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Should single mom prioritize career over time with daughter?

| Friday, June 8, 2018, 12:24 p.m.

Hi, Carolyn:

I am a single mother of an infant daughter. I love my daughter more than life itself, but I am at a crossroads and she is in the middle. I work a very good, high-paying job. However, I don't like it. I want to go back to school and get a master's in a field I am passionate about. I'd get a job that would ultimately only pay about half of my current earnings, but I would actually enjoy it!

If my daughter wasn't in the picture I would do this without hesitation. I can afford school and I know I could be successful at it.

But my daughter IS in the picture. Meaning I could not afford to stop working full time to go to school, and therefore would have to go to school in my off-hours and weekends and I wouldn't be able to spend any time with her. My parents wouldn't say no if I asked them to watch her while I studied, but that is unfair to them because they already raised four kids, are retired, and want to pursue their own interests.

It's not like I am complaining because I want to go out and party or anything like that ... and I WANT to be with my daughter and not miss out on her childhood, but I want this, too.

Am I being selfish? Is it OK to be selfish in this case? Or should I just accept that as a parent I must make sacrifices and just stick with what I have got?

-- Selfish?

Selfishness isn't the first word that came to mind as I read this; I was thinking impatience.

You want what you want and you want it now -- very human of you. But your quick calculations have already told you what this (relatively speaking) immediate gratification will cost you. It'll require all of your best hours to go to working and studying and not to your baby.

I could keep going and parse some other points about your parents and fairness and the comparative ease of doing this now versus when you have a toddler or older child, but, really -- you have a baby you wouldn't be able to see. That seems like something you accept only when you have no other choice.

You have choices, and not just the either-or you depicted here, the “fly free” or “stay chained evermore.” Beware of black-and-white thinking, by the way; when used to justify choices, it tends to be self-serving.

With a little imagination, planning and patience, you can get your education in a way and on a schedule that doesn't cost you and your baby so dearly.

Mainly, this means saving every loose penny from this generous employer until you have enough to launch, and researching every means available of reducing the daily impact of this degree once you're financially armed to pursue it. There are so many variables to consider that I won't bog us down in them, but they fit in those two boxes: degree-obtaining options (online, self-paced, part-time, etc.), and financial options (postponing, saving, part-time work, etc.).

Meaning, replace your yes/no, black/white, with “not yet” and strategic, measured steps. See your daughter as your beacon for this journey, versus someone who stands in the way.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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