To breed or not to breed?

November 26th, 2006

storkOooooh, interesting Modern Love by relationship author Wendy Paris in today’s New York Times. The essay starts like this:

I don’t know how I got to be so old without having children. When I was 28 and my cousin had her first child, at 31, I thought, “I certainly won’t wait that long.” But then my freewheeling, career-centric life lasted another decade.

And while the piece is more a discussion of the trials and tribulations of trying to conceive when pushing 40 (which, in my extended social circle, is nowhere near as old/rare/daunting as Paris makes it sound), it touches on the always relevant dilemma of whether to spend your most fertile years building a career, building a family, traipsing around the world (or at least around the neighborhood), or all of the above.

Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means advocating women ditch their day jobs in favor of dirty diapers. Nor am I a militant disciple of Linda Hirshman, insisting that every last woman work outside the home lest Betty Friedan roll over in her grave. I don’t give a poop where in the mommy/careerwoman spectrum others fall, as long as they don’t try to push their decisions on me. (For the skinny on women who agree, see Judy McGuire‘s hilarious piece, “Newborn Free,” in the current issue of Bust.)

I know it’s old news, but I (still) find this conundrum fascinating, especially because everything I’ve read on the mommy/career dilemma points to thirtysomething women weighing the work/family balance issue much more heavily than their male counterparts. Probably because in the majority of North American families, the moms are still the ones punching in for the second shift at home. And because in a majority of families, not working outside the home is not a financial option for mothers (or fathers). And because, well, we’re the ones who have to carry the suckers around in our bellies for nine months and suffer the career hits at work, due to workplace biases.

So, people who read this blog but have yet to comment, what do you think about starting a family earlier vs. putting it off to focus on your career, creative pursuits, travels, et cetera? What do you think about doing both at once and trying to strike a balance between the two? How about skipping the whole conception thing, living your independent life to the fullest in your twenties and thirties, and then adopting in your forties? Opting out of motherhood altogether? If some of you comment, I may be persuaded to reveal where I fall within the mommy/career/juggling act spectrum (she goads).

Entry Filed under: Balance,Working moms

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. xina  |  November 27th, 2006 at 10:06 am

    i’ve chosen to opt out entirely, as have most of my friends. i personally just don’t want to be a parent. i leave that job to those who do. i like other people’s children.

    my female friends who are doing both struggle daily, with loving their jobs, but not getting any flexibility/empathy for their needs from their job and feeling like they aren’t seeing their children enough. one friend of mine, i sent her the link to your blog/book, as she had mentioned her personal struggle, and she told me a story about her sister-in-law who had to leave her career after working her way up to VP because the company just wouldn’t give her any flexibility when it came to her needs as a mother to meet the needs of her daughter.

    i do wonder what will happen in my old age and wonder how seflish it is to consider adopting a teenager in my 60′s so someone can take care of me. then again, where is there a guarantee your children will take care of you? there are plenty who don’t.

  • 2. Lauren  |  November 27th, 2006 at 11:26 am

    I’m 34 and childless, and pretty happy about it. I have a godson whom I adore and assorted friends’ kids to hang out with, which I enjoy quite a lot, but at the moment my partner and I have no intentions to procreate. I do feel like there’s still a chance we’ll change our minds, but I’m pretty sure we won’t. That said, if we do, and it’s later in life (i.e. past optimum childbearing time), I’m wide open to adoption.

    But here’s my big preoccupation with the whole baby-having thing these days: my business partner does want to have a kid someday, and the two of us are trying to figure out how the hell to swing that financially. Basically it means we need to save up a bunch of extra cash to pay for her mat leave, and potentially some more to hire some help while she’s away. As business owners we’re not eligible for paid maternity leave through Canada’s otherwise pretty good national plan, so we’re completely on our own.

    I’m not usually one to pull the whole “my taxpayer dollars” trip, but this is one issue where I get a bit up in arms. Because we pay our taxes like everyone else, but we’re not allowed to contribute to the Employment Insurance program, and so we don’t get any of the benefits of it — and in this case, that’s proving to be a huge problem.

    I’m increasingly seeing the lack of paid mat leave and universal childcare as the biggest obstacles to women’s career success. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if those two things were not an issue, I might rethink my own stance on having kids. But as it currently stands, I just can’t see it. The stakes just seem way too high.

    On the other hand, the other thing that keeps me child-free is that I doubt my energy levels could sustain raising a kid (or kids) on top of all the other stuff I enjoy, and I don’t like the idea of giving any of those things up. Ultimately, whenever I get on the “should I have kids?” merry-go-round, the thing that stops the spinning is my inner voice telling me, “Well, you can have a kid, or you can do a thousand other things.” And I like the latter option.

    I could go on and on, but that’s enough for now. :)

  • 3. Michelle Goodman  |  November 27th, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    thx for writing, xina, and for spreading the love around. i hear those same gripes from young parents, too. some find working from home as a telecommuter or freelancer eases the stress and improves the balance, if they can get that setup and deal with the trade-offs (for example, potentially losing their free or subsidized health coverage).

    i like your plan to adopt a teen in your golden years. ha. maybe those of us who opt out (yep, i’m childfree by choice too) can take solace in the fact that we won’t have braces, college, and soccer uniforms to pay for, which = more money for our Depends, dentures, and medication when we’re old and falling apart. joy.

  • 4. Michelle Goodman  |  November 27th, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    lauren, i’m with you on the other things i want to do instead of breed; i think it’s the creative junkie in me. i’m terrified i wouldn’t have/time energy for writing if i became a mom. i barely have enough now. at any rate, i’ve honestly never wanted to have a child of my own (other than the four-legged hellion i’ve already got).

    the business owners having to pick up their own benefits tab is a source of ire for me too. i’ve never had to contemplate maternity leave and i don’t have any employees, but oh, how i wish i could get better, cheaper healthcare as an independent professional (even though the plan i have is pretty darned good compared to some of the loser individual plans i’ve had in years past). i’ve just come to accept this as my freelance lot, but then i think about all the people WITH employers who can’t afford healthcare and i know the system’s a bit out of whack.

    i also take issue with companies giving MORE health benefits to people who are “legally” married and have kids than their single or same-sex couple counterparts (i can think of several friends who would benefit from putting their ailing siblings or parents on their health plan), but that’s a whole other can of worms.

    at any rate, i agree with you that the lack of paid national maternity/paternity leave (and the mommy track stigma!) AND the lack of workplace flexibility afforded most working parents has many would-be mothers and fathers thinking twice before they procreate. too bad, because research has been showing that employees given more options as to when and where they work are not only more productive, but more loyal to their employer. which means less employee turnover and more savings for their company. for loads of juicy statistics on this, and a community of parents fed up with the status quo, check out this movement:

    i guess i could go on and on, too.

  • 5. Laura  |  November 27th, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    I am 26 and living in a common law relationship with my boyfriend and our dog. We plan on getting married and having our first child within the next 4 or 5 years. Currently, it wouldn’t be particularly feasible financially and I certainly hope and plan that our combined income will be higher in 4 years, but if not, then we will have kids anyway.

    I think it just depends on your priorities. For me, my career is something I want to enjoy because I spend so much of my life working, but it’s still just a job: it’s a means to an end. It is a means of paying for the life I want to live, and I can’t imagine the disappointment and devastation I would feel if that life didn’t include children of my own.

    There’s always something else you could do with your money or your time if you didn’t have children, but I’d rather spend it on my children, even if it means sacrifices. I believe it’s hard to declare yourself financially prepared for children because you can always think of something else to do with your money, but once you have kids, you make it work. You find ways to stretch finances if necessary. I’ve seen it happen over and over and I know I could do it too. My family comes before my employer, so I’d choose kids over career advancement without any hesitation.

  • 6. Judy McBabyHater  |  November 27th, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks for calling my piece “hilarious!” My friends work for Hearst and that company will give an employee 10k towards adoption fees if the employee decides they want to do that. If I were ever going to have a kid (ha!), I’d definitely adopt. I don’t get why women spend so much on fertility treatments when there are so many kids that need homes. At what point does that just become extreme narcissism?

    And yeah, if men did their fair share when it came to baby-raising, it might seem more appealing, rather than appalling.

  • 7. Shawna  |  November 27th, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    How about don’t friggin worry about it? Live life, love life, get paid and get laid? Tirelessly persue your career, pioneer through this big thing called the earth, seeing as much of it as possible before you die. If you meet anyone worthy of your time and energy along the way, well, run with that too and go with the flow. Whatever happened to just being happy with a companion, a husband, a great wonderful spouse to have great hot sex with for the rest of your life? Thinking about the work/career vs. baby/family too much clouds our emotions which is why there’s such a disgustingly high divorce rate. Whew!

  • 8. Michelle Goodman  |  November 28th, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    thanks for all your thoughts on this, everyone. looks like we’re all in disagreement. good deal.

    last thing i’ll say on the matter (this hour): i was excited to see this childless by choice piece in the WA PO this week too, you know, just to give voice to the less popular side of things:

    i can totally relate to the “mother right” stroller quip. that bugs me too.

  • 9. Michelle Goodman  |  November 30th, 2006 at 8:09 am

    btw, now that i have a little more time to comment, i wanted to say that i loved all the great points each of the previous three posters raised, too:

    laura – GREAT point about choosing your own priorities, to each her own, etc. i respect your choices, for sure, even if they aren’t the same as mine. i wish more women would do that and try to see things from the other person’s POV.

    judy – what an amazing perk at your friend’s company. i think adopting or fostering is brilliant, too. maybe it will become trendy now that celebs are doing it in the public eye. yeah right.

    shawna – you are a woman after my own heart. i sometimes bring up the mommy/careers stuff on this site because How To Balance It All is still such a huge concern for so many women. curiously, when researching the book, the file that was the fattest was my “working moms” file, hands down. there’s a new article/opinion a minute on that front.

  • 10. Samantha  |  December 1st, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    It used to be that the term adult was not used to describe a person until she/he had done four things, namely, finish school, begin work, get married, and have children. I think this is because until one has done all of these things, it is all to easy to be selfish. I am by no means insisting that everyone should have children. In fact, if selfish ambitions to work, travel, read, etc are more important to you than raising a new generation of intelligent, creative, fun, energetic people, then please don’t have kids. In fact, I personally wish that people who are too selfish to remain married would also choose not to have children, before they have them. As a mother, I am asked to be unselfish, which, I believe, has made me a better person, wife, friend, daughter, etc. I may not have as much time as I want to be creative, but I am hopeful that my children will someday pick up where I leave off.

  • 11. Michelle Goodman  |  December 4th, 2006 at 7:11 am

    thanks for sharing, samatha. more proof that there are so many ways to live one’s life, and that one path (motherhood, marriage, DINK-dom, complete independence) does not fit all.

    you bring up a great point re those age-old descriptions of adulthood (= graduation/work/marriage/babies). i, for one, am elated that these old mores have begun to fade into oblivion. i knew my generation (X) had arrived when my parents and grandparents started to tell me (when i was around 30) they were jealous that “kids these days” had more options at their fingertips for how to spend their 20s, as opposed to the work/shack up/procreate formula of their generations. not that there’s anything wrong with my parents’/grandparents’ way. it just hasn’t been for me. and for the record, i don’t consider that selfish. i would consider having a baby i don’t want (or don’t have time or money to care for) more selfish, as you say.

    again, thanks for sharing. love hearing all these different POVs.

  • 12. Emiko  |  November 30th, 2008 at 9:21 am

    I believe when a woman makes the choice to be/not to be a mother from a place free from fear (of familial pressure, of growing old without children, of disrupting one’s career, etc.), everything falls into place and support and opportunities seem to come out of the woodwork. I am 37 years old, separated and have two small children. I actually wondered if I made a mistake having children at first – I was never “cut out” to be a nurturing type (I’m highly allergic to doing things for other people, but I love helping people – there is a tremendous difference), or so I thought. It took me a few years (or, rather, the better part of my adult life) to get right about what I really wanted from this life. Even though I didn’t quite understand my drive to have kids back in my early 30s, it makes total sense now. Some consider my situation somewhat unconventional (I live in the same house with my ex – we get along fabulously as friends – so we can raise our kids together) and it’s something I never would have imagined for myself, but it could not have worked out better. I am preparing to open my own life coaching practice (which is how I found this fab site, researching E&O insurance) – a dream job for me. Choosing to have kids when I did was not really a decision of the mind, but a strong impulse that defied every logical argument I had not to have them (one would think that someone who can’t stand caretaking should stay away from parenthood). For some, the decision not to have kids is a strong impulse that defies every mind-created argument to have them. I say go with the strong gut impulse 100% of the time, it’s way smarter than the mind (then the mind can be a powerful servant to the gut). It’s also produces far more satisfying results.

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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