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The Competent Parent: To Career or Not to Career

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

To Career or Not to Career

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Sometimes I get little daydreams about launching a career in children’s music, or creating music and make-believe classes for children and parents, or going on the birthday party circuit, or publishing books for children or for parents. Then one of my sweet little daughters needs some attention and I’m snapped back to reality. One fear I have is that a career could consume me and my children would lose out on Mommy Time. I know I’m doing the right thing by limiting obligations outside the family–already tapped out with our church and a few other things–just wanted some feedback on this.

What If

Dear What If,

Unless you have a partner willing to exchange roles and become the primary parent, my advice is not to break what’s working for your children. Even when parents agree on part-time work for one, or professional childcare while both pursue careers, inevitably an illness, broken down car, special project, or unexpected extension of a business trip comes up to upset the schedule. It’s best if one parent makes parenting his or her primary focus, and the other parent (along with reliable friends/family members/professional child care providers) act as back up for the needs of the children. Parenting, especially in the early years and the teen years, is more competently managed when at least one parent has the flexibility to be accessible. Use this time in your life to share your interests and talents with your children. Who knows? These experiences could help you hone skills that eventually pay off outside the family. The full attention a successful career requires can wait. It can be frustrating to try to complete a thought or have to meet a deadline when someone is calling “Mommy!” every few minutes.

Greater career women than I have answered this question eloquently. Speaking of marriage, motherhood and career, Lifetime Achiever Barbara Walters has said that a woman can do two of these three things extraordinarily well, but not all three. She was married and divorced four times, twice to the same man. She struggled privately through her daughter’s tumultuous teen years—the girl disappeared for a month at age 15—but they were able to turn things around, and eventually Barbara’s daughter became founder and director of a wilderness program for troubled girls.

Sandra Day O’Connor had an admirable career, ultimately breaking the gender barrier as the first female Justice on the Supreme Court. However, her law career took a back seat until her three little boys were old enough for school. She held this view: “The family unit plays a critical role in our society and in the training of the generation to come.”

In your family unit, you are the “Mommy.” Your job description changes as the children grow, but in the early years, you are the best at filling their everyday needs: story reader, boo boo kisser, snack supplier, day trip planner, manners teacher, etc. Sure, some tasks could occasionally be handled by other people, but imagine how different things would be for your little ones if a conflict between Mom duties and career demands were to force hard choices for your time and emotional energy.

One of my favorite quotes is from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

So if you want my two cents on the matter, for the present “season of your life,” keep on dreaming.

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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