The Last Three Paragraphs

I wrote another piece for Broadsheet yesterday because this Daily Beast piece made me tremendously ranty, and I figured I might as well get paid for it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the social advantages and disadvantages of motherhood these days, so once I started, I couldn’t shut up even more than usual. Which meant that the piece I turned in was absurdly long, and I fully expected to see large chunks of it missing in the final version.

What’s missing, as it turns out, is the last three paragraphs. They were exactly the right thing to cut, since I’d already made my argument (and then some) by that point, and the rest was a combination of tangent and reiteration. But the tangent was one I really wanted to get in there — that choosing not to have kids really doesn’t come off as a glamorous, attractive choice, just because it might increase a woman’s chances of reaching the top of her field. If you know you want kids, the message childless* women send is kind of beside the point. I know people who want/have kids, who don’t want kids and who are ambivalent — and sometimes, ambivalence gives way to a default decision one later regrets — but I have yet to meet a woman who’s like, “I am absolutely certain I want to be a mother, but I’m going to completely ignore that overwhelming urge because it might ruin my career.” Some women gamble on delaying pregnancy and lose, but that’s really not the same as saying, “I desperately want children but have officially decided I will never have them because Sonia Sotomayor is my hero.” And that’s what Beinart seems to be worried about.

So. Please do go read the Broadsheet post, because that’s all about how brutally hard it is to balance motherhood and career ambition, and if you just read this part in isolation, you’ll think I’m missing the point entirely. (I’ve been writing and thinking a LOT lately about my own ambivalence toward having children and how much of it stems from the fact that neither childless women nor mothers get the social support and respect they need, so committing to either feels like asking to have a load of shit shoveled down my throat — whereas existing in this liminal state allows people to project whatever future they think is best on me, and thus not harass me too much about my choices. Problem is, this state has a fast-approaching expiration date.) But I think there are lots and lots of important points that arise from Beinart’s piece, basically — too many for one post — so I wanted to put up the rest of my rant, and open a space for discussing the whole thing that’s free of Broadsheet trolls. And make sure you all saw Tami’s piece, because it’s brill, and I basically spent the whole rant working up to quoting her, but then that got cut.

Without further ado, the last three paragraphs:

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And trust me, young girls are hardly getting the message that choosing not to have children is an easy path — or if they are, they shouldn’t be. If you haven’t thought too hard about it yet, girls, let me break it down for you: In addition to the potential for lifelong regret, which you’ll never stop hearing about from the Hewletts of the world and their proxies among your friends and family, you will be widely regarded as a freak, as incomplete, selfish, irresponsible, unfeminine, somehow broken — what kid of woman doesn’t want kids? — and you’ll spend half the time and energy you saved by not having kids defending that decision and your credibility to people who inexplicably think it’s their business. So basically, the message you should be hearing loud and clear is that you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t — which means the only good reason to have kids or not is because it’s what you feel is best.

Blogger Tami of What Tami Said nails it:

The problem is not that women without children are getting too many extra goodies, too many shots at the brass ring. The problem isn’t that working mothers don’t have enough role models to demonstrate that they can have it all. The problem is that for all our superficial obsession with “baby bumps” and our pledges that “the children are the future,” we aren’t willing to walk the walk. We don’t support women in having it all. We fail to back up our supposed belief in families with legislation and societal values that truly establish successful nurturing of the next generation as a priority. (I can pretty much guarantee that our “family values” friends on the right would be the first to rail against any sort of strengthened parental leave or socialized childcare.)

Beinart concludes his argument, “[C]hoosing Wood would send the message that women can have kids and still reach the apex of their profession. That’s a message that I’d like my working wife –and our 2-year-old daughter — to hear.” Hey, as a married 35-year-old professional currently grappling with the question of whether I can handle motherhood, that’s a message I’d love to hear myself — but only if it’s true. And for the most part, right now, it’s just not. Right now, the number of women who reach the apex of their profession, kids or no kids, is still so tiny relative to the number of men who do, the girls and women I know will take any dingdang role model we can get. So instead of scrutinizing potential Supreme Court appointees’ reproductive choices, it would probably be more helpful if men who care about their wives’ and sisters’ and daughters’ futures would help women agitate for longer parental leave, subsidized day care and a culture that supports women who choose motherhood, women who don’t, and women who want to balance parenthood and career ambition without being condemned as either coldhearted monsters or half-assed employees, just like men always have.

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*I’m using “childless” because I actually find “childfree” just as problematic, in addition to the fact that not everybody without kids identifies as such. To me, “-free” overcorrects for the lack implied by “-less”; now, instead of implying that people without children are missing something, we’re implying that people with children are burdened, and those of us without have dodged a bullet, suckers! I don’t particularly like what that says about parenthood or about people who choose not to have kids, who are often stereotyped as simply unwilling to sacrifice and take on the responsibilities of parenting. So what I’d really love is something in between, but since I can’t think of anything, I revert to the word that’s more commonly used.

130 thoughts on “The Last Three Paragraphs

  1. I iz non-childed? :)

    Seriously, tho’, good piece. Just the right amount of ranty. I think writers like Beinart are deliberately sidetracking and minimizing women when they say “this, and only this kind of woman is the right choice” because they’ve automatically excluded a bunch of other women. I want my husband’s granddaughters (I don’t have kids, he does, they’re all adults) to feel like it doesn’t matter whether they have kids or not when it comes to their career choices. And that isn’t determined by whether a judge is a mother or not, it’s determined by the support regular women get for their choices – support that is, as you say, sadly lacking as of now.

    I also feel that he is somehow playing into the sanctification of motherhood trope. A mother is a good role model, a mother is a good judge, a mother brings better things to the table than a childless woman, but it’s kind of an undertone, possibly even unconscious, caused by defending the idea he came up with.

    I’ve never wanted children, and fortunately, not gotten too much trouble as a consequence, but I’m somewhat shielded by the fact that my husband has three. I’ve never felt a lack, but it’s not all roses and unlimited choices, as any woman knows – in our world, we’re damned either way. I can “Mommy Track”, or I can be derided as lacking true experience or never knowing real love. I can be sidelined into constant childcare, or I can be constantly scolded for not being an adult.

    The final straw for me in “those” conversations is the “who will take care of you in your old age?” question. I always want to turn around and ask them how often they visit their parents, and if they’re planning to put them into a nursing home, or planning to take them in to their own house. I know it’s unfair, but the assumption that your children owe it to you to take care of you in your dotage is a dangerous one. Much better to have some other plans.

  2. Thank you for this. That article sent me into paroxysms of rage when I read it yesterday, but I was unable to articulate why it was so, so wrong. It felt all about punishing Kagan for choosing* not to have kids. And that’s already a message ambitious women get in spades – you better reach for the stars and not sacrifice your career, but you better also find a way to have kids because, ugh, what kind of cold, unnatural frigid woman are you anyway? I went to a highly regarded law school and many of my friends are ambitious women lawyers who happen to worship the ground Kagan walks on.** And yet, every single one of us has been absolutely bombarded with the message that we better figure out how to make kids work and we better not wait until it’s too late because “who wants to be one of those old couples tottering into a fertility clinic,” and that’s an exact quote. The idea that successful women aren’t given the message about having children is an hateful, vitriolic myth – they’re indoctrinated with it, at the same time as it’s made very clear that it will probably seriously hurt their careers. It’s a classic no-lose situation. And the spate of articles that pretend this doesn’t even exist, that women are so focused on their careers that they just don’t realize that they should be having babies instead, the silly things, we better tell them this repeatedly and and in the most patronizing manner possible, absolutely enrage me.

    * Assuming, for the moment, that it was a “choice” on her part.

    ** Odd, but true – most of my friends are Elena Kagan groupies (so am I, really).

  3. Excellent piece, Kate!

    I’m having the same thoughts, a bit. I haven’t any strong drive or urge to have children – and that makes me think maybe I should leave it to the women who do? – but sometimes I think it might be nice, and I’m of an age where putting off the decision will soon start to be a decision.

    And then I think what it would do to my career, which I love and have worked hard for all my life (and isn’t going brilliantly right now, so any mommy-tracking would almost certainly kill it stone dead) and to my relationship (in which the equitable division of housework is still a sore point at times) and I conclude that for me, motherhood would all end in miserable resentful tears. It is shit that I have to consider these things. It is beyond shit that these things are so woven into my notions of motherhood that I don’t even know what my attitude to having kids would be if I lived in a fairer and more supportive world.

    (I agree with you on “childfree” as well. They aren’t lice. If I can’t use “barren” with obvious irony, I take the long way round and say “without kids”. )

  4. Wonderful!!! Thanks for putting this out there.

    This is very timely for me right now, as a woman with potentially dangerous fertility issues and a highly demanding career path.

    Role models are great. But real support, real, honest to god, support for motherhood would be–just unimaginable. Could you imagine it, being able to think of having children without everyone isolating you, virtually abandoning you and then saying “Well, it was your choice, deal with it?” Yes, sounds melodramatic but I think that is how a lot of young mothers feel–and it is certainly how I feel when considering pregnancy.

  5. Kate, you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for coming out and saying that in reality, women do have to make a choice between going all the way with a career and having kids.

    The Broadsheet comments so far are filled with people screaming “but who said you should be able to have it all, life’s not fair, blah blah blah.” Have none of them opened up their eyes and seen that in fact, men do “have it all”? For decades, centuries even, they have been able to follow their ambitions while having a family, all because they have a wife on domestic duty. And somehow, this state of affairs remains invisible.

    The truth often is not that women have a choice between two legitimate paths, but rather that they are expected to forgo ambition in favor of motherhood. It’s not, which will you choose, but when will you let go of your ambition and have kids.

    Sometimes when I hear men talk about whether they want kids, I get resentful. I feel like it’s so much easier for a man to have family as a goal, because the consequence of sacrificing other parts of his life is just not as present. I wonder how many men would cleave to the idea of having a family if it meant that they would have to step back from their careers and stay home with the kids? I think if you can’t imagine yourself putting a career on hold, reorganizing your social life, and staying home with the kids for a number of years (whether or not you would actually have to), then you shouldn’t have them, and that goes for both men and women.

    when people ask me if I plan to have kids, or if I would like to someday, I answer with “it’s not high on my list of priorities.” Sometimes I elaborate with “I have other goals that are more important to me right now.” I feel so radical.

    Ok, that was a little ranty, but I’m in my mid-30s, which are kind of the peak years for baby-making decisions, so it comes up for me a lot, both externally and internally.

  6. How about “without children”? I know it’s a little bit more bulky, but I like it better than “childless”, which is what people are going to say about me in ten more years, when they realize that no, I’m NOT going to change my mind and have three kids.

  7. instead of implying that people without children are missing something, we’re implying that people with children are burdened

    I can kind of see that, but for me it’s implying that having children would be a burden to me specifically that I choose to avoid.

  8. As a woman who is childfree, and who came of age in the 70s and 80s (born 68), i got all kinds of bullshit messages about motherhood. My radar went off as a young child, and kept going off more and more insistently the older I got.

    I always felt lucky that I never wanted children. I knew, though, I was supposed to want that, was supposed to follow the script, and yet I just couldn’t.

    I’m not a super-achiever — I am a middle school English teacher — but this life suits me. As another poster said, I couldn’t imagine a world where having a family and/or achieving is possible. For me, it was very much either/or. Add into that my being an introvert and a traveler, and someone who just doesn’t really like younger kids… career plus marriage works. Career plus marriage plus kids = no go.

    On a macro level, though, the messages we as women get from society still continue to frustrate. It is ultimately all about control, because women are, essentially, even here in the developed world, a commodity for incubating the future. What we think, what we do, how we feel — it all needs to be managed, even micro-managed — so the patriarchy can continue.

    And that’s why we need to subvert, subvert, subvert. Personally, I like being damned. I like being damned that I didn’t have or want children. I like being damned that I overtly, loudly chose my career. I like how it upsets people occasionally that I say, aloud, that my career comes first, and I’m married also. I like how it ruffles feathers when I reply chirpily, when someone asks me if I have kids, “No! I don’t!” I do feel I’ve dodged a bullet and avoided a burden that just wouldn’t have suited me.

    Ultimately, I think what really bothers people is how diverse women are. If only we were more standardized! If only we were more predictable, manageable, conventional. If only we were more… like men. (Of course, men resist being standardized, too. Men want to be seen as individuals.) And yet, that’s one of the beauties of womanhood: diversity. We are what we are, be that young, middle-aged, old, fat, skinny, slender, muscular, sporty, academic, quiet, raucous, opinionated, diffident, religious, agnostic, or what-have-you.

    Diversity is the enemy of patriarchy. Being oneself, being true to oneself, knowing oneself, not following the herd of sheeple is the enemy of patriarchy. Speaking out, speaking up, owning your own voice are all enemies of patriarchy.

    Know yourself. Walk your own path. Be true to yourself. The best choice you can make is one that rings true for you. Accept that you will be damned for wanting anything, especially your own life on your own terms. Heh.

  9. Of course, both “childfree” and “childless” take for granted the dichotomy we’re faced with: either you have no children in your life, or children become your life. Whatever my ambivalence about having children of my own, I enjoy being around children. I’d love to be more of an adoptive or biological auntie, secular godparent, frequent babysitter, alloparent, whatever you want to call it, but my family and close friends are hundreds to thousands of miles away and the system just isn’t set up to share “parental” work out among more than two people, if that.

  10. I can kind of see that, but for me it’s implying that having children would be a burden to me specifically that I choose to avoid.

    Sure, and I don’t mean to criticize anyone who chooses that word, because believe me, I think “childless” is problematic, too. I was basically just explaining that I’m cognizant of the distinction and the argument for “childfree,” but here’s why I personally still default to “childless” when “without children” is just too clunky.

    Also, what MissPrism said. I suppose “Non-parent” or “Non-mom” might be the best shorthand, although those aren’t without problems. I think the issue here is that we are, quite literally in this context, defined by the absence of something — and since it’s something highly valued (but also maligned and marginalized) in our society, it is just one big fucking can o’ worms.

  11. Really excellent piece, Kate. This issue is so incredibly frustrating, no matter what camp you’re in (having children vs. not having children, career-driven vs. not so much). I’ve also seen another double-standard such that where single parenthood for women has come to be expected and sort of eye-roll-inducing for most employers in that it will *undoubtedly* harm the woman’s career trajectory, single parenthood for men somehow shows this different incredible strength of character, that he can work this hard AND raise children. (“What an exceptional guy!”) I think many of those men are aware of this double-standard as well. I do happen to know of one who has a very dynamic, public career (who I obviously won’t name), who is a single father and who absolutely lords it over everyone expecting some kind of high praise, as if women haven’t been doing the same thing on their own with far less payoff for decades and centuries. The worst part is, he gets the high praise- even and especially when he’s ragging on his son’s mother and gloating in her misfortunes. No double-standard there.

  12. Hmm, I love your response to that ridiculous article but I have to take issue with the framing of motherhood as solely biological that I am seeing here. Giving birth isn’t the only way to become a mother; adopting is an option, too. It strikes me as weirdly patriarchal to not have this included in this discussion, since the message isn’t just that women need to become mothers but that they also need to make sure that they are one of the genetic donors and the incubator for the durations, so I’m bringing it in. Which is not to say that you can’t have dreams about becoming a mother through your own body, but please don’t erase those of us who consider motherhood an effect of adoption as well by only talking about the physical act of bearing a child.

  13. Hmm, I love your response to that ridiculous article but I have to take issue with the framing of motherhood as solely biological that I am seeing here

    I’m asking this sincerely, and as a favor: Can you tell me where you’re seeing that? Do you just mean stuff like “Some women gamble on delaying pregnancy and lose” — where I did indeed fail to acknowledge that that doesn’t necessarily mean your chances of motherhood are lost? Or are you seeing it as more of a throughline here, because I’m certainly not operating on the premise that biological motherhood is the only kind, and I don’t want to give that overall impression. Especially not here, where the subject is the work that motherhood takes, not pregnancy or childbirth.

    ETA: OH! I just reread the original and spotted the awkward and unintentionally exclusive phrase “women who come to the end of their fertile years without having kids,” which might just have something to do with it. Actually, that includes women who didn’t adopt by the time they got to the end of their theoretically fertile years, and I see now that I should have been clearer. The thing is, the stat is based on a census bureau stat that says 80% of women 40-44 do not have children. But because that age range only means the women are relatively unlikely to bear biological children in the future, not that there’s absolutely no chance they will ever become mothers, I actually went for the awkward construction in the interest of precision, as opposed to just saying “20% of women never raise kids” — since the number might go down if you asked women at the end of their lives, instead of when they still might decide to have kids. Unfortunately, it may have backfired.

  14. Ugh, this has been really grating on my nerves since I got married last September. I’ve just turned 24. I’m not even two years out of college. I’m in the middle of an intense, 5+ year graduate program in a laboratory science. Where I work with chemicals! A lot! Nasty chemicals that I sometimes don’t want to expose non-pregnant Shoshie to! And you know what? If I WAS pregnant and continuing in my program with the labwork, people would judge me intensely for it. However, many of those same people say, “We’ll seeeeee” in this annoying sing-song voice when I say that we’re not having kids until I graduate. What, my urge to spawn should be SO LARGE that the moment I have found a voluntary sperm donor I’m supposed to give up all of this that I’m working for? Yeah fucking right.

    I want to be a mommy some day. But that day is not before I have my degree in hand. It’s certainly not before I’m 25.

  15. Another perspective on the “having it all” notion I don’t often see explored is the sense of entitlement that statement suggests. Personally, all the women of color in my life who have kids, do in fact “have it all”. My mom being a primary example. My lived experiences don’t make for nuanced analysis, but I do think in a lot of ways this whole issue is really a white middle class one.

    For other marginalized women who ALWAYS had to work in order to support families and who like my mom, clawed their way to the top of their fields, with three freaking kids and as a single mother at various points, don’t seem to get where all this is coming from.

    My mom knew growing up it was always going to be motherhood and career and there was never gonna be anything approaching “choice”.

    So what I find kind of erasing in these discussions – not what you’ve written here, Kate – is the concept that choice is even relevant for a lot of women, in terms of career/kids.

    Personally, I say, “I don’t have any damn kids.” And I am totally in love with the idea of them and I don’t feel as though I will suffer because of it. My lived experience is framed as one where I am expected to work so oppressors have lots of other options to keep me down. Having tots probably won’t even factor in to their equation the way my gender doesn’t factor much into their equation either.

  16. This in no way means I don’t understand the sexism and tomfoolery at the heart of this issue, but merely to suggest compelling reason as to why some women roll their eyes when it’s presented to them.

    It’s really complicated in gets into that intersectionality stuff that is too much to unpack and derails the conversation. So that’s all I’ll say in regards to my previous point.

    Please, carry on. Don’t feel silenced or anything. No, I’m not being snarky.

  17. No, thanks for that Snarky. Although I wasn’t talking about the choice between being a stay-at-home mom and working here, I am as guilty* as anyone of often framing that choice as one that all women can relate to — or talking as if all women had to stay at home in past generations — and ignoring the women who have always had no choice but to work. My mom was a middle-class white woman who got married in the ’50s and was brought up to believe that any career other than motherhood was NOT a real option, and it took a massive toll on her, which makes me furious. And that’s a real problem that affected a hell of a lot of women — but feminism has a long history of acting like A) it affects/affected ALL women and B) it’s ALL women’s primary problem. Which is exactly why a hell of a lot of women want nothing to do with the feminist movement, so it’s always good to bring it up.

    *I don’t mean that in a self-flagellating way. I just mean, I do it.

  18. RE: Snarky’s point:

    Made me remember: I think I’ll be the first one to have the “stay at home” option on either side of the family.

    Mom was disabled after I was about 9 and ‘stayed at home’ that way (hah) worked and was a single parent before that. All the other relatives on that side worked +kids, nothing so fancy as working up to the top of one’s field.

    Dad’s side, all the mothers worked, some on and off, menial jobs, but everyone worked. Not working is seen as a luxury that you provide if you’re a super duper good husband.

    Anyway–it’s frightening and surprising how quickly you (or maybe just me) start to forget that once your social circle changes. Thanks for the reminder.

  19. As to entitlement in these discussions, I think it’s important to emphasize “job,” vs. “career.” Sure, most marginalized women have to work and most will have kids and therefore be forced to negotiate both in a way that upper-class women might not, but at a certain level (since we are talking about the supreme court here) where you’re looking not just at making money to get by but at succeeding in professions where your qualifications on every level are going to be scrutinized, I think the restrictive cultural roles about motherhood and women get applied to all women, and you can’t so successfully just say you’ll do it all and fuck the haters, ’cause that’s how you were raised.

    For instance: who gives a crap if a grocery bagger has kids? No one will seriously suggest that that’ll affect her job performance (though people will say she’s ruining the country for neglecting her babies, who will grow up to be serial killers, etc., etc.), but the higher up the pecking order one gets, the more likely people are to make that argument. And in something like politics, it doesn’t really matter what one’s own expectations were re:childbearing and working since one still has to contend with everybody else in the whole wide world.
    Michelle Obama hardly had a priveleged upbringing, yet she’s still stuck as second fiddle and still had to wheel herself and her kids out as display No. 1 of her husband’s moral fiber. And obviously people are still wringing their hands about Sotomayor being single, which is likely at least in part because there would be so few men willing to do for her what these high-profile wives do for their politician/CEO/whatever husbands.

    I think it’s also that our expectations of white and middle/upper class mothers are so much higher. Like, obviously poor, brown women are going to be struggling to raise fifty squillion children on welfare and barely be able to keep their names straight, but if a Nice White Lady mom yells at her kid that’s cause for widespread condemnation and years of therapy. I guess with brown ladies we scream about what shitty mothers they are pretty much regardless, and so the ire seems a bit less than when some NWL chooses not to take the opportunity she has to be an Angel of Everlasting Virtue and be a stay-at-home mom.

  20. Kate, your point is well taken. In just talking with my mom she mentioned how her nursing school chums were surprised that after marrying “well” she was *still* working, since they had primarily gone to nursing school to snag a doctor hubby and stay home, and that was how things were expected to happen in their world.

    Definitely no judgment from me, it’s a great example of how patriarchy does a real good job of kicking ALL women down and the many layers of deviousness they utilize!

  21. I’ve never commented though I’ve read for ages (I know y’all hear this a lot). I wanted to thank you for this piece, Kate, and to thank you, Snarky’s Machine, for your comments. I also bristled at the implication that being a working mother (and being encouraged to be a working mother) was an unusual circumstance, partly because as you say there have been very few women who have had a choice in the matter. I felt even more squicky because I saw some criticism of Sotomayor not only as a woman (not doing her ladyjob!) but as a woman of color. There’s no acknowledgment that clawing her way out of the deep hole oppression dug her might require effort or might be an obstacle to “having it all” — or alternatively, could have trapped her in the kind of “having it all” Snarky’s Machine describes, where your kids don’t eat if you don’t work.

    Snarky’s Machine, I can’t speak for Kate or any middle-class white woman but myself, but I didn’t read your statement as silencing at all — I don’t see it as derailing to nuance a conversation and point out the complexities of women’s experience. Besides, I think your points tie into Tami’s — there is no safety net, no resources or support for mothers, which severely limits their choices. Women of color, poor women, and other marginalized women get hit hard with this idea that Kate describes, that they only lack for role models in the uber-achieving mother department. It ignores the reality that people don’t magically become candidates for the Supreme Court — the burdens placed on them matter.

  22. Hmmm…. To clarify on that comment, I don’t mean to suggest that women in more pink/blue/whatever collar professions don’t experience discrimination on that basis of motherhood, but since the original article was framed in terms of career achievement, I was thinking more in terms of the fact that the stakes in terms of career success and personal power achieved are much higher for women in these better-paying jobs, and that therefore the discrimination will have a greater impact on their advancement, hence the lack of women in politics, big business, etc., etc.

  23. @ Snarky. I agree about, and am guilty of , forgetting about the legions of women who don’t have the option of staying home with the kids, for whom work + kids is a a foregone conclusion.

    And that struggling with the choice between high level career achievement and motherhood is built upon a foundation of education/class/race privilege to begin with.

    Which brings about a whole other level of BS about who has the ability and approval to ascend to the career status of the white guy with a degree, and how those who can’t or don’t are judged. And the fact that accomplishment in certain careers depends on having the privilege and resources of that white guy.

    sometimes I can’t help resenting the men in my field who do not have to think about this like I do.

  24. Just wanting to quote and second what MissPrism said above:

    I haven’t any strong drive or urge to have children – and that makes me think maybe I should leave it to the women who do? – but sometimes I think it might be nice, and I’m of an age where putting off the decision will soon start to be a decision.

    And then I think what it would do to my career, which I love and have worked hard for all my life (and isn’t going brilliantly right now, so any mommy-tracking would almost certainly kill it stone dead) and to my relationship (in which the equitable division of housework is still a sore point at times) and I conclude that for me, motherhood would all end in miserable resentful tears.

    I don’t want to have kids and I know that the ceasefire I’ve achieved in my work and my homelife would escalate into Armageddon if I introduced a child. What I’ve been through to get to this point could not possibly be outweighed by the benefits of adding children to my life. And you know what? That sucks because there *are* benefits and I wish it was a viable option.

    I also wish the choice to have or not to have kids and to have or not to have a career with those kids was a viable options for everyone as well – thanky you so much SnarkysMachine for pointing out that every issue has a huge big bag of intersectionality attached. Gee, thanks kyriarchy!

  25. If I seem off in some way, it’s because I’m staring out the window at a hardcore snow storm, which I’m pretty certain was not predicted.

    Thank you for that, too, which offsets my tendency to romanticize your home state and fantasize about living there.

  26. My absolute favorite professor (at BYU, no less) who was a super feminist and put me on the road to my own feminism, also married a highly-educated professor. She was pregnant with her first kid my senior year, and after her maternity leave she and her husband planned their course load so that their day schedules were split completely in half, so that both of them would have plenty of time to be a good parent their child while still pursuing their respective careers. She’s had another kid since and she’s still teaching (fabulously, I might add), so from a complete observer it seems to work. I thought it was absolutely freaking brilliant, and that she was actually really lucky and privileged to be able to do that.

    I heard later that when student evaluations came around, she got a few notes that she was a horrible mother (BYU, after all). I was appalled. I could rant and rave about how it’s nobody’s freaking business or what have, but that sort of response to what I had thought to be a wonderful way to “have it all” without stretching yourself so thin you go insane just silenced me.

    I love Tami’s quote, btw. If our society actually made it easy for mothers to have social support, if part-time work was given any value at all, if fathers were socially commanded *not* to put their careers before their families, if healthcare and daycare were easily accessible to everyone, then everything would be, if not awesome, then at least better.

    On a related note, there’s something going around facebook that’s something like “It’s not called babysitting if you’re the kid’s father!” that had thousands of fans, including many friends of mine who are parents (mothers and fathers alike). Word.

  27. If I chose to stay home with my (soon-to-be-born) kid, I would very quickly have no home, as it is my income that pays the mortgage. Snarky’s is spot-on that this is not always a choice, for marginalized women and also for some like me, a priveleged white woman in a professional career.

    That said, I am an adult and I don’t need a “role model” to show me that it is possible to be on the Supreme Court and be a parent. What I need is an end to the double standard that says a father who works is a good parent who is to be commended for providing for his family, whereas a mother who works is….well, anything short of that.

  28. @ Kate, I don’t just mean you specifically. The only instance I can think of without re-reading what you wrote was a line about the end of the possibility of deciding to have children coming up very soon. Which I took to be a reference to ticking biological clocks rather than declining health that could negatively impact child-rearing, though I realize it could be the latter too.

    But it’s also a sensitivity to how many times ‘fertility’ has been brought up in the thread, compared to, say, trying to make sure that you make enough money so that you can adopt or that kind of thing. I appreciate that that is not necessarily just the framing of all of the women here, too. And I don’t think it’s a major shortcoming in this post or anything – that’s what people like me are here for.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is that becoming a mother through adoption is a fraught process for women too. The idea that women who adopt are either unable to bear the children that they want or too vain to bear their own – which makes people act as if the woman is a pathetic martyr or selfish respectively. Women like me, who are not interested in child-bearing but tip a little more towards kids on the ambivalence scale, are seen as absolute freaks. And all of these reactions to adoptive parents, naturally, suck just as much and play into the idea that women can’t have it all (and shouldn’t try to) as well – especially if it means somehow avoiding the pain that women are expected to go through in order to fulfill their sacrificial role.

    All of which is not to say that no one else here is aware of these issues but I so rarely see them brought up in these kinds of contexts, I wanted to make sure they were. :)

  29. Kate, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for this post. The original Daily Beast post annoyed and upset me, and you took apart his arguments beautifully, backing up your statements with examples and statistics. But I’m most grateful for your point-of-view as a married, mid-30s, ambivalent-about-kids person. Which also, if you couldn’t tell, describes me. It’s a very difficult position to be in – there’s the ticking clock, and the dramatic fear of lifelong regret, and the pressure from all sides, and the inability to plan for the future in many ways without knowing if I’m factoring kids into the picture, and the assumption from people that I must hate kids, or that I’ve already decided not to have them (since I’ve been married 3.5 years without having kids yet). I have five siblings/stepsiblings, and they all have kids, and it certainly is not an easy position to be in to be the one without children. Not to mention the assumption that I must be totally career-focused, which is the only acceptable reason for not having kids – oh, you must be focused on your career! (Like I must need something to fill the gaping hole in my life.)

    I don’t really care if Obama appoints a mother or non-mother to the court. But I admit that I do look to women older than I am, who don’t have kids, as role models, because they’re much harder to find. But I’m not speaking about hugely accomplished women, or women in the public eye – I’m talking about women I know, like friends of my parents, whose life I can really look at and who I can talk to about their choice. What do I really know about some woman high-up in government, and why she made her choices?

  30. Ooh, wow, can you tell my brain is fried from writing excessively long papers for grad school? I meant, “the idea that women who adopt are either unable to bear the children that they want or too vain to bear their own – which makes people act as if the woman is a pathetic martyr or selfish respectively – add a dimension to the decision to become a mother that isn’t necessarily there for women who give birth.”

  31. A friend of mine with an advanced degree in a male-dominated (and lucrative) field told me this story about her first job interview. This was just a few years ago and the interviewer still went there. “Because I don’t want to give this job to someone who is just going to drop out of the race when it would be such a great opportunity for someone who really intends to do something with it. I know I’m not supposed to ask, so I’ll just tell you how I feel about it. Of course, you might not think you want kids now, but most women change their minds so if it comes between you and a man with the same qualifications, I guess I’ll have a choice to make.”* Obviously not everyone is dumb enough to say it out loud, but how many employers/mentors/professors think something like this?

    If I can play Pollyanna** for a minute, I think that seeing women in high status jobs is going to change things whether they have children or not. When they don’t have kids it’ll challenge the notion that women are willing to put their goals aside and be “mommy-tracked” so it’s useless to groom them for positions of power. When they do have kids it’ll challenge the notion that it’s a good idea to “mommy-track” capable women or to require such abnormal devotion to the job that you lose talented, brilliant employees. It won’t happen right away, but I think either way we all win a little bit.

    *No, she didn’t get the job. Yes, she filed a complaint but it didn’t go anywhere that she saw.

    **Dudes, I’m at home sick today with a sick baby and a sick cat. I need to believe there’s hope.

  32. Personally, all the women of color in my life who have kids, do in fact “have it all”.

    When I hear “have it all,” I tend to think people aren’t talking about having kids and working, but having kids (usually well-mannered, nicely-behaved, intelligent-and-good-looking kids) and a high-paying, high-power, extremely-fulfilling career. I’m not sure that’s really a reality for anybody–or that either part of that equation is a reality for anybody but an extremely small minority of people.

    This isn’t entirely on-topic, but to throw in a different perspective, as a mostly-stay-at-home mom, I think we’ve kind of oversold the drudgery of motherhood as a culture. The whole “It’s the hardest thing in the world” thing just has never rung true for me. Yeah, parts of parenting suck, but so do parts of working. I’ve got a 6-year-old who is generally ill-mannered and badly-behaved (although he is intelligent-and-good-looking, I’ll give him that ;)) and a 6-week-old who I’m up half the night with and getting spit up on by all day, and I still think being home is a breeze compared to working. Now, I’m not saying it’s something that everybody is or should be temperamentally suited for, but just that the whole “Moms work harder than anybody else!” thing might be a bit hyperbolic. My days are like 80% fun (hanging out in the yard knitting while my son plays, going for walks with my friends and our kids, reading and writing, baking stuff, overseeing impromptu “experiments”) and 20% suck (cleaning, changing diapers, and saying “Go find something quiet to do before my head explodes”). That’s not too bad. I do have days where I hate it, but the alternative I find myself longing for is running away to a monastery where everybody has taken a vow of silence, not getting a full-time job.

    My husband is probably closer to having a, if not high-paying or high-powered, fulfilling career than most people (he has a doctorate in a field he loves and does research he finds interesting) and he still doesn’t love working. So I don’t, despite all the cultural rhetoric about women “sacrificing” careers to stay home with their kids, see my being home as some wonderful, altruistic sacrifice. It’s not. I get more time to spend doing things I enjoy and want to do than any person working a full-time job I know. I do usually have a kid asking me questions and a baby nursing while I do them, but it’s still not some big virtuous sacrifice.

    Again, obviously I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, that some women don’t feel pressured to stay home when they’d rather be working, or that everybody is suited to either parenting or being a stay-at-home parent. But, I’ve got friends who work full-time (in several cases while their husbands very happily stay home with the kids), friends who work part-time, and friends who are at home, and I don’t know anybody, no matter how much or how little they work, who wishes they spent more time at work and less time at home, so for many people, I don’t think being an at-home parent is the sacrifice it’s often made out to be.

  33. But it’s also a sensitivity to how many times ‘fertility’ has been brought up in the thread, compared to, say, trying to make sure that you make enough money so that you can adopt or that kind of thing. I appreciate that that is not necessarily just the framing of all of the women here, too. And I don’t think it’s a major shortcoming in this post or anything – that’s what people like me are here for.

    On the other hand folks without class privilege or race privilege don’t even have a voice in the reproductive choice debate as it relates to “fertility” since nobody in power finds it a bad thing of those folks aren’t able to reproduce. Moreover, there have been programs – funded by religious orgs and right wingers – which have specifically paid marginalized women NOT to birth no babies. So again, yeah it’s real unfortunate that folks aren’t able conceive and I mean that in all seriousness, but nevertheless, that discourse in and of its self smacks of privilege and so I’m not inclined to acknowledge without some serious UNPACKING by folks seeking to present it. Which, btw, they rarely do.

  34. The “face” of “infertility” is cis, able bodied, white, middle class and straight. And that tells me pretty much anyone who isn’t three or more of those things is not including in the “it’s so terrible we can’t get knocked up” circus tent.

  35. @Snarky’s Machine, don’t forget wealthy enough to afford infertility treatment or adoption.

    I second the call from the other thread to have the discussion about racism/classism and adoption, whenever y’all are feeling up to the task.

  36. I’ve been writing and thinking a LOT lately about my own ambivalence toward having children and how much of it stems from the fact that neither childless women nor mothers get the social support and respect they need, so committing to either feels like asking to have a load of shit shoveled down my throat — whereas existing in this liminal state allows people to project whatever future they think is best on me, and thus not harass me too much about my choices. Problem is, this state has a fast-approaching expiration date.

    To risk pandering, never have you expressed the problem in my head so clearly and exactly as you have now.

    I’m someone who assumed from the age of 13 that she would eventually be a mother. I managed to marry a man who assumed from puberty that he would never be a father. Almost eight years of marriage and four years of therapy behind us, I can see with clear eyes that there is NO RATIONAL WAY TO MAKE A PARENTING DECISION. None. There are no good reasons to have kids. There are no good reasons not to. There are no reasons.

    All you can do is ask yourself, “Do I, in my heart, want to be a parent?” If you answer yourself, then you should follow it. The problem is that if you can’t answer yourself, there’s not a whole lot to do about it except wait and ask again. As for two people who managed to get married while strongly disagreeing on this issue, and managed to stay married because we just love each other so damn much, there is no path to redemption. It becomes a question of who wants it more, and how much the loser can live with. We’re trying to get pregnant now, and I know I don’t have the high ground. The truth was that we wanted to be married to each other more than we wanted or didn’t want kids. So somebody had to loose, and I hope my losing husband finds something worthwhile in the whole parenthood process.

    In all of this agonizing decision-making, I see both childless/free and parents as victims. This decision is so important and so irrational that we can’t seem to stop punishing each other for making different choices.

  37. Not to mention the assumption that I must be totally career-focused, which is the only acceptable reason for not having kids – oh, you must be focused on your career! (Like I must need something to fill the gaping hole in my life.)

    @Sue, you said it so perfectly! As if there is no middle ground.

  38. The only instance I can think of without re-reading what you wrote was a line about the end of the possibility of deciding to have children coming up very soon

    FWIW, that one did occur to me too, but I figured it might be less glaring than the others because it was personal. And yet, it popped right into my mind, and it’s the one you remember, so… note to self.

    For me, the biological clock — which is entirely theoretical, since I have no clue if I could conceive if I tried right now — is basically the deadline, but only because I sort of feel like, if I don’t get unambivalent within the next few years, then fuck it, it’s time to admit the decision is: I’m not having kids. Because as much as the liminal space has its perks, more than anything, I just want to make a goddamned decision and live with it. I’m sick of the question mark constantly hanging over my head, and I already feel creaky and old enough that keeping up with a kid would be a PITA, and that’s only gonna get worse. So I’m framing it in terms of dwindling fertility, but it’s more a dwindling window in which becoming a mother is still a remotely desirable possibility. (If we decided to have a kid and found out we’re infertile, I’m sure adoption would be on the table. But since we’re too ambivalent to stop using birth control, we’re certainly too ambivalent to think about all the effort that goes into adoption.)

    All of which was kind of a pointless navel-gaze — what you wrote is really important stuff to consider in these discussions. Because really, it’s just one more manifestation of how women can never fucking do anything right. If you don’t want children at all, you’re selfish and immature. If you want children but don’t want to bear them, you’re vain and weird. If you have children and still want an identity besides Mommy, you’re once again selfish and you’re ruining your kids. If you have children and your whole identity becomes Mommy, you’re creepy/boring/martyr-y and ruining your kids. Nobody’s normal, nobody’s getting it right, nobody’s doing the best under the circumstances. We’re all just fucking it up. Bleh.

  39. I get the ambivalence too. Reading through this thread, and really any discussion on motherhood, I’m again smacked in the face with the paradox that while our culture holds up motherhood as something every woman is supposed to want as part of her life, we actually have very rigid ideas about who should actually realize this desire and who will be a good/worthy mother. Sometimes it seems a wonder anyone takes the plunge, what with all the baggage attached, knowing you will get dumped on for every deviation.

  40. The “face” of “infertility” is cis, able bodied, white, middle class and straight. And that tells me pretty much anyone who isn’t three or more of those things is not including in the “it’s so terrible we can’t get knocked up” circus tent.

    QFT. And as you said in the other thread, adoption brings up a whole other boatload of race/class issues. Feeling entitled to parenthood one way or another smacks of multiple layers of privilege, even if one can easily understand and empathize with the frustration that people who want children and can’t have them (biologically or by adoption) endure.

  41. RE: What word to use.

    So, I’m Jewish, and I use “barren.” Now, I just use it for me, and I use it (in Hebrew) in a particular prayer and the translation of that prayer (most Reform congregations excise that prayer, fwiw).

    “Childless” and “childfree” both have their problems, obviously, and barren has a LOT of problem, and I am NOT suggestion that anyone adopt it for themselves or that it re-enter public discourse in any way. I personally use it because I feel that nothing else captures the emotional impact of how I feel on the subject. Would be curious if others feel the same way.

    Whether or not to adopt is an immensely personal choice (and one influenced by race and class even before that “choice” is hit, as SM and others pointed out). I’d really rather not get hit by the “you didn’t bring up adoption” guilt for having mentioned fertility, thanks. (@thewhatifgirl–I know that probably isn’t what you meant, but yeah, I think about having money for adoption too–but it isn’t something I feel like I should be obligated to always and already mention).

  42. folks without class privilege or race privilege don’t even have a voice in the reproductive choice debate as it relates to “fertility” since nobody in power finds it a bad thing of those folks aren’t able to reproduce.

    I also don’t think many people necessarily even get as far as considering that whether poor/POC peoples’ infertility is a good or bad thing, because the people in question are all assumed to be massively, problematically fertile. This is an ugly stereotype which goes back a long way, that poor/POCs/disprivileged ethnicities are somehow in closer touch with their animal selves, and therefore don’t have all the reproductive issues and childbirth difficulties that rich neurotic white women do. They just pop them out and go back to the fields, just like in _The Good Earth_!

    There’s an alternate narrative starting to emerge about how poor/POC women cause trouble because they are more prone to pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and PIH, and how their premature babies are so godawful expensive and raise everyone’s taxes and Medicaid costs (and surprise surprise, that’s all tied into The Fatz). Not sure that’s exactly an improvement, though.

  43. Sure, most marginalized women have to work and most will have kids and therefore be forced to negotiate both in a way that upper-class women might not […snip.] For instance: who gives a crap if a grocery bagger has kids?

    Am I reading you wrong, or is this actually framing marginalized (aka brown) women as grocery baggers and upper class women as white and seeking higher level careers?

    I think it’s also that our expectations of white and middle/upper class mothers are so much higher. Like, obviously poor, brown women are going to be struggling to raise fifty squillion children on welfare and barely be able to keep their names straight, but if a Nice White Lady mom yells at her kid that’s cause for widespread condemnation and years of therapy. I guess with brown ladies we scream about what shitty mothers they are pretty much regardless, and so the ire seems a bit less than when some NWL chooses not to take the opportunity she has to be an Angel of Everlasting Virtue and be a stay-at-home mom.

    My head just exploded.

  44. So instead of scrutinizing potential Supreme Court appointees’ reproductive choices, it would probably be more helpful if men who care about their wives’ and sisters’ and daughters’ futures would help women agitate for longer parental leave, subsidized day care and a culture that supports women who choose motherhood, women who don’t, and women who want to balance parenthood and career ambition without being condemned as either coldhearted monsters or half-assed employees, just like men always have.

    I completely agree, but I’d also add to the list agitating for employers to pay workers enough that one full-time worker is enough to support a family. Whether or not to have both parents working (in two-parent families) should be a genuine choice, and not something that most people are forced into due to economic circumstances. I wish we’d reclaim the concept of a family wage, albeit in a less sexist way than it was initially used. Rather than paying people based on the assumption that most households will have two working adults and so providing income insufficient to sustain a household (which hurts both couples who want one partner home as well as single people who don’t have a second wage-earner to rely on), jobs should pay enough to at least meet the basic needs of a household.

    I think it’s really problematic how the idea of “equal pay” was co-opted by businesses to justify paying everybody a lower wage, so that now, instead of paying men enough to support a family and women less, everybody is paid less, rather than all workers making enough to support a family.

    If a family chooses to have two (or more) working adults, more power to them. But, most families with kids I know where both partners work full-time would much prefer to either have one partner at home or both be able cut back their hours so that they could trade off child care. Both partners are working full-time out of economic necessity, not personal preference, and I do think more pressure needs to be put on employers to raise wages so that people are free to choose the work/home arrangements that best suit them.

  45. @ Chava, that is why I made sure that I did not make it sound like there was an obligation. I wanted a side discussion of the issue, put in my two cents, and got it. Not sure where I obliged anyone to talk about it who didn’t want to.

  46. “Nobody’s normal, nobody’s getting it right, nobody’s doing the best under the circumstances.” Word–no mater what women choose, someone wants to tell us how very wrong our choices are.

    And why is it always about women’s career/parenthood choices, even if the woman is part of a heterosexual couple that chose (or chose not) to adopt or conceive a child? Nobody suggests that maybejustmaybe some men could forego striving for the “apex of their profession” so that they can spend more time on parenting and/or support their partner’s career. People think it’s great for women to “have it all”, just so long as men don’t have to change anything they are currently doing.

  47. Oh, Kate, this was a really good one, even by the lofty standards I’ve come to apply to your writing.

    @Pala: “Like, obviously poor, brown women are going to be struggling to raise fifty squillion children on welfare and barely be able to keep their names straight, but if a Nice White Lady mom yells at her kid that’s cause for widespread condemnation and years of therapy.

    OH MY GOD YES YES YES YES YES. It’s because we are Delicate Creatures, and our kids are Sensitive because they are such finely cultured connoisseurs of Life’s Rich Pageant! Thank you. I almost tried to bring this up on yesterday’s thread but couldn’t put words to it. “Can’t handle,” when said by a class-privileged white woman, and especially about things related to bodies, *can* *sometimes* be using this so-delicate-I’ll-wither-if-everything-is-not-Just-So-and-isn’t-that-a-credit-to-me? strategy.

    It’s tricky, though, because sometimes it’s not that strategy AT ALL, it’s a disability, or a personal quirk, or just a simple preference which we are of course allowed to have. Anyway, I decided not to go there because it’s so hard to parse. But: yes. This. Thank you.

  48. I think the bold was my doing, so hopefully this post will close it until a mod can clean things up. (Sorry!)

  49. Testing… I wonder if I still can login as a mod. If so, will anyone mind if I just pop in to fix the html tag?

  50. Okay, now I fixed the bolding but Jenya’s intended emphasis was lost. Jenya, sorry about that. Trying again…

  51. I am 40. I missed the fertility boat and we have been trying to adopt for a few years. We are just finishing up our foster parenting certification. When I am out with my spouse, I am the one who is asked if we have kids. Not him, me. Why the fuck do other people care? And I desperately want to go back to school and finish and then go on to my master’s. And I *know* if we have a kid I will be the primary caretaker (because my husband now out earns more than me) and my dreams and wants get put on hold, not hubby’s. So I am at the point where I must choose a direction and both paths mean I lose something I want. That is the reality in which I live. I also looked upon as less than a woman because (actual quote from my own mother) I’ve “never been a mother.” What the fucking fuckity fuck?

  52. Another great article. And thank you for pointing out “What Tami said”.
    A small Eurocentric remark on the biological clock vs adoption issue: in many countries my side of the Atlantic the law mandates age limit for adoption (sometimes in the form limits in age differential between adopter and adoptee). If you plan on adopting a baby or small child, your biological clock may well be ticking slower than your adoption clock.

  53. Also, I should note I’m not trying to say folks don’t have it rough, but rather I’m saying before people bitch about someone stepping on their neck, they might need see where their own foot is first.

  54. committing to either feels like asking to have a load of shit shoveled down my throat

    Agree 100%. I realize the fact that I can split these theoretical hairs is a reflection of privilege and having the time to navel-gaze. But a lot of what freaks me out about becoming a parent is the imminent loss of myself as any kind of important entity. I know there are parents all over the world combating this, or shrugging it off, or whatever, but I doubt I am strong enough to reject those messages all the time. So I don’t mention the possibility that we might have kids, because I feel like that immediately turns me into this parent-person in others’ eyes, and all the crap that gets put on moms in our society starts to accrue right then. At the same time we have never told my in-laws straight out that we aren’t having kids (even though that is the likely reality at this point) because I know they and many others, perhaps even in so many words, consider us as having less than a complete or successful life if we never have children. It’s easier to just stay in this “maybe” space while I still can.

    Echo, I sympathize with your situation because my DH and I are the same, except I am the one who never wanted kids and he is the one who always has. In my case I assumed I’d eventually change my mind. Unfortunately, that never happened. :( I guess I don’t have anything else to say besides good luck to both of you in trying to conceive, and that I (kind of) understand.

  55. @Jenya, and subsequently, @Pala:

    Jenya, you’re not alone. I found that comment to be problematic as well.

    Pala, two things. First off, it does seem that you are automatically associating WOC with minimum wage work and WW with high-paid positions- not a good thing, to be sure-

    And the bare reality of it is that your theoretical grocery-bagger has LESS power and LESS flexibility when it comes to things like sick leave (maternity leave? What’s that, again?). This is why so many people making minimum wage come to work sick- because sometimes it’s be sick at work, or lose your job. You kid gets sick? Tough cookies. Hope you have sympathetic parents!

    Also, it is clear that you have not talked to many WOC who are also parents, if you think that no one gives them a hard time for disciplining their children. In fact, I distinctly remember having a conversation with a young POC who, when growing up, was routinely grilled in regards to bruises and such (my friend was a clumsy youngster and those bruises were honestly gotten) by “well-meaning” racist teachers suspecting abuse.

  56. I hope I didn’t offend anyone in the previous discussion by using childfree- I apologise if I did.

    For me, the term is appropriate because choosing not to have children was freeing and something I felt acknowledged my freedom of choice in that situation. Having children, to everyone I know, is a requirement and choosing not to have children (and having my tubes tied at 21) was a HUGE thing, and even after the surgery, walking out in so much pain, I just sat in the car and told my husband that I felt free. I had been having nightmares for almost four months continuously about being pregnant, it was a legitimate phobia for me, and still is (and the nightmares still come occasionally), so I really did feel like I was released.

    I understand that being without child unwillingly is very devastating, and I wouldn’t ever want to make that seem less than what it is.

    On topic! I think Kate’s response to this article is appropriate. I really do wish that the world was more well set up for women who want to do both things, to have children AND have a career, OR to choose to just have children. I wonder if it will ever change!

  57. @Snarky’s, and marginalized-folks access is a tough problem to solve, because assisted reproduction is so so expensive ($10K a pop, with at best a 40% success rate per cycle, and that’s before you get into donor gametes and surrogacy). It’s rarely covered by insurance in the US, and where coverage is mandated, there are limits. Other countries like the UK offer infertility treatment through their national health programs, but that is hardly trouble-free either — there are a lot of restrictions on age, BMI, gender/orientation/partner status, number of cycles, number of embryos transferred, and so on.

    I seriously doubt we’ll ever see a nationwide infertility-coverage mandate, or provision of ART via government health programs like Medicaid, in this country. This is both because of the reproductive-rights difficulties of anything which touches the topic of embryos, and because there are a whole lot of people who think they shouldn’t have to pay money for me (let alone some brown woman) just to try and have a bio kid. Witness the rhetoric about Octomom, and compare and contrast to Kate Gosselin. Kate Gosselin is plenty demonized, but Nadya Suleman gets it so much worse, mostly because she is a single parent, a person of color, and has limited financial means.

    (If you think women get a lot of crap about choosing to have or not to have kids, believe me, that is trivial compared to the piles heaped upon those who choose to use ART, especially when the multiple birth issue enters the picture. Truly, there is no good way out of this for any woman.)

  58. Y’know the decision about whether or not to take on the responsibility for another human life for 18 years is weighty enough. If everything were equal and we had all these great options for child care and parental leave and happy happy egalitarian lovely society, it would still be a big freaking deal to decide to take responsibility for a child. There are so many issues, financial, emotional, family issues, potential health issues that would exsist even in a world where there was no gender based BS.

    The whole thing is fucking terrifying, a whole other person totally dependant on you. To be honest the mere thought makes me want to vomit.

    So the fact that our society has decided to make it even more freaking complicated by imposing insane gender based expectations on parents and would be parents, well it is just fucking unnecessary. It is a completely out of line addition to what is already a pretty fucking big deal. And it makes me really mad.

  59. (Not to mention that not everyone GETs a choice about whether or not they are taking responsibility for a child, and so this whole idea that women choose to be mothers is really only true in a world where women have a choice. For a lot of young women especially there isn’t a choice, and that is just awful.)

  60. Your uterus: society in general doesn’t want you to be in charge of it. Whether you want to keep from having kids, want an abortion, want to have kids and are having difficulty with that–the patriarchy wants you to sit down and shut up.

  61. I am a woman of color, if not yet a parent, and I guess I don’t talk to many WOC who are parents, if you discount about 1/3 of my family and a good chunk of my social circle. How about you watch your own assumptions of who you’re talking to before you lecture?

    I was attempting to clarify, in my second comment, that I’m not talking about “”getting by” kinds of career difficulties, but the kinds of career difficulties one faces in getting into major positions of power.

    And no, I’m not conflating WOC and working class women, but attempting to acknowledge, obviously in a clumsy manner, that these are two groups which frequently overlap.

    As to attitudes towards disabled parenting, I find that actually other people frequently seem to be way too optimistic about my ability to parent well. I would like to have kids someday, but I have many of the same mental health issues my parents did, and that… did not always turn out so great. I think that’s probably just because of my particular issues- I don’t “look” like I have a disability, and the ones I have are frequently dismissed (depression, anxiety disorders, etc. falling under the “you’re just being neurotic” or “just get over it!” heading). If I were schizophrenic or something I’m sure it would be different, but I think sometimes the rosy outlook people insist on for me is just another way of saying “Well, you’re not REALLY sick, so it’ll be a-okay!”

  62. It’s because we are Delicate Creatures, and our kids are Sensitive because they are such finely cultured connoisseurs of Life’s Rich Pageant!

    I think this is part of the Most Important Job in the World! thing. Obviously each and every one of our children are so precious and delicate that, unless we raise them in the absolutely perfect environment, we’ve failed and ruined them for life.

    I just cringe whenever I hear some right-wing male going on about how mothers have the hardest job in the world. I can just feel them patting me on the head going, “That’s right, little lady, your job is so hard” while they are smirking, feeling secure that what they do is so much more important. It’s both condescending and damaging, because, as far as the wider culture has also adopted the idea that being a parent is the Most Important Job, it’s made raising children so fraught with pressure and anxiety.

    For most of human history, most people had kids without thinking twice about it. It just happened and you raised them. And, by and large, most people turned out just fine. Now we’ve somehow convinced women with more resources and education than women have ever had before that being a good parent is something outside of their reach. We’ve created an impossible list of the requirements for being a good parent. I don’t think I come close to meeting those criteria–I’m inconsistent about discipline, I sometimes yell, I don’t care if my son doesn’t eat a veggie for a couple of days, I sometimes (okay, often) let my son keep his jammies on all day–but I’m pretty sure my kids will turn out just fine. Well, the jury is still out on my daughter, who currently just eats and sleeps, but unless my son happens to achieve his plan of creating an amusement park full of robotic dinosaurs and something goes wrong (but what could go wrong with that??), I think he’ll probably end up being a relatively productive and somewhat well-adjusted member of society.

    The thing is, I don’t need somebody patting me on the head telling me I have the most important job in the world so that I can feel valued. All that’s doing is reinforcing the idea that our value is based on how prestigious/important/difficult what we do is, and not that we have value just for being. I don’t need or want somebody to affirm that what I do is valuable and important; what we need is a transformation of the entire system that tells us that some kinds of work are valuable (and therefore make those that do them valuable) and other types aren’t valuable (and therefore the people who do them lack value).

  63. Excellent post and commentary.
    On a sort of related subject, does anyone other than me get all twitchy and ranty when those “What are stay at home moms worth” salary estimates come out every year? You know, the ones where they take the imaginary life of some theoretical perfect nice white lady stay at home mom and calculate how many hours she spends in jobs such as nurse, CEO, counselor, accountant, caregiver, etc? I think last year’s one was in the range of $140k/year. Um, WTF? A lot of those things are just part of life/being an adult. Not to mention the general assumption that the theoretical stay at home mom’s partner never does any of the jobs on the list
    Rather than come across as some sort of generally feminist perspective on the fact that for some people it does make economic sense for one parent to stay at home, it always seems to be presented like you’re a bad parent if you work and happen to make less than that number.
    Anyway, that’s my rant for the day

  64. On a sort of related subject, does anyone other than me get all twitchy and ranty when those “What are stay at home moms worth” salary estimates come out every year?

    Yes! Drives me insane. I mean, when my grandparents were in an assisted living facility, they were charged something like $100/week to have somebody bring them their medications. Does that mean that when I’m getting myself my vitamin and Zoloft every morning, I really should be getting paid $100/week? People get paid for helping others use the bathroom, if they’re employed as a caregiver, but that doesn’t mean my wiping my own ass has some sort of monetary value. I find it incredibly condescending when those kinds of reports come out.

    Again, it’s just reinforcing the idea that somebody’s value is based on the money they make. A stay-at-home mom is valuable because what she’s doing is worth X amount of money, not because either what she’s doing is inherently valuable or, God forbid, that she (and everybody else) just has inherent value regardless of what they do or how much money they make.

  65. This is something I think about a lot, and I just have a few comments. The conclusion I’ve come to is that if you’re going to have kids, you need support. I don’t think anyone disagrees with that, but as a society we are still split about who is responsible for providing that support – individuals/families or the government.

    It used to be that moms really weren’t the only people raising their children. But we live in an isolating culture that says either you’re smart/educated/capable/fabulous enough to do it all on your own, or you’re smart/educated/capable/fabulous enough to have the money to pay other people to do it.

    I do see this as a middle class, upper middle class issue. If you don’t have enough money, the only real options are neglecting your child/ren or maintaining relationships with people who can help you care for them at no/low-cost. And that’s what I’ve seen a lot of among immigrant families, among poor folks, etc. My mother was a single parent for a while when I was little, and yet I’ve never been to “daycare.”

  66. This thread is a bit of a depressing one for me in a lot of ways.

    See, I identify as asexual, and it’s entirely likely that I will be single, and remain that way, for the entirety of my life. (I enjoy being single; I’ve never wanted to date anyone specifically, that bit’s not at all problematic to me.) But if I am to have children at all, I will probably be a single mother. At the same time, I don’t have the option of taking time off and depending on a SO at all if I choose to have children via sperm donor or AI rather than adoption, and adoption has problems all on its own which I’m only starting to figure out.

    And I want a career in academia. I want it so badly I can taste it. But I don’t know that I could have any sort of intellectually challenging career and have children, because my experience of watching the people around me work is that you have to depend on someone to have a job, not a career, if there are children involved. That’s not even unpacking the reaction I’d get from people around me, employers included, for choosing deliberately to have a child without even dating someone at the time.

    So I’m in the position that I would like to have children in the future, as far as I know I have no fertility issues, and there’s no reason I couldn’t parent one–but there is no support network at all for mothers outside of a nuclear family as far as I can see. It seems unfair that because I’m not interested in romantic relationships, I may never have the opportunity to have children. And hell, I’m pretty privileged otherwise. I have the financial option of considering sperm banks, and I’m not repulsed by sex, and as far as I know all the equipment is in working order. I have options. What must it be like for other people who want children but not necessarily the relationship and don’t even have that?

  67. @Lori –
    I just cringe whenever I hear some right-wing male going on about how mothers have the hardest job in the world.

    I disagree – I do think nurturing and raising children is pretty much the most important thing people can do. Now how one goes about doing it … that’s up for debate, of course. But I also disagree that people mostly do a really good job of it. There is just too much fucked-upness in the world for me to believe that. A lot of parents are really not doing it right.

  68. @Sciatrix
    I know a mom who wanted a child but not a relationship, so she found a man whom she really respected and admired and thought was a good person, and asked him to be her sperm donor. He agreed, donated sperm to her and she inseminated herself. Things are all legally worked out so she is the sole legal parent. I love how she went about it – in a very straight-forward, no drama, low-cost way.

  69. You know, the ones where they take the imaginary life of some theoretical perfect nice white lady stay at home mom and calculate how many hours she spends in jobs such as nurse, CEO, counselor, accountant, caregiver, etc? I think last year’s one was in the range of $140k/year. Um, WTF? A lot of those things are just part of life/being an adult.

    I think the point is meant to be that for a lot of *men* those things aren’t part of life/being an adult. When women do them they are assumed to be, so they’re unpaid, and that represents a lot of invisible and devalued women’s labor so I think it’s useful to point out how much of it there is on a dollar scale.

  70. @kristinc, I think you’re right about the intention, but I don’t think it has the desired effect, because I think most people realize that it’s not a genuine estimation of what the work is really worth. After all, full time, live in nannies don’t, AFAIK, make anything even close to what the estimates of a SAHM’s worth.

    And, again, I just think it reinforces the idea that the only value that matters is economic value. If we can’t tie a dollar value to something, then it’s worthless. I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere positive as long as we buy into that paradigm, but I’m pretty much a believer in the idea that the master’s tools can’t dismantle the master’s house.

  71. Nobody’s normal, nobody’s getting it right, nobody’s doing the best under the circumstances. We’re all just fucking it up.

    I think this is the lesson, really. Patriarchy is kicking every woman’s ass, no matter how she’s doing it.

    One thing I’ll throw out that I don’t think has been mentioned yet (in this thread, anyway): why is it always a choice between being super career-driven or having kids? I mean, I don’t want kids…and that’s not because I’m *so* very devoted to either vocation or avocation.

    It’s just that when I think about my life in five years, there are no kids in it. That was true when I was a little kid and preferred legos to doll babies; it was true when I was in high school and shocked by the fact that girls my age were already having kids; it’s true now, in my 30s, with a relatively stable job and the (more or less) financial means to support a child if I wanted to have one (setting aside the issue of how I would get said kid). But I just don’t.

    Which, you know, makes me a total fucking freak. If I was climbing the corporate ladder or working my ass off to be a rock star, it would be somehow more understandable that I just don’t want kids, I guess? Of course, I’m also *single*, which means that I can still hide behind the whole don’t-have-a-partner excuse. Phew.

  72. I just think it reinforces the idea that the only value that matters is economic value. If we can’t tie a dollar value to something, then it’s worthless.

    I can see where you’re coming from, but realistically, in our world, if we don’t tie a dollar value to it, it *is* worthless. I mean, ask any woman who put her career aside to be a SAHM, or got mommytracked at her job, or lost a job for taking sick time (or a dad who got fired for insisting on having tim with his family instead of making his job his entire life).

    It’s all well and good to say parenting is valuable in non-dollar ways (and I do believe that) but it moves the discussion into a sort of ivory-tower, non-practical arena, because practically speaking, where sexism hurts most women is in the wallet and with the corresponding reduction of choices and ability to determine our own life courses.

  73. Riane Eisler has (and is) done/doing some work on valuing traditionally women’s work. Real Wealth of Nations has a lot to do with that subject. She also looks at countries where they have started including caregiving (whether it’s of children, the elderly, etc.) and other such work in their GDP.

  74. I have been thinking about this a lot. My partner and I are entering client services fields that are not well known for providing quality family time (him law, me accounting).

    I have zero confidence that I could stay on partner track at a CPA firm if I have a child. I’ve talked to women partners who have children and all of them either had husbands that took over the major child-rearing functions or had children before entering accounting.

    Anyways, I just struggle so much with thinking about when/if to have kids and how much career to have and I love the way that Kate takes this apart here. It really is a nice sentiment to hear “no, its not you, its the whole system that’s fucked up, you are okay” so thanks.

    P.S. I realize that talking about lawering and accounting really flashes my privilege, my point is just to illustrate what Kate was talking about in the article re: high power careers/reproductive choices and what a losing situation that is. Like others have covered it is a losing situation for many many other people who won’t have the benefit of a career and stable income to go with their decision.

  75. Tari, I’m with you. I have a career but I’m not terribly ambitious about it – I like what I do but I have no desire to be the Big Kahuna of Libraries. I also don’t want children. I was ambivalent about children when I married my husband and I probably would have agreed to have one if he really, really wanted one. He already had children from his first marriage and he wasn’t all that jazzed to have more but he would have if I had really, really wanted to.

    I don’t care if I look selfish to people outside my circle of friends. It is my life and I prefer to use my relative freedom to travel and just enjoy time with my husband.

  76. @ sciatrix: I am an academic. One of my best friends, also an academic, became a single mother to a beautiful boy via a known donor a few years ago and I am now considering – actually actively planning to do the same. Yes, it’s hard, but it is possible, if it’s something you really really want. There are a lot of resources, books and support out there when and if you’re ready to consider it seriously. If you have strong support from family and friends that can go a long, long way. And just think about how many women end up as single mothers who didn’t start out thinking that would be the case. You would be going in with all the independence and strength you have.

    None of this is to deny the privlidge of my friend or I, or anything in Kate’s post, which I agree with 100%. Our union recently won us paid parental leave – we need more working towards things like this, not indulging in fantasies about what ‘messages’ the reproductive choices of a few elite women send.

  77. Because really, it’s just one more manifestation of how women can never fucking do anything right.

    THIS. Women can’t do it right, any road we travel is demonized, while any road men travel is approved. Except living in your parent(s/’s) basement, which is roundly discouraged unless and until they are elderly.

    My friend X is the internet sensation philosophy professor whose role as a presenter at a major, NEH (nat’l endowment for the humanities) funded professional conference was threatened unless she provided proof within twelve hours that her childcare arrangements for her teen met unspecified criteria. On the weekend. For a conference in a foreign country with a different language. She didn’t believe the conference staff person’s assertion that the NEH was on board with this. She calmly sent the staffer her childcare plan while contacting the NEH when the office opened. Meanwhile, Inside Higher Ed ran an article blatantly calling her a liar.

    The legal department at the NEH rapidly responded on her behalf and pointed out to the staff that their “requirement” was both unethical and illegal in both countries. The internal investigation revealed that an NEH staffer HAD INDEED supported the conference staffer in demanding that she prove she had childcare or forfeit her professional position at the conference. To be fair, the head of the NEH formally apologized to her and issued public statements – including one in Inside Higher Ed – condemning both the incident and the assumptions underlying it. Nothing of the kind has ever happened to a male professor in NEH history, as far as they know.

    Whose stakes are really higher in this game? As a woman from a working class background, the stakes of my children starving and freezing to death if I’m seen as a worse grocery clerk for being a mother with, say, a disabled child seems obviously to outweigh the – certainly privileged – professional dilemma faced by X (over and over again). But X’s situation shows that no matter what status a woman attains, her reproductive and parenting decisions can be used against her on the job.

    With unthinking institutional approval. Because dudebros still run everything at every level, at least in the United States, and they maintain a strict bros-before-hos standard.

    So six of one, half dozen of the other, to my mind.

    And we CHOOSE this shit as a culture, every day. We choose 35% child poverty and no health care for millions and racism and homophobia and rapists left free to offend six or seven times until they get bored and homicide as the leading cause of death in pregnancy. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but people in other countries have made inroads here, and I keep hoping that if enough of us keep raising our teaspoons, even the USA can manage to establish some human rights within its borders.

    But most days I want to immigrate to Canada.

  78. Lori’s comments got me thinking. These are my thoughts, I have no proof.

    We have a social structure. Your position in it is based partly on ability, mostly on luck (nationality, parentage, IQ, connections, race, or just dumb luck). A woman’s place in the social structure was for a long time based on her relationship to a man and her ability to bear children. This has changed. Bearing children for many women is now an impediment to positioning themselves higher in the social structure, so fewer chose to have children. I suspect those choosing not to have children already have an edge to begin with, they are already born richer with better educated parents and more opportunity from the beginning.

    The social structure is more rigid than people would like to admit. Your mostly stuck in it where you are born. Those who rise out of poverty or middle class always think they “worked” their way to the top, that they “deserve it.” Most did work hard, but the luck factor was always there. Most hard working, very smart people just don’t amount to much (based on the standard ideas of success).

    The things people will do to be “successful” are in a way insane. I for one kinda feel I have worked nonstop since 1985, the day I entered college. Fun for me is walking across the street one day a month with my partner and having a couple of glasses of wine. She is 56 yo, has no children and like me works all the time. Today she asked me if she worked hard enough (last of her breed, really, younger doctors are lazy). Is it worth it? I am thinking of quitting and teaching HS chemistry.

  79. @hsofia
    In general your comments are just 1oo% awesome. & thanks in particular for:

    Riane Eisler has (and is) done/doing some work on valuing traditionally women’s work. Real Wealth of Nations has a lot to do with that subject. She also looks at countries where they have started including caregiving (whether it’s of children, the elderly, etc.) and other such work in their GDP.

    Heading to the library.

  80. Because really, it’s just one more manifestation of how women can never fucking do anything right. If you don’t want children at all, you’re selfish and immature. If you want children but don’t want to bear them, you’re vain and weird. If you have children and still want an identity besides Mommy, you’re once again selfish and you’re ruining your kids. If you have children and your whole identity becomes Mommy, you’re creepy/boring/martyr-y and ruining your kids. Nobody’s normal, nobody’s getting it right, nobody’s doing the best under the circumstances. We’re all just fucking it up. Bleh.

    And if you have a reasonable education and a reasonably good career but you’ve never felt any burning need to reach the top of the ladder, you’re also doing it wrong.

  81. Thank you, Kate, for this excellent post, and Snarky’s Machine, as always, for your intersectionality-related brilliance and general, overall genius (sorry about the snow). Kate, the way you ended this post regarding the TRUEST call for equality made a lump rise up in my throat.

    I am married to a man who is older than I am. We get a lot of questions about having children, and most people think we’d be great parents, considering that both of us work in professions that involve children. We both like children a lot. But kids, they’re expensive, and we have VERY bad health insurance, and lots and lots of medical bills (mine). We’re trying not to make a choice right now. We’d really rather not.

    @ Sue – I really like what you said about looking up to older women who have not raised children with whom you can converse and from whom you can really get an education about their lives. I am working with a professor currently who has had an interesting career in elementary ed, administration, and is now a teacher’s teacher, and whose life has always been full of interesting experiences and encounters. I am seriously considering her life as an inspiration to my own.

    @ EmmaB – Re: Nadya Suleman – You and I know the truth, but, she is, like I am, a WLWoC. In fact, Ms. Suleman and I have many things in common. We “pass”. We have totally wacky laughs. We are broke. I’d love to hang with her and the kids; obviously not much bothers her, considering the way people talk about her, and I find that an admirable personality trait.

    @ Pala – You’ve said so many interesting things, but specifically about disabled parenting: Yeah. Mm-hm. Nail on the head. And they think they’re being SO ENCOURAGING.

    @ hsofia – I always love everything you have to say, and your insight on cultural changes regarding child-rearing bring back lots of happy memories of uncles and friends’ parents and all sorts of wonderful adults who were there for me when both of my parents were seriously ill during my childhood. But then again… do we trust other adults anymore in America? Sometimes I think we don’t.

  82. Hello Kate & Co., Nice (Fat) White Mommy-Lady here. I’ll try to stay on topic. The comments are wide ranging and very interesting.

    1) Parenting young children is relentless work. Is it hard? Not that often when you have healthy normal children. But it is definitely relentless, day and night, responsibility. My eldest is 5 so I can’t speak to having school age and older children. I’ve had jobs that were physically demanding, intellectually demanding, or demanding of vast amounts of time, but no job I’ve ever had has been as relentless as parenting. Maybe running campaigns comes the closest, but there’s always the first Tuesday in November and it’s all over.

    2) I didn’t want kids. I have two sons. Sons that I abstained from wine and soft cheese for when I was pregnant. Sons that I sustained with my own milk. Sons for whom I have given up sleep and sometimes sanity. With each son I made my own maternity leave, staying home for one year. But when that year is up I go back to my ambitions with gusto.
    You can be ambivalent and still be an excellent parent. I still have mixed feelings about whether or not I want to be a parent, and that horse is way the hell out of the barn, but I do it to the best of my abilities.

    3) Life is long (mostly). While I may take some steps back in my 20s and 30s while tending to family raising, I’m moving forward too. Who doesn’t have set-backs whether or not they are child related? It took me 4 years to finish law school because I had a child. So what? I’m still a lawyer. I failed the bar because it’s damn hard to study for the bar and parent a toddler. So what? I passed it the next time. I’m saying there’s time to do a little of this and a little of that.

    4) I want to be a judge or other elected official down the road and my husband is down with that. First you need to live some life before you go around making policy or law or sending people to the slammer. My husband is a mighty fine man and a brilliant thinker, but he is not ambitious the way I am. So he works the stable 8-4 job, does the childcare pick ups and drop offs, makes dinner, so that I can pursue whatever it is at the time I want to do next even if it includes a 90 mile each direction commute and keeps me away 12 hours a day.

    5) What would make it easier to be a parent and reach the apex of my career? Subsidized child care FOR SURE. Childcare is expensive. Let me spell it out for you since as far as I can tell most of the commentors are not parents, at my chosen middle class very nice daycare in a town of 150,000, two children for one year would cost $23,000.00. That’s more than my law school tuition was. And so I sit out a year in part because that eats up too large a portion of our income to make it worthwhile.

    6) But hey, since society genuflects at the altar of mommyhood I’m going to milk that for what it’s worth. I recently threw my hat into the ring of the Illinois Lt Governor’s race. I wasn’t picked, but I played on the stay-at-home-mom/lawyer/social media citizen and the powers that be ATE THAT UP. Ahem. And in 20 years when I’m a judge or a member of Congress, you can bet SAHM will be prominent in the bio.

    I’m calculating, ambitious, and a mommy. “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

  83. “you will be widely regarded as a freak, as incomplete, selfish, irresponsible, unfeminine, somehow broken — what kid of woman doesn’t want kids?”

    I’m 28, and I’ve been getting this kind of crap for at least a couple of years. It drives me nuts; for one thing, it’s nobody else’s freaking business! I don’t have to explain myself to them. Lately I’ve taken to just flat-out stating that I’m too selfish to take care of someone else for the rest of my life. People don’t know how to react to that, so they leave me alone and I don’t have to go in to all the other reasons I don’t want to pop out some crotchspawn.

    Of course, some people just come back with, “Oh, that will change when you meet the right guy!” or “You’ll change your mind when you’re older.” Guess what, I’m older and I haven’t changed my mind. I haven’t met “the right guy” either–you know, the one who overrides all my silly female notions of having my own opinions and desires, the one whose manly maleness will make my eggs beg to receive his genetic code like a “proper” woman.

    Ahem. Yeah, I’m a bit frustrated with it.

  84. This showed up on my feed reader next to a really awesome post from Dw3t-Hthr: Ghost in the dwelling. She talks about how a woman is expected to give up being a person when she becomes a mother, give up having a life, not just give up her career. I think it’s true to say that in privileged circles, being a person is equated with having a high-powered, fulfilling career (a meme that Dw3t-Hthr herself has emphatically rejected).

    I’m definitely childfree, by the way. I wouldn’t blithely use that phrase for all non-mother women; some are childless, some are barren or infertile, some just don’t happen to have children. But for me the term represents a conscious choice, not a lack in my life. I’m not sad because I “can’t” have children, I’m not sad (for myself, it’s a big issue in my political commitments) that society doesn’t provide enough support for mothers, I’m not sacrificing my chance at motherhood for the sake of my career.

  85. This is an awesome post (as was your column on Broadsheet).

    On a related tangent, I’ve been shocked recently (I’ve just turned 24) at how frequently (like, extremely frequently) I get asked about when I’m getting married to my boyfriend of four years. I’M TWENTY FOUR. People find it confusing/odd that my boyfriend and I are both currently living in different cities, because we both got offered great career opportunities in our separate places, and neither of us wanted the other one to turn the chances down. We’re both ambitious, and neither of us are particularly worried about getting married. We may never get married! I don’t even know if I want to yet! And still, I get asked about it almost daily – sometimes by people I don’t even know that well. Along with that, I get guilt-tripped about being in a different city to my boyfriend (i.e. I should be the one moving there, despite my current job), and told that I should take the opportunity (i.e. of getting married) before it’s “too late.” It seems to make people uncomfortable that I am a 24 year old, career-oriented women. In 2010!

    The funny thing is that when I expressed frustration about these questions/statements/inferences to my boyfriend, he admitted he had NEVER ONCE had similar things said to/asked of him. So people consider it totally acceptable that he goes to another city to further his career and doesn’t marry his girlfriend, but it’s not OK for me? And further, if we both decide that it’s more important for us to do well in our careers than have kids (we presently don’t know re. kids), will I be the only one who gets judged for that, too?

    Beinart would probably say the two of us have too many “unmarried couple” role models, haha. Wow, rant! Sorry :-) But thanks for making me think.

  86. When I hear “have it all,” I tend to think people aren’t talking about having kids and working, but having kids (usually well-mannered, nicely-behaved, intelligent-and-good-looking kids) and a high-paying, high-power, extremely-fulfilling career.

    Checked with La Mommie and that pretty much sums up her experience. YMMV. Again, it’s a lot different for her since a) failure isn’t an option for her in that she’s not allowed to be comfortable where she is or aspire to mediocrity. b) it was always assumed she would both work and have/adopt/manifest children.

    To all the “I don’t want to be the best of the best of the best” folks…

    I mean it’s nice that folks can be average or not wish to excel in their given fields, but don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back about it. It’s not a choice. It’s a part of being privileged. Marginalized folks don’t have the option to be “average” or unambitious.

    Our most educated and distinguished president is also our only BLACK ONE. (read up on them. You’d be surprised how unremarkable even the “good” ones were in terms of education and accomplishments.)

  87. One of the things about positioning whether or not you have children as a cis-, straight, etc issue, is that it is all very societally constructed (not telling anyone anything new here!)

    As a queer (butch) woman, it was great when I was in my 20s, because there was no way anyone assumed that I would want to have kids – I don’t. (Not so great for the queer women who did want them, I imagine.) Nowadays, lesbians are having babies 90 to the dozen. In fact, is there anything featuring lesbians in popular culture (especially TV) that does not have the baby issue as a significant feature?

    So once again, women – even the ones who are traditionally supposed to be “barren” – are the ones who are always questioned about their childbearing intentions. Even Thomas Beatie shows that transmen can be questioned about their intentions. Cis, heterosexual men, as someone mentioned above, not so much.

    At least being a butch dyke, I haven’t, until relatively recently, existed in that liminal space – my circumstances suit my wishes. But otherwise, it seems you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

    I’ve always felt that asking someone whether or assuming they will or want to have children is quite impolite. It’s like asking them how they have sex (don’t ask me why I feel that way, but there it is). I wish that we could return to that – not to assume anything about someone’s intentions in that area, nor have the gall to comment upon it.

  88. I just wanted to say, as a parent of an only child, that the questions and judgments of whether or not you’re having children don’t stop when you’ve had one….oh no, in middle-class-land you’re not a REAL mother/parent until you’ve given that child a sibling.

    Now that my son is 8 and I’m over 40, the questions have stopped. But the judgments haven’t.

    And thinking of all those who desperately want second kids and can’t have them, when I answered the question, I would generally say, “You know, it’s not always possible to have more.”

    And the other truth is, that once you’ve got a second kid, the delicate balance of how much daycare costs and the math of limited sickdays really does put pressure on middle class women to stay home.

  89. I am 49, married with no kids, and (fortunately) have never caught much grief about my choice to let motherhood pass me by. Of course, maybe that’s because on those occasions over the years when people did press the issue with me, I’ve simply said “I don’t really like children.” And I wasn’t lying just to shut them up.

    Society probably considers me even more of a “freak” than women who remain childless for other reasons, such as career ambitions (which I definitely do not have), but the honest truth is that I am uncomfortable around children don’t want any in my house. It’s sort of like dogs… I don’t mind if my neighbors all have dogs, and I realize dogs have many truly wonderful qualities, but I do not want to own or take care of a dog myself.

    I’m not a cold fish — I enjoy spending time (uh, now and then) with my nieces and nephews, but if some movie-like scenario occurred that left me suddenly having to take care of them all myself, it would turn into a horror show. They are great kids and are the joy of my brother’s life, but I am fully content to fill the role of aunt instead of mom.

  90. Snarky, that’s such an important point about privilege and ‘being average.’

    On somewhat but perhaps not completely different note, the OP to which Kate responded also falls into the trap of framing this issue as only one that is faced by women at the very top, not by all of us.
    I always smile when I see those opt-out articles that say, “being a SAHM is much more rewarding than being an investment banker/corporate lawyer!” Well, yeah – I hope I don’t offend anyone whose worked in those areas if I were to modestly suggest that this might say as much about the hyper-corporate workplace as it does about motherhood.

    I want more articles about the policies and supports we need for mothers who are teachers, artists, activists, writers, scientists, carpenters, nursers, truck drivers, etc., etc.

  91. Vidya108:
    “Catful” made me laugh.

    I see a lot of women in my career field (not really chosen, but my career field nonetheless) who have children and work – but that’s administrative support. However, I’ve also seen many women in engineering at my company who have children and are also hugely successful in their work – many are in management positions, though few are higher level than that – and it impresses me daily. Our company has a lot more benefits for parents, though, with good healthcare, daycare services, etc., and they’re only increasing them.
    (I’ve actually been told, in a company such as this, I’m *less* likely to be promoted and kept because I don’t have kids – I’m not a “family” person.)

    Is this something, this issue we’re discussing overall, specific to authority positions? Are women as managers, politicians, judges more likely to have trouble working and being mothers? Is there some consideration for positions in government being slightly more high-risk?

  92. As long as women attack each other for our choices (children or no, work outside the home or be a SAHM, etc) we will never, as a culture, come to realize that women must continuously make choices and sacrifices that men most likely will never even have to think about.

  93. Not that we’re attacking each other HERE. Just in general. This is pretty much an attack-free zone.

  94. Chalk up one more for the “ambivalent” camp. And I realize that I’m incredibly privileged to be able to control my own fertility to the extent that I do, and to make the calculation that, as someone who doesn’t actively want kids (although I also don’t actively not want them), it might be better for me not to be a mommy.

    One of the most freeing conversations I’ve ever had was when my dad told my sister and me that he’s never, ever going to bring up the grandchildren issue, because he figures that’s our business. One of the reasons I had felt guilty about not having children had been how wonderful he is with my cousin’s two kids, and how very much he enjoys them, and I felt bad for depriving him of the opportunity to be a grandfather. And then I would feel like a bad feminist for feeling guilty…

  95. What really strikes me about this is how recent the whole phenomenon feels to me. And by phenomenon I mean the expectation that all or most women will bear or raise children.

    I am 48 now, my parents, both living, are in their early 80s, and I grew up with a ton of relatives (mostly older) who were childless. The family background on both sides is basically rural and not too distantly immigrant. I have many relatives who were unmarried and childless, married and childless by choice, married and childless by unfortunate biology. Some of the unmarried childless women were schoolteachers or nurses by profession. I don’t know if they went into teaching because they were unmarried and needed to support themselves, or if they went into it because they loved it and it was incompatible with marriage and family life in their eyes at the time.

    Most of this generation is gone now, so I can’t ask them, but I know my mother grew up thinking that she would probably be the one who wouldn’t get married and would stay home to take care of her parents in their dotage. Of course, those that did have kids tended to have quite a few, which might have tipped the scales as well. It’s just weird to me how expectations seem to have been homogenized. I do not, by any stretch, wish to return to farm life in the 20s and 30s. I think most of these different paths were not so much choices as adaptations to harsh realities. But what I appreciate is that it didn’t seem like anyone gave them a hard time about the choices they made, I suppose because in those times, you couldn’t really assume anything WAS a choice. If Aunt Shirley didn’t have children or Cousin Louise didn’t get married and went off to be a teacher, that’s just the way it was. Sorry–this is a little rambly, and perhaps completely irrelevant. Feel free to straighten me out!

  96. @Liz: Yep, you hit the nail on the head with “you’re not really a parent unless you’ve had two or more”
    I am 42 and my daughter is nearly 7-and people are finally shutting the fuck up about “Aren’t you going to have another?” Uh, no. I’m not. Not only because of infertility issues-I had multiple miscarriages before I was able to carry my daughter to term with the help of massive hormones-but also because I DON’T WANT ANOTHER. I’m a pretty good mom of one; pretty fucking sure I wouldn’t be such a good mom to two. I know my limitations, but this makes me fit in to the “bad selfish mommy” box.

  97. I find that if the conversation turns to kids, whipping out my cell phone and showing pictures of my dog gets the subject changed very quickly. :)
    I deliberately chose not to have kids because 1. I was terrified of screwing up someone and 2. I am the youngest and was left at home after my mom died to deal with my father who was on disability for heart disease, had Aspberger’s syndrome, and drank to cope with his related issues and 3. I don’t really enjoy them. I felt that I had nothing to give a child and never, EVER want anyone that dependent on me again.
    The decision to reproduce–or not–mindfully is highly complex and personal. It annoys me to no end that men don’t have to deal with this crap or have their masculinity called into question if they decide not to be a father. Some people just need to be told to piss off.

  98. “I don’t particularly like what that says about parenthood or about people who choose not to have kids, who are often stereotyped as simply unwilling to sacrifice and take on the responsibilities of parenting.”

    Not to mention what it says about kids! Don’t forget, you almost certainly have some real live kids reading this. :)

  99. @bumerry…steer clear of Alberta, Canada. This woman is currently one of the provincial cabinet ministers.

    Douchehounds in positions of power are ubiquitous.

  100. Like a lot of us, I feel some need to start with context, so: 43. Didn’t want kids for the longest. Started reconsidering about 35; despite continuing and profound ambivalence, gave it a try starting around 39; miscarried 3 times, took it for a sign. Didn’t adopt because of aforementioned ambivalence. Privileged in all kinds of ways–could’ve afforded kids pretty well, spouse wanted kids, had good medical attention, effect on career would’ve been noticeable but probably not totally disastrous.

    None of that’s where I’m going here, though, which is back to the central issue of support. When I was pregnant, I was absolutely terrified because I knew there wasn’t good support available–no maternity leave beyond what I could cobble together in other ways, no reliable childcare, and, okay, no total faith that my spouse was going to really pull his weight (though, of course, I was still indecently lucky to have a spouse who wanted to be involved, and to have a job where to some extent I could hope for flexible scheduling.) I was afraid the unending work and juggling and demands would kill me–not literally, but in maybe worse ways. And one thing I took away was the realization that support could take many forms. So now I do some free babysitting for some neighbors who did have their kids, and who would die for their kids, but who would also sometimes die for a night without them.

    So, while I’m totally in favor of demanding a more European version of childcare and maternity benefits over here, there’s also something to be said for asking if the parents nearest at hand want some help, like maybe this afternoon. If we’re ambivalent about kids of our own, maybe it helps us decide. If we’re sans children ourselves, it offers a look at the other side of the street. And maybe it gives a break to a fellow woman doing a profoundly demanding and important job, which is a pretty good reason all by itself.

  101. >> “you’ll spend half the time and energy you saved by not having kids defending that decision and your credibility to people who inexplicably think it’s their business.”

    I have to say, I’ve happily spent very little time or energy defending my expensively barren condition, and now that I’m over 40, I basically never hear a peep about it. There were a few smug comments back in the day (and one GYN who refused to tie my tubes when I was 28), but compared to the being-treated-like-public-property state of pregnancy or the constantly-critiqued-by-onlookers activity of being a mom, I have gotten off pretty much scotfree.

    (I was never ambivalent; I’ve been sure I wanted to stay childless since I was 17. I usually go with “childless by choice” but occasionally find it entertaining to say in a dry sort of voice that “I can’t bear children.” Which isn’t even true; there are several children I like a lot.)

  102. Bob-

    I totally totally agree with the first bit of what you said. However, this bit:

    “She is 56 yo, has no children and like me works all the time. Today she asked me if she worked hard enough (last of her breed, really, younger doctors are lazy)”

    Reads like, “Those younguns don’t ever work, amirite? Back in my day…”

    And just, no. You could have made your point without crapping on us younger folk.

  103. These type of threads make me realize how lucky I am to have the family and social circles that I do. I remember announcing to my parents when I was about 7 or 8 years old that I would never have kids, and they said that’s fine, and left it at that. Even as a young child, I remember using my toy carriage to push around my cat instead of my ‘baby’ dolls.

    Today my mother doesn’t seem concerned that neither of her kids feel any affection for human children; she’s more than satisfied with the abundance of grand-cats that my sibling and I have given her. (But then, I do come from a family in which non-human people have always been considered full family members.)

    As an adult, I actually assumed that the reason I don’t get asked about having kids by other people is because I’m fat, and thus folks think it would be cruel to suggest that marriage/sex/children are options for me. But since it’s happening to others on SP, I guess that’s not it. Perhaps it’s because virtually all of my friends are advanced-degree seekers/holders? While I do know some female scholars who have kids, it doesn’t seem like it’s all that unusual for academics of any gender to choose not to marry or raise children. No one I interact with regularly seems to think it odd to prefer a home full of books and quiet to one full of toys and noise.

  104. Vidya-

    I think there is something to be said for people avoiding mention of babies/significant others because, oh, you’re fat. It’s probably a sore subject for you. I know that a lot of the reason I’ve been hassled recently about kids is cultural. I’m very active in an observant Jewish community, and

    A) Many Ashkenazi Jewish women are fat.
    B) Children and large families are strongly valued in most observant Jewish communities
    C) Many of these fat Ashkenazi Jewish women who want/have a bunch of children also want/have advanced degrees.

    So I know that, for me, being fat and seeking an advanced degree would be no hindrance to people inquiring about spawn. However, most of my non-observant-Jewish (mostly career oriented) friends are, like, what? Kids? Why would you do that now?

  105. Vidya – maybe it’s regional. I’ve never been hassled about not having kids. My parents never mentioned it to me – nor did they ever ask me when I was getting married. Most of my friends are either without children or they are having them now – in their late 20s-mid 30s. I have never felt a huge pressure. The only annoying thing has been a few people who chose to tease me about my discretionary income, saying that I was “rich” because I didn’t have kids. It was a very conscious decision on my part not to get pregnant or have children before I’d found a life partner, and I wasn’t going to let anyone try and make me feel badly about it! On the flipside, some of my relatives wanted me to hang around their teen daughters because they felt I was a good role model and an example of what you can do with your time when you’re not hung up on seeking male attention.

  106. i haven’t read all of the comments on this thread, but on your broadhseet article i did notice that the main element of criticism is “HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST THAT WOMEN CAN ACTUALLY HAVE THEIR CAKE AND IT EAT TO!?!? THEY CANT! IT’S JUST NOT IN THE CARDS FOR WOMEN’ and calling you a crazy bitch. took QUITE few of the sanity points away. however, your article is awesome.

  107. Wow great post Kate, this AND the broadsheet one. I am grappling with the same issues and slowly working in a movie on the topic. I also started a blog about it though for the last couple of months I haven’t published anything in part because – get this – I’ve been afraid of what potential employers might think if they read it. So I didn’t take it down, but I haven’t written anymore either, I’m a bit stuck.

    And do you know, a friend of mine had a baby and did not tell anyone in her professional circle, because she was afraid of the discrimination, afraid nobody would hire her and she’d be out of the loop?

  108. It was a very conscious decision on my part not to get pregnant or have children before I’d found a life partner, and I wasn’t going to let anyone try and make me feel badly about it!

    Um… wow.

    I love the internet: it turns my head upside-down on a regular basis ;-)

  109. Julie – I respect peoples choices to have children or not; I just want people to respect mine. I sacrificed a lot by waiting to date, waiting to find a healthy relationship, etc. but there were positive outcomes as a result. To have my choices dismissed as “bougie” or “buppie” or materialistic was/is not just hurtful, but wrong.

  110. What, Hsofia? Who said you were “bougie” or “buppie”? Was it on this thread? I’m scanning the comments and can’t find the reference. Sorry, my eyes are not working as well today (pointy eye is acting up).

  111. @Snarky, I think Hsofia was talking about people she knows IRL.

    @Hsofia, I THINK (I’m much less sure on this one) that Julie paradox was being sincere, not taking a swipe at you. I had to work to find a way that comment made sense, but what I landed on was that perhaps JP was surprised that anyone would be criticized for waiting to have kids until she’s found a life partner, since a lot of people consider the life partner thing Step 1. So I took it more as, “Wow, huh, I never even thought of that” than a criticism.

    But I could be wrong, and like I said, it took me a little effort to come up with that interpretation.

    Also, maybe you interpreted it the same way and were just elaborating, in which case, don’t mind me.

    @Julie paradox, care to weigh in?

  112. @KateHarding – Yes I was talking about folks IRL, not in this thread. I read Julie’s comment as a swipe, as you say, but your interpretation makes sense, and I apologize if I misunderstood her.

  113. Yes, sorry.

    I grew up in a culture where the formal social and legal declaration of intent towards a Life Partner was supposed to happen before you had children (and preferably before you got pregnant too, though if that was the only part you failed you could get away with a few raised eyebrows). Even in my late teens, the late eighties, when only the very repressed or the christians were still relying on heavy petting, it was considered Not Done to have babies out of wedlock, though the less educated and poorer sections of society were starting to see an increase.

    I should not have assumed that everyone would know this about me. Mea culpa.

    The idea that a culture in a country so similar to my own had avoided or rejected this concept to such an extent was slightly mindboggling.

  114. @Pala – I hear you on the disabled parenting thing. Having PTSD (even before I had this severe physical disability with plenty of pain to go around), and a spouse with depression, we carefully considered and decided one child was our limit. Then had twins. And even then people assumed we should spawn again, for Maude’s sake. With about even odds of more twins or even higher order multiples because I ovulate like there are fireworks going on, apparently. My IUD has stood by me like a faithful…copper thingie in my uterine lining I guess…I find the idea of guardians or soldiers or other military personnel north of my cervix vaguely disturbing, so that metaphor just dead ended. So to speak. I’ll stop this now.

    @Au Contraire – thanks for the heads up. I grew up in Iowa, and I’d rather die than live in a rural province/state ever again. Okay, actually, I wouldn’t rather die. But I would rather live in Ontario, perhaps Toronto. I’m way closer to socialist than democrat, and I will never have a political horse in the race here, and teaspooning is good, but I want to live in a country that I can be proud of, not a theocratic empire. Which the US has been for the last 30 years at a minimum. I’ve TRIED blooming where I’m planted. It’s worked out as well as when I did it before in the Catholic church. Much as I may love some of the people and customs, I just can’t bear to be a part of it without dying a little inside.

    I’m still trying to convince my husband that if we want to make a good life for our children, we should rear them where they can get a good education, and health care, and stand a lot better chance of just surviving, because every idiot with a hard on for killing can’t get an automatic weapon in an elementary school cafeteria Saturday morning.

    Did you know that Canadian social workers make almost twice what American ones do? And I’m past needing young child help, but could really

  115. I know, I know, few days late on this one, but I wanted to let Kate know that I enjoyed her piece in Broadsheet.

    I first read Beinart’s piece and found myself gobsmacked at what he was suggesting. It seemed to me that his heart was in the right place, that he might actually want to help, but his, I’ll say, misdiagnosis of the problem would actually do more harm than good because it’s resting on a lot of unexamined BS and yada yada yada. Kate explained it wonderfully so I won’t go a-paraphrasing. Well done!

  116. As a fifty-two-year old mother/grandmother who comes from an extremely fecund family, I know how much I have internalized our culture’s messages about motherhood. No kidding…I sometimes think that having children was the only thing that saved me from existential dread.

    Yep. And I am single, raised my kids by myself, held down jobs, way feminist, worked in the battered women’s movement for years. Should I know better? I dunno.

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