Either/Or is a False Choice for Women


By Debra Condren

Dear Debra: I’m 29. My husband and I have an amazing 3-year-old. I’ve worked part-time since he was born. Now, not only do we need my full-time income, I’m dying to dive back into my career. But I feel guilty, like I’m abandoning my son. Plus, we want another baby someday. I just can’t see how to balance ambition and mothering.


It is worse to abandon yourself than to be away from your children. You are a better mother if you are fulfilled and happy than if you end up bitter and unfulfilled. Who wants an unhappy mother? And as kids get older, they are better able to appreciate—and benefit from—your ambitious choices.

Women who are driven by a passion for what they do cannot be expected to give that up.

Instead of sacrificing your ambitious self, strategize to avoid damage when life feels out of control. You have to be creative about how to spend time with loved ones. You have to do the same with taking time away from work. When you do spend time outside work, make sure you do it in a way that doesn’t damage your career. If you want to have another baby, plan at work so that you don’t lose your position. I worked with one woman physician and radio program host who was up for a tenure-track position against two male colleagues. She chose not to reveal the fact that she was pregnant until after she’d won the promotion, much to the vocal chagrin of one of her supervisors (a woman, as it turned out). By strategizing to keep her competitive edge, she was able to ignore the anticipated criticism and fight for what was due her. Of course, she felt a great deal of internal pressure, as women so often do. At the end of the day, though, she got the position she deserved and managed to have her baby without derailing her career.

Abandonment isn’t just leaving someone—if you’re in the same room as your kids, but you want to be somewhere else, they sense it and they feel abandoned. In a way, that’s worse than if you just go. Not wanting to be with someone is a form of abandonment. So while the work-life balance evangelists treat it as such a simplistic choice, it’s not as simple as, “Oh, I’ll just stay home and then my kids won’t feel abandoned.” Honestly, if you’re ambitious, and you want a career and you give that up to stay at home with the kids—guess what—they’re going to feel abandoned anyway. So go for integration of ambition and love for your family. Expect and accept some imbalance. Embrace the bitter with the sweet. It’s a much happier solution.

Show Comments

Back to Top