a more progressive culture — one that doesn’t judge a woman for hiring a nanny — the fact is I’ll never be able to afford one. Even the most gender progressive marriage will involve sacrifices on the part of parents, especially if you’re middle class.

One of you will always wind up compromising a little bit on your career goals. What’s changed is that women were the default. Now it depends on the details of who wants what, and what can actually happen.