No Kids? No Problem?June 02, 2014
At a party last fall, my partner of 10 years played bass along with our friend’s 3-year-old drumming son. That, of course, cemented the friendship between the two of them for the day, and the boy spent the rest of the afternoon following Wes around, snuggling with him whenever Wes sat down, and telling everyone else to go away and leave him alone with his new best friend. I was smitten. I took photos and video, and I jokingly asked the dad if Wes had put the boy up to it to convince me it was time to have kids.
Later that day, after all the families had left, the remaining adults set up a pinball tournament (as child-free adults are wont to do) and talked about a friend who had taken up running half marathons all over Europe. I’m a runner, and I often list the 2013 Paris Marathon as the best thing I’ve ever done. I wanted into this fabulous, jet-setting, endurance-sports lifestyle.
But as I stood waiting my turn on the Who’s Tommy-themed pinball game, I realized that I had seen, right next to each other, the two options for my future. Is it time for a family? Wes would be an amazing dad (though he was quick to point out that the little boy kept telling his dad to go away). Or is it time to start taking advantage of my savings, established career, and ample vacation time to see the many places I’ve never seen but always wanted to (marathons optional)?
Of course children and travel aren’t mutually exclusive, but one certainly complicates the other.
One of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed, wrote an advice column about just this conundrum. In “The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us,” she responds to a reader who asked my question: “For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to ‘just know,’ how is a person to decide if he or she wants to have a child?” In her response, Strayed discusses her own decision to reproduce, a choice forced by age and driven by fears of regret, but ultimately the completely right one for her and her husband.
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“What didn’t I write because I was catching my children at the bottoms of slides and spotting them as they balanced along the tops of low brick walls and pushing them endlessly in swings? What did I write because I did?” she asks, advising the reader to imagine his two possible lives and see which one spoke to him, which ship that would carry him.
And so I set out to write an article that examined why or how women knew that they didn’t want children.
What I found was a vocal group of women eager to dispel the old-fashioned notions of spinsterhood that still plague child-free women. From my friend who forwent children in favor of travel and a Washington, D.C., law career to a master gardener and AAUW activist who is saving for her nieces’ college funds, I talked with fascinating women who all had great lives, diverse interests, and wonderful families. And they taught me that of course you can be happy, no matter which ship you choose to board.
You can read the stories of these women in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Outlook and maybe even share why you did or didn’t have kids below. As for my own decision, well, I’ve learned better than to issue absolutes on the Internet anymore.
Decades after women flooded workplaces, parents’ child care options are still dismal.
Student parents are more likely to drop out of school, and they cite caregiving responsibilities as a reason for leaving.
This issue of Outlook is all about working parents.