I am nothing, if not fair.
I think some disclaimers are in order. Somehow, I, a liberal-leaning moderate, became an unwitting poster child for the right. After the exposure that my post on delayed childbearing garnered, I received several comments and private email conversations that made me realize that some of my post may have been taken in ways that fell a bit astray from my original intent.
So let me set this straight.
I do not regret having my career. I am the first person in my family to graduate with a college degree, with the exception of my paternal grandmother (she got a Normal certificate from SUNY- Elmira back when it was the Elmira Normal School). And I am the ONLY person to have finished a PhD. Not only did I go to graduate school, I went on a coveted National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Food for the 21st Century Fellowship that together guaranteed me six years of graduate school as a fully paid research fellow. And I did this as a non-traditional student, starting graduate school at the ripe old age of 30. I am proud of this accomplishment. For somebody with my lower working class background, it is monumental.
I do not regret being a working mother. I have the benefit of a flexible job, a quality daycare blocks away from my son, and a fantastic husband who allowed us to keep Harry in the home until he was over 18 months old. My husband was a fantastic stay-at-home Dad, a role he is finally leaving to step back into the full-time working world for the first time in two years.
When I say I regret not having my children earlier, I do not mean in my twenties. I was too self-centered, emotionally unstable and married to entirely the wrong man for my personality. I assure you that having children at that stage in my life would have been an unmitigated disaster. Your personal mileage may vary.
What I regret is the years between 34 and 37 – my late graduate school and postdoctoral years. Those were the years when I was settled enough, with the right husband, and far less self-indulgent than in my younger years. I needed the confidence that self-discovery of college gave me, but by my mid-thirties all the elements were in place for the life I have now. Those years were the perfect years and I didn’t recognize them because I was following the time schedule of my much-younger classmates. That schedule was a bit more malleable than I realized at the time by listening to the dogma of the academic world. So many other options were open to me, if I had only thought to look.
Waiting until 39 and 40 WAS too late. A fact which I am only now recognizing.
And folks, here is where I will get all political on you.
It is a national shame that we hobble the potential of 50% (or more, to be fair to the responsible men out there) of the population by not acknowledging that liberal parental leave policies, quality daycare and education, and affordable healthcare are necessary to a healthy, flexible and stable workforce. It is a national shame that we do not support women in ALL their potential – as students, daycare workers, teacher, businesswomen, lawyers, doctors, scientists, AND mothers. It is our societal shame that we do not recognize that fathers are perfectly capable of caring for their children and giving them the support, in fact demanding of them the responsibility, of doing so. We continue to undervalue careers that are traditionally female dominated at the same time that we build glass-ceilings that depend on sacrificing our roles as mothers on the altars of supply and demand. It is shortsighted and it simply isn’t good business. In no model of stable capitalism does the hinderance of workforce potential, both current and future, make any sense at all.
Make the decisions that are best for you. Make the decisions that maximize your potential. But make those evaluations in proportion to the real risks. Ask yourself what “enough money” or “enough time” really means. Is that promotion what you really want? Will your career really be compromised by taking a year or two (or five) on the slow road?
Ask yourself if what you have, or what you think you want, is what you actually need, or if you a shooting for an ideal that doesn’t really exist. Ask if you are making real compromises, or just settling. Ask yourself what actually constitutes a good life, a life of value, a life of meaning.
But keep your eye on the clock, because you don’t have forever to do it in.