By Jennifer Ward • May 19, 2010•Writers in Residence
When is the RIGHT time to have a child? This is the question that has frequently been on my mind in the last few weeks.
As I wrote my last column I decided to do a little advanced preparation for this post. I started asking people “the Question” just to see what sort of answers I might get. I was amazed by how quickly the answers came, particularly from people who hadn’t started a family yet. It was clear that many of the people I asked about the “right” time to have a child had already given it a tremendous amount of thought. Often the answer was on the tip of their tongue.
It was also intriguing to note the similarities and differences in the responses I received. The answers ranged from “when you are ready to give up spontaneous late-night pub outings” to “when you are ready and able to provide a child with the opportunities they deserve.” Several people focused on the importance of having a partner on board that was eager to be part of the process. Having both “time” and “money” were common themes. Another thoughtful answer was, “Anytime. Alternatively, never.”
Interestingly, I heard almost no answers that were directly tied to career milestones. Nobody seemed to conceive of the “right” time to have a child as “only after you make partner” or “only after you’ve proven yourself as an Associate.” Similarly, nobody seemed to conceive of the “right” time to have a child as “only when you are ready to leave law practice and be a full-time parent.”
I’ve talked to a number of attorneys who had children during law school and have now been in practice for a few years. They have generally been very happy with the family choices they made. Several attorneys have even commented that they felt they had more time and flexibility for family life while they were in law school than after they started practicing as an attorney. One partner even remarked that she believes parents make better attorneys. She feels that by juggling work and family on a daily basis, this makes parents more efficient in all aspects of their lives.
In the end, posing this question to a variety of people served to affirm what I already believed. There probably is no absolutely, positively, perfectly RIGHT time to have a child. Thankfully, one of my dear friends pointed this out to me years ago. Long before our conversation she and her mom had decided that there is no “perfect” time to have children. They concluded there are simply some times that are better than others. This friend had watched her med school classmates have and raise children, and she had given a lot of thought to what felt right in her own life. She had carefully mapped out when some of those “better” times might fall when she might decide to have a child of her own.
Ultimately, my friend’s advice really changed my outlook on balancing career and family. I realized that I had been looking for the truly “perfect” time to start a family, and there was no perfect time anywhere in sight. My husband and I had always said we wanted to have children before we were thirty. Then as my husband was close to finishing his graduate degree and I decided I wanted to go back to school again it seemed like we would miss that goal by years. We finally realized that it wouldn’t be so different raising a child while one of us was in school as it would be to raise a child in the first few years of a career. Since we were both committed to juggling work and family throughout our lives, why not just get started? So we did.
My husband wrote his dissertation during our daughter’s first year. She was a year old when I started law school, and now that I’ve graduated our daughter is almost four years old. And, I’m happy to report, we positively made the right decision. Most of our friends are still nowhere close to being ready to start a family, but for us the right decision was to dive right in.
I’ll tell you more about having a toddler during law school in my next post. In the meantime, I have to ask what YOU think. . . When is the “right” time to have a child?