Erica, 32, a research biologist in Washington, D.C., is mom to a 3-year-old son (Erica asked I not use her last name). She sent me this email last week about how she stopped taking child support payments from her ex. So many lessons here. PLEASE READ!
I have a three year old son, and his dad has recently hinted he planned to take me to court to reduce his child support payments, which I depend on to pay for child care. His comments about how “his” money was supporting my lifestyle made me furious. I make my own money, and his share covers daycare for our son.
None the less, I freaked out and started running numbers about how I was going to make money work without child support.
Life works in crazy ways. Soon after I was called into a meeting with my upper management to discuss my career path. They wanted to promote me into a higher track. I currently get performance-based raises every year, and for the last three years I have ranked No. 1 in my track. This year, I was promoted up a level due to my excelling performance. But my upper management wants to move me into a more competitive track that is a better fit with my current career responsibilities. The upside would be a more prestigious title (and more respect from my majority-male colleagues), while my base salary would be the same. The big drawback with their proposed promotion is that I would not be eligible for the 10%+ raises each year.
As I sat in that meeting I kept doing the math about income vs. child support eligibility, worrying about how I would have to go back to court, argue to keep my current child support, so I could make child care bills, yet keep advancing at the same time. That’s when I remembered your article about not holding yourself back just to get child support. I realized how much easier my life would be if I could cut all financial ties with my ex — regardless of what he legally or morally owes me.
So, I put my big girl pants on and was brutally honest with my upper management. I explained that in the last two years I had become a single mother. I told them point blank that I did not want to be moved to the upper track they were discussing. I explained that I wanted the raises, and it is the money that motivates me.
Unknown to me, my lab director is a single mom who was allowed to work part time from home as her kids were growing up (which is unheard of in a science field) so she could remain relevant in her career and best take care of her family. She asked me what my five year plan would be if I was allowed to stay in my current track. I told I wanted to stay in my current track for three years, at which time I would max out my pay band. Then, I wanted the promotion to the higher track, with the fancier title. I cited papers, presentations, and travel requests I have been a part of and how my career is indeed advancing in my current track, and a “lesser” title isn’t holding me back professionally.
She applauded me for having a career plan that put both my son and I in an advantage to be financially independent. She then told me about a mentoring program, and asked me to be her mentee. I agreed, and told her I would love to learn from her because she is an amazing scientist and has navigated a field that is run by men which has put her in the race to be our next Institutional Director. She then agreed to my plan to max out my lower position before being promoted to an upper position. But she threw in a curve ball: she wants me to get my PhD in genetics. They will pay for everything, and I will start everything once my son is in school in two years. I will work part time at my current job and part time on my PhD, receive a stipend for my PhD and whatever my salary is (in full) at the time as well. She and I drafted everything into a formal career plan, signed the agreement, and filed it away with HR. We also set up quarterly progress and mentoring meetings so that I can start thinking about what research project I want to work on for my PhD.
I stuck to my guns about wanting to make more money right now and was thrown a huge curveball with a “free” PhD to begin in two years. It all scares the shit out of me. And puts me so far out of my comfort zone (the negotiating, the deal making, the PhD), but it also sets me up to be more of a rockstar than I already am in a male-dominated field! This all just became really real for me!
So, thank you for the real life articles about not holding yourself back because of fear of losing child support —and negotiating and fighting for what you are worth!
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