It seems like it should be obvious, and yet it constantly bears repeating. In all these discussions of marriage and kids and careers and what does or does make you a good woman — conversations that, at 25, have become an increasing presence in my life — we have missed out on one key element: Not everyone should be having kids. In fact, there are arguably a lot of people who shouldn’t be having them. Without getting into the implications about world population and how much children in wealthy countries consume compared to their developing world counterparts, there are also very pressing individual reasons that this is true. It is just not something that everyone needs to work into their life schedule, and the sooner we accept this as a society, the better.
There are going to be women who are married to their careers, who work 80 hours a week and make enormous amounts of money and have all the material and professional success they’ve ever wanted. Good for those women, they deserve to be on the cover of Forbes and enjoying every bit of their executive lifestyle. But a lot of them, let’s be honest, probably shouldn’t be having kids. A lot of them don’t have the time, and don’t want to make the sacrifices to their careers, and that’s fine. We shouldn’t be covering magazines with questions about how they’re going to have “it all” when “it” is clearly defined by raising one or more human lives. We shouldn’t be implying that the best thing to go with their briefcase and their lunchtime martini is a diaper bag and a confused look. We shouldn’t be acting like their achievements come with an asterisk unless they’ve reproduced.
And there are going to be women who struggle, who haven’t gotten their career together yet and who don’t have a ton of money to spend on themselves, let alone anyone else. And they, like any other human, have a right to waver and falter and find themselves, and live a life of humble means and sacrificing personal comforts for a sense of freedom if that’s what they want. But they also shouldn’t be pressured into the idea that they have some sort of time limit before which they must have children, because even if they can’t afford them or don’t have the maturity to raise them, that is what makes their life complete. Not everyone can afford to have children, either in time or in literal finances. And bringing a child into that is unfair to everyone.
There are going to be women who just don’t want children, even if their lives are objectively perfect for accommodating them. And they will be confronted, over and over again, with parents and friends and significant others and doctors who all insist that they don’t know themselves. They will be told that they are young and petulant, even when they are neither. They will often be coerced into having children that they don’t want, or at least forgoing the operations to prevent pregnancy that they are certain they want. They will face an expectation — sometimes vocalized, sometimes not — that having a child is a life milestone that every woman is supposed to pass, for better or for worse.
Every woman is going to have a different definition of “having it all.” We are all going to want different timelines and luxuries, and we all have the right to live a life for ourselves without being labeled as selfish harpies. Constantly asking one another when we’re planning to start having them, or how we’re going to make it work with our careers (and assuming that the two must go together), or why we haven’t had any yet, only makes for unhappy women and children. Just like we choose a career, just like we choose a city to live in, just like we choose a partner, we should view “whether or not I am going to bring another person into this world and dedicate a large part of my life to it” as a totally autonomous choice. Because the sooner we drop these ridiculous demands on one another, the sooner we can start living the lives we actually want to.