Dear Rosie & Sherry:

I just read the answer to the question that you wrote regarding women in their 30s delaying marriage and children for careers. I found it interesting because I, as a 25-year-old fourth-year dental student, got married during my most difficult year and survived. I agree with what you said about going through school with a loving, supporting husband as being possibly easier than doing it alone. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to find someone understanding enough to go through life with a crazed dental student! I got a lot of slack from classmates for getting married in dental school, but I have survived... and even done well!

Now that I've been married for almost a year, my husband and I are thinking seriously about when to start a family, which is what we both really want. I am in the process of applying for a pediatric dental residency, and have concerns about having children during my residency. Almost everyone I speak with about this tells me to wait for a "less busy time."

As career women yourselves, I'm sure you understand that there may never be a time in life that is "not busy." How do I know when is the best time? Is it foolish to consider having a first baby during training? I would love to hear your advice because everyone else I encounter seems to be under the impression that women's lives should either be career-oriented or family-oriented... but not both!

Vicki

Dear Vicki,

Your observation that "there may never be a time in life that is not busy" is right on the mark -- and even more so when it comes to a woman who is in a demanding profession. That's why it is so important for a woman who is heavily invested in a career, and who also wants to raise a family, to periodically examine her priorities, and (along with her husband), determine how she can adjust them at various stages in life.

We both had our first children at a time that the women's movement told us that we could "have it all" in terms of motherhood, career and family life. We quickly learned that yes, women can have it all, but not at the same time. Even the superwomen among us, who are super-organized and able to coordinate many responsibilities, can't simultaneously be at the top of their professions, very involved in raising young children, and devote a great deal of energy to their marriage. Something's got to give.

When we became mothers, we quickly learned that raising a family is a lot more challenging, time-consuming and self-sacrificing than we had ever imagined it would be. We also had no idea how rewarding and enriching parenting would be, and how much we enjoyed sharing responsibilities with our husbands. At the same time, neither of us felt that we would be happy as stay-at-home moms. We loved the professions we had chosen, and we wanted to work in our fields. Yet we chose to have our career take second-chair to our family life.

For us, at varying times in our careers this meant choosing a job that was less demanding (and less prestigious and less lucrative) than another, working part-time, searching a little harder for a position that allowed for flexibility if a child was ill (or had a play or class trip we wanted to attend), opting for jobs that were close to home or to our children's schools, taking a longer time to obtain a license, delaying involvement in professional organizations until the children were older, foregoing certain professional conferences or courses, etc. It also meant occasionally not getting enough sleep or feeling overwhelmed by all of our responsibilities.

Nevertheless, each of us is happy with the choices we made. We achieved competence in our fields and the respect of our clients and colleagues, and now that our children are older we have been able to travel as part of our work with singles and write books and articles. More importantly, we have been able to be the kind of hands-on parents we wanted to be, and our children have grown up happy and well adjusted. We have also been blessed with supportive husbands and have worked hard at keeping our marriages close and loving.

We've explained our own experiences to highlight the fact that for those women who want to combine motherhood and career, it can be done. We suggest that you speak with other women who have done what you'd like to do -- combine a dental or medical residency with motherhood. Because they share your desire to have a family and a career, their perspective will be much more helpful than the views of your fellow students, who at this point in their lives aren't even attuned to the idea of marriage, let alone children.

Some questions you can ask: How were these women able to balance the demands of their job with the demands of their family? How did they handle child care? Were their husbands willing to put in extra effort to help at home? What programs are the most flexible for interns who are also parents? What suggestions do they have to make this part of your life easier? You can adapt their positive experiences to your own life.

Finally, please appreciate that the issues of career versus motherhood involve issues of Jewish law as well, and it is important that a rabbi be part of your decision-making process .

We hope this answer helps you do the right thing.

Rosie & Sherry