It seems like a monumental decision because it is one. You’re thinking about welcoming a new human being into the family and all the responsibility that entails. You’re also considering how an additional child would affect all the various aspects of your workparent life—your workload, your finances, your emotions, your ability to get ahead on the job, and the time you’d have to spend with your oldest, to name just a few. It’s also a private deliberation, it can feel pressured, and much of what you’re mulling over may seem unique to your own situation.
Rather than having you spend any more time stewing, though, or feeling conflicted or alone, let’s try out a new approach to thinking things through—one that gives you a bit of a break. Let’s imagine that instead of having to hash through the whole matter solo, you could put two smart colleagues to work for you. In the first part of this chapter, as your diligent teammates Pro and Con debate each of your concerns about growing (or not growing) your working-parent family, sit back and reflect on which of their points you find the most resonant and persuasive. When they’re done, we’ll get practical, covering specific ways to ensure workparent success if you do decide to welcome another child.
If you don’t have kids yet …
… good for you for thinking and planning ahead! Use this chapter as a first step in considering this important decision, and then turn to other parts of the book for more working-parent insights that can help you decide whether and when.
To be clear: there are no “right” answers here, but with the confidence of knowing that you’ve approached everything thoughtfully, thoroughly, and with eyes wide open, it will be easier to move toward the best answer for you.
The decision as to whether and when to expand your family may feel so bulky, multistranded, and tangled up that it seems more like a plate of spaghetti than a regular life choice. In reality, though, your questions and apprehensions most likely fall into three discrete categories:
We will—with Pro and Con doing the heavy lifting, of course—address each set in turn. Warning: there won’t be any conclusions drawn here. Pro and Con will simply shine light on both sides of each issue during their active, honest debate.
Because professional considerations can often feel the most unyielding and beyond your own control, let’s unpack them first. Read through the Pro and Con back and forth, and as you go, mark it up. Circle the questions and concerns that feel most relevant to you, and note which arguments strike a chord and which make the most intuitive sense. Then add in other questions and concerns you have that aren’t covered here, and use same the Pro/Con approach to work them through.
I just started here. I need to wait at least twelve to eighteen months before having a baby.
My organization’s parental-leave benefit is only available to employees with x length of service, which I don’t have yet.
It’s an unspoken rule that in this profession you don’t expand your family until you’re a certain age/title level/done with training/licensed/tenured/etc.
I don’t want to wait too long, but expanding our family will be much easier after the next promotion/big project is over/relocation/raise/IPO is completed/etc.
The senior people here are all “big family types” OR have small families or no kids because they are maniacally focused on their careers … and if I don’t follow suit, I’m limiting my long-term prospects.
What other professional concerns are top of mind for you? Try taking a Pro and Con position on each. How does your thinking on each issue change as you do so? Do you still feel uncertain or ambivalent about the “if and when” decisions from a holistic professional perspective? That’s completely normal: the intersection of your life and career is simply too important and nuanced to allow for the luxury of absolute, black-and-white thinking. What ideally became very clear as you read, though, is that for every career and workplace “must” or “must not” about expanding your family, there’s a sensible—and often very powerful—opposing argument. You’re not straitjacketed by other people’s views, or by “the system.” There’s no one single or best way to manage your family, and no one else is holding the trump card, here. Whatever your professional situation, and with full command over all the underlying issues, you should feel comfortable deciding if and when.
Now let’s turn our attention to the expectations and shoulds you may be working with as a member of your broader community. That community may be ethnic, religious, regional, educational, familial, or economic. Or it may be defined by an activity, a lifestyle, or a social-media group, or be drawn along any other lines. Most likely, you’re the member of more than one kind of community, and each has provided you messages—direct, subtle, and conflicting—about the “correct” size of your family and when it’s right to have kids. Just as you did with the prior Pro/Con debate, make this your own: circle the arguments and issues you’re grappling with, jot down any notes, and think about any other concerns and questions not listed here that may also be affecting you.
The norm within my community is to have a larger family than I do now/smaller family than I want.
We should have a second because one child isn’t a real family/it’s not good to be a single child.
All my friends have, or are having, their second/third/more. Now’s the time.
What other societal, familial, or community pressures are you dealing with? Have a Pro/Con debate on each.
Did reading this over feel mildly uncomfortable? It’s good if it did. We’re discussing issues not usually discussed—and certainly not in a professional context. You want to get all those shoulds and have tos out on the table, if just for yourself, and see how they map to the realities of your working life and to your true desires and want tos. Whether or not you decide to expand your family, this type of candor, and reflective thinking, will help you make your ultimate choice(s) with deeper confidence and in a more genuine, authentic way.
Finally now, and having worked over some of the professional and community issues, let’s turn our attention to the most important decision factor of all: yourself. Repeat the same read/write/react process, now addressing your own thoughts, worries, and other feelings.
I’ve always imagined having two/three/more.
I want another.
I don’t want another.
We’re financially stretched as it is.
I have no idea how we’ll make it work/find childcare/handle the increased load/manage to keep ourselves together and not completely lose it.
I was so busy at work that I missed out on a lot in these early years. Having a second/third/etc. would give me the chance to really enjoy and savor that baby phase—and be the mom or dad I want to.
We had trouble having our first child; we don’t want to wait to start what may be a long process to have our second.
We’re definitely having another, but planning to do so in x amount of time, because we’ve read that the optimal timing difference between siblings is y.
What other personal questions or apprehensions do you have? Repeat the Pro/Con process for each.
Whew. You’ve just done a lot of tough analysis and introspection—it’s productive, but likely exhausting. If you find yourself battling tears, or a cortisol spike, or both, that’s normal. Once you’ve had the chance to catch your breath, though, go back and do a quick scan of your notes and reactions to all three segments. How did your overall thinking change, if at all, as you worked them through? Which Pro or Con argument was new, or felt right, or wrong, or like a relief? Were there any themes across all three categories—do you tend to follow conventional wisdom in each area, for instance, or worry about expanding your family too early or too late (whatever that means to you)?
Whether this exercise has led you to a firm conclusion or not, and whatever your personal observations, the good news is that you’ve just thought through the “do I have another child” decision from a holistic working-parent perspective—and in a genuine, authentic way. If you need to keep thinking things through, you also have a balanced method—the Pro/Con approach—for doing so.
If you’ve been sitting with the decision for some time, and have gone through all of the Pros and Cons and still feel indecisive, two additional techniques may help you part the clouds.
Technique #1 is Play It Through. Play It Through is simply an organized way to imagine the future impact of any current action or decision. To use it, grab a sheet of paper, and down the left side mark off rows, labeled with various time increments: three months, six months, one year, two years, three, five, ten, fifteen (yes, that far out). Across the top of the page create columns marked Professional, Financial, Familial, Personal, Emotional. You’re now left with a grid and, as you fill it out, a forecast: a tangible, vivid view of how your decision will likely pan out. (Note that the columns can appear in any order you wish, and you can add/tweak any labels you like. If you prefer to skip the paper entirely and simply do this as a “mind’s eye” exercise, that’s fine, also—whatever works best for you and helps foster your active and honest thinking.) As best as you can imagine today, how will you be feeling about a new addition to the family two years from now, or five? If you decide to add another child to your family, what would the financial picture look like six months from now, or one year, or ten? Do the near-term professional consequences you’re so worried about now loom so large later on? Does your fifteen-years-from-now self regret any personal time lost or professional opportunities missed as a result of having a larger (or smaller) family? You’re not a fortune-teller, and Play It Through isn’t a crystal ball. But you do know yourself, and the process of unspooling your decision into the future like this should prompt a stronger and genuine feeling about it today, one way or the other.
How to deflect awkward questions at work
“Aren’t you going to give little Susie a brother or sister?” “You haven’t closed up shop yet, have you?” “When are we going to hear some good news?” Unfortunately, awkward, direct, and overly personal questions about plans to add to your family don’t just come from nosy friends and tipsy relatives—they come from bosses and colleagues too.
While it’s satisfying to imagine delivering a biting retort, you want to be very careful about your personal brand, and about coming across as harsh or defensive. The trick is to shut these colleagues down, while remaining professional, polite, and upbeat. Have a go-to line that fits the bill and feels comfortable. Responses like …
… should work, particularly when delivered in a firm, pleasant way.
If you find yourself stewing over rude questions you’ve gotten, remember: your interrogator may not have meant to be offensive, and the last thing you need is to waste emotional energy on the matter. Let yourself be frustrated for a few minutes—and then move past it.
If it doesn’t, try Technique #2: wait. Give yourself a three-month hiatus from the draining task of wrestling with this huge choice, and focus your mental and emotional energies back on your work, yourself, and your current family. That doesn’t mean punting the decision, or ignoring it, but simply allowing yourself a defined period of time in which to gather more data and let your personal tank refill a bit before picking it back up again. After all, things may be quite different three months from now. Maybe you change jobs or get a new boss, or that promotion and the raise that comes with it change both your schedule and your financial picture. Or maybe the baby’s sleep problems begin to resolve themselves and the I have no idea how we would manage with two feeling that’s been haunting you starts to fade … or the hunch that you don’t want to have another child grows. When the three months are up, and if you need to, work your way back through the earlier parts of this chapter. Fresh eyes and three months’ worth of additional workparenting experience should help advance your thinking.
The single biggest working-parent transition you’ll ever make is from zero kids to one. No other workparent change will ever come close. And if you’ve already successfully cleared that doozy of a hurdle personally and professionally, then expanding your family further—whether from one child to two, two to three, or more—shouldn’t worry or frighten you. Have confidence in yourself. You know what you’re doing.
Infertility and the busy professional
Infertility treatment can involve a significant time commitment as well as personal and emotional strain. If you do need to be away from work for tests and procedures, or the experience is affecting how you “show up” for work, you may want or need to alert your manager to what’s going on. However, if for personal reasons you don’t want to discuss your desire to grow your family, you can always present the matter as a “medical issue” or “health concern” that requires expert attention. That happens to be the truth, and it lets you discuss a private and potentially highly emotional topic in more-neutral, safer-feeling terms. Your manager should not ask for more detail; if he or she does, simply say that you’re uncomfortable discussing the specifics. If you get any real blowback, talk to HR about how to handle your need for treatment—and for privacy.
On this particular path to parenthood, be aware that you may begin to experience feelings of powerlessness, or reduced competence. As a hardworking, can-do, experienced professional, you’re used to tackling complex tasks and projects, working them through, and reaching success. But now, despite your intentions and efforts, outcomes aren’t within your direct control—and the fact that they aren’t can feel strange and demoralizing. To feel better and to regain that sense of personal empowerment, you may find yourself tempted to double down at work. Many prospective parents find themselves cycling through periods of complete focus on the job and phases in which more time and energy is invested into fertility options and treatment.
Whether you fall into these common patterns or not, self-care is essential. You’re working hard and taking on a huge and logistically, physically, and emotionally complex task. Get all of the rest, help, and personal support you can along the way.
That said, certain things will be different the second time around, and you don’t want to make the all-too-common mistake of thinking, I’ve already done this, so I’m good to go. You’ll almost certainly need to apply some patches and upgrades to the overall workparenting operating system you’ve worked so hard to get into place, in order to “scale it up” for your larger family. That will involve some thought and doing, but it’s not a bad thing. Think of it as an opportunity to refresh and reset—to tinker with what hasn’t worked so well, and to take things to the next level.
To reset effectively and with a minimum of hassle, think through each of the important pivot points below. Each will be well familiar to you from your first working-parent transition; what you’re effectively doing here is another, “lite” version of that first big shift. If you need to do a deeper dive in any of these areas—a wholesale change-up of your childcare situation, for example—refer back to the relevant prior chapters, which will help you do so.
With Child #1, parental leave was about bonding with the baby, learning to become a parent, and getting ready to return to work. With Child #2, you still need to focus on those three things—but you’ll also have to manage your older child’s transition to big brother or sister, and find ways to best use this wonderful window of time to bond with him or her. At the same time, because your work colleagues see you as an old hand at workparenting now, they may treat this leave more casually than your first—looping you into work communications, for example, or expecting your real-time engagement and inputs as things unfold at the office. In other words: parental leave may be more packed and busy than you anticipated or experienced before.
‘‘It felt strange to tell people at work that I was expecting my second child when I had been on maternity leave so recently. I worried that people would make comments, or judge—but everyone was supportive. I realized that those concerns, and any awkwardness, were on me.”
—Sarah, acceleration-capital fund COO and senior director, strategic analysis, mother of two
With the arrival of Child #2, your childcare needs may change, for practical, emotional, or budget reasons. In-home care may be less costly than a double daycare bill, for example … or with more going on at home, the family caregiver you’ve relied on until now may not be up to the task … or if school and daycare pickups will have to happen simultaneously, you may need to make special arrangements.
New care setup. Bigger car. Fewer overtime hours. Double the diapers. The addition of Child #2—or #3, or #4—may change your family’s spending in any number of ways.
As you grow your family, you’ll want to grow the amount and type of help and support you’re getting at work and at home, too. Are there new workparent mentors who can help advise you through the next few months? An app to help manage your more complex grocery-shopping plans? You’ll want all the help you can get.
If getting up, fed, dressed, ready, and out the door usually takes an hour with one child, it may take ninety minutes with two. Which, in turn, may affect when you get into work, and thus when you leave, and therefore your nighttime routine, and how much sleep you get—and on and on.
‘‘We had twins, so suddenly moved from one child to three. One key difference was how we approached our time at home in the evenings. With one child you want to be attentive and focused, but if something important is going on at work and you need to sneak a quick look at your messages, it’s easier to. With three, there’s no multitasking—they take your full attention.”
—Nicole, management consultant, mother of three
You don’t have much downtime as it is—and as you add to your family, that precious amount may get squeezed even further.
Whether you have one child or four, the home- and life-management techniques common within large workparent families can help make things more feasible and satisfying for you and your family, too.
‘‘It would be easy to allow 100 percent of my time to be taken up by work and by the baby’s needs. I have to be conscious of carving out enough time for my older one, particularly now that school is getting more serious. I want to stay on top of how he’s doing academically, and with his friends—to really be there for him.”
—Danielle, fashion wholesale executive, mother of two
‘‘It doesn’t have to be a big-deal kind of outing. We might go to the hardware store or get a frozen yogurt, or go into the yard and water the plants—but I deliberately spend time with each of my daughters, alone. I’m raising a pack of lionesses here, and even if I’m at work all day, I want to connect with each one.”
—Robert, learning specialist, father of three
By this point in your career and life, you’ve become adept at both making and defending your own decisions. Every time you’ve interviewed for a new job, you’ve had to convince the interviewer that your past career choices were well-timed and thoughtful. In important work meetings, you’ve learned how to showcase your good judgment. When your boss or a client has questioned “why you did it this way,” you’ve always had a solid answer. You know how to think things through, come to the right answers, and present a compelling argument.
And then you confront this choice, and it’s unlike any you’ve ever made so far. It’s huge, and complicated, and private, and permanent, and despite what you’re told, there’s no real playbook for making it, and it can seem fraught on all sides. And you don’t need to explain it, or follow a linear process in making it, or get anyone’s approval, either. It’s a hard choice, but it’s your choice—and the only thing you need to make it is your own conviction that it’s right.