Is there ever a ‘right time’ to start a family?

For working parents, when was the right time for you to start your family? Was there a magical moment when financial stability, the perfect job, career momentum, the right partner in place, and of course, cantankerous mother-nature all got joined up in perfect karma?
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I suspect not. Looking around at my friends and family, I can’t think of anyone who enjoyed that perfect set of conditions.

In many case, parents, or those that had hoped they would become parents, were tempted to put things off until the next promotion, the next pay-rise, the next cycle. But at some point, recognising that magical moments of perfectness don’t ever exist, the plunge was taken. Concentrating on finding the strength and creativity to problem solve and finding the mental and emotional resources to survive and ultimately thrive is then what followed.

So for me, the right question is not, when is the right time, but maybe, are there enough of the right things in place to make it a realistic time to start a family?

And for those of us that do choose to throw both babies and career into the mix, we really don’t make it easy on ourselves, do we? On the whole, women tend to be at a critical point in their career when they start and then grow their family. Particularly right at the beginning, it can be quite a lottery in terms of what support you do or don’t get from your employer. Yet small interventions of good quality structured support can make all the difference.

Structured support is regularly available to those leaving via redundancy or retirement. Which is odd when you think about it, as this support and investment is offered to those that the company never expect to see again.

In contrast, the help and support that is given to a talented pipeline of new parents can be patchy at best. One of life’s strange truths is that companies are happy to invest, sometimes heavily in developing finely tuned, effective leaders. But at the point that these leaders start families and are perhaps more appreciative of any support they get than at any other time in their careers, companies can let them down.

One senior executive recently told me about one particular talent conversation he had been party to. A young man and a young woman were discussed in the same session. When talking about the man who had recently started a family, the expectation was that he would be working harder and longer as finances were bound to be tight. Whether or not this assumption was right, or whether he was instead planning to spend time with his new family, or at least occasionally, be home in time for bath time and bed time stories, I’ll never know. But neither will they, as it was never discussed.

In contrast, it did not occur to them that the extra money would be useful to the woman, and assumed that because she had a family and worked part time, that she would not be interested in working ‘harder and longer’. Luckily, they did ask her, and as it turned out, they saved themselves two expensive head hunter fees. The opportunity happened to coincide with her youngest child having settled well into school and her being ready to step back into a full time role. The job was also her dream job. She later told them that if they had not offered it to her, she would have left.

As an employee, you might be lucky in having brilliant managers around you as you are starting and growing your family (I was – thank you Clare N, Barbara W, Richard D and David C, if you are reading). But for most companies, they might not want to leave so much to chance. Instead, it might be wise to invest some time, money and thought in planning what short bursts of good quality support are needed for those who choose to combine a career with having children.

About the author:

helen WOMBA

Helen Sachdev is one of the Founders of WOMBA as well as holding non-executive, executive and trustee positions.

She is an Executive Coach and a mother of two who is committed to making the world a better place for working parents.

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