Life Can Be Fulfilling Even If You Aren't a Mom -- Yes, Really

woman working on laptop outsideIn Heather Havrilesky's now-viral article, "Want to Be Better at Your Job? Have a Kid," she talks about how "women worry a lot about how having kids will ruin their lives and destroy their careers." I had a strong and immediate reaction -- sort of like a case of hives -- to this assertion.


Havrilesky's thesis seems to be that before kids, when she was young and hot and aimless, she couldn't imagine how she'd stretch her time to include nurturing another life, because she could barely get things done as is. Now, with the hindsight of having kids, she realizes that she spent most of her "...waking hours procrastinating, sulking, obsessing over trivial problems, and engaging in aimless tasks that added up to nothing."

Don't get her wrong, she says. It's easy to waste time in our reality TV- and Twitter-obsessed world that seems, sometimes, like a snake circling back on itself, swallowing its own tail. I understand that.

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But her contention that it takes having a kid to focus, career-wise or personally, is what gets me. Having a kid helped her form career goals that took her beyond being a pop culture reporter, which she seemed to find hollow and meaningless (but someone else may see as their dream job). It made her more productive and less willing to waste her time. 

I feel like this is a case of assuming that her personal experience is/will be universal.

I'm a journalist and magazine editor who has written for general interest and women's magazines and newspaper lifestyle and entertainment sections for decades now. I do not have kids. As a young woman, I assumed I would end up having them, but for a multitude of reasons that is not what happened.

But my kid-free life isn't the stagnant, unmotivated one that Havrilesky described as her pre-mommy days. 

Just because I'm not picking up toys or breaking up squabbles or wiping bottoms doesn't automatically mean that I am or was aimless or bored or narcissistic. (I mean, maybe I was a bit of all those things back in my 30s ...)   

I, too, have written my share of stories I found meaningless or uninteresting (the "new" green eye shadow or hot shaping underwear, anybody?), like Havrilesky writes about her coverage of shows like Paradise Hotel. I didn't do it because I didn't have kids. I was doing what I needed to make money, to learn, and work my way up to doing better stories, to support a book project I was writing on the side that wasn't a paying proposition yet, and so on. 

Having kids may force you to apportion your time differently, because you have more demands on it. It may affect your choice of how you spend that time, working or not, because you only have so much. But my time is no less valuable just because I'm childless. 

Like other professional women I've known who don't have children either, I have to make similar calculations every day and every year. We have to find our way professionally and personally, figure out work/life balance, learn how to say no to work we find meaningless, and steer our way to doing things that matter to us. Ultimately, in my opinion, it's not a mom or non-mom thing. It's a personal growth kind of thing. 

I am not belittling or minimizing the demands a working mom faces. I marvel at some of my friends who are doing this amazing juggling act. Sometimes, you can't have it all. 

It's the idea that being a mom is some sort of validation or instant prioritizing framework that I question. (And come on, we've all known those mommies who need to look up from their kid world and have a broader perspective.)

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Havrilesky admits that, if you don't want kids, having them won't necessarily complete you. She's just trying to reassure those women who do want kids and fear that it will pull the plug on a promising career. Figuring out what matters and how you want to spend your time is a complicated journey. Having kids helped her focus her time and ambitions, and I appreciate her well-written, funny story. She makes some valid points; I just didn't like some of the other implications therein.

Kids can make you grateful, and they can teach you -- I admit and appreciate that. But I have found other ways to learn these things. Maybe, as an Internet troll would say, I'm just jealous/bitter because I missed the boat on having kids -- and I'm having an "Is that all there is?" moment with my career. If so, that's another story.


Image via lechatnoir/iStock

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