Work vs. Worth: Choosing Motherhood or Career Success

“Are you career focused? Or do you want a family?” 

A classmate asked me this when I was in high school during a casual conversation about the future, and I remember being puzzled.

“What do you mean? I want both. I’ll have both.”

I didn’t understand that society says I can’t have both a career and a family. That my classmate doesn’t think I can have both. That people in positions of power don’t think I can have both.

When do young women make this distinction? Neither is more right or wrong than the other - both having a career and family are aspirational, noble goals. But why are females forced to categorize themselves to begin with?

The facts

This ‘choice’ for women between having a family or working is caused by traditional, unfair gender roles. 

The Atlantic reported on a 2013  study of why more women choose to focus on family over career and found that “Only 12% of adults said the ideal situation for women with young children is to work full time. About half (47%) said working part time is ideal for these women.” The study also concluded that for men “seven-in-ten adults said working full time would be ideal for these fathers. One-in-five adults said part-time work would be ideal.”

These statistics just prove that women already have preconceived notions placed upon them by others in society about what the “right” thing to do is. These gender roles are deeply ingrained into society and can influence a woman’s decision making about which direction her life should take. 

'Boss girl' mentality

For young women thinking about their futures, this ‘need to choose’ often feels imminent and very real. Society says our worth and value comes from our work and how many promotions we’ve had in our career, OR our future blossoming families; not both, or even the ability to balance the two. 

However, given the right supports and flexibility, women have the ability to be both a dedicated employee and a loving mother. The 'boss girl' mentality that success can only exist in the workforce is being broken down by women every day who prove that a choice doesn’t need to be made. 

What can employers do?

Thankfully, the work-life balance has improved in recent years due to the efforts of employers, especially for women looking towards their futures as career women and possibly mothers.

Many employers are working to better fit moms into the workplace by offering flexible schedules, work hour reduction, child-care options, etc. This allows for female employees to make the best decision not only for themselves and their careers, but also for their families and children, therefore eliminating the need for a ‘choice.’ Currently, most of these options are being offered to women with higher-paying, more skillful jobs, but it’s a start.

It’s your decision

If you decide that you want to have a high paying, corporate job that you dedicate all your time to, that’s just fine. If you decide that you want to be the best stay-at-home mom there ever was, that’s fine too. 

But a balance can exist. There doesn’t have to be one or the other. Women are complex and multi-faceted - why can’t our lives reflect that too?

When society said we had to choose between motherhood and workplace success, they were crazy. Women are powerful, strong, and fierce beings that can balance the two if given the right supports and the option in the first place.