When I was in college, no one talked about what kind of career women should choose that could work well with having a family. There was very little discussion about what to do after college at all, actually.
What to do after senior year just seemed like a gray haze, looming in the distance, far away from the midnight pizza runs and hours spent reading Anna Karenina. I was an English major and it was the mid-nineties. The U.S. economy was riding high, and every privileged liberal arts student was simply told, "You can do whatever you want to do!" But after many years out of college, I realized the advice is far from the truth.
Fast forward to now. As a 39-year-old mother of two little kids, here's what I've learned from my fellow moms at the playground, school pickups and Starbucks: Certain professions are nearly impossible to combine with parenting for women.
Finding work-life balance is difficult whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a part-time freelancer or a full-time employee. Either you need a break from your kids or want to spend more time with your kids. Very few of us moms seem to have found the parenting sweet spot. (Of course, having the luxury of choosing how to construct your life is a luxury, one that women who must work several jobs and are paid minimum wage don't have.)
What do mothers want? According to a report called "What Moms Choose" conducted by Ernst and Young in 2011 for the Working Mother Research Institute, the three most important attributes of a jobs are flexible work hours, the ability to use sick leave to care for children and predictable work hours. But what is that perfect career?
In the five years I've spent pushing the stroller for hours with other mothers whose newborns won't sleep, speed chatting in the aisles of Trader Joe's and probing other mothers taking a breather on the playground bench, I've learned some secrets about certain professions. These are the ones to avoid if you hope to either give your kid breakfast most mornings or tuck them in most nights:
Many of the stay-at-home moms I've met are former lawyers. At first I thought this was a coincidence, but then I learned that practicing law is an all-or-nothing endeavor at most firms. I guess that's what happens when the goal is billable hours and making partner. Several hope to find in-house counsel positions, which have more regular hours, once their kids are school-age.
2. Investment Banker
Investment banking is all about face time, my finance friends tell me. And that means meetings all day, at all hours, all over the country. To make it work, one woman I know has a husband with a flexible schedule and a full-time, live-in nanny. She loves her job, she says, and is damn proud to be one of the few female investment bankers in her firm.
3. Foreign News Journalist
When I was a foreign news producer for the BBC, not one single female foreign correspondent had a child. Most of my colleagues on the road were either men with a wife running the homestead or single women with no one back home doing their laundry. If they decided to have a family, most transferred to desk jobs and cashed in their frequent flyer miles. The unpredictability was just too much.
Those are the tough careers -- but are there jobs that make working AND seeing your kids possible? Mothers who work are usually healthier and happier, said a study published last year by the American Psychological Association. It seems to me that for every study claiming a career is good for mothers, you'll find another that says working moms are overly stressed from multitasking or have fatter kids. So I'll share my personal take -- the mothers I've known with these careers seem to be the least conflicted:
Surprising, right? But if you choose the right specialty, like psychiatry or dermatology, you can work reasonable hours (provided you are finished with your residency). Do not choose surgery or emergency medicine or any other specialty that requires being on-call at all times. My own mom decided against being a pediatrician for that very reason.
Lots of stay-at-home moms are teachers because, unlike the fields of media or technology, teaching basically stays the same. They won't be penalized for time off. For some women, the long vacations and good hours, combined with the option of taking a hiatus while the kids are little, make up for the pay. Ask your child's teacher if they ever were a SAHM.
Often, starting your own business is Act II. One former journalist friend now runs the top wedding flower business in Washington, D.C. Another mommy I know has her own PR company. When she went on maternity leave recently, she recruited and trained another mommy (a former lawyer) to cover for her. Starting your business is no easy task but these educated, middle-class moms are often in their late thirties or early forties with years of experience and enough financial freedom to get a small business off the ground.
While I am still attempting to figure out my own next step. I hope to combine my years of professional experience with the confidence I've now found in, gulp, middle age and find a job that works most of the time for my professional goals, my family and my bank account. A job is still a job and parenting will drive you crazy but I've discovered I can't be good at one without the other.
This fall, we moms will watch nervously as Marissa Mayer simultaneously takes on Yahoo! and a newborn. We'll deal with the annual scheduling nightmare of settling in the kids at school while managing demands at work. But working moms should all try to spare a minute for a chat with the young female intern in the office. Why not get her thinking about what job would be right for the life she hopes to lead? And tell her what I wish I had been told in college: You CAN do anything... but it's not going to fall in your lap and it's never going to be perfect.
© 2012 Manoush Zomorodi, author of Camera Ready: How to Present Your Best Self and Ideas On Air or Online
Manoush Zomorodi is the author of Camera Ready: How to Present Your Best Self and Ideas On Air or Online. Her on-camera expertise comes from years of producing and reporting for BBC News, Reuters Television and other media outlets. She moderates conferences on digital technology and hosts live video events in addition to doing media coaching.