Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The best career for a mother

I recently read a blog post about whether medicine is a good career for a woman, since you can work part-time to be with your kids and many specialties are very family-friendly. I wasn't thinking about kids when I was 21 and applying to med school, but I was told medicine was a good career for a woman because it is a field where a woman can earn a good living and face less discrimination than in some of the math-oriented fields I was considering.

As for being a mother in medicine.... if you had asked me five years ago, I would have said that being in medicine is a horrible idea if you want to be a mother. Now I revise my opinion and say that it's only a horrible idea if you want to be a mother before you turn thirty. But it's still not ideal in that you can't easily reschedule a roster of patients because your kid has a fever, and squeezing in a pumping session can be difficult during a doctor's typically busy day.

It got me wondering though: what is the best career for a mother? Because lately, I've met an awful lot of women who have become mothers and given up their jobs.

Traditionally, I think teaching has been considered a good job for a woman and therefore mother. But a friend of mine who had a baby and is now quitting her teaching position says otherwise. The pay is low, there is grading and planning work even once you finish teaching, the hours are surprisingly long due to clubs and phone calls to parents and etc, you maybe get one break the whole day, and you can't easily sneak out early for an appointment or a sick kid.

Nursing is another "traditionally female" job. But I've heard nurses complain about how it's hard to find time to pump during their shifts and that the hours are too irregular, making daycare or school harder to manage. Like with teaching, if your kid gets sick, they have to scramble to find a replacement so it's not so easy to just stay home.

I'm convinced that the best job for a mother is something like actuary or engineer, where you work on projects that don't rely on you showing up at exactly 7 AM every day, and work can usually be put off for a day if something urgent comes up. But strangely enough, these fields don't seem to attract women.


  1. I wonder if perhaps medicine provides options and security therefore is a good field for mothers BUT the rigors of training does not attract or breed (if you will) balance. Jc

  2. Medicine does have options and security, but I think it tends to be less flexible on a day to day basis. Meaning it's harder to call in sick or leave early.

  3. I work as a file clerk/archivist. As long as the papers get scanned into the computer dailyish, they don't care when it happens. However, its a mind-numbingly boring job with no advancement potential or prestige, and the pay is fairly low.

  4. ask my husband the engineer about how "flexible" engineering is - that project deadline that kept him at work on the Labor Day weekend and that (same) project deadline that had him in a meeting yesterdayy from 7 AM until 5 PM. And will keep him in another meeting for the same number of hours today. The poor man is not allowe to get sick or even be "off call" on vacations because ya know, SOMEBODY has to be on call to answer whatever question comes up - and it is ALL of them.

  5. I would ask a different question: "What is the best job for you?" And then figure it out from there. I think any career can be a good job for a woman and women in any career can be a good mother.

    I find it uncomfortable, however, to define a person as a mother (ie, "the best career for a mother"), because that suggests that a woman can't have a purpose in life AND be a mother.

    Our challenge isn't to find the jobs that are friendly to parents and hide ourselves there. Instead, we need to figure out how to make more employers/ careers recognize the recruitment costs and consider rational parental policies a retention strategy.

    And then, when our kids leave home (at 18, if all goes well), not to suddenly have no identity because we are a mother with no one to mother.

  6. Christie: My husband is an engineer and he's the one who always takes sick days when the kids are sick, because I can't as easily. Whenever he has an appointment or whatever, he can leave early no problem. I don't think he's ever been called at home. Maybe it depends on where you work.

    hh: You can call it whatever you want, but the fact remains that a lot of women want some flexibility in their job when they have small kids. You can talk about making employers have "rational parental policies" but really, what do you do when you're in a small medical practice, have 20 patients scheduled for the day, and your kid has a fever of 104?

  7. Fizzy,
    My engineer's career involves interaction with the government on a regular basis - THEY can take a weekend, but they want the answer when they arrive on Monay (or Tuesday)...also he is an engineer in a very special (there aren't many of them out there) field so that probably accounts for the being "on call" all of the time. He has never been able to take a whole day when a kidlet was sick, but can usually start a day or take over at the end of the day so we wound up splitting days. We would just bargain over which part of the day it was.

  8. Fizzy, interesting question! I think it might be more about the best workplace for a mother than the best career. Also, I think a huge question is the best partner for a mother who wants a career. And, a partner with the right career.

    I'm a professor, which can be a great or horrible career for a mother. It's horrible when the tenure clock and the biological clock are ticking at the same time. Now that I've achieved both children and tenure, it's turning out to be quite a lovely career for a mother. But, I've got a (mostly) family-friendly university and a supportive partner. I think a lot depends on a partner who is willing to do serious child care and a job that is willing to allow for me to do serious child care.

    My hope would be that we could shape the markets in both spouses and jobs a bit by pushing for them to be flexible as well.

  9. I'm going with lawyer. I'm a lawyer, and my job made it very easy to return to work full time three months after I had my baby. I pumped three times a day until my baby turned one. I have my own office and was hooked up with a lock and fridge when I came back. I have had a few "emergencies" but for the most part you know your deadlines weeks in advance and can plan accordingly. I work in a law firm and firms can be notorious for gender discrimination, but I found it to be pretty supportive of me -- both in terms of leave and sensitivity to my schedule and pumping needs. Oh, and unfortunately "full time" as a lawyer is sort of like full time as a doctor -- you're lucky if you're working less than 50-60 hours a week. So that does suck a little bit.

  10. I understand what you were alluding to with the comment of "especially if a woman wants to be a mother before 30" but I don't completely agree with this. I'm a family med resident, which, admittedly, should be a more family-friendly choice. I think that it really stinks that we often have this feeling of having to put off child-bearing and rearing during our most fertile years because of training. I feel that if you want to have kids during residency or medical school, do it. I had my little boy my intern year and I'm pregnant now. Granted, my program is very supportive--but I think that women who want to have kids should find the program that is right for them (both from an educational and personal perspective), their family, and is in line with their reproductive choices and go there. When else are you going to have that many call partners to help back you up? In the end, yes, it will have extended my residency 5-6 months, but I don't see that as being a problem. I know not everybody is in my situation, but it can be done.

    1. Hi Ashley,
      Your note really resonated with me.

      I'm 27 and hope to apply to medical school for entry when I am 29/30. I am continuously bombarded with the idea that I won't be able to have kids until I'm 37. I feel like I am being pushed into choosing between two things I have always wanted -- to have children and become a physician. What do you think? If I start when I'm 29, my husband will be working full-time as a lawyer and we could have a baby at some point during medical school, but I'm so anxious about that. I know that the med school I'm considering is very supportive, as I worked with a woman who attended the med school and became pregnant during med school and assures me now that everything will be fine. I guess I'm asking for your advice as a woman who has been through the process. I've also considered becoming a certified nurse practitioner, but know that process is also very lengthy.

  11. I am an engineer. I work as a researcher, and the work is fascinating and rewarding. I chose a place to work where the hours are flexible, up to a point. I have to travel and interact with research sponsors on a sometimes inflexible schedule, and sometimes a deadline will require long days or weekend work, but in general if I need to take off with a sick child, no one has an issue with it (although I've certainly been called at home a few times, and when the kids are up to it I'll check e-mail from home). Thankfully my husband - also an engineer - is very supportive and able and happy to help, so between the two of us things work pretty well. My career has slowed down a bit with two littles at home, but I'm comfortable that the opportunity to pick back up will be there when I'm ready.

  12. I think one of the best jobs for a parent is my husband's job. He works as the system administer for a department at the local university. He can show up whenever he wants, as long as the work gets done. Occasionally he has to work all night, when the computers aren't in use. But he has tons of flexibility, he can even work from home (or really anywhere with internet access) if necessary. So if the child is sick, it's fairly easy for him to take a day at home with her. Also, he has the job security that others have mentioned, computers aren't going away, and people who can manage them are in high demand. And the pay is decent, too.

  13. I think it depends more on the particular company than on the particular career. I am always astounded when my husband tells me he can leave his job (in pharma) to go to a drs appointment or run an errand. However once I worked for a self-proclaimed family oriented company who wouldn't let me friend off work to see his daughter be born, and penalized you if you took even one sick day in a year.

  14. Jen: I've heard good and bad things about law and motherhood. I guess it depends what area of law you're in and where you work.

    Ashley: I think there are some residency programs that are friendly to residents having babies, but I'd say most aren't. I was pregnant at the end of my intern year and I got a lot of flak when I had a complication that caused me to miss a few hours during a single evening call (not even overnight!). I know other women who thought they were in pregnancy-friendly programs until they got put on early bedrest or limited duties. In general, people don't like it when they have to do your work, and in residency everyone is already overworked, so it just makes things all the worse.

  15. Most recent Anon: Obviously, it depends where you work as well as what career you're in. But I think we still can generally say that some careers tend to be better for mothers and some not as good.

  16. I think free-lance writer with a trust fund that I could rely on to pay the bills would be an ideal job for me . . .but outside of my dream world I believe that no matter WHAT position you go into once you put kids into the mix, things will get tough (and seemingly impossible on occasion). When you opt to play for two teams (work and motherhood), every once in a while there will be crucial events for both at the same time - how do you decide which team to choose?


  17. My daughter, who is an engineer and the mother of two small children would disagree with you on that.

  18. I HAVE BEEN WONDERING ABOUT BEST JOBS FOR WOMEN MYSELF. My friend a nurse I thought had the best of all worlds. She worked 3 nights F,S,S and was home all week for her daughter. The daughter is now as a result a stellar student, on her way to excellent college. Then my friend became a nurse-anesthetist with day time job with overtime hours, and her younger son depends on her arriving from work late and very tired/stressed every day. That means more stressful parenting for her and for the kid. The son is struggling in school big time, despite 4-5 hours of supervised home work each evening. I would go for a full time job (nurse with 3 shifts) that allows you to be there for your kid 5 days a week. Nurses have unions and a ton of people that can fill in on per diem basis. My friend nurse got 5 months of maternity leave (compare to my 3 weeks). She went back to work when her job called her and said they would fire her if she did nto show up. She would have stayed at home even longer. As far as nurses who complained about their jobs? There is a lot of people complaining about life in this country. I met a lot of ethnic nurses born in different countries who told me they loved what they did, and did not understand why their american born counterparts always complain. I met nurses who worked 2 shifts when kids are small and one who worked 6-7 days/week when kids in college needed financial support (she made over 100,000).To me this comes as close to flexibility as you can find in this country when applied to one occupation in general.

  19. I am a family nurse practitioner and work 2.5 days per week. The hours and the job are mostly perfect except for summer when the scramble for childcare begins. I always felt my nursing career was perfect for being a mom: at any given time I could easily waltz into HR and switch to another unit, shift or switch from full to part-time or PRN.

    If I had to do it all over again, I would go with speech or occupational therapy. I have friends who are contracted with local school districts and they work during school while their kids are in school and are off summers and holidays. PERFECT!

    My husband is an engineer. It is full time and then some..I would never encourage our daughter to do that although it's gonna be hard because she does love the geeky engineer math like her daddy!

  20. I don't think medicine is family friendly overall no matter what speciality you will find other physicians who resent the mothers in medicine who work part time and in todays medical market at least in private practice when you are parttime and not a partner you have no security as I have learned as as revunes shrink and the practice budget shrinks you are easier to let go. I can't tell you how many times I have seen this happen.

  21. "I'm convinced that the best job for a mother is something like actuary or engineer, where you work on projects that don't rely on you showing up at exactly 7 AM every day, and work can usually be put off for a day if something urgent comes up."

    This. I'm neither of this, but in a field which offers similar flexibility -- academia. I got my Ph.D. two years ago and have since been doing postdocs with no teaching requirement (but I've been teaching anyways since I love it). *Everyone* in my dept. comes in on their own particular and sporadic schedule, and it's not just this university, I started a new postdoc this month and it's the same at my new department. This semester I teach once a week and told my students the first day that I expect to have to cancel one, perhaps two (and if any more, I'll try to reschedule rather than cancel) in early Nov. when my first child is due. In the meantime, I can work from home, I can work from the office, my hours are completely within my control, and so far I've only had to decline one speaking opportunity due to impending motherhood, and even the organizer agreed that going to another country 2 days before my due date was probably not a good idea!

  22. Well, I'm an engineer and my job is a lot more flexible than my doctor husbands. Only on one occasion so far he's had to call in sick to stay with the baby while I went to a non-negotiable meeting. I had zero sympathy for the trouble he had re-arranging his day, because every other time - it's me sorting out all the ancillary shit that goes with having kids and a life while he works. But - I don't work in construction or project or site based work. In any of those areas of engineering it is much more difficult to rearrange your day at short notice.

  23. I love that so many non-doctors are reading this blog! I think working women can all relate to Mothers in Medicine. I am a lawyer and I think I have the perfect job - I write appeals and work from home. I only work part time when my children are in school. I don't have to go to court. I do everything online and through the P.O. and telephone. I can wear my pajamas. The only downside is when I have a big deadline, I usually have to put in hours late at night. So, I think the ideal job is something you can do from home but still is challenging and a professional career and pays well. I don't make a fortune, but I love writing and research and I am getting paid.

  24. I found working full time as a hospital doctor (specialist in training) with a young child quite inflexible. Weekend work and evenings (14 hour shifts - 8am til 10pm) were expected on a pretty frequent basis in some roles. Not very family friendly, especially when your husband has to travel away for work. When my husband wasn't away for work thankfully his job (youth work - mostly working from home) was flexible enough for him to take leave if our son was sick/needing to go to an appointment/etc.

    Now, I'm an Endocrinologist and working in private practice very part-time and I find it quite flexible - but I had to wait til the age of 34 to have this flexibility! I can cancel sessions in school holidays or reschedule them to a time of the week when I can find someone to look after our son. I can even bring our son with me to work (he's nearly 5) if he's sick or doesn't have kindergarten. BUT, I'm 38 weeks pregnant and finding someone to cover my patients while I took some leave around the birth of the baby really stressed me out (in the end found someone to cover me for 6 months which is great!). I should add that I deliberately don't give out my out of hours contact details to my patients to maintain some sort of work-life balance (but my practice is small).

    I doubt there is an ideal job for a mother, but I'm happy with my choice for now.

  25. I am suprised that no one mentioned the (to me ) obvious...the perfect job for a mother is the one you have before and then after the hand-on part of mommy-hood is over.

    I am a fifty-three year old RN who started life as an Army Officer. I had my first son three months after my committment was up, and his sister 13 months later. I was a full time mom until the littlest was four and headed to preschool, which is when I headed off to get my BSN for two years.

    So, by the time I started working as a nurse, both kids were in elementary school (not daycare) and went to YMCA type camp during the summer. I changed to home health care when they were teens to "drop by" prn to keep them in line.

    I have been an empty nester for 8 years now, working hard and then playing hard with just DH to worry about. Since I have at least another 15 years on the job, that will make for six years out of the job market (2 of those school) from ages 20 to 70.....worked for me.

    As many of us who marched in the 70's for the ERA will tell you younger women...You CAN have it all, but NOT at the same TIME!

    Shelby, RN


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