How do other women juggle their families and careers?

I’m about to turn 30 and have just married my partner of 11 years. We both feel emotionally ready to start a family but having a child in my current job is going to be hard as I work long hours and have a long commute. I work for a male-dominated SME and there is no precedent for working flexibly.

I could look for a job nearer to home, but I love my work and new jobs are scarce. My husband is a civil servant and has brilliant flexible working entitlements, but I would resent it if he took on a strong paternal role and I was the one always out at work keeping the income coming in. How do other women juggle these conflicting demands, emotions and priorities?

Professional, female, 29

LUCY’S ANSWER

The answer is that other women mostly manage with difficulty. In my acquaintance there are mothers who work a lot, who work a little and who don’t work at all. Variously, they have husbands who help out a great deal, who do nothing – or they don’t have husbands at all.

It struck me recently that the happiest are the women who do little or no paid work and concentrate on their children. But then I realised they are the least ambitious and so are likely to be happiest anyway. The next happiest are the ones with successful full-time jobs, who let their husbands and nannies take charge at home.

The least happy are the ones who are both doggedly committed to work and who want to be proper mothers too. Trying to do both usually means the mother will be in tears before bedtime, even if the children are not.

It sounds as if you are in the third, miserable category. You want everything and think there must be a way of ordering your life now to make it possible. It would be better if you let go of this idea now. Go ahead and procreate and then see how things are when the baby is born. You can have no idea now how motherhood will take you. You may find the “male-dominated” business seems less attractive. Or you may find your heart leaps in gratitude when your husband volunteers to spend more time at home.

Whatever you do, you’ll almost certainly feel guilty. Don’t push the guilt away, but welcome it as a self-correcting mechanism. It is a reminder that when work seems overwhelmingly exciting there is someone at home who wants attention. And a reminder, when one has been too tired and distracted to focus on work, that there is a salary being paid that ought to be earned.

Dear Lucy

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Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.

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