I am an anomaly: I married right out of high school and started having children at a young age. While most of my classmates are only now starting their families ten year later, my third baby is starting kindergarten in the fall and baby four is almost ready for preschool. I am not, however, one of those barefoot and pregnant women. I am part of a new, yet growing, segment of the population that is having children first and then growing a career after their family is established. I have a university degree in History and Philosophy which I earned with babies on my lap through distance education. Now that my children are almost all in school, I can look forward to starting my career. With my degree, I could apply to get into Bachelor of Education program, or Law School, or I could even go back and study my first love: chemistry. I am at no disadvantage for waiting for my next degree. In fact, now that I have matured, I have much more drive, focus and time management skills. Four kids will do that to you.
Whatever career I choose, holding on off my training and job advancement in my early twenties makes a lot of practical sense. This is point of my career, I am earning the least and it is the point where my skills in the work force will be least missed. This means I can stay home with all my children without the pressure to go back to work, and then I can enter the career stream when my kids are ready to go to school. By putting off my education, I will exit my program at the top of my training, ready to be employed, instead of having an eight year gap between training and employment. That will put me right on par with other applicants that choose career first. One advantage I will have over these applications is that since I have already had my children, I will not need to interrupt my career for family. I will be able to establish myself and not take years off only to have to start again at the bottom, or take weeks off and then feel guilty when I put the baby in daycare.
Biologically, this makes sense too. I am most fertile in my twenties: it is when my body wants to have children. I also have energy now, and the transition from no sleep because of teenage habits to having no sleep because of babies, was very easy. Plus, this means that when my youngest has graduated, I will only be forty-two! I will be at my peek earning power,with no kids. I can go on trips, enjoy my grand kids, and generally enjoy life as a mature woman, at a time a lot of women are just starting their families.
There are drawbacks, as with any career option, the biggest being financial. When you have children first, you and your husband are usually at the beginning of your earning career, the lowest paying part. Supporting a family on a single income which isn't very big to begin with, can be hard. Especially when you want to buy a house and want your kids to take swimming, violin and football. However, people in this situation cope; they make decisions on spending by setting priorities and living within their means. These are all great concepts to teach your children. Another aspect of this arrangement that people generally don't realise is that men with children tend to work harder to earn promotions and more money than single men; this is where the income gap between men and women start to take off. So you may be starting with a smaller money pool, but it will grow.
Ultimately, when you decided to start your family is a very personal decision with no one size fits all solution. However, young women should not be afraid to start a family early. There are real advantages to this and in today's society, it is possible to start your training and career later in life. It may not be conventional, but for a growing number of us, it is what works.
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