Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Have Babies Early in Your Career?

For my pals (male and female) working the grind:  I thought this WSJ article: Advice from the corner office (copied below) was interesting.  Many women these days are putting off having children - one reason may be because they worry it will damage and limit their careers.  Perhaps that is still true, but Margaret Tahyar, an M&A partner at Davis Polk, had her children early in her career and believes it is the way to go.  I have no insight on whether or not her advice is sound; however, the comments on the article do shed some light on the validity of her advice.   I especially enjoyed the commenter who said "I was amused by the commentator who said she 'actually got to enjoy [her] 20s.' What’s with this idea that people who have kids aren’t enjoying our lives?"  I would have to completely agree with this statement.  I enjoy my  life just as much now that I have a family, if not more.  Obviously life is different, but it's definitely better!  From my limited experience, Tahyar's model seems to be the perfect example of what a working mother has to do to keep her career advancing: continue working (aside from maternity leave) and have a very understanding and flexible husband/partner.  

If you were wondering, I am pictured above in my summer associate office - working the pre-recession summer associate grind.  I cropped out my fellow summer associate to avoid detriment to his/her career.  *sigh.* *tear.*  Good times.           

Last week, the WSJ Online ran out a profile interview with Davis Polk M&A partner Margaret Tahyar. The purpose of the column — titled ‘How I Got Here’ — is to look at, well, how successful people got to where they are. We read the column with eagerness not only because of the Davis Polk angle, but also to pick up any insight we could into the always vexing issue of how folks like Tahyar balance the demands of work and the demands of home. Tahyar, 50, has three children.
On that front, we were less interested, frankly, in Tahyar’s stellar resume (Michigan, Columbia Law, clerk to both Judge Robert Bork and Justice Thurgood Marshall), than her statement under the “How You Can Get There Too” heading in the article’s sidebar. On children, Tayhar says:
If you possibly can, have your children early in your career as a lawyer because delay often makes the juggle harder and the wear and tear on your body more difficult.
Interesting, right? Frankly, we don’t know too many women (or men) at firms who made the conscious decision to do this — have kids first, then pursue a career. So we checked in with Tahyar to find out if this is what happened.
Here’s how it went down:
Hi Margaret. Thanks for taking the time. So what happened? Did you have kids at an early age?
No. Not exactly. I came to Davis Polk in 1989, and had my first child two years later. I was 31. It was a conscious decision to do it then, but in retrospect I would have done it younger. I was 39 when I had my youngest child (of three).
Interesting. Had you been married long when you had kids?
I got married at age 21. I married very early. Later, we both moved from Michigan to New York to go to law school, and by the time we finished, we’d both been married for 11 years and we were ready. By that point, we weren’t going to wait for career reasons.
Why hadn’t you followed your current advice and had kids earlier?
I was way too poor! Before law school, I was working as a paralegal and my husband and I were living hand-to-mouth. We had children as soon as we felt we were financially able to.
It’s interesting. Many career-oriented women are putting off children until they get their careers up and running. But your advice is different. Why?
For the simple reason that it’s easier when you’re younger. You can deal with the sleep issues. It’s easier on your body and things get harder and more complicated as you get older. For me, to be able to balance work and kids taught me a lot that made it much easier [once I got to Davis Polk.]
There’s another reason, too. You know that old saying “man proposes, God disposes?” Well, it’s true. You can wait and wait until the perfect moment, but it may not happen.
That said, I don’t want to sound too dogmatic on this point. It’s obviously different for a lot of women. But for me, the difference between being pregnant at 31 and pregnant at 39 was significant. I can only imagine it would have been that much easier had I done it in my 20s.
And once you had kids, how did you manage? Did you take a year or two off? I didn’t take a year off; I always kept working, outside of the maternity leave, of course.
So once you got to Davis Polk, you could afford child care. But it’s not like you can always be home at 6 p.m. every night. Your job is inherently a bit unpredictable, right?
That’s true. At a certain point, my husband stepped back in his career.
You mentioned in the profile that he was supportive and not threatened.
Ha! That’s true. At the time we had our second child, he was working for the government. Soon after our second child, he quit and became a house husband. The truth is that I couldn’t have done this, have had this career, without a husband like him to help.
Very good. Well, thanks for taking the time.
My pleasure.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Joyce! A very relevant topic to married lawyer-women like me who are trying to figure out what they want long term. Unfortunately I'm in the camp that this article doesn't really "advance the ball" because, in the end, she got a stay-at-home husband. She doesn't really talk about how she personally balances her family/work lives (demanding different hours structures, etc etc). It just proves the theory that unless you want others raising your kids, it's almost imperative to have one spouse at home when the other is on partner track!

  2. Agree wholeheartedly with Mimi's comments... Are there any successful mom and dad lawyer teams out there that have found balance? Please speak up - I'd be all ears.

  3. I used to work with a mother of 2 whose spouse is also a lawyer, and they seem to make it work with a full time nanny. The oldest, however, is already in elementary school (she had him in law school).

    The rat race can be an ugly place.

  4. I think this article is for all mommies who want to have their careers going even after having children. Thanks for posting Joyce. Although I am not a lawyer, I have been wondering about this too. Now I have put my career on hold and enjoy motherhood. I figured my son is only going to be this little ONCE. I don't want to miss anythings. Career can wait, I hope!

  5. I am in total agreement, Winnie. It's a little scary wondering if my career will wait for me, but I'm willing to take the risk for now.

  6. I am a former big firm lawyer and my husband is senior associate- I made a move to the Public Defender's office shortly before we had our baby. My hours are pretty reasonable and we have a nanny.

    But there's still a tradeoff for me- I enjoy what I do, but it's hard to feel as though I haven't stepped off of my career pathway. BUT the fact that I am able to put our son to bed every night makes up for it.