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Like Serena Williams, I had to make sacrifices for my family. The motherhood penalty exists for all moms.

Lauren Crosby headshot
Courtesy of Lauren Crosby

  • Many working moms can relate to Serena Williams' choice to focus on family. 
  • I also had to choose between my job and my family because I couldn't make both happen. 
  • Whether you are a famous superstar tennis player or a regular mom, the motherhood penalty exists. 

Serena Williams announced her "farewell to tennis" this week, describing the impossible tension between her successful career and her hopes of raising a family.

I'm not famous, I don't play sports, and I didn't immerse myself in a career before having kids. I'm not Serena Williams, but I know what it's like to choose between career and family.

Millions of other women feel the same tension every day. Do we go for that promotion if a new baby is imminent? Take a part-time role to see the kids more? Use massive chunks of our salaries to pay for childcare? Pay someone to pick our kids up from school so we can work until 5?

The ever-present tension between career and family persists as we constantly try to make the right choices for our families. Even with supportive spouses and generous workplace flexibility, parents — especially mothers — find the juggle to be all-consuming.

The motherhood penalty exists, even for high-profile women like Serena.

I chose a career that would allow me to spend more time with my kids before I even had kids

When I first considered my career path at the University of Maryland in 2007, I chose to major in teaching because it was a job where I could have summers and holidays off to be with my future children. Even from the beginning, I was thinking about how to balance work with a future family. Due to an international move from America to the UK in 2011, I couldn't use my teaching degree and took on other work temporarily, without a "future career plan," knowing I would have children in the near future.

Three kids later, I have chosen to primarily dedicate these last eight years to raising a family and pursuing a career. I made a choice, like Serena, based on what was best for my family.

Childcare costs are painfully high — if I had been working any job with mediocre pay, I would essentially be earning a salary to place my kids into childcare. The cost wasn't worth it for me.

Even if I found a job that paid more than the price of childcare, what employer is going to let me rock up at 9:30 a.m. after I drop my kids off at school and nursery, then leave at 2:45 p.m. to pick them up? Those kinds of jobs are few and far between.

Additionally, we don't have family that can watch the kids for me so I can work all day, every day. No one is free to pick the kids up from school every day; it's up to my husband and me. We've decided he would be the main breadwinner, and so I have been the primary parent to take care of our kids. We made the decision as a couple — it was not a cultural imposition.

I wanted to be there for my kids

Another major factor in the choice to be the primary caregiver is that I simply wanted to be that person. I haven't begrudged these eight years of sacrificing a career for my family. I don't feel ashamed for having been a stay-at-home mom for nearly a decade; I have loved so much of it.

The Play-Doh, the playdates, the parks. I've cherished reading books with them at the kitchen table while we have our lunches. I've enjoyed building with Lego Duplo sets on their bedroom floor. I've constantly observed their quirks, their developments, and their personalities.

As the older two started school, I've shown up every day to drop them off and pick them up from the school gates. We've had dinner at the table, with all the mess and chaos it creates. And at night, I give them baths before tucking them into their beds.

I've made a trade-off, a sacrifice. For more time with my young kids, I've put my career aside. I feel privileged to have had this choice — I have a partner who is happy to work and live in an area with a low cost of living. There have been times I've longed to have the same successes other friends have had in their careers, but then I remind myself that they, too, have made sacrifices — we all have.

In September, my youngest will be starting school. My baby days are over and I'm starting to imagine what I'll do next. I'll have six hours each day to throw myself into writing, my buried dream job I've kept hidden away until the time was "right."

Having children hasn't been an end to my career aspirations — just a pause. I made this choice and I don't regret it, even though it came with a cost.

Life is made up of seasons, and this next one is going to look different — not better or worse — than the last.

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