Running start… to a great career: Starting a family
Family planning tips from practicing psychologists.
When it comes to starting a family, there’s never going to be an ideal time, says Maggie Benedict-Montgomery, PhD, a private practitioner in San Rafael, California. No matter when you decide to become a parent, she says, “there are always going to be challenges.”
If you decide to adopt or become pregnant during grad school, you may have to stay in the program longer, she points out.
Wait until your psychology practice is launched, and you may feel like you have a smaller window of time to start your family. Like some of their clients, psychologists may feel overwhelmed by struggles to conceive, the sometimes years-long process involved with adoption or the high costs associated with using a gestational carrier.
Benedict-Montgomery got pregnant between finishing internship and applying for postdoctoral fellowships. “I felt my career was on a safe trajectory,” she says. “I worried that if I waited until after I was licensed, I would be too mired down by the work.”
If you’re considering parenthood, keep these tips in mind:
- Seek out a parent-friendly workplace. If you’ll be working as an employee, check out the culture before you sign on, says Benedict-Montgomery. When she interviewed for her postdoc, she used several strategies to determine if the workplace culture welcomed parents: She checked whether recruitment materials included a nondiscrimination policy. She asked would-be supervisors about scheduling flexibility, parental leave and other support. She also asked current residents for the inside scoop.
- Find parenting role models. Talk to other psychologists who are parents and ask about the challenges they face and how they overcame those challenges, says Benedict-Montgomery. The Facebook group Moms in Private Practice is another helpful resource for overcoming isolation, she adds.
- Prepare for financial changes. You’ll need to set money aside, especially if you’re in private practice and lack paid time off, says Sacramento private practitioner Christina Spragg, PhD, who had her first child two weeks after finishing her postdoc six years ago and her second earlier this year. If you’re an employee at a hospital or another organization, familiarize yourself with the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal law that guarantees employees 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave. This law covers time off for childbirth, adoption and many other medical issues. Some state laws and workplace policies allow employees to take paid leave or receive partial income through short-term disability insurance. Once you’re back at work, be ready for what Spragg calls “astronomical” child care costs. “It’s more than many people’s mortgages,” she says. To prepare for the loss of income caused by taking three months off and seeing clients for just a half-day each week for her son’s first year, Spragg and her husband scaled back expenses and socked money into accounts where they would generate the most income. Additional sources of income are also key, says Spragg, who gives talks, offers workshops and is working on a children’s book.
- View parenting as a plus. It’s easy to focus on the challenges of mixing parenthood and career, says Benedict-Montgomery, citing work/life imbalance and discrimination against parents as examples. But parenthood also brings unexpected benefits. “I have a deeper understanding of what the families I’m working with are experiencing,” she says, adding that parenthood has brought new knowledge as well as an ability to feel things more deeply than before.
- Accept that you can’t control everything. Even the best-laid plans can be derailed by fertility problems, legal matters surrounding adoption, the lack of a partner or other issues. “It can’t be overstated enough that you don’t have full control over everything” says Spragg.