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Advice From the Corner Office: ‘Have Your Children Early in Your Career’

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  • Advice From the Corner Office: ‘Have Your Children Early in Your Career’

    Last week, the WSJ Online ran out a profile/interview with Davis Polk M&A partner Margaret Tahyar. The purpose of the column — titled ‘How I Got Here’ — is to look at, well, how successful people got to where they are. We read the column with eagerness not only because of the Davis Polk angle, but also to pick up any insight we could into the always vexing issue of how folks like Tahyar balance the demands of work and the demands of home. Tahyar, 50, has three children.

    On that front, we were less interested, frankly, in Tahyar’s stellar resume (Michigan, Columbia Law, clerk to both Judge Robert Bork and Justice Thurgood Marshall), than her statement under the “How You Can Get There Too” heading in the article’s sidebar. On children, Tayhar says:
    If you possibly can, have your children early in your career as a lawyer because delay often makes the juggle harder and the wear and tear on your body more difficult.

    Interesting, right? Frankly, we don’t know too many women (or men) at firms who made the conscious decision to do this — have kids first, then pursue a career. So we checked in with Tahyar to find out if this is what happened.

    Here’s how it went down:

    Hi Margaret. Thanks for taking the time. So what happened? Did you have kids at an early age?

    No. Not exactly. I came to Davis Polk in 1989, and had my first child two years later. I was 31. It was a conscious decision to do it then, but in retrospect I would have done it younger. I was 39 when I had my youngest child (of three).

    Interesting. Had you been married long when you had kids?

    I got married at age 21. I married very early. Later, we both moved from Michigan to New York to go to law school, and by the time we finished, we’d both been married for 11 years and we were ready. By that point, we weren’t going to wait for career reasons.

    Why hadn’t you followed your current advice and had kids earlier?

    I was way too poor! Before law school, I was working as a paralegal and my husband and I were living hand-to-mouth. We had children as soon as we felt we were financially able to.

    It’s interesting. Many career-oriented women are putting off children until they get their careers up and running. But your advice is different. Why?

    For the simple reason that it’s easier when you’re younger. You can deal with the sleep issues. It’s easier on your body and things get harder and more complicated as you get older. For me, to be able to balance work and kids taught me a lot that made it much easier [once I got to Davis Polk.]

    There’s another reason, too. You know that old saying “man proposes, God disposes?” Well, it’s true. You can wait and wait until the perfect moment, but it may not happen.

    That said, I don’t want to sound too dogmatic on this point. It’s obviously different for a lot of women. But for me, the difference between being pregnant at 31 and pregnant at 39 was significant. I can only imagine it would have been that much easier had I done it in my 20s.

    And once you had kids, how did you manage? Did you take a year or two off? I didn’t take a year off; I always kept working, outside of the maternity leave, of course.

    So once you got to Davis Polk, you could afford child care. But it’s not like you can always be home at 6 p.m. every night. Your job is inherently a bit unpredictable, right?

    That’s true. At a certain point, my husband stepped back in his career.

    You mentioned in the profile that he was supportive and not threatened.

    Ha! That’s true. At the time we had our second child, he was working for the government. Soon after our second child, he quit and became a house husband. The truth is that I couldn’t have done this, have had this career, without a husband like him to help.

    Very good. Well, thanks for taking the time.

    My pleasure.

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