For women, it makes sense to have children first and a career later

·5 min read
‘Raising children is hard work’ (Getty/iStock)
‘Raising children is hard work’ (Getty/iStock)

“Women are better off having children earlier.” My mother’s voice is ringing in my ears as my 10-year-old drags me up to join her latest TikTok video.

“Mum, you’re good at this. My friend’s parents are too old for this stuff,” she giggles at me whilst I’m waving my hands in the air. She approves. “I’ve actually done it!” I say to myself while my Instagram notifications ping.

Three amazing children in my twenties, a promising career in my thirties and I still get to go braless in bandeau dresses without feeling the drop, if you know what I mean? I highly recommend it this way around, especially if you want to have more than one. It is less tiring, more rewarding and ultimately a better use of time in terms of age and health-related issues.

I had my first child when I was 22 and by the age of 27 I had three, but this wasn’t exactly the plan I had in mind. In fact, who really has a “plan"? Are we all just conditioned to believe that success is limited by age? Or that children are a hindrance to this?

Well, what I can tell you is that it was difficult enough to raise children in my twenties; doing it in my forties would definitely be twice as hard!

Interestingly, what I thought I wanted for myself was the opposite of how things have worked out. I thought I wanted a successful career first and then perhaps a family later.

Yet somehow here I am, in my late thirties, with three children and finally at a point where I feel as though my career can take priority. I wouldn’t change a thing and here’s why.

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Women know that our biological clocks are ticking whether we like it or not, and yet millions of us spend more time advancing our careers first instead of considering the reality that one day the choice of having children will no longer be there.

Building a successful career doesn’t have a time limit but our reproductive system has, and although the advancements in reproductive technology are encouraging, these still come with high risks and no guarantees.

As a mother of three children, the owner of my own business and now a mentor, I know all too well the challenges that we face before, during and after deciding to have a family. Juggling our careers with family life is incredibly stressful, and whether we choose to believe it or not, the mammoth decision of when to have children will forever be one of the hardest.

Raising children is hard work. They need all of our attention and as they get older, running around them is part of the deal. It makes sense to have children younger because our energy levels are much higher in order to cope with those demands.

Every day for me with three children felt like a marathon and not only do I recollect all those things my parents advised me to do, I appreciate them so much more.

I come from a Pakistani family and traditionally, we are expected to get married young. We are also encouraged to give up our careers for full-time motherhood and although I agree with this to an extent now, I didn’t then.

To be honest, rather than trying to understand why my elders encouraged this and what the positives were, I instead approached it with rebellion, thinking that it was simply a way to control me. “Oh here we go again,” I’d think silently to myself as my aunties discussed the appropriate baby-making age. I was going to make sure that my career came first and after that, I would consider having a family.

Life definitely has a way of teaching you and at the age of 19, by chance I met the man I was going to marry and from that point onwards, everything changed. Interestingly enough though, for years I considered whether having my family early was the right decision, and whether I should’ve waited.

It wasn’t until I had my second son that the reality of working full time and motherhood really hit me. I took the decision to stop working and concentrate on raising my children. Doing both was an impossible task as I was unable to give either role my full attention 100 per cent of the time.

Yes, some will debate why my partner didn’t give his career up and stay at home, which is a fair question to ask. However, I knew my children needed me, and besides, children are not cheap. It would’ve been a bad decision to stop my family’s higher income, which he was earning.

Fortunately for me, time was on my side and I was able to devote the next 10 years to raising my children to a confident school age, and then I managed to resume a fulfilling career.

I feel a full sense of accomplishment now and every so often I hear: “Wow, your kids are grown up, wish I had had mine earlier.” Or: “You look amazing as a mum of a 15-year-old!” All three of my children are independent and healthy, my body is in the best shape it has ever been, my work feels uninterrupted and the most important thing of all is that I don’t have to worry about my body clock. 

I have my family and there is still plenty of time to continue building that successful career I always wanted. I no longer see it as “giving up” but more a case of postponing, and unlike some of my friends, I’ve never had to experience the pressure of racing against time.

My mum offered wisdom, experience and the perfect example to follow. She had already won and she was teaching me how to.

Bushra Shaikh is an entrepreneur, mentor and BBC presenter

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