When I was in first grade, I wrote an essay about how I was going to be President someday. It wasn’t one of those “What I Want to be When I Grow Up” essays as was the assignment if memory serves me correctly; it was what I was going to do when that day came. It was my political platform, if you will. My selling point was finding a way to feed the kids we heard about at church a few times a year when the missionaries came in to collect quarters in milk cartons. In fact, I even went on a brief hunger strike and told the nuns to give my lunch to those kids. My dad was abruptly called to come in and force me to eat and that was that, but I was so determined then. Now, I question my every move. I have a Master’s degree, and I’m hoping for a second one, but every day I am filled with crushing anxiety that I’m making a mistake somewhere. I’m 27. I have bills I can’t pay. And worst of all, I’m at the age where my uterus is creeping its way into dinner conversation. I’m still going back for that second Master’s, but I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time it comes up in passing because I know four out of five times it’s going to be followed with, “but don’t you want kids?”.
Women are outnumbering men in colleges these days. According the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, 30.2% of women had a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 29.9% of men did. Women in the 25-34 age group have made the most remarkable change, with 30.2% having a bachelor’s degree or higher to only 29.5% of males in the same category. The 2014 census also found the percentage of childless women at an all-time high – 47.6% between the ages of 15 and 44. Among women in the 25-29 age group, 49.6% were childless. According to a study done by the American Association of University Women in 2016, women also hold two-thirds of the nation’s student loan debt – more than $800 billion. Not only are they more likely to take on debt (44% female undergraduates to 39% of male undergraduates), but they also take longer to pay it back and are more likely to default due to the gender wage gap. (Women working full time with college degrees make 26% less than their male counterparts.)
As staggering as these statistics are, women are persisting in growing and enriching the world with their talents. So why does “having it all” need to be reduced to giving birth? If a man decides he doesn’t want children, we applaud him for chasing success and focusing on his career. So why is it that if a woman has no desire to give birth, she must sit in on a 45-minute lecture about the magic of motherhood and how she’s making a mistake she’ll regret for the rest of her life if she doesn’t act now and put her career on hold? For some women, children are in their life plans. For others, not so much. Some women are ambivalent, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Take Lucy Hobbs, for example: first female dentist, childless, revolutionized dentistry and opened the doors for every woman in this magazine and beyond. To her, despite the difficulties of being a female in the profession at the time, she had it all – on her own terms. In fact, unhappily retired, she reopened a limited practice for the last few years of her life. She even taught her husband dentistry and he followed in her footsteps!
It’s impossible as a female to separate children from career. I’m not saying being a stay-at-home mom is a bad decision or that being a career mom is impossible. (I know a bunch of you DeWers are totally rockin’ it!) What I am saying is that disproportionately encouraging the one while neglecting the other is damaging to the female in question. Every woman has the right to her own decision, and sometimes those decisions don’t make as much sense to you as they do to that person, but forcing your own vision of happiness on someone in the guise of love might disimpassion them. Who knows? Your words might extinguish the spirit of the next Lucy Hobbs.
I’m not asking the readers of this article to choose between children and a career. What I am asking you to do is to ask yourself what impact a person’s reproductive choices have on your wellbeing before you ask if they plan on having kids. Try asking about what they see themselves doing ten years from now instead. I’m also asking you to support your daughter’s decision to become President someday, even if that isn’t what you wanted for yourself. She may be seven and unaware of our current political situation, and she may change her mind in a few years, but the world could benefit from less female self-doubt right about now.