Starting a Family vs. Growing Your Career: Navigating the Options

This year, I officially crossed over into my 30s.  I chose to celebrate this occasion with my husband and the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing into the rugged coastline of Big Sur. From the sheer cliffs that drop a thousand feet or more, to the sound of the waves thrashing at the granite below; the dichotomy of danger and beauty reflected the state of my inner world as I entered another decade of existence.

I spent my 20s planning my life away in an Excel spreadsheet. I planned to get married at the age of 24, have kids by 28, and be coasting in my career at the age of 30. What I didn’t plan for was a broken engagement, health issues, experiencing misalignment in my work, and choosing to pivot and become a student all over again.

Going “off script” feels like a wave crashing over me and pulling me under and into its wake.

Surrounded by water, gasping for air, wondering if I’ll ever experience the beauty of the ocean ever again. As I scroll the reels of my Instagram feed, I see happy mamas with their babes and feel a pang of guilt, followed by a series of thoughts to rationalize my decision to postpone (at least for now, or perhaps indefinitely) having children of my own.

Almost all women in today’s society feel this pressure to both be some kind of perfect mother, and also be independent and working. I think about this a lot. I look at myself, and wonder if I have made, and continue to make, the right decision about not having kids and investing in myself. Or, if I just forego having kids altogether, does that make me a bad person?


The tension that exists between being a mom who works, a mom who stays at home, or a woman who chooses not be a mother at all is one that has gotten stronger for me as I crossed the threshold into my 30s. I had the luxury of not prioritizing, and downright ignoring, my biological clock in my 20s, but now I must confront this reality. So, just like when I decided to pivot in my career, I took to asking lots of questions and researching. What I’ve learned so far:

Ultimately, the “right thing” is up to you.

The beauty of progress in the movement for women’s equality is that we have a choice and the space to define our values about family and motherhood, from the inside-out. No longer is being a mother “expected.” You can decide what comes first, and when, according to your values. Some questions to consider:

  • Do you want to have children? Adopt? Foster?
  • What do you hope to achieve before becoming a parent?
  • Are you in a long-term relationship?
  • How do you envision meeting the needs of your family and career once you have both?
  • What will your partner’s role entail?
  • What will it look like to be a mother and a professional?

Find a mentor.

Just like we seek mentors for our careers, we can also seek mentors and role-models for what we want our home life to look like. An added bonus is if you can find this wrapped up all in one person! Find people whose lives you admire, and use it as a template to create your own.


Consider your options.

If you are currently prioritizing your career over having children, consider the realities of your biological clock . Get the facts, and get with your OB-GYN to look at and plan for options you can have in the future should you want to change anything.

If you choose to prioritize having children over your career right now, consider your finances and have a plan for staying relevant in your industry . Work with a money coach, create a portfolio site, and stay connected to industry news so if you decide to re-enter the workforce, you can demonstrate how you can immediately add value to an organization. Keep your skills fresh by taking on a part-time remote work role, or get involved by volunteering with an organization in your community while they watch your kids!

If you choose children and a career, live in the present moment and accept things as they come. There will be days where you’ll need to leave early or skip out on lunch. And there will be days where you wish you made a different decision altogether. Both can happen, and both are okay. Make sure to find a work environment that supports your decision to have both a career and be a mother.

Remember, there is no wrong choice. This is YOUR life and YOUR decision. The beauty is that you get to choose where you put your focus, and when.

Photos by:  Valerie Denise Photos

Jackie Boylhart

Jackie is a former high school math teacher, turned work-from-home freelancer who loves playing outside and living at home. She chronicles her journey on her podcast, The Art of Living. In her spare time, you can find her drinking kombucha, reading, playing with her camera or decorating her home.