How the Career-Babies Binary Fails Us

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I was very career focused and wanted to find the perfect job for myself so that I could find a job I loved after graduating that paid well.

After I went to grad school, I realized I’d actually love to be a stay at home mom. The possibility seemed impossible when I considered the magnitude of my student loans, but it was a daydream for the future. I wanted to be able to stop working outside the home so that I could focus on raising a child.

I was very family focused and wanted to work hard to save up so I could afford to quit working.

And then I had trouble conceiving, and then I got divorced, and then my 30th birthday came and went, and still there was no baby.

I began to daydream of different things. Of foster parenting and the possibility that I’d never have a biological child. And though I mourned the loss of the baby I wanted, I came to be at peace with the likelihood that I would never be a biological parent.

You’d think that this process would have opened me up to throw myself into my work and my career, to move up and climb the corporate ladder. But it turns out that “babies” and “career” aren’t opposite ends of a spectrum that potential parents have to balance. My career has nothing to do with my parenting choices, and my parenting choices have nothing to do with my career.

The more I unpacked this truth, the more I realized we’ve been fed another binary in our society.

Why do we insist on a career-baby binary?

With so many variables at play, how can anyone be justified in criticizing the way another person balances work and family?

Why are people, usually women, saddled with the expectation that it’s either career or parenthood? And that if not one, the other must be implied?

We expect parents to work like they don’t have kids and raise their kids like they don’t have to spend 40+ hours per week at work. But we also expect people to be as productive as possible, and some go as far as to shame people for rest, relaxation, or socializing when they could be coming up with another hustle to make their dreams happen faster.

What if we just let people’s career decisions and people’s parenting decisions exist as neutral choices each individual person gets to make?

Some people start off wanting to be stay at home parents but miss the social interaction of their job too much and they return to the office.

Some people plan to go back to work but they can’t stand the thought of spending all day without their baby once they come back from leave.

Some people would love to have more challenging or ambitious work, but it would mean less time for their kids and they aren’t willing to sacrifice family for career.

Some people would prefer to spend way more time at home with their kids but can’t afford not to work their maximum hours.

Some people would love to work outside the home but literally can’t afford to due to child care costs.

Some people want to be self employed or not employed and it has nothing to do with having children.

With so many variables at play, how can anyone be justified in criticizing the way another person balances work, life, and family?

We have lost the village

I don’t see a future for me with a biological child. And it’s not selfish or bad to recognize that.

It takes a village to raise a child, but we are so far removed from the village that parents are desperate to find a balance between making a life and making a living. Even coupled parents have trouble balancing child care, home responsibilities, work, connecting with each other, and having a social life.

People deserve full, happy, healthy lives without having to choose between a career that both pays the bills and doesn’t make them want to scream into a pillow every night, and having time for their family.

I don’t see a future for me with a biological child. I don’t have anyone to help me raise a kid, and I am unwilling to do it alone. I would completely lose myself, because I have no village. And it’s not selfish or bad to recognize that.

It’s also not selfish or bad to recognize that I don’t want to toil away forever in a workplace. I want to write, and speak, and teach — on my terms. And it has nothing to do with making space for a family.

Prone to sudden bursts of encouragement. They/them. Queer, autistic author of bit.ly/GaslightingMillennials

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