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.