The American perception of women having it all usually includes motherhood along with the magical mix of high-level career, great salary, and a wonderful partnership. The following quotes extol the motherhood aspect of the good life:
“It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding,” – Erma Bombeck, American Humorist.
“Mother: the most beautiful word on the lips of mankind.” – Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese born American essayist, novelist and poet.
“Having children is what a woman is born for, really.” – Nastassja Kinski, actress.
Challenging the America that worships motherhood, the August 12, 2013 TIME magazine cover story, “Having It All Without Having Children,” by Lauren Sandler, reports that about one in five women in the United States ends their childbearing years without being mothers, and still manage to feel fulfilled.
Even though the birthrate is falling, Sandler points out that this hasn’t resulted in a waning baby biz industry. In fact, buying for children is at the record high of an “estimated $49 billion for 2013.” This proves that parenting continues to be a prevailing value for women (and men) in modern American culture.
Although highly educated white women are those most likely to opt out of parenthood, a 2010 Pew study reported that women from the Hispanic and African American cultures aren’t far behind. Some women in these groups make the difficult decision to be childfree despite the risks of inciting conflict in their families of origin. Said one childfree Latina woman interviewed for Sandler’s article, “family is your pride, your success,” and the risk of immigration that many of their families took was for “the generations that continue.” She was fortunate to fall in love with a Latino man who acknowledges her choice not to bear children, and supports her in being true to herself.
Those who have decided not to be somebody’s mom are frequently left out of discussions about having it all. That’s because, Sandler says, America often “equates womanhood with motherhood,” and assumes that ambitious women are, and will be, professionals with offspring.
Sandler notes that even with America’s strong cultural bias to have kids, childfree women are carving out new paths to acceptance. As we point out in our book, Enough of Us, many realize they can lead meaningful progeny-free lives by putting more time into advocating for elderly parents, being activists for children or animals, and helping families via professions like psychotherapist, teacher, or social worker.
Sandler’s article is worth reading not least because it proffers a great emotional feel for what it’s like to be out of the loop simply because millions of us have listened to our own drummer.
Her article, however, focuses almost entirely on the “I like my life and career the way it is” reasons for foregoing motherhood. What she has failed to report on are the many women who have made the decision to be childfree based on other more-selfless factors, including our own Mother Earth. She needs a lot of help with her already-seven-billion of us, which she cannot vigorously sustain. Many women have decided not to bring more humans into this world in order to reduce their impact on the environment for the good of everyone, including the young people who already exist. Many childfree folks have considered the physical and mental problems that might have carried over from their families to their unborn children. They have thought twice and realized quite unselfishly that there are already Enough of Us.
While Lauren Sandler’s article is thought provoking and engaging, we wish TIME had used its platform to consider the broader range of reasons why many choose to be nonparents.