On wanting it all: The Kids Versus Career Conundrum

Good morning, readers.  Today there will be two thought-provoking posts, on the same issue, from two very different perspectives.  The issue in question is one that affects many of us; it’s the choice of kids or career, work or motherhood, call it what you will.  We’re told that you can have both.  Today we want to ask this: is that realistic?

This morning’s piece is challenging.   It is written by my friend Cat, and I want to know what you all think.  Cat tackles this choice, the patriarchal structures surrounding this choice, and asks that fundamental question: is having children even worth it?
Please don’t hold back because Cat is my friend – that would be beside the point entirely.  There are bits here that I disagree with and will be making those points in the comments.  But Cat raises undeniable truths which are hard to swallow and that is what we are here at AOW to do; to encourage debate, to question our assumptions, to make ourselves uncomfortable sometimes.
Onwards! I give you Cat.  And please come back at 1pm for another view: 

I have a confession to make. The older I get, the less I want children. According to popular opinion, I must be a biological freak. It’s every woman’s greatest purpose and ambition to make good use of her womb, right? But instead of feeling the ticking of my supposed biological clock, I am beginning to panic that all the high ambition and hard graft that have shaped my life until now will disappear out of the window the moment I miss my period. In other words, I am worried that a baby will ruin my life.
I turned thirty earlier this year. I am in a stable and loving relationship. Other people’s children like me and I, generally speaking, like them too. I have been told since I was a teenager that I have a knack with young people and that one day I will make a great mother. When I was in my early- to mid-twenties I repeatedly told myself that I wanted my first child by the time I passed into the next decade. Well, that time has now come, but instead of feeling closer to bringing another life into the world, I am feeling increasingly put off by the idea.
Don’t get me wrong. Kids are not seriously on the cards. At least they are not publically on the cards (although inside I have been pondering the idea on and off since I played with my first doll). What I mean is that my boyfriend and I have not discussed it in earnest. On the one hand, while not exactly a raging feminist, he would hate me to feel unhappy or depressed, and would balk at the idea that he could in any way oppress me. On the other, more realistic hand, I can just tell that it would be so easy – I refuse to believe ‘natural’ – for us to slip into those gender roles that society has waiting for us. We are both academics, just starting out. We are both inspired by this incredibly fulfilling yet extremely stressful and competitive career, in which your worth is judged according to the sum total of your publications. If I took a year off to nurture a child, I would most probably never make it past the post of senior lecturer while he would merrily, and deservedly, cruise through to a professorship. 
I would be the one who would be the primary care-giver. He would be the one to bring in the money. I would settle for a mediocre career while he would go on to fulfil his intellectual potential. And frankly the unfairness of this makes me want to get my tubes tied. There are few women who make it to senior positions in the Academy, and the bulk of those that do are either single or homosexual. Meanwhile, most of their male equivalents have dinner waiting for them on the table when they come home and their ironed shirts in an orderly pile. A heterosexual relationship just does not seem conducive to a woman’s career. 
I have watched with a sinking heart how friend after Facebook friend replaces profile photos of themselves with those of their offspring. I have sighed as previously witty or philosophical status up-dates now consist of call-outs to the mother and baby swimming club. Or when the biggest crisis is that every toy store has sold out of little Jimmy’s desired Christmas present. Or when baby-speak gets dropped into conversation with adults. The thought of a life filled with discussions about the relative qualities of various brands of babywipes while watching my little darling in the sand-pit fills me with dread. So does engaging in that unspoken but fiercely competitive sport of which mother can organise the coolest kid’s birthday party. And the coffee mornings, and the jam-making, and the play-group outings… It all makes me feel a bit ill. I can’t bear the thought that the closest I may get to science after I have given birth is debating the dependent or independent variables relating to nappy rash. 
Please don’t misunderstand me – these things are clearly extremely important to the people that are living them. And I am genuinely glad for my friends if they are satisfied in this world of Motherhood. I just don’t think I could be. I hate the thought that I must walk out of a successful career and into a ready-made, one-size-fits-all gender role. So I have come to the conclusion that I must choose. Career or family. As you have probably guessed by now, I think I will choose the former.
Until now I have lived by the motto, ‘if you don’t like something, change it.’ But the huge structures of gender roles that have been entrenched in our world for centuries, if not millennia, just seem to be too big. And I don’t know if I have the strength to turn everything into a battle. A number of articles in the Guardian over the past year have expressly dealt with this problem, and the more I read, the more I realise that the idea that men and women could equally share responsibilities of the home and the challenges of the workplace seems like nothing more than naïve idealism. 
But surely this can’t be right, right? I shouldn’t just throw in the towel and give up the chance of a family? That’s why I’m writing this post – I want to know what other women think. How are you dealing with this conundrum, which must affect so many of us? Is a life at home after a decade or more of building a career really as bad as I am assuming? Do you have any strategies? Have you founded a mother and baby club where you read Gramsci to your little ones instead of Blyton? Have you had a really honest discussion with your partner about these problems? 
If there is a place on the web where women are empowering each other to build the family they want without compromising their intellectual worth, AOW must be it. That’s why I wanted to share my thoughts on this with you.
Categories: Becoming a Mother, Family, Friends and Relationships, Politics and Feminism, Your Favourite Posts
44 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Anonymous
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing your dilemma. It takes a lot of courage to share your thoughts on this controversial topic!

    I've been a lifelong overachiever (must be a firstborn thing). I'm the breadwinner in my household and ever since I graduated from college and earned my masters, I was always driven to do more. I own a thriving event business in addition to working a 9-5 job at a consultancy. I recently had a chance to move up the career ladder at my corporate job but for once, I said no. I had gained 20lbs, slept 4-5 hrs a night and always complained of being too tired to do anything but pushing myself to work 60+ hours a week nonetheless. At first, my ego was a bit hurt because I had measured success by my title, role or salary. But I realized, I was burnt out and that defining myself by my career wasn't right for me. I'm looking forward to continuing to do a good job at work, but really excelling at being a mom. I believe that I can balance both, especially since my husband is self-employed and home during the day, basically Mr. Mom while I'm at work. I wish you the best of luck in discovering what's the right mix for you!

  2. Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Have you ever discussed the possibility of your partner staying at home to raise your child? Two of my good friends did just that, in fact. She is the breadwinner (and highly successful) and he stays at home to raise their daughter. They're very happy, and have found no barrier other than the occasional raised eyebrow. I have other friends that try to split duties 50/50 with pretty good success. It's not out of the question unless you want it to be (if you forget what society thinks for a sec!) or unless there are other reasons I can't see here?


  3. Anonymous
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Don't do it. Honestly, go and get an implant and the pill an as many condoms as you can afford and don't.

  4. Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Good post Cat. On the friends with babies part… I have some friends who talk all the time about their children, but then they talked all the time about boys when they were dating. I see that as part of who they are. I have one friend who so rarely talks about her children when we meet up that it seems strange. I have other friends who have such a perfect balance of conversation & are always genuinely interested in our life. We may not talk Gramsci but we do talk 'how are you?' 'what books have you read?' 'what clothes have you recently bought?' I am learning from these latter friends for how we'd be. I'm sure you will be that kind of friend. Sometimes it's up to us to move a conversation into a different sphere too.
    Looking forward to part two this afternoon.

  5. Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Great thought-provoking post. I don't agree with some of it, but it's a brave and brilliantly written post!

    My biggest issue is with the "can't talk about anything but the kids" part. I really dislike the implication in society that Mummies can't think properly anymore. The phrase "baby-brain" makes me cranky beyond all belief. It harks back to the time when people assumed women were feather brained little ditzes. I want to scream at Mums who use it that "you have NOT lost your brain, just like blondes are not stupid, society just wants you to think you have but you HAVEN'T". Mums just have different priorities, they are as able to talk and think intelligently as the next woman, or man. All the women I know with children have conversations with me that are in many ways no different to those I have with non-Mother friends. Sometimes they are frankly more intelligent and thought-provoking!

    The issue with your career though, I do understand. I think you can only ever do what is right for you, and for your partner. G and I have sat down and discussed what we want, we decided that we would both be prepared to work part-time or not at all, as necessary, so when it comes to it we can make that call. Together we'll both make it work. I have decided not to pursue a career in academia though, in part because it is so very family-unfriendly as a sector. So I do feel for you. It is a very difficult career to try and have kids in, especially as a woman. I'm happy with my choice, because it ultimately reflects what I want, but it was not an easy decision and i feel for you having to make it. It took me years of agonising and fighting myself between what I wanted and what I felt I ought to want.

    Woah… epic comment! Yikes. Sorry!

    K xx

  6. L
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    On a less serious note, I've got a PhD in Chemistry but I will definitely be reading my kids Enid Blyton, she's a legend!

  7. L
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    But honestly, I think lots of people have some worries about children and really it's weighing up what you will get most satisfaction from. I personally don't get much satisfaction from my job and don't really want to be on the career path I'm on right now, but conversely wouldn't want to give up work if I had children. It also wouldn't be financially viable for us, but that's just my situation.
    Your choice to have children is exactly that, a choice, and you have every right to make it. Surely it's better to be the cool, fun aunty/family friend instead of the mum who regrets having her kids?
    Good luck whatever you do, I know academia isn't easy regardless of sex. There were no female academics in my entire department at uni!

  8. Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I've got an awol comment somewhere, but just another thought.

    My mum had 4 of us, then did an hnc which became an hnd, which became a MA, which led her to a phD. All while raising 4 kids under 16, and commuting 120 miles per day.

    She now lectures at one of Scotlands top universities.

    So children don't have to be a nail in your career coffin

  9. mahj
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Erm, this is a brilliant post. I was always convinced that I would be having kids by the time im 30. Except that's the end of this yr and I can safely say im just not ready. Plus my work life is so good right now and I want to see what I can achieve.
    I've had friends have babies and that's great for them, but its just not for me yet.


  10. Cat
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Wow – thanks for your comments! I am so glad to read them, and know that other people worry about, and are resolving, these issues. Its really inspiring to hear how people are combining work and children in a way that suits them. Perhaps its just a matter of going for it, and trying not to let society push us into boxes we're not comfortable in.

    Since my parter and I haven't seriously discussed it yet, I must admit I don't know whether he would be happy to stay at home. Maybe I should have more faith in him!!

    But I would never, ever assume that women who have had babies would lose their intellectual capacity. I'm sorry if it sounded like that. My point was more that the way society is structured, that one parent (usually the mother) must stay home to care for the child, means that those who do stay at home end up being forced to drop the more intellectual, or 'public' side of their characters.
    But the comments above have most definitely proved me wrong on that!

    Thank you once again for engaging with my piece :-)

  11. Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Some really interesting comments here.

    Katielase – I wholeheartedy agree with you on the "baby speak" thing. If/when I have children, I have no intention of becoming and less intelligent,witty or wise (or modest!) than I am now. I just expect to have less time to do it in.

    I too worry about my career being sacrificed by the need to have a family. We are so very lucky in this day and age to have the luxury of a career we can work hard for and choose whether to give up. I don't think it's the "career" that is the issue, it's the inherently patriarchal structures around the concept of a career – working 9to 5, sitting in an office, for example. I say patriarchal because they were invented by men – men being the only gender working at the time when the "working day" was invented.

    If mothers could re-claim those working arrangements more flexible – the office being at home or close to home, the hours being split up into two-hour blocks throughout the day…I think it's entirely possible to have both. I appreciate there are some careers where that's not possible (accountant, lawyer, academic?) but surely we owe it to ourselves to try? Surely we owe it to ourselves to work hard for a career we love, and not lose it when we want to put our bodies through that ultimate test of having a child?

  12. Cat
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    There is one incredible woman in our department who has just had a baby… she expresses milk in her office, brings him to departmental seminars when no babysitter can be found and refuses to balk at breastfeeding in the coffee room.

    I was at another seminar a few months ago when a female academic in her 50s was giving a presentation and began with the lines 'Please excuse me if I look hot and bothered, but I'm currently going through the menopause'!! What a legend!!

    I want to be like these women!

  13. Em
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    This is something I am thinking about a lot at the moment. I'll be 32 when we marry this year and we both really want children and more than one, which realistically means soon!

    Mr B has a more flexible working life day to day but it won't always be like that, and I never wanted to be in a relationship where I was the breadwinner and my husband stayed at home (of course if it works for you, that is great, this is just personal choice!). I do have friends who do this though, and the stigma is getting less and less.

    But the closer we get to trying (and who knows whether it will even happen for us) the more I worry that if I give up my career, my sense of self worth might take a dive too. I'll probably always have to work for financial reasons but do I carry on trying to be a City lawyer. Part of me thinks I should give it a crack – there is so much talk at the moment about flexible working and retaining women, so will they stand behind that when they are faced with one? I don't know. I don't want a battle either, but one thing I have found is that these things are often only a battle if you make them one. Maybe I am just very lucky, but my firm has let me work unconventionally quite a bit and I've found if I just quietly get on with it, no-one really minds.

    Sorry, epic ramble.

  14. Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Cat I could have written your post a couple of years ago. I too was very worried about what effect having children would have on both my career and my personal life. Falling pregnant accidently was the best thing that could have happened to me but of course it has changed everything. My little one is 10 months old and I went back to work full time 4 months ago. I will fully admit that some days are a struggle and my industry (law) is notoriously inflexible when it comes to working mothers.

    I don't want to quit work entirely, nor do I want to be rushing home everyday just to make it in time to give my little girl a peck on the cheek before lights out. So I am in the process of setting up my own part time business in the hope that it will be something I can do full-time and on a more flexible basis within the next couple of years. It does make me angry that I need to choose between career and family life but on the other hand that's my personal choice. Some mothers quite happily work 50+ hours a week and raise beautiful, intelligent and well-rounded children. My mother went back to work when I was 4 weeks old and I think I've turned out ok!

  15. Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Anna, I read the second half of your comment and said out loud "YES! It's exactly THAT!" …I then had to explain to my colleague that I am just that enthusiastic about cell death pathways (actually, who am I kidding? I am nerdy enough for this to be entirely believable).

    Anyway, I agree 100%, I'm (hopefully) leaving academia for a career that I am as excited and passionate about but that will allow me in the future to be flexible with my work when I need to so that I can build a life where my family and my career are equals, as I want them.

    K x

    PS: I will be reading my children Enid Blyton AND Stephen Hawking's kids book. Amongst other things.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    This is one of the those topics where I could talk for hours, so will try to restrain myself…! In my mind, I always wanted children, it was just a given. But as I've got older, I've become less 'definite' about it. Partly due to pushing on a bit (mid 30's and the whole 'falling off the fertility cliff' bit) but also because I love my career. Not necessarily my job at the moment (that's whole other issue) but I don't want to give it up. I couldn't really, it's such a part of who I am.

    I've got a lot of friends who have children and some have managed amazing balances in their lives with regards to work and children, which is great to see & reassures me. I work in a relatively child-friendly career but it's still high-pressure and can involve a lot of travel, so it's not the easiest thing to achieve. But then in some instances I've seen where it hasn't worked so well – my line manager for example has a little one and has effectively a full-time job but works part-time hours. And I'm 'expected' to pick up anything she doesn't get to. Mostly that's ok, but sometimes there's a sense of 'well you don't have a child to get home to, so you can stay late and do x, y and z'. While fine most of the time, it does start to grate and I would hate to be the person inflicting that on someone else. I know that's by no means usual and I'm just unlucky but it does make me question how possible it really is to have both without making more sacrifices than you think.

  17. Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Such a great discussion! I too grapple with this, and I too am an 'early career academic' (post-doc at someplace fancy). My hubs and I have had lots of conversations about this, and will be trying for kidlets sometime soon (lots of biological barriers to this, but that's another story).

    A few things I've found helpful:

    - seeing female role models in the academy who do have children and careers. I think they do struggle a lot, but it can be done, i.e. my Head of Department has two grown children and seemingly a really nice life and is the most prolific publisher I know (crazy time management skills I don't have, but could learn?)

    - having wonderful critical thinking conversations with my friends about their lives with and without kids. People who talk about babies all the time in a 'isn't little boo boo so wonderful' way are totally boring. People who reflect critically on how their lives/roles/social personas have changed since having kids are completely interesting

    - having honest freak outs with my partner about how much it scares me and how much he's willing to take on (quite a lot, as it happens)

    That, and reading Professor Mommy

    All of which is a long way of saying, I'll happily join a Gramsci-reading baby group with you if you start one.

  18. Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Brilliant post Cat and one which really resonates with me. Although it's not really the career I'd feel like I was giving up if I had a child, more the freedom. I also have a major issue with choosing to give life to a new person, I just can't get my head around it for some reason.

  19. Rachel
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I've never been a career girl. I seem to have stumbled into a new job vaguely resembling what I want to do with my life but in reality, it's not even close.

    I always thought I wanted a baby and I wanted a career but now? Now I just have no idea.

    The idea of being responsible for a tiny person scares me half to death. And when we do things spontanteously or completely unsuitable for children I panic that we wouldn't be able to do that anymore if we were to have a baby.

    I hate when people upload their scan photos on FB – I don't want to see the insides of your stomach normally so why should NOW be any different – and when people cannot comment about anything other than their children.

    But I can't see myself without children in my future…somewhere…

    I've been quite ill recently and it's made me realise that the panic of perhaps not physically being able to have a baby scares me more than not having "our time".


  20. Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Such an interesting discussion. I don't have time to leave a long comment, but I just wanted to say that one thing that often gives me perspective on this issue is to look past the "baby" bit and think further into the future. By all accounts, those wriggly pink things grow quite quickly, so babywipes and sand-pits and feeding every couple of hours will soon be replaced by school, friends, university, and by your late 40s you could be on your own again, in some ways back where you started, with another twenty years until you get your state pension. Perhaps it's odd, but when I think of having children, I don't think about them as babies or toddlers. I think about them when they're my age, and I think of the relationship I have with my mother, and the thought of it just fills me with joy.

    Mind you, my current job fills me with something rather less than joy. I suspect if I had a career I was truly passionate about, I might feel somewhat differently.

    (Sorry, rambling, no time to go back and check it!)

  21. Cat
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Thank you for recommending that book, AlloAllo – it looks great! And also for your list of coping mechanisms – I completely agree with all of them. Perhaps a Confronting Patriarchy in the Academy network might be in order?! My housemate and I already have a long (and growing) list of old male lecturers known for their dalliances with young female students (eurrghh!). And we often tell each other tales of the terrible lechery that goes on at the conference dinners we attend…
    Perhaps sexism at work is the subject of another blog post?

    Chiara, good luck with the new business. :-) It seems like a really great way to get the best of both worlds.

    Em, yeah, the self-worth thing. Its so rubbish that we are told that staying at home is somehow less dignified than going to work. Wouldn't it be nice if we could live in a society in which children were a part of all of it, and in which we took collective responsibility for the care of our children?
    Maybe I should move to a hippie commune before I take the procreational plunge…

  22. Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    There is a poster with the slogan:

    'We used to want it all, now we just want to wee on our own'

    It gets put on Pinterest every now and then and every time I see it I sigh. It's just so true.

  23. Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    This is post has gone straight to my deepest thoughts about the subject of career and motherhood. I'm going to comment before I read the comments, if that's ok.

    I too am an early career academic. When I left my corporate job to start my PhD, I naively imagined that in the rosy post-PhD future I would be equipped for a career which would let me juggle motherhood with pursuing my passion. I had seen women return after maternity leave to our office and couldn't imagine how that would all work out for me. This was my naive mid-twenties self where having children was a certainty in my future.

    Fast forward to 2012, approaching 30, approaching marriage and I can't bear the thought of giving up what I've spent the last four years striving to achieve. Selfish? No. Cat, I too have seen how women and men progress in the Academy, you have completely hit the nail on the head. Women who take a year off will struggle to catch their male and childless peers, even with the RAE promising to take into account maternity leave.

    I don't have a conclusion to this comment, I still have so much to sort out in my head. For every one person who asked how my PhD was going last year, I probably had five who asked how soon we'd be starting a family after our wedding. Even my Mum, responding to a neighbour's enquiry about grandchildren, said 'She has to get the PhD out the way first'. THEN I'll be ready for motherhood? I've never felt less ready.

    Thanks Cat, this topic is so important
    Lel x

  24. Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    This is such an interesting – and brave – post. Firstly let me just say that I haven't yet read all of the comments, but I wanted to share my experience with you first.

    I am a successful and busy wedding photographer. I shot 38 weddings last year, including weddings in Cornwall, Scotland and France. This year I'm going to Cyprus for 4 days to shoot a wedding. I am stupidly busy and I've just employed a virtual PA to help me cope with the admin side of my business. I love my job, I'm passionate about it and it consumes my life in a way that only running your own business can.

    I'm also a mother to two young children (Ethan, who's just turned 6, and Ysella, who's 4 and a half). They also take a lot of time, attention and nurturing. Ysella had just turned 1 when I shot my first ever wedding. So I juggled a full-time job, 2 children and a fledgling business for a few years, and now I juggle a thriving business and a family.

    You can't have it all. My husband is incredibly supportive, and has been the primary carer for the last 3 years. The children are now at school so he's returning to work. I miss out on conversations at the school gate, I miss out on after-school playdates. And, occasionally, I miss out on the social side of wedding photography (rarely, though, as I must admit that the social side is too much fun to not prioritise sometimes!)

    Yes, it's hard. Parenthood is relentless, it's incredibly boring and dull at times, and for a few years it does consume your life. BUT it is possible to have a rewarding, important career and a family. It just takes a lot of work, a lot of organisation and a lot of juggling (and support)

    I hope that in the future, men are seen as equal parents, that shared childcare and shared working lives are more normal than they are now. I know how lucky I am that my husband (a sound engineer by trade) is happy to support me and to support all of us in our journey. It works for us.

    I don't think every woman should want children. I think that it's ok to weigh up the pros and cons and decide that having children isn't for you. I support my child-free friends entirely (and I'm slightly jealous of them!) and I know that they have incredibly happy and fulfilled lives without needing to conform to society's view of what a woman should be.

    At 30 years old, you still have plenty of time to make a final decision. You'll never regret having children, but that doesn't mean that it's automatically the right decision for you.

  25. Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Wow loved this post! I don't have a very high flying career (critical care nurse)and it is very flexible for people with children. However, that doesn't make me want to re-create asap once the wedding ring is on!

    I feel a lot of the same as Cat but without the career debate, I don't really quite know exactly where I want to end up or go in my career but there are plenty of options.

    My sister is a very career orientated woman, and worked her butt off to get to a directors position in the NHS by the time she was 35, then she had kids!
    Her husband doesn't stay at home, the kids go to nursery but…he is the one that would come home if they were sick. His job is definately the least important to them and just sort of covers the childcare costs.

    My friend has two children and she started her law degree prior to getting pregnant and whilst it has taken her a fair bit longer to complete has just finished her training and is a solicitor! Wow!

    I am not really a fan of kids in general and not one of those women that see's a random baby and has to coo or awww at it. I love the kids in my family, to the end of the world. But I don't have that motherly instinct to have my own.

    Luckily Mr M is of the same mind, though when I jokingly asked him to have a vasectomy the other night (besides spitting his coffee out) he reminded me I am 27 and pretty indescisive at best, and that maybe when I am 35 I will change my mind. We are open to the fact that people sometimes change their mind.

    That said, when I look at all my friends with kids or visit them for coffee and the likes…I leave thinking "Thank god that's not me!" In a not as mean as it sounds way!

    Love love love this post Cat xx

  26. Anonymous
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Lel, was your mother infuriated about the invasiveness of her neighbour's question about your reproductive future?

    If there's anything I hate (and yes, I mean HATE) is relative strangers sticking their nose into business that wholly isn't theirs. I know this isn't the point of this whole debate but it speaks to the larger mindset in society that a woman is 'nearing her sell by-date' or that once married she should fulfill her destiny as a baby making machine.

    (Although if this particular neighbour was a life long friend I could forgive the intrusion, but only slightly.)

  27. Posted January 17, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    My husband and I had planned to start trying by now, but we have started delaying the trying date, due to finances, and opportunities with work and travelling.

    We hope to be able to find a balance, when the time comes. Being self-employed, I think this will be achievable, for us.

    I personally think it is possible to have a career and children, if you really set your mind to it, it all depends on how much you want it, and are prepared to work at it.

    There is nothing wrong with not wanting children, and I've always believed if my husband and I cannot have children, we would still lead happy fulfilling lives.


  28. Posted January 17, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    @Anon -sadly not. I'm always shocked at how many people ask so casually about something so personal. I won't open this whole can of worms here now, but certainly the people who were so quick to ask when we were getting married (10 years, not engaged, how strange…) are the same now asking about babies.

  29. Posted January 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    'Such an interesting discussion. I don't have time to leave a long comment, but I just wanted to say that one thing that often gives me perspective on this issue is to look past the "baby" bit and think further into the future. By all accounts, those wriggly pink things grow quite quickly, so babywipes and sand-pits and feeding every couple of hours will soon be replaced by school, friends, university, and by your late 40s you could be on your own again, in some ways back where you started, with another twenty years until you get your state pension. Perhaps it's odd, but when I think of having children, I don't think about them as babies or toddlers. I think about them when they're my age, and I think of the relationship I have with my mother, and the thought of it just fills me with joy.'

    Far more eloquent than I could ever be.

    I think it's unfair to expect someone to grow a small human for 9 months, give birth to them and then have their whole heart consumed by their being, not to want to talk about their amazing little creation a LOT. We wouldn't say to students not to talk about uni, or a bride not to talk about her wedding. It's a stage of life, and whether we understand it or not, as friends we have to support them through it. They might not understand your huge desire for career and success, but they wouldn't deny you the chance to talk about it.

    I don't think it's impossible to have it all – but at the end of the day, family is always going to be more fulfilling than what at the end of the day, is just a job

  30. Posted January 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the last commenter on the subject of talking about children.

    I am a mum who posts on Facebook about get heir child. That's because he is a cousin, grandson, nephew etc and there are relatives all over the place who love him to bits and it's a good way for them to feel a part of his progress. A photo/video that takes me two seconds to put up, saves me texting everyone and brings pleasure to his grandparents who don't get to see him as they work/live away from us.

    I get told off the weeks I don't put photos up.

    Just my two cents on the Facebook thing.

  31. Fee
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Cat, I do agree with an awful lot of your post.

    My friends with children range from the 'have pretty much stayed the same but now have a child' to the 'no longer return my calls because I don't have one' – - my friends at the more extreme end of the spectrum no longer seem to have any interest in what those of us with no children have to say, but I know if I had a baby, suddenly they would remember to return my calls (as I have seen it happen). This has been hard to come to terms with.

    What I find truly difficult to deal with is the view that if you don't have children you will somehow be unfulfilled.

    One of my friends can't have children and for various very personal reasons that I won't go into, can't adopt either. When those with a family make statements about a life not being complete without children, this can be incredibly hurtful. Sadly, it's not always about choice.

    But where it is about choice – the way the world works at the moment, sacrifices seem inevitable and I guess it depends on if that sacrifice is worth it. When I think of babies, I'm not so sure – when I think of having children my age, it seems like it would be. Tricky.

  32. Posted January 17, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. Posted January 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for comment removal. Wanted to tick the box for email follow ups as the comments have been really interesting so far!

    Good for you for laying out your thoughts for all to see. I found this post really interesting, and it makes a great example for the whole career vs. kids debate because of the impact a year out of work would have on your particular career.

    I'll stop short of giving out advice, but I'll concur with a few posters above that stay at home dads are awesome, and that I firmly believe you can keep up with the aspects of your life that don't revolve around being a parent if you want to.

    Me and my fiancée aren't planning to have kids super soon, but our rough idea is that when we do, she will work full-time once her maternity leave is over and I'll be a stay at home dad. She is lucky enough to have a job that she loves and that pays well, while I've never found something I've wanted to stick at. Of course, this makes things simpler for us; she will be happier working and all I really want to do is be a dad. Nobody compromises. If I had a job I loved or she wanted to give up hers to raise kids, we would have to make compromises. With that in mind, I'm not convinced that you can have the best of both worlds in that sense. Career (at least in the context of full-time work) or kids will have to take priority one way or another.

    I really admire the fact that you're aware and willing enough to examine your feelings about both sides of the debate. The surest way to make a wrong decision would be to delude yourself, jump in with both feet and do something you might regret. Whatever you choose to do, if you do it with conviction and all your enthusiasm I believe you'll come out on top.

  34. Cat
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for all these though-provoking responses! I am so glad to have this debate and read your opinions. AOW rocks! :-)

    Anna: Thank you for writing that. Yes, you're right, I can really see how Facebook can bring children closer to far-away relatives. That is what the website is there for, in part, I guess, and an infinitely more preferable use of it than the myriad, identical drunken-night-out photographs. I will not be so quick to judge my parent friends who post about their children!

    Fee: I get this view all the time (that you're not a proper woman unless you want/have children) because I work a lot in the former Soviet Union and here it is basically law. I went to the doctors in St. Petersburg recently and I was told by an otherwise very professional (male) doctor that its my biological duty to have one!! I think I was still reeling from that statement when I wrote this post. Of course personally I think I can be perfectly happy without children.

    Lud's Church: Thank you for your supportive comments! :-) And it sounds like you guys have an ideal situation. I expect I just need to talk more with my partner (and try to deal with the competitive streak in my personality!)

  35. Posted January 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Great post, Cat.

    Within our circle of friends I'd say that around a third have children already. Amongst those the most eloquent and well behaved children are those who are raised by parents who, whilst working flexibly, work full time. They are exposed to each parent, a grandparent and nursery each week and it seems to be giving them the best of both worlds. Interestingly, these three families don't have a TV either.

    In my formative years my mum didn't work, we had a nanny and an au pair and my dad was self employed. We lived a relatively charmed life for a while. When the recession hit in the late 80s, my dad had a spell of time at home when his business went under and my mum worked three jobs to be able to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. I remember it being a stressful time – it's a lot of pressure when you have 4 children to look after.

    What I've taken from my upbringing and seeing my friends become parents (their successes and their failures) is that whatever route you choose to go down, there's no magic solution. There is almost certainly going to be guilt – whether it's because you feel you're not spending enough time with your offspring or you feel that your hard work climbing the corporate ladder has been wasted.

    As for us, well, it's a work in progress. We're fortunate to both have jobs that we've created from nothing and built into successful businesses. We've deliberately set up in such a way that we can be flexible in terms of our working practices and, should we be fortunate enough to have a family of our own one day, we ought to be able to keep our careers going as well as sharing the bulk of the childcare between us. I don't want to have children only for them to be brought up by someone else but I realise I am fortunate to have that choice.

    A happy parent makes a happy baby – and that's what I'd want for any future mini M's.

  36. Posted January 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    hello all. I do wonder if a lot of what makes us ladies 'panic' about whether or not we should be having children is the 'age' thing. I turn 30 in april and I really dont know if I am ready for kids or not, but I feel like because 'a womans fertility decreases aged 35 onwards' I ought to start giving it serious thought. And i think that is a little unfair for us ladies really, because men dont have this pressure put on them – look at charlie chaplin! A father at 65 or however old he was. I seem to have this innate fear of being 'too old' to have kids (whatever that means!!) but I am not financially or emotionally ready for it just yet. It is difficult, i wish i could freeze my eggs for ten years and then perhaps look at it again!! :) x

  37. Posted January 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I had a blog-length comment all typed out but I deleted it because I decided I just want to say this:

    I don't think we give thanks enough to the women who choose not to have children. I know that I'm tremendously grateful to the females leaders in academia and industry who have served as role models to me (simply by their sheer existence).

  38. Anonymous
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    "I shouldn’t just throw in the towel and give up the chance of a family?"

    Umm… this is perhaps tangential, but I feel it's important: 2 people ARE a family. Doesn't take a child to make a family.

  39. Posted January 17, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. Posted January 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Thought-provoking stuff. I've been doing a lot of thinking about this, although I've stopped posting about it as much lately.

    Certainly the choice of career has different implications. I don't know much about the world of academia, but as a medic who would definitely want to go part time (at least for a bit in the early years) if we had kids, there will certainly be implications for the speed of, and ultimate height of progression of my career. I *will* have to work harder to get further, I have no doubt of that. Thankfully, I have a husband who might be willing to do the same, at least for a period, so the negative career impact would at least be more evenly spread. And there is a lot of evidence to back that up – women who have children take a substantial hit (I forget the exact percentages) in terms of average pay earnings over their entire career compared to women who don't work and men. Also, the way our society is set up is not well geared to supporting parents (regardless of gender). Subsidised, high-quality childcare, better paid and longer paternity leave, and a wider acceptance of flexible and part time working would all be tremendously helpful to allowing parents to both work and have some kind of a fulfilling family life. I suppose the fact that this is getting more and more airtime, so to speak, is maybe a hopeful sign of positive change.

    That said, I'm not sure it helps to be quite as black and white about things as Cat was in writing this. I also think the very concept of 'having it all' is a terribly unhelpful one. What does that even mean? It's an impossible ideal that keeps us all in a state of unhappiness as we're constantly yearning for something 'better'. Also, I think that starting from a position where one thinks of career and children as mutually exclusive concepts is a limiting one. From what I've seen of friends who are parents, parenthood is a game-changer. Your whole approach to life changes – I've certainly known both male and female friends with kids become remarkably more focussed and efficient after procreating, something that would only help my work!

    These are just thoughts that have bubbled to the surface for me after reading this. It's obviously a deeply personal choice that we each have to make after considering our individual circumstances. Thanks for stimulating the discussion here, though.

  41. Anonymous
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    While I don't know many female professors I see a lot of 30 somethings with babies working flexible or part time in my department and while its probably harder with kids I think/hope that it is possible to have both. you just have to be practical and prioritise, although the lack of job security in the beginning with fellowships/grants worries me.

  42. Kate
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Firstly, No you don’t have to choose. There are plenty of women who manage to do both. The primary reason why most women decide to devote to their children rather than go back to their careers, is because having a child changes your perspective on the world in the most profound way and fulfills you in a way that simply can’t be explained. You have to experience it. I personally, am a stay at home mom, but I also am the Director of Marketing for a New England law firm, a COO of a family created design company, and do independent marketing consulting on the side. You would be amazed at how easy it is to do both, so long as you are realistic. Additionally, being a stay at home mom, doesn’t mean that the laundry, cooking or cleaning gets done. The stereotypes you are talking about only exist in our minds. They get perpetuated, because people tend to see the world in black and white. I always knew I wanted children, but it wasn’t until I actually had one that I understood how amazing it really is. Before I had my daughter, I asked my father if he could go back and do it again whether he would still have kids, and he said that what is the point of life if you don’t? And I now understand what he meant. It means that the experience of having a child is leaps and bounds above anything else you can ever accomplish in life. When all of my kids (hopefully there will be more to come) are in school that will give me ample amounts of time to spend on whatever I want to do, that’s how it works. Being a parent is the single most important thing in my life. I never expected to get into the parenting thing in the way I have, but let me tell you I wouldn’t change it for all of the money, prestige, fame etc. in the world. The problem is that so many women think about it too much, and then talk themselves out of it for any number of reasons. They are excuses. Any if you simply don’t want children then okay. If you are not a kid person, okay. But don’t choose to not have kids because you worried about becoming a stereotype, or giving up your career. That’s just silly, because the reality of it is that you don’t have to give up anything you don’t want to. Your child is amazing flexible, and you learn very quickly how to manage it all. In my house my husband and I both clean and cook as it needs to be done. Do I keep everything clean, laundered, or cooked? No. I am working a full time mothering job, and then running departments and two companies. Am I driven, or super women? Far from it. I am a slow moving relaxed person with a very type B personality. Do your self a favor and don’t choose a career over children. If you want do both, but if you give up children for a career you won’t realize the mistake until it’s too late. You can absolutely do both, and the thing that most women don’t realize is that you don’t need to fit the stereotype. Plenty of us are entirely human, and manage to do both, without the picket fence and gender roles, and do it with such an amazing sense of joy and accomplishment. A child will change you, but only for the better. There is no down side to having a child, and any parent will tell you that regardless of what they say they would never go back and do it differently. I know a ton of people who didn’t have children and say that they would go back and do it differently. And that speaks volumns.

  43. Anonymous
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    It’s hard to imagine what I’m about to tell you, but the day your first child is born, your life will take upon a new and deeper meaning. In fact, you won’t give a shit about anything else.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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