Career vs. Family in Silicon Valley: 20s to 30s

In the past week, I’ve spoken with two very successful women — one in her 50s that is a working mother, the other in her 30s who left the working world to take care of her children years ago, after a fast-growing and successful career. I asked the first if she wishes she worked less and had more time for her children, and asked the second if she wished she worked more. For both, they thought they had made the best decisions for them.

The one that isn’t working now is married to a very successful man, so financially it’s unlikely she’ll have issues. This post is not really about finances, though. It’s about life. The woman in her 30s who left her career to be a full-time mom said the other women in her social group tend to be older, but also are women who were extremely successful in their careers and then quit to become full-time mothers. The other woman, in her 50s, who has worked her whole life, also lives in an area where most of the women are stay-at-home mothers. For both of them, they don’t quite fit in the social groups of their towns, but they are doing what is right for them. And both are happy with their decisions, at least compared to the alternate options.

I’m turning 28 in four months. The years are passing so quickly now. My career, although always at risk due to my depression, is on its way up. I feel like I finally have a real career. Which is a good feeling approaching my 30s. Still, I look at all of my friends and acquaintances who are announcing their weddings and showing off photos of their children on Facebook, and I feel like I’m so far behind. I don’t need to get married or have kids (that surely makes the “work” vs “stay at home” mom decision easier… without the mom part) but I also try to imagine myself, 10 years from now, without a family and I can’t figure out if that vision makes sense or not.

In the meantime, I can’t imagine giving up my career, or not having time to spend with my future, potential children. I’ve talked to one of the few other women at my office, and the only one with a kid (one 15-month old) and asked her how she does it. With a nanny and a kid that sounds to be well behaved, it’s not that hard, she poses it’s easy. She goes to work, she comes home and plays with her kid for an hour or two, then does more work.

My boyfriend and I have been together almost 5.5 years, and while we joke about marriage it’s far off. I don’t mind that really. Unlike some women, I don’t long for a fancy wedding and the legalities behind marriage. But I’m starting to seriously want kids. It probably has to do with all those pictures of my friend’s kids on Facebook, but it’s also cultural and biological. Somewhere it makes sense to me to have kids now, though marriage itself seems like something I’m not ready for yet. That sounds so odd — but I know I’m ready to love a child with all my heart and put that kid in front of all my needs. I’m tired of my own needs now anyway. The “game” of a career doesn’t really excite me anymore. I don’t see myself being good enough at my career to ever be a VP. In my industry, 99% of the VPs are men anyway. That’s not to say I shouldn’t want to be that 1% that are female, I just look at the females that make it that far and they are so slick, so smart, and I don’t think I can reach that level. In the meantime, I feel like I could be a good mother. I have so much love and care to give. I know that’s not all that is required of being a parent, and it’s probably the hardest job in the word, but I think I can manage it. And for what it’s worth, you don’t have to get promoted when you’re a parent. You get smiles and hugs and doors slammed in your face for your yearly review on a daily basis.

The woman I spoke to in her 50s who is a working mother told me that marriage is the worst thing ever invented. She’s miserable in her marriage and wants out, but can’t because of the kids and the house. I don’t know if I can have a happy marriage and a career and kids — it seems that combination is very, very difficult (not that my parents, with a stay-at-home mom, have a good marriage either.) I don’t even know what I want in life — the only thing that seems real, like a good goal, is to have kids. All the other stuff, the professional status, the cultural status, the nice car, house, the husband even, seem like extras.

It’s probably a fantasy world I’m living in where this all “makes sense,” still, I can imagine myself in 10 years without a job, but I can’t imagine myself in 10 years without kids. And that says a lot for what I need to do for that to happen. Because 10 years will come and go in the blink of an eye.


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4 thoughts on “Career vs. Family in Silicon Valley: 20s to 30s”

  1. I think life is whatever you make of it. If you want to have kids, have kids. If you don't want to get married, just have a long term relationship. I got married because my husband and I love each other and feel like that was our next step. We're working on careers and marriage, and kids will be soon to come. I think you can do all 3, but all of them will take hard work. It's all about priorities.

  2. I'm sad for the 50 year old. She looks like she regrets the choices she made. It doesn't have to happen, just make better choices. I know the world was different back then and maybe there were fewer options, but nowadays women can do whatever they want. Which leads me to the younger woman who is rationalizing that she cannot be a VP and that's why she shouldn't try, and how she might like to have children to love. Children are awesome, but they're not only going to be hugs and kisses. It's all life, and none of it is necessarily "easy", although it isn't that hard either. Just live. I'm a man and I'm not a VP either 🙂

  3. I work with a lot of women who are much happier being able to go to work all day and THEN spend time with their kids. You don't HAVE to spend all your time with your kids in order to be a good parent, or have a good balance.

    Also, you might want to try getting a dog – it is a *great* outlet for that "hmm, I want something to take care of" feeling.

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