6

Expanding Your Family—If, When, and How

Deciding to Have A(nother) Child, and Ways to Handle It if You Do

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.

Considering the Pros and Cons

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:

  • Professional considerations:  how having another child might be feasible in your current role, or affect your short- and longer-term career prospects
  • Cultural and societal pressures:  what you “should,” or feel you should, do based on the standards and expectations of your community, or of society at large
  • Personal concerns:  what’s right for your family, for you as a mother or father, and for yourself, as an individual human being

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.

Professional considerations

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.

  • PRO:  You only get one chance to make a first impression. What you do, how well you do it, and how you spend your time now send important long-term signals about your work ethic, potential, and commitment. Plus, professional transitions—and parental ones—are tough, to put it mildly. The very last thing you want is to be in “ramp up” mode at work and have a new baby at the same time.
  • CON:  “Need to”? Says who? There’s nothing in your contract or employee handbook to that effect—and for good reason: it would be illegal! Besides, you know as well as anyone that it’s possible to do a terrific job while expecting, and with a small child at home. And what looms so large for you is much less of an event to your boss and colleagues. You have to take care of your new son or daughter for eighteen years; your boss and colleagues get you back right after parental leave ends. Might they be surprised when you announce you’re expecting? Sure. But news flash: people have kids—it happens. And besides, this is your life and your family we’re talking about: Are you really going to put off having a baby for the sole purpose of abiding by some imaginary rule?

My organization’s parental-leave benefit is only available to employees with x length of service, which I don’t have yet.

  • PRO:  Workparenting is hard enough; it would be foolish to deprive yourself of such a substantive benefit just to have a child a little earlier. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Wait.
  • CON:  Whether you’re planning on having a child biologically or any other way, it’s not going to happen overnight. Chances are high that you will be eligible by the time the baby actually arrives. If not: try negotiating. More and more organizations are improving their leave policies; perhaps yours will too.

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.

  • PRO:  And likely for good reasons. The demands and rigor of this earlier part of your career are high, and adding children into the mix may bring you to a personal and/or professional breaking point. You don’t want to jeopardize your progress thus far by adding in an extra challenge right now. Think about it this way: What you’re really doing now is investing in your future career. Kids can come later, if you still want them. Play the long game: defer.
  • CON:  Unspoken, because it isn’t actually a rule—a pattern, maybe, but not an actual directive. It’s also highly likely that that pattern was set many years ago, when the world, and the group of people doing this job, was very different than today. Besides, you’re not managing to the good of a whole profession—you’re managing your own career and life. You know yourself, your budget, your Village, and what you want for your future. If it feels right and feasible to have a child, then it is.

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.

  • PRO:  Workparenting is hard—financially, professionally, personally, practically, and in every other way. If you can choose between adding to your family now, when things might be harder, and later, when they might be significantly easier, then the choice is clear. There’s never a “perfect time” to have a child, but you still need to make smart choices.
  • CON:  Be very careful with “over the next career rainbow” thinking. There’s always another rainbow—and you could easily defer expanding your family for years, or even decades, based on that logic. Besides, you can’t predict the future; you may change jobs, or that promotion may never happen, or the IPO market may dry up. And then how will you feel knowing you’ve delayed your life choices for nothing?

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.

  • PRO:  Looking closely at the careers, lives, and choices of the senior leaders in your organization is a powerful thing to do. It lets you answer the question, “What works here? What’s valued? What flies, culturally?” Of course, you could work against the cultural grain of your company or organization and still succeed—but that’s going to be tough.
  • CON:  There’s no single model of success, particularly for working parents. If you don’t see your own desires for a larger/smaller family reflected in the senior ranks, then look further: maybe there are other great role models at other organizations. Take a critical eye to the generation gap, also: your organization’s senior leaders may have made certain career choices years ago to get where they are today. That doesn’t mean you have to make those same choices in our current environment. Bigger picture: Are you really willing to hand over effective authority for your family planning to a job and organization you may be part of for only a few more years? Does your work really get that kind of say over your life?

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.

Cultural and societal pressures

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.

  • PRO:  Being part of this community is important to you. It’s part of your identity—it’s who you are. And in many ways, the concept of family is at the community’s core. Why would you buck centuries of tradition/choose to be an outlier? Besides, norms exist because they work. If the standard is having a larger/smaller family, it’s because there’s a lot of proof that it’s the right way to go.
  • CON:  The norms within your community—whatever kind of community it is—may have been created in a completely different era, and before the dawn of workparenting as we know it. They may originate in a time before the eighty-hour workweek, the dual-career couple, or current technology. You need to make decisions that work for you, in the here and now—not for others, for the sake of tradition, or to avoid judgments or raised eyebrows. It doesn’t matter what your peer group is doing or how your choices look or feel to others. You don’t actually need their approval. Realistically, not all members of your community are following the norms, anyway. You may not be plain-vanilla average, but you’re probably not as much of an outlier as you think.

We should have a second because one child isn’t a real family/it’s not good to be a single child.

  • PRO:  The “two parents, two or more kids” model has endured for a reason. And when parents are working long hours, sibling relationships can become very important. Your child’s “family” isn’t just his or her parents.
  • CON:  Whoa—let’s hold up on the moral and pseudoscientific judgments for a minute! Family isn’t a number, it’s a relationship. And if you’re looking for conclusive evidence about whether or not it’s a good thing to be an only child, you’re going to be looking for a very long time. More important: think what a wonderful, powerful thing being an only-child workparent family can be—even when your time and resources are limited, they’re concentrated on one child. That means less worry about the daycare bill, the bigger rent, or the small amount of time you have to spend at home in the evenings. Having “just one” solves a whole lot of the most pressing workparent problems, letting you engage both with your career and your child in a satisfying way.

All my friends have, or are having, their second/third/more. Now’s the time.

  • PRO:  There’s a lot of positive power in being in the same “life phase” as your friends and colleagues. And likely, your peers are grappling with the same workparent issues you are. If they can handle a second/third, you can.
  • CON:  Put your blinders on and run your own race. This is your life, not anyone else’s—and you’re the one who’s on the hook for raising your kids. If it’s the right decision, and right time, you’ll make it.

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.

Personal concerns

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.

  • PRO:  You need to be true to yourself, your own feelings, and your life plan. Jobs come and go; family is forever. Create the one you want.
  • CON:  That imagination occurred before you were dealing with the stresses and strains of workparenting. What you held in your mind’s eye years ago is less important than what you want and know will work today, in your current circumstances.

I want another.

  • PRO:  Then do it! See above.
  • CON: It’s fine to want another—in fact, it’s wonderful that you do. Just be careful that what you “want” isn’t only the joyous bit but also the practical reality. You want another child—but do you also want the sleepless nights, the daycare bill, the emotional strain, the worry that childcare may be taking you away from the career success you really want? You have to buy the whole package in order to make this work.

I don’t want another.

  • PRO:  Then don’t. Full stop. It’s hard enough to workparent when you’re overjoyed to be a parent. When you’re ambivalent or reluctant, it’s all kinds of no good.
  • CON:  Do you really not want one? Or are you saying that because you’re in a rough patch—the baby’s not sleeping, you’re having a hard time back from leave, you caught a snarky comment from a coworker about flex time, or you’re dealing with a bigger workparent setback? Decisions like this are best made from a neutral state of mind. Wait a while before you come to a firm conclusion.

We’re financially stretched as it is.

  • PRO:  Adding another is only going to stretch you further, and it may lead to some difficult compromises, stress, and real long-term impact. You’re wise to keep financial issues top of mind.
  • CON:  Workparenting expenses usually go down after the first few years, and there may be ways to make things easier. Turn to chapter 11, “Money,” for guidance on managing your workparent finances, and to understand the phases of workparenting expense.

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.

  • PRO:  You’re a smart person, and if you have “no idea,” that’s a sign it may be too difficult or too much to take on. Workparenting isn’t the Olympics; there’s no medal to be won here, and it’s not a test of strength or endurance. Do what’s feasible.
  • CON:  Try talking to other workparents for their ideas and solutions. Other people have done this, and if you choose to, you can too.

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.

  • PRO:  That sense of loss can be devastating. If you want to have another child, and it’s doable for you, then go ahead—and enjoy that baby and small-child phase to the fullest.
  • CON:  You’re talking about adding a human being to the family. That’s a commitment and choice that goes well beyond the little-kid phase. What about focusing more time and attention on your existing children and savoring the phase they’re in now—instead of having more? Besides, if you do have another, how can you be certain that the problem won’t repeat itself?

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.

  • PRO:  You know your situation, and between your own judgment and the advice and guidance of your doctors, adoption agency, etc., you’ll determine the right path forward. Welcoming a child can be a long and involved process.
  • CON:  Before you get on the adding-to-the-family path, just be certain that you’re ready. Becoming a parent may take a very long time—or go much faster than you think.

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.

  • PRO:  The decision when to have another child is just as important as if. Manage toward what you think will work best.
  • CON:  Happy, well-adjusted families and sibling relationships come in all forms and packages. And the supposed experts opining on the “right” amount of time between siblings aren’t talking about how your career might be affected by all this—nor are they talking about your specific family.

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.

When You Still Can’t Decide

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

  • “I’m not certain how your question relates to our work together” or
  • “I just feel so fortunate to have the wonderful family I do” or
  • “What? Sorry, I’m focused on the budget numbers; we’ve got to get these back to the finance team ASAP”

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.

What to Know and Do When Moving from One Child to Two—or More

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.

Parental leave

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.

Your move:  In order to fully enjoy and get the most from your leave, do some up-front thinking on 1) how you want to maximize your time with each of the children, alone and together, 2) how you can carve out some personal R&R, however brief, and 3) how to set expectations with your colleagues regarding how much you’ll be available and when.

‘‘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

Childcare

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.

Your move:  Think through your day-by-day schedule, how your new arrival will affect it, and the care your family will need. As you did when first considering care options, be certain to factor in what you’ll need during busy season, if working overtime, during work travel, and so on. And don’t be surprised if no single care option feels sufficient. With more than one child, you may find that a hybrid arrangement is needed.

Your budget and spending

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.

Your move:  Run the numbers and have a plan. Don’t wait until the arrival to figure out where that extra money will come from. For extra help, turn to chapter 11.

The amount and type of support you need from your Village

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.

Your move:  Using the 8-C tool found in chapter 9, go category by category through all the different types of workparenting help and support. Identify any new resources available to you, and figure out how to use existing ones more, or to greater effect. That may involve asking for more, spending more, or getting creative.

Daily scheduling, particularly morning and evening routines

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.

Your move:  Whatever your current schedule, bring fresh eyes to it, and play with the pieces until you’ve created a new one that supports the changes in your family. As you work, remember that the question isn’t how do I survive the day but how do I get through the day effectively, and is this sustainable? You may need to make larger and more fundamental changes to when and where you work to answer it.

‘‘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

Time together and time off

You don’t have much downtime as it is—and as you add to your family, that precious amount may get squeezed even further.

Your move:  Think about how your Village resources can help you preserve the time you need to step back, to rest, and to spend on things you enjoy doing, with or without your partner. With two or more children, you’ll deserve—and need—it.

Large-Family Strategies Useful for All Working Parents

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.

  • Raise your expectations.  Even small children can handle certain self-care and household tasks themselves, and older kids are eminently capable of helping to take care of the younger ones. Give each child “stretch assignments”—whether that’s putting on their own socks or watching over a younger sibling while you make dinner. The kids will gain a sense of personal agency and can-do spirit, and your overall workload will decrease, if just a little. Everyone should be contributing, and to their true capability.
  • Learn how to use time in very small bites.  Those fifteen minutes between meetings will let you finish off the presentation. The five minutes in line at the supermarket will let you return a phone call. During the few moments after you send that work message, you can throw in another load of laundry. Learn how to use even the smallest windows of opportunity.
  • Make it a habit to connect with each child, one-to-one.  As your family grows, it’s natural to play “zone defense”—to treat the kids as a group, rather than as discrete individuals. Zone play is effective, and usually needed. But don’t let it, or your drive for speed and efficiency in household matters, prevent you from spending time with each child alone. Whether it’s a brief weekly outing with each of your two kids or a monthly “parent date” with each one of your seven, take some relaxed, dedicated, private time with each of your children on a regular basis.
  • Let it go.  Whatever perfectionist tendencies you have, do yourself a favor and try to release them. Your hospital-bed-corners approach toward life may have served you well, prekids, but it will be impossible to sustain now as a working parent, particularly one leading a larger family. Maybe the beds aren’t made, or you didn’t spend the two extra hours editing that report for work and making it extra good. So what? Does it really matter? Focus on real essentials, and let smaller details go.

‘‘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

You Decide

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.

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