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“Do Gen X Women Choose Work Over Kids?” A Gen X mom responds

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Reel Mama: “Do Gen X Women Choose Work Over Kids?” A Gen X mom responds

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“Do Gen X Women Choose Work Over Kids?” A Gen X mom responds

In Lisa Belkin’s New York Times blog entry from this past summer, entitled “Do Gen X Women Choose Work Over Kids?,” Belkin reports that 43% of college-educated Gen X women are childless today. Belkin’s blog beautifully goes into detail about why Gen X women are choosing not to have kids. I meet the criteria of the group that was studied.  I’m a member of Generation X, and I’m college educated, in other words, what one of Belkin’s blog commentators describes as “the over-educated achiever group.”  I thought it would be interesting here to look at the other side of the coin, and examine why some of us are choosing kids, or, as the blog does mention, who may still, in addition to exploring further the reasons why some aren’t.

The study was conducted by the Center for Work-Life Policy, and the women being studied are now between 33 and 46, the youngest being born in 1978, and the oldest being born in 1965.  I tend to categorize Gen X as being born in the 1970s, but this is splitting hairs because generally I believe that women born within this 13-year period probably shared enough formative, influential generational experiences, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the bursting of the tech bubble, to understand each other and where we are coming from on a deep level. 

We were raised with a certain worldview about feminism, work, and motherhood.  What is it?  If I had to posit the first thing that comes to mind, I’d say we were raised to believe that we can have it all.  Significantly, we aren’t the first generation of women to believe this, because our moms, the Baby Boomers, those young pioneers of the feminist movement, were the first to prove that it could be done in a big way.  My mom is a case in point.  She was an outstanding high school art teacher for twenty-five years and an amazing and inspiring parent who pursued her art and absolute devotion to her students while at the same time always being available to take me to the numerous activities in which I was involved, from ballet to theater to art.  Looking back on all this, I remain in awe, and I do wonder how she did it.

I wasn’t just raised with the expectation that I could have it all, but that this was an immutable reality, and I witnessed it daily through my mom.  I would definitely have it all.  I would be a total success, a world-famous fashion designer, anthropologist, and prima ballerina.  I would manage to fit “fabulous wife and mother” somewhere into the equation too.  That went without saying. 

Interestingly, throughout my upbringing, my becoming a mom never came up.  The emphasis was always on excelling in academics and extracurricular activities.  These were my interests, and I was not only too young but much too busy to think about having a family and the responsibilities that would bring.  To a certain extent I lived that success story, or some version of it, going on to Yale, falling in love and getting married, then a Master’s degree, making films and traveling the country for screenings, teaching.  During all this I was in my twenties and still much too busy to think about having a family. 

Before I knew it, I was in my thirties, and my priorities had shifted.  Now I was thinking about having a family, and now, watching my ticking biological clock, I was hoping that it wasn’t too late.  What had changed?  Why did I suddenly want a child, whereas before I hadn’t, had felt satisfied and whole in my professional and married life and didn’t need anything more?  There are the obvious biological reasons.  It was a longing deep within me, and a beautiful dream that as time passed I wanted to live more and more.  A child was what I needed to make my life complete, and that was my (and my husband’s!) choice and my dream.  This is my personal journey.  I was and still am in a happy marriage and the moment felt right.

My husband and I waited a very long time to have our daughter.  Again, Gen Xers are raised with that enormous emphasis on career.  In our twenties, my husband and I were in graduate school, completing the studies we needed to make our careers happen, getting things launched.  We didn’t have the financial means for a family, and we felt immortal.  Then we turned thirty, and suddenly we started feeling just a little bit less immortal, and as 35 approached, even less so.  We began taking stock of our lives on a deep level, and thinking about what would really make us happy, not just in the present, which is all we had been living for, but in the decades to come.  This led us to the path that we are on today as parents.

In her blog Belkin poses the question, “Why is it that women still feel forced to choose between kids and career– today, in 2011?”  For starters, there are many deterrents to having kids today: the financial commitment for having a child is staggering, and the economy is terrible. People don’t want to lose their jobs, and many workplaces are still very unsympathetic to parents even today.  There’s also a new attitude going around in the workplace (as mentioned in the blog): now that women have been invited to join the “boy’s club” in the upper management of many professions, women must contribute just as much overtime as men for any given position, whether they are moms or not.  The prospect of the crushing guilt, or the prospect of having to walk away from that hard-earned career, are just too much to convince many Gen X women to have kids.

I think there are many who don’t feel the pressure to have kids at all, and are enjoying full, successful lives with the choice they have made not to be parents, and who may or may not be married.

One of my closest friends, a former classmate who is my same age, also with a Master’s, and who is now expecting, was surprised when I told her that most of my friends don’t have kids.  That is why the study’s findings didn’t surprise me all that much.  It was a shock to my system when my daughter was born.  I’d had wonderful support from friends, but I didn’t have many new moms telling me what it would be like, and I certainly hadn’t been exposed to many children, let alone infants.  Many of my former classmates and friends are still planning on having a family.  But many won’t and they are very happy with this choice, and I couldn’t be happier for them. 

I am intrigued to find out what the long-term impact of our nation’s most educated having far fewer children will be.  Certainly it means that more is invested in each child, emotionally and certainly financially.  Children are our most precious resource.

As for my decision to stay home with my daughter, and just temporarily put on hold my certain path to greatness as an anthropologist fashion designer sure to make her starring debut at the Met in Swan Lake, I would say that there are many factors driving it.  But to put it simply, it hasn’t made economic sense for me to work up until now, and, far more importantly, I love being able to give my little girl hugs all day, any time I want.  That’s really special to me in this moment, and I have the rest of my life to take the world by storm in my career.


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