I’m 27 and happily married to my husband (33) but my career is worth nothing but emotional torment. I work at a bank and my job is administrative and empty and horrible for my creative soul but it pays the bills. We are getting ready to start a family and need my job for the maternity leave. My husband makes decent money working for smaller companies and has full flexibility over his calendar, but we rely on my corporate role for the job security, perks and benefits. But I hate it and I am dying every day. Worse, my manager and I DO NOT get along.

Do you have any advice as to how to balance my everyday misery while I hang onto the job for what it has to offer? And do you have any advice for finding more meaningful work while I am on maternity leave so that I can establish something for myself, independent from the corporate world?

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21 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Pay for benefits from your husband’s job.

    1. You can’t make a career change when you are pregnant. And it’s time to get pregnant. Career changes take three or four years — to establish yourself – before you get pregnant.

    2. You haven’t found a job you like after seven years in the workforce so you probably are not going to find one. Not everyone was born to be in the workforce. Do you think Bill Gates could have stayed home with kids? No. Of course not. He’d die of boredom. So some people are terrible at home with kids and some people are terrible in the business world. Both types of people are fine. We are who we are. And you pretty much know who you are by age 27.

    3. You are not going to earn enough money to pay for quality child care. After you take that money out of your paycheck, and after you take taxes out, you’ll be making such a small amount that it will not be worth leaving your baby all day for that amount of money.

    4. Leaving a baby you love at home to go to a job you hate that doesn’t pay very much is not going to be something you’ll do over the long run. Your husband has to figure out how to support the family. You can work, that’s fine. But you can’t work to support the family.

    Everyone in a family has a job. If your husband is going to work full time then he is not going to do a lot of child care. You will do childcare full time so you can’t do a lot of work. It’s not like your husband is going to do 50% of childcare and 50% of earning, so why are you trying to do 50% of earning?


  2. Christine
    Christine says:

    Piggybacking off of Penelope’s advice:

    “[D]o you have any advice for finding more meaningful work while I am on maternity leave so that I can establish something for myself, independent from the corporate world?”

    I think the hardest part about this is actually accepting the hard reality of it: i.e., no, you will not become an astronaut when you grow up.

    Afterwards, the hard thing becomes figuring out the best way for you, personally, to add value to the world. The answer will likely be right in front of you, but it can take a lot of trial and error to commit to it, as well as to establish a solution that works for you and your family.

    My guess is that this is one of the stages of life where entrepreneurs get separated out from employees who maintain a job that they are okay with and do the things that they love in their spare time.

  3. Di
    Di says:

    I started a side hustle whilst at a job, I was making some headway and enjoying it and thought maternity leave would be the perfect time to forge forward with it so I got pregnant. My work ground to a halt (I picked it up again 18months later!). I’m not saying that would happen to you but I am saying life after kids is unpredictable. I’d say test some stuff out now whilst you’re in your job, knowing that your day job is helping you explore your creative dreams might make it more palatable, see if you get any traction. If you can’t do it with a bank job you probably won’t do it with a baby.

  4. jessica
    jessica says:

    I’m going to go out on left field with this one.

    I say quit the job. Good riddance. There is nothing secure about that situation. Sorry.

    Then without that massive stress reassess what you are doing with your life (i.e. pursue another career/ dive in with baby planning/ build a business that brings in passive income).

    It seems like you guys need a lot of benefits and financial support to have a kid. Make sure these things are in order as much as possible before getting pregnant. If he can’t support you both (or three) on one income, figure that out first. THEN get pregnant.

    The less things to sort when baby is around, the better.

    You don’t want to spend babies’ first 2 years sorting this stuff out. You won’t have time.

  5. Maria
    Maria says:

    Why do you want to have a baby at such young age? come on! Enjoy life, your marriage and built a career you are confortable with and then have kids… I got married when I was 30, I had my first kid when I was 32. By then, I had travel the world, I had a stable career and I was ready to sacrifice a lot for my kids. Really, kids need a lot of sacrifice. I set a goal for my self, if possible, I would only have a kid after a reach a manager level. I was promoted from Sr Analyst to manager, and 3 months later I got pregnant. I took a year off. I live in Germany, so I am entittle to two years martenity leave if I want to. But I work for an american company and of course my bosses dont like that. I dont care. I took my time offf.. When I came back I was already pregnant with my second kid. So I worked for 7 months, and took again 14 months off. As I can back I have missed one promotion. And this was the career price I was paying for having my kids. I was OK with that. But the success in the career world does not depend of you having kids or not. I quickly moved out of that company and got a job as a Sr Manager, and two years later as Director. Summary: plan your kids to come when you have certain financial stability in whatever you do. I love my kids, they are adorable. And I am really happy I have them. But they bring a lot of complexity to the equation.

    PS: dont expect to build a business during maternity leave. I tried to do that and it did not work. I though with all the time I will have a can certainly work on developing my own business. The fact is that taking care of a baby is quite some work, specially during the first 5 month or so when you have to breastfeed every 2 hours.

    All this info is based on my own experience and might be different for other. Best of luck! .-)

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      “But the success in the career world does not depend of you having kids or not.”

      Things do not work this way in the USA. !

      You have to decide between career or kid. You cannot apply the EU standard of respecting a woman’s choice to have a career and kids to work in the US when we have 0 maternity leave, 0 holiday, 0 programs to make childcare work etc.

      I agree with the ideal of reaching stability prior to children- but in the USA this means saving up thousands (if you will be a SAHM), generally not moving from one huge area to another for employment or health insurance, and retiring yourself because we do not have gov’t programs for the children of middle and upper middle families to piggyback on when we go back to work.
      We go back to work and again, have no time to take off during the year (holiday?) or for child’s needs.
      I don’t know how this is continuously misunderstood by my friends in the EU- I explain again and again and it is so foreign to everyone (how do you live?!) that we cannot easily or even plan a high earning career in which we just step back into our old post after taking proper home care of the children for years (!!!) at a time.

      I’m sorry but I really think women in the EU need to understand this so that instead of saying ‘Of course it is totally fine and possible’ when it actually is not, would help women’s rights in America through vocal support and action.

      Here’s my handy example from just this week:

      My husband’s boss, who is female, and VERY high up in a prominent firm just announced her pregnancy. She said she will be back in two weeks after delivery (Her boss just nodded and said ‘we’ll see’). Do you know why she said this? She is one female of many males. They will replace her. They can. There are minimal laws preventing her replacement. She’s had to chose between her career and her child now and she is having to say she chooses her career just to save face.

      That wouldn’t happen in Germany, now would it?

      • Maria
        Maria says:

        I went to college in Indiana and worked the first years of my carreer in the US. I understand the American system. When I compare it to Germany, I find both have advantage and disadvantages. It is clear to me than having kids and managing a career is hard in both places. In Germany I can take as much maternity leave as two years, the second year you get nothing and the first year is paid at about 60%. That sounds great and it is great! However, the problem is that the childcare system is not the best Here. I cannot find child care that closes after 4 pm, most of them close between 3:30 and 4:00. There are no transportation services for kids and you are faced with the question: now what? You can do private childcare , which closes at 6:00, and must be ready to pay about 1500 euro monthly per kid. So, the system here is perfect during the first year, but after that you need to work really hard to find a support system in order to be able to work. In the US is different. The situation is quite difficult during the first year, because of a very short maternity leave. But afterwards there are 100’s of childcare options, extracurricular activities, private buses, school buses etc. my sister leaves in the US is a lawyer and has 3 kids. During the first 6 years after having her first kid she did not work. Then she realized she needed to go back to the workforce, went to school for a specialized degree and found a job afterwards. She is now really happy and can manage work + 3 kids just fine. All 3 of them have extracurricular activities until 6 pm. In Germany this is different, the older your kids are the most difficult it gets. At least until they can be alone. No system is perfect. I could go on and on about other Pros and cons.

        • Maria
          Maria says:

          To answer your question: no it is not as easy to fire someone in Germany as it is firing in the US. This applies to males as well. The labor laws tend to be very protective of the employee, this pretty much aligns with the socialist democracy of many European countries. In the US there is a capitalist system. Which tends to be driven by less protection and more towards competition and the law of the fittest. Again, both systems have pros and cons.

          • Maria
            Maria says:

            one more thing, during the years I spent working in the US, I asked every single female executive I met how did they manage career and family. I consistently got the same answer : you need a very good support system you trust and feel comfortable with. Today I can say it is true, really true. I have a nanny who picks up the kids and takes care from 4 to 6 pm, I have a cleaning lady 2 hours every day at home, I have a gardener who comes every Saturday, my husband has a very flexible schedule, and yes we pay for all of it because I really like my job and we like the financial freedom we get with it. Plus when I come home I want to spend time with the kids instead of cleaning. So if somebody asked me today the question how do you manage career and family, I would say support system + loving and enjoying what you do as a career.
            PS: although there are so many “start up” benefits in Germany to have kids, I don’t know a single female German director or above with kids. It is so scary. Most of the Executive moms I know are based in the US. So, at least these executive moms I have learnt to know and my older sister confirm it is possible to have a career + lovely healthy kids. Easy? No, but possible.

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            Not every family has children that easily go with the status quo or fit into a traditional parenting/schooling paradigm. Telling my kids to suck it up and go to school when it is inherently bad for them, regardless of how great the school is, is not something I want to engage in. When you have a child who is a divergent thinker, craves freedom both creatively and intellectually, then the mindset of “what worked for me works for them” is no longer relevant. There are no existing labor laws that cater to this lifestyle.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          That’s interesting because I have female friends that are lawyers and they never see their kids, but they are fine with it. How does your sister not work 80+ hours a week?

          I have friends that are very wealthy and have the large monetary support systems. I’m not talking about women with surpluses of money. But even then there is a choice of primarily raising the kid or outsourcing their days.

          The truth is that very few women, as you point out, will make director/senior positions prior to kids. We need better systems for the majority. It sounds like you could use some better options for the later years, and we could use some better options for the younger years- if we aren’t staying at home with the kids.

          • Maria
            Maria says:

            Our mom had executive jobs or ran companies most of my child and teenager life. We grew up with a working mom and had a lovely childhood. She is really smart and managed to squeeze all in. It was not always easy. But here I am. I learned from her to work smarter no longer. I also learned from her that work must stay in the office (there were no home offices these days!). With mobile phones, messengers etc. It is harder to disconnect nowadays. But for me and my sister the working day is over from 6 to 10 pm. Sometimes I eventually work after the kids are in bed. This does not happen often. But the third and most important lesson from my mom is family is always first. It seems contradictory, so a couple years ago I asked my mom how come family is first and my daughter spends 7 hours a day in childcare? Her answer was: in order to be a good mom and put family first, you don’t need to have your kids physically with you all the time. She said this is not how life works. Being with your kid 12 hours a day does not guarantee you are a good mother. We all need to learn to reach things by ourselves. She continued, what you have to do is provide your kids with stability, social and physiological stability. You need to teach them to think smart, how to enjoy happinenes and you need to teach them how to understand situations and take decisions based on the best data available + intuition. I am lucky because I have such a good coach in life. I hope I can be that to my kids as well. And I hope sharing this might give some food for thought to others..

  6. Natasha
    Natasha says:

    If I can chime in – when I read your letter, it was like I had written it 4 years ago (almost; different job, but no happier).

    I had my first kid at 32 (we started trying at 29 – Penelope isnt kidding, dont wait around thinking everything will work out in the baby-making department), and I quit my job after my 1 year maternity leave (I am Canadian).

    I am a stay-at-home-mom, with another baby on the way, and I finally feel like what I am doing is meaningful. I have never been happier. We do fine on one income, we have cut our expenses dramatically (I was the breadwinner, so it did take sacrifice, and we are moving across the country so hubby can make more money). It has all been worth it.

  7. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    All great advice. But don’t wait too long to get pregnant. I started trying to conceive when I was 30. After a year of trying went to fertility doctors and found out I have high FSH – meaning I’m running out of eggs ahead of schedule. Thankfully we conceived right before we started fertility treatments. Because I knew about my fertility situation we went to work and thankfully conceived #2 when #1 was 12 months old. My doctor told me that if I had waited a few more years to try it wouldn’t have happened for us. Lesson learned – don’t wait too long. I love my work and choose to work full time, but having kids is the most important thing by a million miles.

  8. skye
    skye says:

    Hi Letter Writer,

    I am in the same boat. I’m already pregnant, due in July. I’m planning to keep doing a job I don’t like up until I deliver. I’ll take a few months off, then go back to the job until I can get a new career underway. My new career will require me to basically start from scratch. I’ll need new work experience and an advanced degree, and I anticipate it will take several years to get established.

    Maybe my plan is impractical, but I’m doing it anyway. I know in my heart that even though I haven’t landed a job I like yet, I don’t want to be a stay at home mom. I will go crazy. And what will I do when my kids leave? I don’t want to be one of those needy moms who doesn’t have a life outside of home and family.

    Plus, my husband would like to spend time with the kids, too. I don’t think it’s fair to put him in the position of being a lifetime breadwinner. For some reason that issue doesn’t get addressed here.

    You are only 27. I disagree that just because you haven’t found a job you like, you’re not cut out to have a career (unless that’s what you want). Consider following the advice above and quitting your job for now so you don’t have to spend your time doing something you hate. Have a baby and make a plan for getting back into the workforce in a way that feels less soul-sucking. This is not an impossible hurdle. You can do it.


    • Skye
      Skye says:

      Just another thought for Penelope: when you advise women to give up on the idea of having a career and let their husbands become the sole earners, what do you expect will happen if their husbands die? You’ll have widowed moms who are disconnected from the work force. Advising women to become completely financially dependent on their husbands seems backward to me.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        What are you talking about?

        Husbands are not passing away left and right.

        She advises people to figure their stuff out before having kids, and if that hasn’t happened, be prepared for just how much children need (which is why she promotes unschooling as the healthiest educational option).

        Children’s needs stump career aspirations and individual goals. Who’s going to raise the children if both parents are shooting for the stars in their respective careers?

        Luckily in this day and age, after years of raising children women can go back to work, but on their own terms and create their own businesses.
        I doubt in 20-30 years there will be many women sitting with their hands tied in the case of catastrophic incidences (such as death in the family).

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        This advice assumes that life is only about working and consumerism, which I feel is pretty narrow as well as shallow.

        Are we all just worker bees for the wealthy? Are we all destined to walk the same miserable path? I want more for my kids than that.

        Having someone, anyone trustworthy, to stay at home and be with the kids is essential. Whether that is you, your spouse, a retired grandparent, a family member from another country, a nanny that has been well-vetted… unless you want your kid to be on the same soul-sucking path of school, job, death. But, there are other paths to take. Penelope offers a perspective to help others take that step.

      • natasha
        natasha says:

        The answer to your question: life insurance.

        We have some on hubby, to replace his income should anything happen to him. We have some on me, to replace the VALUE of me being at home, raising our children, should anything happen to me.

        And no I do not think I will be “out of touch”. I have never felt more in touch actually. Being a cog in the corporate wheel made me feel out of touch.

  9. Maya S
    Maya S says:

    >Her answer was: in order to be a good mom and put family first, you don’t need to have your kids physically with you all the time. She said this is not how life works. Being with your kid 12 hours a day does not guarantee you are a good mother. We all need to learn to reach things by ourselves. She continued, what you have to do is provide your kids with stability, social and physiological stability. You need to teach them to think smart, how to enjoy happiness and you need to teach them how to understand situations and take decisions based on the best data available + intuition.

    This is such great advice. I’m also a working mom (divorced, two kids ages 8 and 6) — that’s just how things ended up — and finding ways to be creative, present, and happy in the time we have together is an ongoing challenge.

    Based in part on this blog and other female bloggers who are doing something more interesting than the typical “mommy blog,” I started my own blog recently, and it is — surprisingly — doable if you’re motivated. Mine’s about tapping into your creativity as a busy working parent. (When my kids were born, I was the sole breadwinner and also felt like my creative and other needs were thrown out the window while I tried to hyper-function in practical ways. Didn’t help my marriage, obviously.)

    With school-age kids, my experience is that you can be creative in small doses even while holding down a job, and also in your daily life, like a jazz improvisation. Last night I was up till 1:30 a.m. writing about reading my kids books at dinner, and it was totally worth it.

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