Posted by: mariamcquade | April 3, 2020

I want to “have it all” but I don’t want kids

Can I still have it all if I want a big career and I don’t want kids? In the past week or so, we have been reading articles about the idea of “having it all” and if that is possible. In the midst of reading these articles I found myself asking these questions. 

In Tina Rodia’s article for the Washington Post called she asks the question of why the idea of ‘having it all’ has become a narrow definition of professional mothers (Rodia, 2015). Rodia writes on how the concept of “having it all” is inherently classist, because it does not recognize that everyone may not be able to have children, and may face many barriers to education necessary to continue career growth. Why has this definition of “having it all” become something in which women are once again placed into a box, into a specific category of what being a woman looks like? While there is definitely nothing wrong with wanting to be a working mother, it creates an issue when the idea of “having it all” only applies to a specific type of woman, almost inherently saying that women who do not want those things are less of a woman. 

While previous definitions of being a successful woman may have included staying at home, taking care of the family, and the house, have we only transferred to a new definition that a woman who has it all has to be a professional mother?  In 2017, 3.8 million babies were born in the United States, which is the lowest the birth rate has been in three decades (Dvorak, 2018). Dvorak, in an article from the Washington Post, argues that this change in birth rates is due to the fact that women in the U.S. have more choices than ever before. When women have more choices, and the workplace is making it increasingly more difficult to be a working mother, will more women in the coming years choose to not have kids? 

Do you think that the idea of “having it all” only allows for one type of woman? Do you think that “having it all” is inherently classist? Do you think that more women of our generation will decide that they don’t want kids? 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/01/15/how-the-idea-of-having-it-all-makes-women-feel-terrible-about-themselves/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-child-free-life-why-so-many-american-women-are-deciding-not-to-have-kids/2018/05/31/89793784-64de-11e8-a768-ed043e33f1dc_story.html


Responses

  1. I think having it all can be interpreted in so many different ways. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, society has framed having it all a very specific way for women. According to societal norms, to have it all requires a career and a family/kids. However, I truly think it can be different for everyone. There are situations where people don’t want or can’t have kids, so having it all may look differently. For them, having it all could mean having a career and being able to successfully own and pay off a home. It could be having a career and being able to buy their parents a home. It could be being a successful entrepreneur, so much so that they can retire early. There are so many options that I haven’t mentioned that are possible!

    As far as society’s version of having it all goes, I don’t think it is necessarily completely classist. At times people will make a bigger deal about a woman working 3 jobs to pay the bills and still being able to spend time with her kids, or whatever else. However, since we decided that having it all can be interpreted differently, I believe that changes within the different social classes. Additionally, I don’t know how women in our generation will feel about having kids. Overall, I think many people do end up having kids, whether on purpose or not. Sometimes it can be harder to not have kids just because of how society is structured and pressure from others if you get married.

  2. I can understand the author’s view of the current definition of “having it all” carrying a focus on professional mothers, however, after last week’s readings, I do not think it was originally intended to be seen as an exclusive group, pushing out women who do not want children. This concept came about from the early feminists movements, whose primary goal was to allow women with opportunities outside of their typical home-life (whatever that may have looked like). Certainly, I think that the definition of “having it all” should be changed to be more realistic and empower women rather than shame women for not being able to juggle every activity encompassed by “having it all.” Every woman has a different definition of success and happiness for herself, that is the message that “having it all” should portray, which would hopefully get rid of the negative stigma and be more inclusive of all women in the conversation of working to make family life (with or without kids) and work life better for everyone.

    When reading the last article about more women not wanting to have children, I did understand the perspective of the author. The author stated that women today have more choices of whether or not they want to have children, due to women’s employment opportunities and contraceptive choices available. In essence, women are more in control of their lives and bodies today than ever before. I do not necessarily think that more women in our generation will choose not to have children because they do not see it as a possibility when trying to reach a higher career goal. There are women who have demanding jobs and continue to be mothers. Yet, this falls to the work-life balance topic.

    One of the authors mentioned that she chose to stay in retail instead of going to grad school to get a better career because her job in retail provided good benefits, pay, and better flexibility IF she chooses to have children in the future. When I read this, I was thinking of how many women or young girls think years in advance like this and base their career decisions off a hypothetical. But how do we know what our lives or changes within the work culture will be like in the future? Sure, she would accrue debt in grad school, but she would be paid a higher salary in a better job to pay it off, and still be able to have a family if she chose to in the future. Do I think about what my future may look like, having a career, husband, and kids? Yes, of course. In my opinion though, women shouldn’t have to think about basing their career decisions in college off of the hypothetical family life situation you desire and whether that job will be flexible or not. People make it work all the time. I think women fall into this practice because we have been socialized or are expected to become wives and mothers before seeking careers.

  3. I do think that the stereotypical idea of “having it all” usually does include children. I think this is because a successful professional life and a meaningful private/family life are seemingly polar opposite, since they both require mass amounts of attention and dedication. Obviously, there is more to a woman’s life than just a family and her career; however, in a traditional sense, “having it all” does correspond with the two.

    When trying to think about other facets of a woman’s life that may conflict with her professional life, I though of things like mental health, a romanic relationship, maintaining a hobby, or playing a sport/working out. Surely, there are more. Essentially, I think of “having it all” as maintaining a successful career, while balancing a well-rounded life. This, then, does not have to include having children.

    I do not find it shocking that less and less women are having children. If I were to end up in my dream job, something that I had worked towards for most of my life, and I thought that children would mess with that, I would not have them either. A big part of the reason why I am so set on becoming a teacher out of college, is so that I can have children and have the luxury of a summer vacation. I remember how my female teachers in high school would tell me when the best time to get pregnant was, so that I would give birth in June, and could have the rest of the summer as my maternity leave. I remember finding it kind of insane that women were thinking that far ahead in order to have enough time with their newborn. In relation to this, I found it shocking that the article mentioned that, “Co-workers donate [personal days] to help extend parental leave so a frazzled new mom doesn’t have to go back to work six weeks after giving birth.” It is no wonder that women have to be savvy with the date that they want to give birth. They are joining, or are already inside of, a sphere that offers them no assistance. Because of this, I definitely believe that more and more women will chose not to have children. Why put their life on halt to have a child that they barely want? If they do not feel supported, then they are not going to want to have a child. And honestly, good for them. It is about time that women start being selfish and pursuing their goals, wants, and needs.

  4. No, I don’t think ‘having it all’ is limited to the family-work balance that we’ve been reading about. I don’t think it is inherently classist. I think the abundance of literature solely telling tales of women who were able to be mothers and have a good career is where we see the bias. I think the literature out there about “women having it all” gives motherhood as an example because it’s one of the most popular and maybe one of the more difficult roles to add to a successful work-life. Other than that, no, this “having it all” idea is not trying to ward off other types of roles that women can have in addition to work-life. Because this “having it all” notion is pointed at females, one of the biggest things most females do have in common is the ability to have children. But that doesn’t mean “having it all” can’t be related to a woman having a successful career and a charity she runs or a high school sport she coaches. The interesting bit is that the two examples I just gave could sound life second jobs. And as Rhimes put it, motherhood is not a job. Others like the analogy that being a mom is another job. It just depends on your perspective.
    I’ve also seen articles that talk about why young people are opting for pets vs parenthood. I think we will see more people opting for something else over becoming a parent. Below is a Forbes article about why millennials are choosing their cats and dogs over babies.The two main reasons are money and freedom.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/erinlowry/2016/08/31/why-are-so-many-millennials-opting-for-pets-not-parenthood/#4a2d00b43963

  5. I think this is a really interesting point that you brought up as the majority of the literature that we have read has been defining “having it all” as being able to successfully balance a professional life and a family. Despite, some literature sources including a social life and relationships with friends into the equation, I feel like these other avenues could use to be emphasized. I also think that a professional life should mean a job in general, not necessarily the CEO of a major law firm. This is also another factor which I feel like could be emphasized that “having it all” for some isn’t having the fanciest job or the corner office.

    Having said that I think you are right to say that this “having it all” equation is classist as the most popular definition of “having it all” definitely places limits on who can achieve this. Just as you mentioned, some people might not either be able to afford to have kids, might not be able to physically have kids, or their financial status might limit the possibility of getting a degree which would theoretically decrease their chances of getting a higher paying job or attaining a higher position in an organization. So, yes, I do think the saying is classist.

    As for your question regarding if women in our generation will choose to decide they don’t want kids in increasing numbers, I can’t really say. I can say however, that even my female friends who want to go into the medical profession still say they want to have kids. However, will the tradeoffs that we as women experience in this time of ever-increasing female professionalism likely continue to be greater than those of previous generations as we continue to reform the system that previously never included women? Yes.

    I think ultimately “having it all” is something that is up to the discretion of each individual person. Your definition of having it all might leave out some things that I deem integral to my definition of “having it all.” Ultimately, listening to ourselves and our own sense of fulfillment and happiness is most important because at the end of the day we are the ones who have to live our lives, so it should not matter what labels people put on your success or your accomplishments. As long as you are happy, that’s all that should matter. I also believe that we as women should not compare ourselves to one another or compare one another to our own definitions of “having it all” because the differences can be so vast. Rather, we should only support one another in achieving our own definitions of “having it all,” whatever that may look like.

  6. The overarching definition of “having it all” is being able to balance work and personal life effectively. Of course, “personal life” for women has come to mean raising a family, so in that respect I do agree with you on the inherent classicism that that definition entails. I feel like many women who struggle with “having it all” are women who are supporting more than just themselves, whether it be a child, a sick parent, etc. However I would like to bring up the articles we read last week about Erin Callan. Callan did not have any children, yet was so absorbed with her work that she had no time to focus on herself or her friendships. I think that “having it all” applies to all people, not just working mothers, because everyone is struggling to find that perfect balance between working for financial gain but also caring for oneself.
    I feel as though the solutions that are being offered to women, however, still are applying to only one type of women. Mental health is still extremely stigmatized, so a person who wants to take time off work to work on themselves and their mental health would be looked down upon in a much worse light than a mother who needs to take time off to be with her kids. I think that the idea of “having it all” in this regard is very tailored to one person because while we are all trying to “have it all”, it seems like we are only acknowledging working mothers (and what about working fathers?).

  7. Wow! This is such an interesting idea and something I had never thought about. When doing these reading, I admit I fell into the trap of thinking that having it all only applied to working mothers. After reading your article, I see how it is classist. I have a preexisting condition that makes it impossible to have children, so the fact that I never noticed shows just how conditioned we are to think that women having it all only applies to working women.

    I think currently in society we do have only one type of women who can have it all. When yo hear the phrase, most of the time the image that comes to mind is a successful CEO or president of a company that has an understanding husband who helps take care of the children at home. Most of the time, you do not think of a poor, single mother who is working several jobs in order to make ends meet and put food on the table for her children. I think having it all is currently classist and elitist, like you said, because we don’t think of lower class women working entry level, blue collar jobs. We think of women who make lots of money and are higher up in corporate companies. Although it shouldn’t be, having it all in our current society is inherently classist. It ignores those who are from a lower socioeconomic status.

    I think more woman will decide to not have children. Maybe it’s the people I hang out with, but most of the women I talk to want to be more of the cool aunt figure who gets kids for a fun long weekend rather than a mother. I think it is very hard for women in our generation to have it all, so they are deciding to not have kids in order to have a successful career. And this decision gets even tougher to make when you add ethnicity and class on top of gender.

  8. While my definition of having it all for my personal life includes my dream career and caring for a family, I know this is not true for all women. Some women only want to have a career, some want only a family, and some want a combination of these aspects. I think having it all is clearly subjective base on individual women and therefore should not be compared to one another. However, I know that society places a high emphasize on what is considered right for a woman to prioritize. Recently, I have seen this when interviewing for graduate schools. Most of the other women I have interviewed with always ask about the ability to have a family in this career and it has had to be something they must factor into their graduate school decision. I feel that I should chose my career first and then it is only fair for my future career to work with me if I chose to have children, but I know this is not the thought process of current job markets. I also hear it from other adults when explaining my ambitions. I hear a lot of “but what about your future children or family?”, and I do not think that is fair because that might not be what I or other women even want. Men do not get these same unfair questions.

  9. I don’t think having it all is limited to working mothers. I think having it all is more about having success in the workplace as well as life in general outside of work and if kids are involved in that then mothers would be included. Having it all is being able to devote enough time to both sides of your life and be happy or successful, which may be difficult to do. Our society values success in material things and money so we work extra hours, overtime, and long nights exhausting ourselves for those things and we’re sacrificing time with our friends and loved ones. On the other hand if we value family or our personal lives over work, then there is less time spent making money or advancing your career. I think it’s harder for working mothers to have it all versus women who don’t have children though, but the overall concept is not limited to just them. For the future, i believe the women of our generation will have more children because in order to end stereotypes and other forms of misrepresentation and mistreatment we have to pass those down to the future generations and it’ll slowly but surely change society for the better. Not having children only makes “having it all” enjoyable for that person, why not have children and pass all the values and concepts on to future generations, that’s how things like racism are still alive and well. I think the same can be done for changing society’s perception of women.

  10. I think this goes along with the question “do we have to ‘have it all’?”, since for so many of us we look at “having it all” and that is something that we just don’t want. Yet in our society, it seems that it is unacceptable for a woman to not attempt to “have it all”, it is unacceptable for a woman to “just have a career” or “just have a family” and I think that this is wrong. We should be able to choose to have a family or a job or both without being criticized by either the traditionalists or the extreme feminists. I also think it is so important for people to realize that “having it all” doesn’t mean the same thing for every person. It’s more or less a marker for success, which is also defined personally. One person’s version of success is different from another. In the same vein, to one woman, “having it all” may mean having a large, connected family and being able to spend all her time with them. To another, it might mean achieving a certain position in their field. To yet another it may mean holding a job and having a family at the same time. But for society to dictate what “having it all” means is to dictate what “success” looks like for a woman and that is what should be unacceptable.


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