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On whether women can have it all

Women: what will you do first – have that glittering career you’ve always dreamed of, or get babies quick-sharp before your maternal need reaches a shrieking climax and you’re left yearning for the children that will make your life complete?

Kirstie Allsopp has been in some pretty hot water today over comments she made about life choices. She pointed out (quite rightly) that if you have a womb and ovaries, your chances of using those to make a baby drop sharply after a certain age. That’s obviously common sense. Unfortunately, she then used that to say that if she had a daughter she’d advise her not to go to University early in life (i.e. shortly after 18) and instead focus on having a family and saving studying and a career for later.

She’s taken a lot of crap for saying this, and has taken a lot of agreement, too: from people who did have children young, or those who wish they had.

Here’s the problem: Kirstie gave what is essentially some good advice. If you want kids in a certain way (and if you’re able to have them in that way), you have to plan relatively early. Unfortunately, this good advice was presented in a way that rested on a huge number of assumptions. It’s not the advice that’s bad, it’s what it rests on.

She has, in no particular order, assumed that:

– All women want the same things (career and babies).

– All women are biologically capable of having children and will want to have biological offspring.

– A career is always a choice, as opposed to something many people do because they need to put food on the table.

– Women shoulder the responsibility for the propagation of the human race.

Can women ‘have it all’?

I’d be less angry about comments on careers and children if it weren’t for the fact that it is always presented as a choice that women – and only women – need to make. Incidentally, as I stand up loudly and proudly and state that ‘not all women’ want to have babies, to correct this incredibly common assumption, I look forward to the men who recently commented on my ‘sex entitlement’ blog to join in with me, correcting those gender assumptions they so hated when they believed them to be directed at dudes.

Sarcastic asides over, men are never asked ‘hey, are you sure you want to have this career now? Shouldn’t you have kids first?’ Of course no one ever asks men this, because society has an inherent aversion to male child-rearing, and feels that kids are the sole preserve of women. This puts massive undue responsibility on women, and leaves men standing on the sidelines being patronised by strangers when they take over the duty of ‘babysitting’ their own children. Not to mention it makes women like me really bloody angry when they keep having to answer the same tickbox list of questions.

Conversations about my potential future offspring fall into two broad categories:

a) relevant and interesting conversations (these are the ones I have with my partner, where we discuss our thoughts on The Future)

b) totally unnecessary, irrelevant and intrusive conversations (the ones I have with every other twat who thinks they know better than me what I think)

The latter type usually consists of a friend or family member telling me in syrupy tones that one day I’ll just wake up and – BAM – suddenly I will want a baby so hard I will be unsure how I can ever have wanted anything else in my life. They tell me that having children is the best thing that ever happened to them and that, ergo, it would be the best thing to ever happen to me. It might be, I don’t know. I’m not a fucking psychic. All I know is that right now – right this instant – I don’t want one. And you nagging me about it is unlikely to make me start ovulating. So, if you’re one of those people who likes to tell people to have kids, pay attention.

Five things people need to stop telling me about children

1. You’ll change your mind one day.

I’ve been fairly open about the fact that I don’t really want children. I may well change my mind one day: I’m a human, and we have a habit of doing that. But you don’t get to tell me that unless you have actually lived inside my head. That’s not only impossible but undesirable – it’s a terribly sordid place.

2. It’s the only real purpose for us in life!

By ‘us’ do you mean ‘people’? Because sure, it is a purpose of the human race to survive. And we, as a species, need to make sure we don’t die out any time soon. But there’s a huge leap to be made between ‘survival of the species’ and ‘my individual choices.’ If I’m one of the last people on Earth this argument might hold weight, but given that there are around 6 billion of us, I don’t think my uterus is the vital pivot on which our survival depends.  I no more have a moral responsibility to breed than I have a moral responsibility not to die.

3. Your biological clock is ticking…

I’m getting older, if that’s what you mean, but I’m fascinated as to how you have such an in-depth insight into the state of my reproductive system. For all you know it might not work. For all you know I might not have one.

4. Oh, you must hate children then.

They’re OK, I suppose. They are like adults, only smaller and they say hilarious stupid things sometimes, and also if you have a child you have an excuse to do things like play with the Brio train sets in the Early Learning Centre without being asked to leave. I bloody love some kids (usually ones I am related to, or particularly well-behaved offspring of my friends) but there are many kids who are – let’s face it – twats.

I don’t ‘hate’ or ‘love’ kids. As with adults, I will form my opinion on them based on discussion with the individual in question, and possibly a Frozen singalong. Only then can you get the true measure of a person.

5. Don’t you think it’s a bit selfish to choose your work over children?

No. Nor is it selfish to choose travel, hobbies, or sitting on the sofa staring blankly into space for forty years. All of these things are legitimate life choices, no more or less selfish than the decision to have children. You know why? Because I haven’t had children yet. That’s the beauty of it! If I did have children then certainly I’d be pretty selfish if I ignored them in favour of writing angry blogs and eating ice-cream at 11 am on a Monday for no reason. Given that I don’t have them, my choices can only be selfish or unselfish in relation to how they affect the people I know: people who actually exist right now, as opposed to some possible future person who may never even come into being.

So there you go. Some thoughts on kids. If, like me, you are a 30-year-old cis woman and people are constantly nagging you about your biological clock, feel free to shout this in their face until they stop talking to you.

Kids: have ’em, don’t have ’em, dither over your decision for years before you make it – it’s none of my fucking business.


  • Ay None says:

    My daughter was less than a day old when people started asking when I was having the next one. No doubt they all thought they were being hilarious, but when I told them the answer was ‘never’ it was again intimated that I would change my mind later.

    Never mind the fact that I never intended to have more than one. Never mind the fact that pregnancy was a reasonably hellish experience for me, and would be worse a second time. Never mind the fact that I could barely afford one child, let alone more.

    I Am Woman, I Must Procreate.

  • Like my job says:

    I could have written this myself…I’m nearly 31… Unhappily married… Husband really wants kids, I don’t..the expectation for me to want to be a mum is huge.. From others.. Especially those close to us with kids.. And my parents and his parents. I love my job… And I’m not ready to make the choice between family and work… I don’t think I will ever be able to. Never have had the maternal thing. I teach kids and that is more than fulfilling for me. Someone asked me today about kids and I said I wasn’t interested. Got the same spiel I get from everyone… ‘You just have to do it, you’ll be a great mum.. You can still buy nice clothes’. I just want to tell them to piss off.

    Great article. Really pleased I read this.

  • Larry Archer says:

    I think you should be happy with your decision and have or not have children depending on what you want rather than others. Getting pregnant while older is not harder except the chances of a birth defect increase but nowadays you can do an amniocentesis to double check for issues.

  • I ‘love’ (as in ‘roll eyes in exasperation’) at people who are terrible terrible parents, awful, reprehensible parents turning round and branding childless women as selfish.
    Hey I’m not the one spending every available hour ‘nurturing’ a rookie emotionally fucked up adult.
    *Evil dagger glares at specific
    members of my family*

  • Eliza Day says:

    Quite agree. I didn’t have children because it was never a good time. I know they say ‘there’s never a right time’, but in my case health, finances or the absence of a partner always stopped me. Having been brought up in a chaotic and cash-strapped household, I didn’t think it was fair to inflict the same on a child, particularly if I was going to be a single parent. I don’t expect to be praised for this decision, but I don’t think I deserve to be called selfish. And yet I do, often. I’ve come to the conclusion you can’t win.

  • orathaic says:

    More like 7 billion of us at this point, and 2. Why yes, that’s an evolutionary goal, if we didn’t we wouldn’t be here. But we don’t actually need to be here. There is nothing inherently good about the survival of this species.

    Look at – the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement – they are perfectly happy to argue that humans don’t need to survive, and we might even be better off not doing so.

  • claire says:

    38, still don’t want them.
    ‘You’ll change your mind when you meet the right guy’ ‘tick tick tick tock’ ‘so why haven’t you had children … YET’
    Oh do one, it’s my womb and though it is still vacant it is not to let.
    Dr wouldn’t sterilise me in my early thirties coz how could a woman possibly know her own mind? And well, my future partner may want to breed.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Cannot *believe* I forgot the ‘you’ll change your mind when you meet’ one. Good point, thanks for adding.

  • JJhon says:

    I think everyone should be entitled, and should be empowered, to do what they want for themselves. If they want a career, kids or to live out in the Ooloo.

    I’m a guy, so I appreciate the social convention that I play a role, but not as important a one as women, when it comes to child raising in the early days. The disparity is strongly evident in Maternity/Paternity leave.

    Personally I have made a deliberate choice not to have a child whilst in the Forces (I say have a child, I mean cause a child to be created).Mainly because I know what a career can do to a child, I saw my father 4 days in 12 due to shift patterns, an realisticly only 3 of those. This was between 3 and 4 month deployments around the world. My parents split due to them both being military and it causing huge amounts of pressure.

    Which leads me to agree with the child or career group. Go for one or the other at any time, revel in your child’s development, put everything into being the best you can be, become the best manager/ team leader/ CEO in the world. Don’t sacrifice one for the other, but don’t let one stop you from making the most of the other.

    If you don’t want them, fair enough.
    If you don’t want a career, fair enough.

  • Shell says:

    Re point 5, some people really can’t see the selfishness in procreating. What can be MORE selfish than propagating the genes of you and your chosen spunk partner, taking up extra resources, space, making noise, etc etc?

  • Dm7 says:

    Part of what creates this issue is the incredible stigma faced by mothers who regret having had children. Mothers who admit to having wished they had never become mothers (even if they stress how much they love the children they have) are treated in a hideous way, as if they just wished murder on their offspring.

    Part of this problem is that the notion that a woman can love her children whilst hate the role of being *a mother* is incomprehensible to many people. If you admit to regretting the decision to take on the role, responsibilities, identity and all of the accompanying baggage of ‘Motherhood’, then you may as well say you despise your children and wish they had never been born – anathema to what a “Mother” is “Supposed To Be”.

    I am a childless woman in her mid-20s. I am not sure where I stand on raising children, but I shudder at the thought of having to adopt the undervalued, overpressured, guilt-stricken social identity of being a “Mother”. It really should NOT be this way. If motherhood was treating with the respect and value it deserved for being such a difficult and important role, then I would feel very differently. If motherhood was not made into a state where the woman in question was expected to be an all sacrificing, ever smiling superhuman and *nothing less*, then I am sure I would not be the only one who would feel more relaxed about the prospect. If fatherhood was also valued highly, and male parents were both expected and allowed to have the same level of involvement and pro-activity, and not constantly being portrayed as being incompetent, distant, absent or incapable of undertaking responsibility, I’m sure things would all be much better for everyone.

    Parenthood seems to be this thing that is, on the whole, overpressured and undervalued. That makes things bad for everyone.

    • Molly says:

      I couldn’t agree with this comment more. I am one of those Mothers. I LOVE my children, deeply and powerfully and I would never give them up for anything but if I had my time again, knowing what I know now, then I don’t think I would have them. That is a sad thought, as they are preciously wonderful young people and it can feel like wishing them away, which it isn’t. It is purely that being a Mother is fucking tough and it changes everything, you can’t even have a pee on your own any more let alone go out to the pub etc. There is little balance to life as a parent but that is often even more so the case for Mothers.

      Having kids can be a wonderful thing, they have bought me great joy and taught me a great deal about what I am truly capable of but that is me and I can’t stand the parents who feel the need to convert everyone to the parenting core!


  • Utterly damned says:

    From the perspective of motherhood, I can basically guarantee that you ain’t going to win this one. Oh, you’ll get flack for not wanting kids, but if you chuck in your ‘career’ to raise children, you’ll get it as well.

    I graduated the year the recession hit, spent six months scrabbling for jobs I didn’t actually want. About halfway through this, in the midst of some horrible depression while working unsecure, high stress jobs, I contracted ‘the brood.’ After talking it through with my partner, we decided we could just about manage on one income and that, as we had wanted kids ‘at some point’, we might as well do it now.

    So, at the age of 21, with a very good degree, I dropped my exit card from the world of work and came home to bake cakes and raise babies. To hear some people talk, you’d think I’d shot somebody. If I’m not, “sqaundering my potential”, I’m “letting the sisterhood down”, or (from the red pill men) “sponging off my husband”.

    You know what else I am? Pretty fucking happy. I’d always wanted kids, and I’d always hated every one of my jobs. We can afford it (just about).

    The point of this rambling narrative is this – theflack that the women are getting is just one side of the coin. Mothers get about as much, although about different things. Pretty much everyone you meet feels they have the right to comment on your habits during pregnancy, your birthplan, how, where and when you feed your child… Its endless, invasive and unwanted. It seems that the coin in question is a deep seated mistrust of women with agency, whether they are pursuing careers, parenthood or some combination of the two.

    And people wonder why I’m a feminist.

    Anyway, keep on keeping on – if you don’t want kids, it’s your body, your life and your sayso. I adore parenthood, but I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    • Girl on the net says:

      This makes me very happy. Your attitude is essentially the most sensible and empathetic one: “I did this, I liked it, do what you like.”
      I’m sad that it’s so rare.

  • Dumb Domme says:

    I’ve been giving this some thought, and I’ve decided that in a few years, when I’m ready, I’m going to shove all of my grant funding, published articles, and portfolio projects up my vagina. Then I’m going to invite all of my friends, coworkers, acquaintances, family members, delivery men, hair stylists, and auto mechanics to a “Career Shower.” People can bring me career shower gifts like sticky notes, Cross pens, leather portfolios, pocket protectors, and sensible shoes. After that, I’ll pull my career out of my vagina and post a bunch of photos of my career baby on Facebook, and then people will tell me how much it looks like me…

  • Space Bunny says:

    I just tell them that yes I hate children. Had a tumor surrounding my ovaries and uterus and even though it was life threatening they wouldn’t take the organs because they needed to “preserve fertility” despite my having never wanted kids and at that time single for nearly a decade status. In the end they chipped away the tumor and went after the margins with radiation which caused premature menopause and infertility. So in a weird slant victory that may end in secondary cancer some day, I won.

    Still it was a horrible experience to have everyone insist that I would some day want a baby and my utter disdain for them as a whole would fade into body clock nonsense. I’m 30 now and nearly 8 years away from having the tumor and even if my fiancé and I could have children, we both do not want them. We are going to have cats.

  • the hatter says:

    Those people telling you that one day, you’ll want to do the thing that right now you really don’t want, and how it’ll be a revelation and you’ll be so glad you did (perhaps when you meet the right person) ? I bet you can find a blog article for each of them talking about something they are quite certain they don’t want to do, and an army of people who felt similar (including yourself in some cases), tried it, and now wouldn’t want to live without it being a regular feature in their life.

  • Just came across this via another blog and i must say I like the work you put in here, great read!

  • KOR says:

    I’m at least twice your age. What hope is there for me?

  • AC says:

    Your body’s entirely your own. I wish I was as sure as you are at the moment about what you want. My wife has always wanted to be a mother, and so I am certain we will have kids within the next few years. I’m less sold on the idea. I love kids, and know that I would make a good father, but the responsibility and the sheer permanence of the role (because it is like taking a second job that you have to pay for the privilege of having) frighten the bejesus out of me. The best thing about kids, for me, is being able to hand them back to someone else if they need the loo or feel ill or tired or start crying; I’m not looking forward to being on the receiving end of that bargain.

    In any event, as a staunch feminist (far more so than my wife is), I am sick to death of the responsibility being viewed as entirely women’s and am determined in my own profession to change the stigma (for it definitely, tragically, does exist) that comes with motherhood and maternity leave and parental arrangements.

    Yet again, I am in agreement with you GOTN.

    AC x

  • I Just Wanna Be God says:

    The only real purpose in life indeed… And some people really seem to believe that! Like that’s the most we’re supposed to get out of our existence, and being alive is just nature’s way of keeping meat fresh. I’d like to get as much as I possibly can out of life, and maybe just leave the world a better place than when I started. And yet if I instead become a parent and focus my efforts on that, I’m simply passing the responsibility on to the next generation.

    I don’t want children. Ever. Neither does my partner. Even if we did, her being disabled would make it difficult or impossible. And yet people still assume we’ll change our minds, like we’ll one day wake up and realise our lives are empty and we have far too much free time and disposable income. Like I’ll suddenly see children in a much more positive light, despite being a teacher for the last five years.

    You’re right, as ever. As are all the above replies. All genders can be both good or bad parents, and all share the responsibility for continuing our species. And basic maths tells us that Earth can only hold so many people, and that the closer humanity gets to that limit, the less enjoyable life will be for its individual members. And we aren’t exactly an endangered species – though we have made many other species endangered, in recent times thanks to our own population expansion. Sigh.

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