Saturday, October 19, 2019

"If you don't want to have kids, you don't have to want a career instead"

Jody Day of Gateway Women recently shared an article from Vice on social media that had me nodding along as I read it:  "If You Don’t Want to Have Kids, You Don’t Have to Want a Career Instead."

Many people still equate "childless woman" with "career woman" -- if you don't have children, well, you must have a fabulous career instead, right?  You obviously have more time to throw yourself into your job, work long hours and climb the corporate ladder, right?  (Conversely, if you want a high-powered career, are you really going to have the time to devote to a family? -- This either/or thinking was very common years ago, and still persists in some quarters.)

But what if we don't have children, and don't WANT a high-powered career either?

A few excerpts from the article:
Work can be the thing we do in order to enjoy our free time—it doesn’t have to be a lifelong career, and we don’t always need to be pushing to be the boss. Forget having it “all”—why aren’t women allowed to just have “some,” and be happy with it? ...Perhaps we are finally waking up to the idea that we’ve been conned—that in falling into the optimized lifestyle trap, we’re missing out on the life we actually deserve... 
The biggest barrier women face seems to be the idea that we have inherent worth: that we deserve to be alive, deserve to be happy, even if we are doing “nothing.” [ed note: and even if we don't have children]  [Women's empowerment coach Hueina] Su echoed this idea – saying that If you want to de-optimize your life, it’s critical to believe that you are inherently worthy, and to identify what success and happiness means to you. “We must learn to redefine success for ourselves, instead of letting society and other people dictate how we live our lives,” she said
I've written in the past here about my lukewarm feelings toward my job/career (even before I lost it, lol).  I worked to live, I did not live to work... but I sometimes felt kind of guilty... that I SHOULD want more our of my working life. Supervisors would ask me the obligatory review questions about where I saw myself in five years and what job I wanted to do next... I had no good answers. I was happy doing what I was doing. I had no great desire to manage people, and while I was happy to stretch myself to a certain extent (trying speechwriting & drafting executive correspondence & official messages, after years working on the staff newsletter, for example), making the leap to an entirely different department or area of the company did not interest me in the least.

Losing my job -- at a stage in my life where I was able to take early retirement (a reduced pension, but still a pension nevertheless) -- offered me an "out" -- and I took it -- but I still harboured a lot of guilty feelings:  I was way too young to just retire, I still had a lot to offer (if I could convince a potential employer to look past my age...! -- too young to retire, perhaps, but also too old to be hired for another job...). I should be out there working and adding to our retirement savings for at least another 5-10 years (even though a financial planner assured me & dh that we could afford to do this now), because that's what most people my age were still doing. (So far, he's been right, and it's been working out just fine.)

"What do you do with all that time?" people ask me -- and I feel guilty that I don't have any stories about fabulous trips or meaningful volunteer work or even a full social calendar of luncheons & outings with girlfriends to tell them about. (As one retirement planner pointed out in an article I read, even the fabulously rich will not find themselves travelling 365 days a year... you have to find other ways to fill your time.)  I read, I putter around on this blog & on other social media, I listen to podcasts and watch TV.  Once a week or so, we drop by BIL's house (or they come by here, or we head across the city to visit stepMIL, once every few weeks).  We clean the house and do the laundry and run errands and go to the supermarket and to the mall, and we browse at the local mega-bookstore a couple of times a week. We go out for a simple lunch a couple of times a week, and out for dinner on Saturday nights, a habit we established early on in our marriage.

So the days pass, and while I can't always tell you where the time has gone, I can tell you it always goes by too quickly -- and that I'm seldom bored, and generally happy with my jobless, childless life. When people ask dh "what do you do with your time, now that you're retired?"  he now responds "Whatever I want!"  lol  That usually shuts them up. I think I'm going to adopt it too, lol.

I've had a partially written draft in my draft folder for quite a while now along these same lines. It began a couple of years ago when a childless-not-by-choice/loss mom friend (& past/occasional blogger ;)  ) posted an article on Facebook titled "What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?"  She confessed that she struggled with the guilt of not being more or doing more or wanting more -- with the idea that "I'm enough."

"Maybe it's the fact that I've been beaten to a bloody pulp by life -- maybe that's why I crave a drama-free, quiet, simple existence," she mused.

I could certainly relate to that... and I'm sure a lot of childless-not-by-choice women can too. Infertility & loss (and the fallout from them) have already provided us with plenty enough drama to last a lifetime, and then some...!

The thought that we need to do more, be more, is something that many people struggle with, whether or not they have kids. But the absence of children in our lives makes some of us feel like we need to do something else, something BIG, as "compensation," to fill that hole in our lives, to prove our worth to society.  Why not climb the corporate ladder (or run off to do missionary work in Africa... etc. etc.) -- after all, we can!

But it's one thing to do something "because we can." Is it something we SHOULD do? Is it something that we WANT to do? Is it something that's right for us personally, for our goals and values?

And by the way, who says that it's a "mediocre life" -- mediocre by whose standards?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

Here are a couple more great articles on this theme:


  1. Thank you for this post and for sharing the articles that you did. This is perfect timing for me because my last two posts have been about feeling a little lost and not knowing what I want next. At the same time, I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking that I must always be working toward something and/or improving myself and my life. The articles you shared gave me a lot of important reminders for how I want to live my life and simply be. Thank you!!

  2. I'm going to go back and read these articles and posts again. I love love love this. Because just this morning, I was reminded that so many people identify with What They Do, and confuse that with Who They Are. I could wax lyrical on this topic, but I'll restrain myself. But you know - after a couple of incidents last week - your post was exactly what I needed.

  3. I love this post. I think I’ve been having a bit of a mid-life existential crisis and losing my job recently hasn’t helped. In a world that asks us from a young age what we want to be when we grow up and tacitly assumes parenthood will be a given, it’s not easy to forge an identity and sense of self apart from those things (whether or not you have kids and a fulfilling career). FWIW, i think your version of retirement sounds delightful!

  4. Yes this makes a lot of sense. At the end of the day we should life the life we want and not feel pressured to do something else with it because that's what somebody else things we should do!

  5. So important to look beyond the black & white thinking of "family or career." And that it's OK to see work as a means to an end. And that it's OK to see work as work and not one's identity.

    I really really love hearing about your current life, the contentment you and your dh have. You are doing you and help make your readers think a bit more about being judgey about the decisions and lifestyles of others.

  6. Oh my gosh – where was this article in the noughties!

    I never wanted a career, just a job that would help me pay the bills with some savings on the side for travel or home. I wanted to work so that I could live. Once the baby door was closed it felt like I should have been gracious for the opportunity to build a career. I couldn’t think of anything worse; it was just not me.

    Then the company where I worked was ‘corporatised’ – kpi’s, self-improvement training, 1 year, 3 year, 5 year plans….. My manager realised that some people were just happy to come in and do their work each day, that several of us were satisfied with our work and were not interested in climbing the ladder, which did remove some of the guilt I was feeling.

    I think it was a stress thing too, getting my head around being childless was enough to cope with without adding on job related stress.

    Early retirement was a guilty ‘pleasure’ but I embrace it fully now. Pottering in the garden, or crafting, cooking, grabbing lunch with a friend, or listening to podcasts – I am keeping happily busy. Having an aging parent also means I have the time to be there for appointments or anything else that arises.

  7. Thank you Loribeth for this inspiring input! I do agree with you.
    Personally, I don't see my job as a way to achieve power but rather as a way to achieve intellectual and relational fulfillment. As I have plenty of interests, I actually would even succeed in reaching these targets without a job :-) And I don't owe anything to anybody just because I don't have children, so it is ok if my achievements are not as big as society would expect from me.