Reading last week’s New York Times series of opinion pieces on whether or not women should delay motherhood, aptly named “Should Women Delay Motherhood,” reminded me of times I boldly declare to my family members that I want nothing to do with kids.
“You’ll see,” they always say. “You’re young. You’ll regret it.”
The series was an attempt to portray various points of view from women about whether or not to wait.
Don’t wait too long, one said — at least not if you want your offspring to look like you. Wait as long as you want, another argued; waiting empowers women to achieve their goals.
One had adopted later in life. Another had given birth at 23 and had no regrets. Still another, the token male on the panel, argued that fathers should be the ones doing their part and settling down earlier.
There were some good arguments in favor of waiting. Mary Ann Mason, professor of the graduate school and faculty co-director of the Earl Warren Institute for Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, used academia, as an example of professions in which having children is disadvantageous for women who want to move up.
“What makes academia so difficult for mothers? In large part it's because academia is a rigid lockstep career track that does not allow for time out and puts the greatest pressure on its aspirants in the critical early years,” she explained. “Most Ph.D.'s are achieved, postdoctoral fellowships completed and tenure granted between the ages 30 and 40; the ‘make or break decade’ as I call it. It is also the decade in which women have children, if they have them at all.”
Ring a bell? Mason also points out that among tenured faculty, only 44% of women are married with kids compared to 70% of men.
Those who chose not to wait, or, like Alice Walker, found themselves faced with the reality of a child, also made some good points: it is possible to achieve your goals as a young mother.
“I did not have plans to become a mother, certainly not at that young age. I wanted to work hard, have fun with my friends, travel and embrace spontaneity,” she wrote.
“With motherhood, things changed. I spent the first two years of my son’s life fully engrossed in motherhood. I read the parenting books, I enrolled in the mommy-and-me classes and I read to him. But when my relationship with his father fell apart, I realized that I needed to devote as much time developing myself as I did developing my son. I went to graduate school and eventually got a job in education.
Dreams do come true.”
But Walker remains the exception.
Elizabeth Gregory, professor at the University of Houston, and author of "Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood," argued that whether or not to have children later is a false debate. It’s already happening.
“There is no ‘should’ in this story: women are delaying, globally,” she wrote. “The ‘experts’ are just catching up to explain why. Women figured out early that delay provides a shadow benefits system in our family-unfriendly world: higher salaries, more flexibility and higher marriage rates, as well as more interest in staying home at night.
According 2012 CDC birth data, the birth rate fell to an all time low in 2011. However, as Gregory pointed out in a blog post, this was not so much the result of women having fewer children, but the effects of women postponing childbirth. Though birthrates fell for women aged 15-29, they rose for women aged 35-44.
Despite all these valid points and perspectives, reading this series was like swallowing a bitter pill. What irked me most about this article wasn’t the women telling me how personally fulfilling becoming a young mother can be. They’re entitled to their choices and I’m glad it worked out. Nor was it the women who argued that women were better served achieving their goals and career aspirations before popping out some young’uns (though my own opinions tend to lean that way). It wasn’t even the one man telling me that it’s OK, it’s not really my fault — men hold their share of responsibility (What a relief).
No. What bothered me was that people who made choices that worked for them are arguing that I should make similar ones. As a 23-year-old woman struggling to make room for myself in the professional world, I’m not thinking about how viable my eggs are. I’m pretty much focused on whether or not I can make rent next month. And that’s OK. What happens will happen. It’s like I say to my family every time it comes up: Whether or not I regret it will be on me, and whatever choices I make.