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Advice to working mothers: Redefine 'having it all'

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

Waiting until you’re older to have kids doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have fewer kids, according to new data by Pew Research Center. Overall, more women are becoming mothers, and having more children than they were a decade ago. In fact, 86% of women in their early 40s are mothers, up from 80% in 2006 — and family size is ticking up as women today are having 2.07 children, compared to 1.86 in 2006.  

“Women no longer need to sacrifice having a family for having a career,” says Robyn DeLuca, a research professor at SUNY Stony Brook and executive director of the WISE Program (Women in Science and Engineering).

While fewer women under the age of 20 are having children, there are more older, educated women becoming mothers. In fact, the biggest increase in motherhood was seen in educated women in their early 40s with a Ph.D, jumping 25 percentage points in 20 years, from 65% in 1994 to 80% in 2014.

“This is great for women. It shows that we are establishing ourselves in our careers and still having a family,” says DeLuca. “More women that ever are having it all – and they’re doing it well.”

To discuss the trends behind the numbers, Yahoo Finance invited DeLuca to our New York City  studios.

YF: Why are more educated women finding it possible to have children than they were 20 years ago?

DeLuca: One piece of it is that more never-married women are having children. Perhaps marriage has become a less important institution and the U.S. is becoming more like Europe, or possibly these never-married women are having babies by themselves and making it work with the help of family and friends. Both possibilities suggest that people are thinking differently about how to have a family.

Another possibility has to do with changes in expectations for men. We expect men to participate in the raising of their children. If a guy says something like ‘Oh I don’t change diapers,’ we think he’s a jerk. So that’s become part of normal culture and I think educated women sense this and think: ‘If I do this, I’m not going to be left holding the diaper bag on my own.’

One of the most powerful men in the U.S., Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, accepted that position only on the condition that he would be able to spend time with his family.  He not only demanded it, he demanded it publicly. This is the modern model of the high-achieving man – that he is professionally successful but is also actively involved with parenting his children.

YF: You say it’s possible to “have it all.” What are some practical steps for working women and men to create balance between work and family?

DeLuca: First, we need to address that phrase ‘having it all.’ The best goal is to get yourself in a situation where there’s good support and good flexibility. The first step for women, I think, is to make sure they bring their A game. Be really good at what you do, be a valued employee, because I think women who make a big contribution at work are more likely to have management be more accommodating for them.

Also, something that I suggest to professional women and men — it shakes them up a little bit when I suggest this — is to consider reducing their standards at home and at work. At work reducing your effort to 90% because that is barely perceptible to anyone around you. [To] your boss, your colleagues, you’re still putting out really high-quality work, but to you, you feel the reduced stress just easing up that little bit. And then the same thing at home: don’t be too upset if your house is a little dirty. Don’t be too upset if your kids need a haircut for another week; these are not big life-changing problems.

YF: Do you think it’s harmful for women to try to “have it all”?

DeLuca: I think it is, for several reasons. When psychologists look at the kind of coping women do with multiple roles, the women who do try to do everything work at the highest level — make homemade cupcakes for their kids’ birthday parties —  they are the most burnt out, more likely to be depressed, more likely to have anxiety and health problems. So I think women should see that that is not a model they should try to follow. They are not going to be happy people if they do.

YF: You say that women who do have multiple roles are physically and emotionally healthier, but then if you don’t feel supported and you’re on the brink of burnout, how do you get back to a place where you’re thriving again?

DeLuca:  Be clear what you expect of yourself, but also help others have reasonable expectations of you. Figure out what it is you expect of yourself. And see if that’s matching up with reality. The idea of becoming a manager at work may really match up with your goals and what you think of for yourself, but the daily reality may not be exactly what you want.

Galvanize all of the support that you can to recruit family members if you’ve got your parents around — if they’re grandparents — they are the a fantastic resource. The love that flows out of them is so fabulous.

And one of the good pieces of advice that I want to give women has to do with planning: choose your mate wisely. Choose someone who is going to be a team player, not someone who’s going to help out sometimes. That is going to go such a long way in having someone who supports your goals in really tangible ways. That in your everyday life he or she wants to make it happen for you whether it’s your work situation, whether it’s your activities in your community, or in the way that you’re raising your children.

In terms of how you balance your life: you need to re-evaluate it every few months because things can come up. We need to be cognizant that times change, we change as people, our work situation changes, and God knows children change.

Jeanie is a senior producer and reporter at Yahoo Finance. Reach out by email jeaniea@oath.com; follow her on Twitter @jeanie531.


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