Is it okay if I don’t want kids?

I see how it feels so easy to just say no to kids. Having kids is irrational. They do not make us happier. They disrupt the halcyon days of early marriage. And they cost a lot of money.

Pretty much every twentysomething says, at some point, that they don’t want kids, and in 97% of those cases that twentysomething is delusional.

Of course there is a biological urge to have kids – but it turns out it’s actually a drive to have sex, not so much to have a baby. So what, then, makes all the people who say no to kids in their 20s end up saying yes to kids in their 30s? Here’s what I think:

There are only two choices in life: career or family.
You can look at anyone in the whole world who you admire, and you can see they picked either career or family. There are not people who have an amazing career who also put their family first.

Amazing careers come from incredible focus and dedication. That singular focus means you are able to also surround yourself with singular focus. The people who are insanely driven to be high performers in their chosen career do that to the exclusion of pretty much everything else.

You are not someone who is going all out at work.
I know this because those people are not reading this post. They don’t care about this topic.

Anyway you know by the time you’re 26 if you love to work. Because 26 year olds who love to work have been working nonstop at a singular, focused goal, since they were 21. Really. Not kidding. Read about Sara Blakely.

If you are 26 and you are not currently exhibiting the drive to meet difficult, all-consuming goals, then you will not have a particularly interesting or fruitful career. Because the careers that are fulfilling are ones you give yourself to.

Just like everything else in life: you get what you give.

The stuff you want in life does not take a lot of time.
Look at people who are 40 years old. Or 50. What are they doing with their days? Probably dealing with family. What do you imagine you will be doing all day, with no kids?

Writing a novel? That takes an hour a day. Doing yoga? That takes an hour a day. Travel? For what? 80 years? At some point you are not traveling anymore, you are homeless.

This is all to say that everyone’s life needs to be about something. Without a career or family the days are long. On the other hand, either a big job or kids can easily consume an entire day.

So there is your big job OR there are kids. I don’t see a choice in life besides career or family. There is nothing else with enough weight to matter in your life.

This is why people don’t take women at 26 seriously when they say no to having kids and don’t already have something big and meaningful that they’re doing instead. What those women are really saying is they thought they would do something big and meaningful with their careers before they had kids.

But look. Everyone thinks that and it’s only true for like 5% of the world. And besides, no big career was built in four years, and that’s when you’d have to stop with the career to start focusing on kids instead.

Let’s be real. The more you put off having kids waiting for that big and meaningful thing to pop into your life, the more you mess up your chances of even being able to have kids.

Having or not having kids is a false choice. 
If you want two kids, scientists say you should start trying at age 27. That’s a tough reality. And it doesn’t leave a lot of room for choice.

Women have a biological clock. They are literally going to miss out on having their own kids if they don’t do it soon enough.

Everyone who has kids says they love their kids more than anything in the whole world. It’s hard to say, in the first quarter of your long life, that you want to give that up. So women just have kids.

What if you don’t? The real thing keeping you from having kids is that you think no one will admire you for your brains and ambition. And this is probably true. This Tumblr post summarizes the problem well. It’s not just that most women are doing the caregiving and that it’s unpaid labor. It’s that it puts your life on a path for low performers:

“The more women care for others, the less care they can receive in return, because they devote less time to waged labor than men and many social insurance plans are calculated on the years of waged work done….Because of the devaluation of reproductive work, practically everywhere women face old age with fewer resources than men, measured in terms of family support, monetary incomes and available assets. Thus, in the US, where pensions and Social Security are calculated on years of employment, women are the largest group of elderly poor and the largest number of residents of low-income nursing homes…because they spend so much of their lives outside of the waged workforce in activities not recognized as work.”

But nothing is going to change that any time soon. The only thing that is changing right now is your fertility. And it’s waning.

Competent parenting begets a child who wants to be a competent parent.
I have no data for this except the hundreds of women I coach who say they don’t want children. I’m going to go out on a limb and tell you that almost every woman I coach who did not have kids wishes, by 40, that she did. And I have never met an adamantly childless woman at 40 who did not have a very, very difficult childhood.

When we have no model for being good parent it’s hard to believe it is possible to be a good parent. But the worst thing you can do after your parents ruin your childhood is to let your parents also ruin your adulthood.

So, for those of you who have a career that you live for, kids could ruin that, and maybe you don’t want that to happen. For everyone else, if you are thinking of not having kids, and you don’t have a career that you live for, you’re not being honest.

This harsh reality is true for both men and women, but men have so much longer to live in delusion of a just-around-the-corner amazing career. Women have to face reality much sooner because of biology. Life is about career or kids. That’s it. There are no other choices. You can spend your whole life trying to balance those two things that are extremely important to you. But don’t risk spending your life having nothing that is extremely important to you.

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  1. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I had a happy childhood and never wanted kids, I will be 43 in June and still don’t want kids. For most people life is about kids or a career – but most people don’t consider other ways of living/being in the world. Just because most people are scared to be alone doesn’t mean there is something wrong with it.

      • Ellen
        Ellen says:

        Thanks. It still sucks sometimes. But it’s better than being with a jerk. I would like to meet a more than decent person but…I have not. Yet. And if I don’t, I’m not miserable or ashamed. Life is good.

    • Kitty
      Kitty says:

      My school life was not fantastic because I was shy & bookish and a general oddball who didn’t have many friends, but my home life? It was fantastic! My parents were great and I consider myself extremely lucky to have ended up with a family so well suited to my particular non-neurotypically based idiosyncrasies (I was adopted as an infant.) Not just my parents, my whole extended family was pretty amazing and I was mostly very happy.
      I have never in my life had the slightest desire for kids, and knew at a pretty young age I wouldn’t have any. I did accept that it was possible I might someday change my mind, and gave quite a bit of thought to that “what if”, but as it turned out the urge to have children never materialized. By my early 30s I had no doubts at all. In my mid 30s I moved in with a relative I was very close to after her husband abandoned her & her young child, and helped her out with her daughter, who I loved (and still love) dearly. I was a pretty great live in Auntie/Nanny, but the experience made it abundantly clear that having kids was absolutely not for me, not even a little bit.
      I turned 50 last month and have no regrets whatsoever about not having kids. Quite the opposite in fact, and I am getting impatient waiting for menopause for finally happen.

    • Teryn
      Teryn says:

      Im reading a book called “Attached” right now and a couple things you said are almost word for word in its description of avoidant attachment.

    • Jackie
      Jackie says:

      I’m 28 and leaning towards not having children. It doesn’t seem to be worth it at all, on any level.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        There is nothing else. Which is to say ehat do you think os worthy of your deep commitment and hard work?

        Find a woman who is 40 and no kids. Look at her life to make sure that’s what you want. Because you don’t have a career you’re deeply committed to now, so you won’t then either. People who commit to careers do it early – before 28.

        So what does someone do at 40 with no kids and no career? Nothing has meaning in that scenario.

        People who say no to kids forget they ade weighing two choices. No kids or x. And x is not a mystery because we can see what women do when they have no kids. And I don’t believe you’re choosing that.

        I think you are living in fairy tale land where you are saying no to kids in favor of some unspecified unknown alternative life. But thats just saying no to everything.

        And when you do that life happens to you instead of you choosing to live your life how you want. Its a defense mechanism to say you’re choosing not to have kids. Since you have no idea what you *are* choosing you’re choosing nothing.

        Life is hard. Things that matter are really hard. And they require
        Bravery. Choose something that you can point to and envision and have the bravery to go after in a committed way.

        For most people the only thing thye can do that meets that standard for
        Meaning is to have Kids.


        • Brunab
          Brunab says:

          Hi Penelope! Great post; my first and only reaction to it is to say FUCK YOU.

          I’m not sure how you came to the conclusion that life is only about 2 things; career or kids. Thats an incredibly narrow view of the world and I really feel bad that you are not able to think in 3 dimensions.

          I AM that 40 year old with no kids (by choice) and let me tell you, my life is full in ways that your small mind probably couldn’t understand. Yes, there will be experiences I will never have because I didn’t choose to procreate, however, there are experiences parents will miss out on because they did.

          All of my friends (with children) and family are more than supportive of MY CHOICE. We need to stop shoving motherhood down everyones throat and stop telling women that their lives are nothing without kids. Its simply not true and fosters a huge divide between us women when what we should be doing is supporting each other in our choices.

          You are entitled to your opinion, but I have zero respect for anyone who puts others down for not following a path falsely prescribed by society.

          • Elle Combs
            Elle Combs says:

            I love your post! Good to see that not everyone is so narrow minded. I am 27 yo and I cannot begin to tell you how many people harass me about starting my family and having children. No matter what i say, i’m constantly given the line “ your too young and you’ll change your mind” or “that’s what I said when i as your age”. I’ve never had the desire or urge to be a mother and i swear sometimes people make me feel like i’m some sort of perverted weirdo that’s self centered and clinically insane. Even as humans continue to over populate the earth and destroy it with filfth and trash , i’m looked down upon for not wanting to contribute to more waste and crowding. We should be deemed saints, jk. But on a serious note, I truly believe our decision to not procreate should be praised and examined closely. Sometimes I feel ahead of my time and I wish other women could “get on my level”. My parents get asked what’s wrong with our family all the time since me and my four sisters choose not to procreate. The bad thing is, that the same people who ridicule us experienced teenage pregnancy in their own households. Seems like they should congratulate my parents for raising beautiful ,self sufficient , smart women that didn’t get pregnant at 15 and end up on welfare. Anyways, just blowing off some steam! I am done with feeling like a “half woman “ and a “weirdo”. No more self analyzing and punishing myself for being different.

          • Tenelope Punk
            Tenelope Punk says:

            Amen, sister! I used to think Penelope was smart just b/c she had original insights on Myers/Briggs stuff. Being INTJ, I tend to respect ppl whom I deem ‘smart’. However, I have come to realize that I should not take advice from anyone who has not successfully achieved MY goals.

            Snapshot of Penelope’s life right now:
            – 50 something twice divorced single parent
            – perpetually broke and living paycheck to paycheck
            – miserable and stressful lifestyle
            – constantly fighting with ppl, whether her kids, ex-husband, lawyers, bill collectors or her favorite, strangers online
            – researched ‘how to be happy’ extensively, yet happiness is as elusive to her as obtaining a good credit score

            My life right now:
            – 40 something, happily married for 15 years, no kids
            – financially independent and retired early at age 35 (all hard work, no help from others)
            – have been to over 50 countries and still excited about travel
            – I read and learn constantly and enjoy new experiences, never a lack of things to do
            – spend ample time with family and friends, have close relationships with nieces and nephews

            I have neither a career nor kids. Penelope has both. Whose life would you rather have? Who do you think is more happy?

            My advice: figure out your own goals, then seek the advice of those who have achieved those goals. Since none of my goals align with Penelope’s, I consider her blog as pure entertainment and will more than likely do the opposite of whatever she advises. :)

            Good luck to everybody searching for meaning and fulfillment in life!

          • Penelope Trunk
            Penelope Trunk says:

            This comment is a great lesson on how to tell INTJs from INFJs. This comment is from an INFJ, not an INTJ. Here’s how I know:

            There is a lot of truth to the part about me, and both an INFJ and INTJ can see this sort of truth pretty easily.

            But an INTJ would not spend time or energy writing this comment.

            1. The INTJ would assume everyone they want to communicate with already sees the stuff listed here. And an INTJ never talks just for the sake of informing people.

            2. In terms of women, an INTJ almost always has kids (its INFJs and ENFPs who don’t have kids).

            3. INTJs never hold themselves up on a pedastal for having a stable successful, whatever life. Because stabilty and success are super easy for INTJ so they don’t bother talking about it. INTJs talk about the problems they want to solve.

            4. INFJs care about values, so INFJs talk about what are right decisions and good decisions. And INFJs almost always think they are making solid decisions based on their strong values.

            5. That last line. INTJs don’t think in terms of doing what’s right for you. They don’t care. The end of the comment is very people focused. That’s what being an F is.

            The best comments are ones that teach us all something about ourselves, and this is one Of those comments. That’s another reason I know its from an INFJ — an INTJ doesn’t care about helping people to learn about themselves.


          • Tenelope Punk
            Tenelope Punk says:

            Wow, I didn’t realize how easy it is to fool you. Now I have to rethink all the times you’ve typed ppl after 5 min. I used to think you were brilliant at it. But now I can see that your over-confidence and narrow-mindedness masks your inaccuracy.

            As an INTJ with a true INFJ sister, I have witnessed how to emulate her in order to achieve an easier and more efficient life in the long run. Here are the reasons why I consciously decided to act like an INFJ sometimes.
            -grew up poor with ISTJ/ESFJ parents who were religious and adhered to a dictatorship parenting style, i had to fake ‘respect’ to them in order to survive my childhood. My INFJ sister loves my dad b/c he’s an SF and he’s so ‘nice’, I can only see him as a slow-witted, low self-esteem people pleaser
            -mistakenly went into health care for more than a decade (before I knew I was INTJ) and had to learn to fake small talk and complimenting patients in order to survive the job. Don’t you teach INTJs in your courses how to be or act more ‘likable’ to get ahead in their careers?
            -learned to temper all my emails with smiley emojis in order to get what i want (honey gets more results than vinegar)
            -learned to fake social niceties like saying ‘good luck!’ to avoid drama so ppl (and it’s mostly women) don’t think i’m a cold hearted bitch.
            -when my sister said I should socialize more b/c it’s ‘good for the soul’, I replied with ‘I don’t have a soul’

            I guess I can see why you jumped to the conclusion that I’m INFJ based on my comment; you didn’t know the whole story nor did you consider the fact that many types are much more complex and multi-faceted than you give them credit for. Well, now I’m going to counter your points as my real INTJ self, casting aside my layers of faked ‘F-ness’:

            1) INTJs have 2 modes: obsessed or don’t give a shit. While I don’t give a shit 97% of the time (which is why I have never commented on your blog posts despite reading for years), the other 3% of the time I am obsessed. I don’t know why i’m obsessed with certain things, perhaps a combo of my upbringing and culture, but I have strong opinions on this topic and therefore spent my time and energy writing a comment. It was actually fun for me, in a twisted way.
            2)This generalization is just ridiculous. So every single one of the childless commenters on this post are ALL INFJ or ENFP? I never even said I chose be to child-free. Perhaps I tried to have kids at one point but found out I’m infertile and decided to create a meaningful and happy life in spite of it? Or perhaps I contemplated kids for years before ultimately deciding it’s entirely too irrational to have them? Or I wanted to spare my kids from the suffering that is life?
            3)Stability and success are not ‘super easy’ for ALL INTJ (there you go generalizing again). I grew up poor with a painful autoimmune disease (which led to severe depression as well) and multiple gene mutations that decreased my physical function by about 70%. Having only 30% function compared to normal ppl, it was a huge struggle to get through school and work each day. Stability and success WERE the problems that I needed to solve and that’s why I talk about them. It was only my drive and determination as an INTJ that allowed me to succeed.
            4)I agree that’s what INFJ do. But I make decisions based on logic and whether or not something will work.
            5)I threw that line in to make myself seem less bitchy. The comments that are all snark are difficult to stomach for most ppl (according to my sister). I honestly don’t really give a shit about anyone in the world besides the 4 ppl in my life that I care about. I just want to avoid war with ppl so I write nonsense like that.

            I did like that you called my comment one of the ‘best’ since I like being praised for my insights. But my purpose for posting was not to help others learn, it was merely to show you how wrong you are. While INTJs can be insufferable know-it-alls, they especially hate it when extroverted know-it-alls spew incorrect info on a topic they know and care a lot about. I usually ignore, but couldn’t resist this time. Why don’t you ask Melissa if this is INTJ enough. I’m sure she fights with you on topics she really cares about and ignores you the rest of the time.

            Anyway, you totally went on a tangent when you tried to prove I’m INFJ and ignored the fact that the premise of your whole post, that a person requires a career or kids to have ‘meaning’ in life, is completely wrong. You know I’m right cuz INTJ are always right. (notice the lack of emoji to inform ppl of sarcasm)

            Tenelope Punk (would an INFJ make fun of your name like this? No, they care about ppl’s feelings too much. But since I’m a T and so are you, I just thought I was being hilariously clever)

          • Meg
            Meg says:

            Uhh yeah I have to say there are a lot of options in life besides children or career. I don’t want a serious career and I don’t want children and from the conclusions drawn by this article, that would make me sad and my life meaningless. As a 30 year old women, people CONSTANTLY ask me why I don’t have children and I have actually started to reply ‘Because I don’t want any meaning in my life’. This honestly satisfies everyone even if its ironically. Yeah, I’m going to miss out on that cool process but I’m just not interested in it and have never been.

            I moved from Oklahoma to Colorado and I spend my time exploring , hiking, and camping. I love it and I want to spend my life on it. People might say ‘well you’ll have nothing to show for your efforts as a child would provide’. But that’s just the thing- I don’t need any reward at the end of it all. We are all so terribly human, live and die, just choose what you want. We are not the center of any world where choosing out outcome is going to cause any kind of collapse. Cheers to being childless and still feeling whole.

          • Cat
            Cat says:

            Well said. I completely agree. I am 37 and have no kids and will not feel guilty or listen to narrow minded people such as above try to make me feel selfish for choosing my life. You get one life and unless you feel maternal from a young age it might not be your path. I refuse to listen to stupid people who can’t see anything other than their own way. They need to take their blinkers off and see how wonderful life can be whatever you do with it!

        • Elle Combs
          Elle Combs says:

          Have you ever thought that there may be other alternatives to a “career”? I don’t understand why you believe life is so black and white. Try being a lot more open minded. For a lot of people it probably makes sense to say they faced those two paths (career vs family) but that’s not the case for everyone. A childless woman at 40 (or any age for that matter) has an infinite number of ways to consume her time and energy. How narrow minded of you to say that a childless older woman that didn’t choose family or career would have nothing to do and no purpose for her life. People have passions. Whether that be helping others, volunteering, being an artist, world traveler, athletic, religious, etc. etc. If you having nothing to do with your time then maybe your just lacking passion. To think that a woman must consume her life with either a career or a family is insane. You can lack both of those and still be as busy as any mother or “career woman”. Some people choose to live life selflessly in order to help others. That means they sacrifice career , family, etc. Ever heard of nuns, priests, or the pope? Surely you don’t think they just sit around all day looking for something to do since they didn’t have children and they chose not to pursue a promising career. The same goes for a childless woman who works just enough to survive but spends her free time being a great friend, or volunteering at local soup kitchens, or doing a variety of these things, etc. You can be happy without children or career. You have to remember that some women aren’t able to have children of their own as well. And a lot of those same women don’t have the money to go through IVF nor do they qualify for adoption. To say that their happiness depends on them being career driven or a mom is insane. God made everyone different. Life doesn’t consist of the same two paths for everyone and I hope you realize that. If a woman lost her entire family (God forbid) or career, I can assure you that she could still find happiness and purpose for the remainder of her days left on this earth.

        • Natalie
          Natalie says:

          Madame I think you are the one that lives in fairy tale land if you think kids OR career is a woman’s sole purpose/goal/dream/journey etc… I don’t understand why you have to defend your stance on why having kids is so essential in life and nothing more. It’s like your defensive, probably because of your own regrets. I think you gave in took the plunge and decided to have kids and realized it’s not all its cracked up to be. They are fantastic but that would mean your freedom is gone. You have to care for someone else more than you care for yourself. Maybe your questioning your identity since it’s now attached to a child. These are all just assumptions that I probably shouldn’t be making because I don’t know you. But since you’ve decided to make assumptions for the rest of the women on this planet. Then you can handle it. I hope you stop assuming everyone’s purpose in life just because you didn’t satisfy your own. You said it right there that life is hard. To make such a statement as that, then your life probably is hard and not what you expected it to be. I hope you can find happiness and optimism and see that life truly is what you make it to be. You create your life your reality. You may have some regrets now. But that doesn’t mean you can be happy. It’s never too late. I hope you find yours.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        That is how most 28 year olds feel. Which is why having a biological clock is so difficult.


        • Jenny
          Jenny says:

          Penelope, you are not very smart. But then again most people are followers and can’t think outside of the box. I feel sorry for limited people like you. I hope you find your peace, because you clearly don’t have any.

        • Diana
          Diana says:

          Lol haven’t you received the same comments from women in their 30’s,40’s and even 50’s. Or are you just ignoring them?

    • rambo
      rambo says:

      Being ‘alone’ and not wanting kids are not 2 related things. Some people can be in a happy relationship for the rest of their lives and not want kids.

  2. megan
    megan says:

    I had my first kid at the age of 34, already well into my career, I am also that person at the age of 21 and 26 and 33… threw myself into work full-force. While I definitely have reset my priorities after going back to work, I am still producing at work and leveraging my abilities to grow within my career. I plan on being a VP someday and know I will get there. When I am with my child I am present and loving, he is my world. I am also considering having a second. So while I appreciate the message you are trying to get across it’s not an ultimate truth. I have a very supportive husband and mother, so maybe that has helped me on this journey, but I believe people can have it all.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I know so many scenarios of no-kids, wealth without career (good early investments), extended family support of major careers. I think this advice is aimed at middle class people. Upper class has a lot of support to make choices that aren’t so, all or nothing. Lower class doesn’t have practically any choice. Middle class gets stuck mostly with the go to work all day or raise a family all day attitude.
      That aside, I am friends with a lot of professional women married to other professionals that intend to go back into their fields earning a high income, a few years down the line when the kids go to college. All of my aunts did this as well. The thing everyone has in common was getting professional degrees and married before 25, and having 2-3 kids before 28, staying home while husbands built or continued their careers, back to workforce mid 40s. So I guess it’s just as ambitious, to do it all, but during life times that work. No one is just sitting idly.

      • Wejo
        Wejo says:

        I found girls who marry very early in their lives are the luckiest and probably the most who can “have it all “. They are done baby making by 25-28, get back on track /and shape by 34-35. Then back to work and social life that they left so early . They are more mature and dedicated and most importantly they still got the energy and health to juggle family and work. Good for them.

      • Nonya Buzniz
        Nonya Buzniz says:

        This is utter BULLSHIT. Starting a career in your mid-forties? Do you have ANY idea of the competition that is out there, with experienced and educated YOUNG people? Have you heard of ageism? What kind of medical clinic will hire a 50-something gynecologist who has NOT practiced in 20 years versus a 20 something, straight out of med school, young person? You are living a LIE and feeding this shit to others. We live in a HIGHLY competitive society where jobs are more and more scarce. Stay out of the workforce at your own peril…Be a 50-year-old Wal Mart worker worker with a shitty salary, poor health care, etc? WTF?

    • Russ
      Russ says:

      I agree with you, yes you can have all and also felt this article was one sided. Though I always wanted to have my kids but I recently don’t know how started feeling that I shouldn’t have kids. It’s all about acceptance I guess I accept even being a very good person (thats what friends and relatives says) I won’t become a good parent, yes I am financially insecure, have very understanding parents but I think what we both kids did to them? Nothing like leaving them or being cruel but we both were not an amazing kids, I will love to take care of my parents with what I have and care even better by earning more than having my kids and unable to take care of any one of us i.e. kids, my parents,I and my wife, it seems commiting four sins.

      I think it is to show society that you have kids I also have kids, I can also raise children or scared of being lonely in old age… Someone who will take care of us, what people will say, or he is not man enough or she doesn’t have guts to face difficulties of word, being pussy.

      I admit I am not a multitasker and my experience shows being good person doesn’t qualifies you to be a good parent.

      I see children of crooks,selfish people are doing well in school, work, life and to their parents………All my personal views these might change….who knows life is not that short.

  3. Tom
    Tom says:

    “the worst thing you can do after your parents ruin your childhood is to let your parents also ruin your adulthood.”

    I think this might be true.

    Unfortunately, I think I have done this.

    • jill
      jill says:

      This really stood out for me too, Tom. I hope you are able to change that. Adulthood lasts for a long time.

  4. Anna
    Anna says:

    For many of us it’s a Catch-22. Based on what my mom said (“working mothers are selfish”) I never aimed at a career because I assumed I wanted children. I have three, all born before I was 30, with a man whom I shouldn’t have married. I love my children, I’m glad I had them, and now I know: I could have been career-driven and happy without them — but I would never have known that unless I had them. To quote Admiral Ackbar, “Its a trap!”

    • JEN Garrett
      JEN Garrett says:

      When I see messages like “working mothers are selfish” it makes me sad. No! Just because a woman chooses to earn an income does NOT mean they are bad moms! How can we make that statement and then in the next breath say that men who choose to earn money and provide for their families are “good fathers”?

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        If you knew my family you would know it’s generational. Major pressure on women — by other women, not men — to conform. Very matriarchal. Men are almost afterthoughts, but on a pedestal. I can’t even explain that one. And I married someone who had the same family dynamic. I bought into it and it eventually wrecked my marriage when I decided it was a crock. The next generation are breaking the pattern, but my cohort either didn’t or did at a great price.

        • Anna
          Anna says:

          Also re: the “working mothers are selfish” comment. I heard it, had kids and no career. My sister heard it, had career but no kids (and regrets it). Our brother, one career and three kids later, said “Mom never said that!”

        • Ellen
          Ellen says:

          Lots of pressure on me from women as well, but why? I look at their lives and don’t envy them. Why do they want me to be as unhappy and make the same choices they did? So they feel less alone? Or what? No way. Not for me. Plus my cousin has 3 kids and she told me not to have kids, she said it’s miserable. I believe her. It does not appeal to me at all. boring hassle.

  5. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    I think it’s a fallacy to say there are only two choices. There are many ways to live, exist, and be in this world. I think you are missing a huge subset of people, but based on your blog, which I’ve followed since year 2, you probably just haven’t met a lot of those people. This post is very focused on US values and patterns of thinking, yet you are generalizing all women into two groups. No matter that the scenario, there are always more than two options. You just have to figure out what they are.

  6. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    Hi, P. My wife and I thought long and hard about this one. Then we tried to have a child. And failed. Then we got Jack Russell terriers. Today, I’m not too good at walking past toy stores. But all things considered, I think I’m on the right track. Especially as all our friends’ teenage kids are now telling their loving parents to f*ck off. Swings and roundabouts. I’ll take the slide. Further reading: Kind regards, P.

  7. JEN Garrett
    JEN Garrett says:

    My opinion is that having kids is a decision best made in a partnership because it takes two careers – one to fund the home and the other to manage it. Parents who chose to both work outside the home – if they want to have kids – should schedule accordingly. Who’s going to manage the household while mom works? Who’s going to manage the household while dad works? I firmly believe that woman today can choose to have both a career and a family, just like the men have historically been able to, as long as their partner is willing to take on the household management responsibilities.

    However, I do agree that both men and women have to choose to an extent between a GREAT career and kids. It boils down to individual happiness. If having an awesome career makes you happy, then it’s okay not to want to have kids.

    (Sorry for the long comment… I have strong opinions about this, obviously)

  8. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    I agree with many of your points. But I think you could broaden your picture by hanging out with women in their 60s to 80s. An inspiring subset raised a family and then in their 40s or 50s went to Uni (some for the 1st time or like me did a second degree in a new field) and had/are having serious careers in later life. Most men’s drive seems to taper off gradually from their 40s but many women get a huge second wind at menopause, stop taking any shit and do what they want to do. Rosalie Gascoigne was one.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      These women just fall into the both category – they had kids and a career. My point here is that if you have a career that is not particularly important to you — or you have a fantasy that you re waiting to find that career – and you have no kids then you have nothing that is extremely important to you. Most people have kids (who they love more than anything) and a career that is not the most important thing in their life.


      • Valerie
        Valerie says:

        I don’t agree with the premise of this blog entry. Marriage and a life of the mind with a spouse you adore is a wonderful way to spend life, even if there is no big career or children.

        • JoeE
          JoeE says:

          Valerie, I completely agree. That’s how my life is (marriage and a life of the mind with a husband I adore), and I am entirely happy.

        • K
          K says:

          Yes I agree.
          I’m a beautiful 38yr old female with a 28yr old nd of 3yrs and we don’t think we want kids…we like our life and just want a cute lol house and enjoy life.
          It’s too stressful to do it all….in my dreamland…i do it all…but in reality…eesh I don’t know…my job in customer service(17yrs)…can be stressful…but I get so stressed out bc all his friends always talk about…when are u getting married?…kids??
          I feel weird bc I’m not the norm :(

        • Gigi hall
          Gigi hall says:

          I agree. This is a disgustingly single minded article. First of all, it’s 100% possible to find a career you like after 26 (or 46 or 66…) and there are countless more options besides kids and career. There’s volunteering and humanitarianism and generally being a good human. A post like this could be really damaging to someone who hasn’t found their passion yet and thinks they have to settle for a career or a family that they might regret. The happiest people I know didn’t follow a stupid life script like this and are better off for it.

      • GenerationXpert
        GenerationXpert says:

        I agree with this statement. And I think it describes me. I have a job that I like and allows me to be creative but it’s not the most important thing in my life. And it’s a good job. Being a mom and wife is most important to me, but I wouldn’t be any good at those things without my job. I do wish when I was in my late teens there wasn’t this pressure on girls to SUCCEED! BE LIKE MEN! REJECT ALL WOMEN’S ROLES! I spent a lot of my 20s and early 30s feeling like a failure because I’m not really suited to rule the world. I think what Penelope’s saying is you really can’t have 100% of everything. I’d say this goes for men and women. You can’t be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and be the parent who does it all. But there is a middle ground.

      • Inge
        Inge says:

        Without wanting to have kids or being hugely ambitious in my career, I do have a thing that’s hugely important to me. And that thing is me – I am hugely important to me.

        My reasons for not having kids are many, including that I cannot be available 24/7 to another human being and I think there are far too many people on earth anyway, no need to add some of my own. Career wise, I work to live and not the other way around. That’s the way I function best, and that’s the way I take care of the thing that’s most important to me.

  9. Robin
    Robin says:

    I had a bad childhood and grew up never wanting to get married or have kids. I got married at 36 to an amazing man who also never wanted kids. Now I’m 45, not particularly excited about my career, and I do question whether we made the right decision…it does feel instinctual to want to have your own family. But in the meantime, I was able to buy a new car and pay it off in one year and we are planning a trip to Ireland this summer. Two things I probably couldn’t have done with kids. It’s a mixed bag…either way I’ll wonder what I was missing out on.

  10. natalie
    natalie says:

    “When we have no model for being good parent it’s hard to believe it is possible to be a good parent. But the worst thing you can do after your parents ruin your childhood is to let your parents also ruin your adulthood.”

    Unfortunately, this feels true. Even more unfortunate is the fact that I never felt the desire to create the big career to compensate. I’ve never regretted not having kids, but I always feel like I SHOULD want more from my career.

  11. Anna
    Anna says:

    One thing that always crosses my mind — your career doesn’t love you back, so choice of career matters if you’re all in. Worth giving up kids to find a cure for Alzheimer’s? Absolutely. To sell more Pudding Pops? Not so much.

  12. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Wow.. what a bleak post. I had a childhood with the typical badly divorced parents but.. I love my career (it’s a great one) and have two kids that I love.. it’s an assload of work and pretty stressful but I also have a partner who works and also carries his share of the load. I don’t completely understand this need to tell people life is an either/or proposition. It’s a lot more fair to say, it’s a LOT of work, there’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also doable with the right partner/support system

    • Selenium7
      Selenium7 says:

      I anyways said I wasn’t going to have kids but then met a guy who said he wanted to be a house husband and under those circumstances, I figured it would work out.

      But a few years into the marriage it became clear he changed his mind and expected me to be supermom. Nope. Was not going to be married and watch my husband watch me take care of the kids alone.

      By the time we divorced, my baby window was gone.

  13. Esther
    Esther says:

    It’s never this simple. Men have managed to have careers and families — women can too. Maybe what needs to change is the surrounding support structure.

    I have my own life anecdotes to offer: I’m the CEO of an early stage venture backed startup. I’m 33. Divorced with 2 kids. I have a partner but just as importantly I have a group of best friends.

    My ex (who is amazing and I love), my partner and the other 5 adults in our life coordinate together. This is what it takes to have an insanely demanding career plus an amazing family structure.

    We are super unconventional.

    I spent 3 months away from the kids last summer for work but they thrived — because their family is much bigger than just me. And bigger than their dad. It’s a whole crew.

    But I think that’s what’s missing — genuine community. Or extended family.

    With the right support structures women and men can have big careers and families… but it takes a lot of people to pull off.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for posting, Esther. One thing I think is really important here is how ubiquitous divorce is among women with kids and a startup. So few women are willing to talk about that. So I really appreciate you chiming in here with such candor.


  14. Krissy
    Krissy says:

    This is not true. Some people who don’t want kids have always struggled financially and don’t want the burden, some struggle with mental illness, some have had difficult childhoods and don’t want to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, some think the world is overpopulated, some think the future is too bleak to bring a child into the world. And what then for these people- they will give more to their extended families, they will care for the community, they will find other things to do with their lives. I don’t think its 97% anymore, its much lower.

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      “some struggle with mental illness, some have had difficult childhoods and don’t want to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, some think the world is overpopulated”

      Yes…so much this. These are a few of my reasons and they’re good ones. Including simply not wanting kids in my life. I don’t really like being around them or the whole mommy/kid culture thing.

      If someone gets SUPER bored (as you say) at 40 or whatever there’s always adoption (I’ve never felt the need for a biological child anyway). But avoiding boredom seems like a bad reason to have kids.

  15. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    What horseshit. This kind of harassment is what makes people have kids when they shouldn’t. Trust women to know if they can parent or not, even at the tender age of 17, 27, or 37. I was guilt-tripped into parenting and I have wasted my entire adult life so far and have nothing to show for it except two boys who already have rap sheets and I feel little to nothing for. Shut the fuck up about kids making your life have meaning. It’s a lie perpetuated by people trying to make meaning of the time THEY spent raising kids. Not everyone is like you. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have been a parent, and I’m not particularly career-driven, so your theory is bullshit. People find meaning in plenty of other things aside from work and kids and you do a huge disservice to young women by haranguing them about eggs and bullshit. People can adopt or foster if they realize they missed the boat and have a desperate need to pour enwrgy, time, and money into a person they may or may not like when all’s said and done. Many more people I know regret the marriages and kids they were forced into than regret not having kids. Remember the concept of YMMV when you’re dreaming up these hard and fast rules for living.

    • Laurel
      Laurel says:

      Yeesh…you are one angry lady! I cringe when I hear parents (usually women) say they regret having their children. When I found myself married & accidentally pregnant at 27, I was terrified of another human being looking up to ME for guidance, but surprise surprise: I “grew” as a human & found new purposes in my life after my daughter’s birth. I was afraid I’d shrink as ME when I had to put someone else first. Au contrare! I grew up with my daughter, got my degree at 50 & have a career I love now PLUS I’m starting a non- profit. Unfortunately, I have a 34 y/old daughter who is on marriage #2 & doesn’t want kids. Isn’t karma a bitch! Penelope: congrats on Juilliard! Yr oldest fan, Laurel

  16. Life With Teens & Other Wild Things
    Life With Teens & Other Wild Things says:

    Wow, to put it plainly… what a load.

    Caveat: I am 45. 3 kids- two bio and one stepdaughter. And I am happy with my choices, which have included being a SAHM for 12 years before my divorce and starting a small freelancing business which has supported us in the 5 years since my ex did a bunk.

    With that said, I know many young people and older people too, who do not, and never have wanted, children. And it’s perfectly ok to make that decision for oneself.

    I do know a few who changed their minds later on. And some who didn’t. And even some who changed their minds “too late” biologically speaking, who welcomed foster or adoptive children into their lives later on.

    Bottom line; there’s no “right” choice when it comes to having a family. Shaming, scolding, and “correcting” young people who have decided not to have kids is foolishness.

  17. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    In my religious tradition, women have a choice between the purity wholeness and freedom of virginity, and the calling of motherhood. But only one woman could do both, the rest of us make a choice.
    So when that BBC history presenter Lucy whatshername said she was too accomplished to have kids and offended all the pc folks, I felt that there was a deep spiritual meaning underneath it all….. and I love her shows!

  18. Susannah
    Susannah says:

    I have a great, high income job, a wonderful ambitious husband and a three year old daughter who is the light of my life. My childhood was tough and I never dreamt I would be where I am now.

    I strongly disagree with your view that women must choose between family and career. What a bleak thought and how antiquated. It is just not true. I hope your post does not put women off having babies or interesting careers.

    We should all be trying to achieve so much more. Having a great job is interesting, empowering, provides security and makes you feel relevant. Having a child is like nothing else. I feel blessed every day watching my perfect girl explore life and develop. And the love I feel for her is so deep there are no words to describe it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Guess I could have been more clear. My point is that there are only two things that are very important in a way that you can make a life around them.

      You can do one or both, but doing none is having nothing in your life that is very important to do with your time.

      The issue is not choosing kids or a career. The issue is you have to at least have one. I’m saying being childless and not having a big career is too empty a life.


      • Shannon
        Shannon says:

        Ah, I understand what you mean more clearly now.

        It actually kind of says something that most women commenting here are writing “I can have both!” (a point you weren’t specifically trying to refute – in this post at least) as opposed to “I don’t need either!” (the point of this post).

        That women had this somewhat incorrect interpretation of the point of the article in this way…totally supports your argument haha.

      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        Then my next question would be, what’s wrong with having nothing important to do with one’s time? There are 7.5 billion people on the planet and most of us don’t matter. Why not just enjoy the time we are given?

      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        “I’m saying being childless and not having a big career is too empty a life.”

        For YOU, maybe. That’s certainly not true of everyone.

        • Bookish Jen
          Bookish Jen says:

          I must have an empty life considering I don’t have children and a less than stellar resume. However, I can safely assure you that I have contributed more to society than Penelope ever will. I have been volunteering and contributing to my community long before it became a “cool thing,” by using my time, money and skills. Unlike Penelope I see men as whole creatures, not cash registers on legs. I do not waste money on Botox, pricey ovens (and I actually cook and bake), hired help, etc. I’m a giver; Penelope does nothing but take. I do not exploit vulnerable people and brag about it on-line and via social media. And I do not act like a perpetual victim despite a difficult childhood, mental health issues, professional and personal set backs and being the victim of a vicious, violent crime.

      • Eileen
        Eileen says:

        I’m still a little confused. It sounds like you believe that women can do “both” but then in your article, you wrote, “There are only two choices in life: career or family. You can look at anyone in the whole world who you admire, and you can see they picked either career or family. There are not people who have an amazing career who also put their family first.” Can you explain a bit further?

      • DanaB
        DanaB says:

        Penelope – sigh…, your over-riding point was understandable if readers decided to actually try. Instead, plenty got all hyper-emotional and took a large scale concept personally. Calm down, ladies.

        It’s one of my major pet peeves that reading and listening comprehension is SO POOR for so many. Trying to communicate well with people is nearly impossible if they insist on forcing THEIR interpretation on YOUR meaning.

        Think about that, folks. Because if you’re doing that here, how many others misunderstandings might you have going on with how many other people in your life? It’s a big deal.

        It’s paramount to actually understand a writer or speakers intent.

        • Joan
          Joan says:

          Really? Reading comprehension is poor? Perhaps you are the one who can not read…..What part of the following quotes do we not understand? We who know how to read know exactly what it says. What do you read here?

          “There are only two choices in life: career or family.”

          and this gem: “So there is your big job OR there are kids. I don’t see a choice in life besides career or family. There is nothing else with enough weight to matter in your life.”

          • DanaB
            DanaB says:

            You have missed intent. You assigned YOUR meaning to what Penelope said…..and meant.

            Read the second quote you posted again.

            Do these things really have to be explained on such a granular level? Like I said, if people would not take PERSONALLY an observation that was not articulated about THEM specifically, they would be less knee-jerk reactionary, could step back and see the big picture point she is making. It is solid.

      • JoeE
        JoeE says:

        “I’m saying being childless and not having a big career is too empty a life.”

        I have a decent career that I like, but I am not passionate about it, and I don’t want to be. I don’t have kids. I have a husband whom I adore. We’ve been married 25 years and I am blissfully happy with that life. I have an incredible marriage. I give my time to him, to me, and to my family, friends, and to my community. Helping people and animals in need (which is not my career) has been deeply meaningful for me. Being an artist has been very satisfying. So if Penelope is saying that you need a career or kids to get you through your 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s in a profoundly meaningful way, I am living proof that you do not.

      • Lynsey R
        Lynsey R says:

        I do not want children or a career. I work to live only. You sound very immature still to think a person’s life will be boring if they don’t have one of these.

        Life is do much more than these. What makes me happy is doing as much or as little as I want. I am not bored. If you need to be constantly busy maybe you should look inwards instead of making all or nothing statements.

      • AnnaT
        AnnaT says:

        Good god! *You* may have to have at least one lest YOUR life feel too empty, but this is one of the most solipsistic things I’ve ever read. People have all kinds of dreams, priorities, and ambitions in their lives. Many of those have nothing to do with children or career. Maybe their passion is for living in the mountains, so they serve coffee and wait tables in order to do it. Maybe they want to see the whole world, so they find ways to make money in between trips. Your implication is that meaning in life can only accrue to an adequate degree in two ways, and that’s both preposterous and myopic.

      • Sofia
        Sofia says:

        I thoroughly disagree and many people with a spiritual/wellness pursuit would do to. Your article is well written, but sounds incredibly shallow to me. It’s written from the perspective of someone who has failed to dive deeply into an ethical/spiritual life philpsophy. There are so many other reasons not to have children. Ethical – the planet is already over crowded – I believe that we should focus on taking care on the people that are already here. I would potentially adopt, but do not wish to contribute to an over populated planet. I do not believe that career and/ or children are the meaning of life. At least not for me. I believe in love. Love towards all. With children one will be stressed and exhausted, which will leave less time towards spiritual pursuits and working towards a better planet. Well written article, but your views are very narrow and these are the views that cause a lot of suffering in the world.

      • Kellie Patterson
        Kellie Patterson says:

        What’s your problem lady? What you’re Jesus Christ now telling us what to do or not to do? Go fuck yourself

      • Nancy
        Nancy says:

        I have to disagree with this “either or” idea. I never had a big career, but I had 3 small ones in succession, each of which improved other people’s lives. I never wanted to be a mother, and I’m so thankful that was an option, but I’ve had rewarding relationships with lots of other people’s children, some of whom have given me “grandchildren” to play with. And I’ve had a lot of fun, read a lot, and yes, traveled a lot with my husband, although the world is full of amazing places we won’t live long enough to see. Far from being bored, I’ve always thought life is way too short. And in a thousand years, nobody is going to remember any of us, no matter what kind of career you have.

      • Chris
        Chris says:

        Yeah it’s called being free to do whatever you want with your life. I hope I save enough money so I don’t have to work ever again. I don’t care if I am picking my ass watching Netflix everyday. You can do whatever you want if you have the means to do it. If you are married and neither want kids, good for you. If you want kids then wonderful. Ask yourself what you want out of life. Penelopes trunk blogs is not the answer just another opinion.

      • Natalie
        Natalie says:

        Ahhh… so since mother teresa didn’t have children nor a career, then she was doing nothing in her life. Such wisdom

  19. totoro
    totoro says:

    Things are not quite that black and white I think.

    I have kids and a career. I’d say my career was built around what worked for family, but I’ve also been very successful. The key ingredient for me was technology.

    I started my career post-internet and mobile tech and was able to work from anywhere. As a result I was able to start my own virtual law practice and succeed in a niche part-time with low overhead, and eventually hire staff to do much of the work. Now I’m in my 40s and retired and the kids are 17 and 18 and they have a great relationship with us.

    That said, I see no reason why anyone should have to choose a career if they don’t want kids. Maybe it is okay to focus on personal interests and just work to pay the bills too. Certainly would be less overhead without kids.

    And what about all those people who retire even earlier than me? Like in their 30s? Some of them don’t have kids and seem quite happy.

    Isn’t happiness the end measure of success?

    • jessicak
      jessicak says:

      Don’t most people call Penelope because they are unhappy with their choices to begin with? It’s a sample size of people needing help, she is going to come across these similar problems. I think it is reductive, though. A lot of women I know operate online biz and SAH, or can earn high incomes but choose to work later in life, and I have a few friends that do not have kids and have ok careers, but have great investments so a big career is unnecessary. They travel, they work a bit, they spend a lot of time with friends and out at long dinners. I don’t understand the work or kids dichotomy. What www about post 50, retired and kids grown? Are they less than because they spend most time on holidays, gardening, hobbies, or with friends? I also know a few families who retired young and are raising kids. Outside of children duty they have the same – hobbies, interests, friends etc

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        The issue here is how do we create a life where we spend time on things that are very important to us. How do we give our lives weight and meaning.

        And your example of people who have no kids and no career. I don’t believe for one second that “going out for long dinners” is a substitute for the deep meaning people get from working very hard at career or kids, or both.



        • Pirate Jo
          Pirate Jo says:

          I see. You think everyone needs to have weight and meaning in their lives. Well, if you are determined to believe that, and judge harshly those who disagree, don’t be surprised to find that those people simply write you off as someone who doesn’t get it.

        • JoeE
          JoeE says:

          “I don’t believe for one second that “going out for long dinners” is a substitute for the deep meaning people get from working very hard at career or kids, or both.”

          It’s not the dinners per se that are meaningful, but the fact that a person who is not embedded with children or a career can use his/her time to have extremely deep and meaningful relationships with other people. Neither a career or kids are a substitute for those types of relationships. Maybe when the kids are grown you can have that kind of relationship with them, but certainly not when they’re young.

          People who have important careers and/or kids often (not always, but often) don’t have time to really be there for friends, extended family, the community, or even their spouses. Our world would be much less meaningful without people who commit their time and passion and energy to creating bonds with people who are not their children and putting energy into something that is not their career. We need everyone in this world. We need people devoted to their careers. We need people devoted to their kids. We need people devoted to their parents, siblings, friends, neighbors. We need people devoted to the less fortunate in our communities. All of that is deeply meaningful and, with all due respect (I am a fan of PT’s posts), I don’t believe for one second some of those things are more valuable than others.

          • Joan
            Joan says:

            JoeE, what a great summary explaining why parents and career driving people are the most self-centered selfish people on the planet! LOL

  20. Melody Maynard
    Melody Maynard says:

    While there are obviously exceptions to the rule, and women should not feel pressured into a decision either way . . . I still feel like this message resonates with a lot of us. I like my job, but I could certainly live without it. After going through a few years of fertility struggles, I’ve become even more confident that having and raising children with my husband is my main mission in this life. Married at 18, expecting our baby’s arrival at 21 . . . wouldn’t change a thing.

  21. Sue
    Sue says:

    I don’t think you can take it at face value when a woman chooses not to have kids, and then says she regrets it after aging. It’s easy to romanticize having kids when you know it will never become a reality.

    Just as it’s easy for me to romanticize life with the man that got away. But the truth is if I chose him I would be arguing with him over money, sex and kids just as I do now with the man I married.

  22. Lindsey N
    Lindsey N says:

    I think people are missing Penelope’s point!!! For example, I decided to have children young because I was thinking ya I probably wanted them and I was not exhibiting any serious desire for an amazing career–I was studying business at a community college because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I was working a 8-5 job at a bank. I knew I eventually would want children– so my husband and I decide to have children I was 24 yrs old when we had our first. I did not return back to work because it was not meaningful and we had 2 more children. Fast forward to today–my youngest is now 4 and I have gone back to school on line and am 2 semesters short of earning my bachelor’s degree. I also thought it would be kinda cool to go back to work and after 2 mos at another meaningless job I quit because it was not meaningful!!! That’s P’s point. LIFE HAS TO HAVE MEANING– be honest with yourself and WHO you want in your life now before its too late. Women do have a biological clock and it will became too late if we aren’t honest with ourselves and do an open and honest self-assessment.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes. Well put. Thank you, Lindsey.

      This is about creating a meaningful life. This isn’t about whether or not you can have kids AND career. This is about you’d just better make sure you have at least one.


      • Lindsey N
        Lindsey N says:

        Yes!!!! Exactly and so well written Penelope. I love that you wrote this piece and I understand exactly what you are saying. Thank you. ❤️

      • Gigi hall
        Gigi hall says:

        This is like saying you better pick chocolate or vanilla ice cream or you are screwed. What about peanut butter, or Nutella, or pistachio, or rocky road or any of the other delicious flavors? Or being lactose intolerant and having a sweet piece of fruit instead?

        You can have one, both, or neither and be 100% happy and fulfilled as a person. Life is so big and open and exciting, and to guilt women into choosing one of two options is closing off the otherwise unlimited possibilities open to them.

        I’m sorry if you felt those were your only options and now are just writing posts like this to justify choices that maybe you regret or wish you didn’t have to make. OR if you are happy with your choices, maybe respect that other people will be just as happy for making other choices.

  23. gracie17
    gracie17 says:

    Agree with other posters saying this is too black and white. I probably would have agreed with your post 10 or 15 years ago, but over the course of that time I have worked with/for too many early thirties women who have kick ass careers with babies/young kids who manage it all quite well and happily, and don’t farm out the raising of their kids beyond using a nanny/daycare for a core part of the day. How? They are typically married to a like-minded partner who also has a kick ass career and they figure it out. Being single or divorced adds a whole bunch of challenges, but if you are talking about a simpatico couple, plenty are doing it successfully. The ones who really want it all have gotten extremely smart and organized about making it happen. The “pick one” mentality does not apply to everyone. I am old enough to remember “women’s lib” in the 60s. It was the smart, educated women who spearheaded it (poorer women did not need to fight their way back into the workforce, they never left it!) because they were going crazy rearing kids and coffee klatching. Their granddaughters are not going back, and for good reasons that have already been thoroughly explored–the intellectual, emotional and financial rewards of having a good career for those compelled to seek one. Your insistence on its unattainability is baffling sometimes. It’s not for everyone, but some people manage it just fine.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think I should have called this post: “If you don’t have a career you had better have kids.”

      That would have been more clear.


      • River
        River says:

        I don’t think people are offended by your premise (everyone has an opinion) as much as the way you are going about defending it.

        They are entitled to their understanding of the world and their own lives as well.

        What do you tell the women who ask you and are almost ‘out of time’ on both ‘windows’, I wonder…

      • KK
        KK says:

        “If you don’t have a career you had better have kids.”

        I adore you. Message received loud and clear.

        • Gigi hall
          Gigi hall says:

          Um, how is that not even worse?

          What about “if you don’t have a career….maybe you’re taking care of an elderly family member, or doing meaningful community work, or helping animals, or choosing not to have kids to leave a smaller carbon footprint and l leave a better planet to all the other kids in the world or well, doing literally anything else that gives your life meaning?!?!”

  24. Tom
    Tom says:

    I love reading the comments.

    I think the dichotomy described in the article is mostly right, but of course there will be exceptions.

    Fifteen years ago, I was dating a not-very-competent “career woman”, and part of the reason I lost interest in her was that she was so bad at what she did.

    A couple of months ago, I googled her to see what had become of her, and was so happy to discover a recent video of her with a baby running around that she was clearly crazy about.

    I think a lot of women may *think* they are career women, but actually don’t give a shit about career and are terrible at it. Whether they know it or not, they are moms-in-waiting — regardless of it happens for them or not.

  25. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    Not everyone can afford to have a career they care about and not everyone can afford kids. That doesn’t mean happiness is unattainable. PEnelope, you have both – a career and a family, so it’s impossible for you to know how to be happy without those things – because you have them. But are you happy with them? Happiness comes and goes. Everything does.

  26. Mike
    Mike says:

    Interesting that Sara Blakely has four kids. Did she have them after her business was successful enough that it didn’t need to consume her life any more?

    • DanaB
      DanaB says:

      Blakley had the kids after her big success was well established.

      Spanx took off in the early to mid-2000’s and she married in 2008 and had the kids after that.

  27. Valter
    Valter says:

    > There are only two choices in life: career or family.
    Oh, if life were just that simple… :-P
    Binary (or black&white) choices: the delusion of simpletons, ignorants and fearful people.

    > Everyone who has kids says they love their kids more than anything in the whole world.
    Of course! Because admitting anything else would mean feeling like a horrible person!
    We tell ourselves sweet little lies all the time.

    Besides, you forgot all the people who say “I truly love my kids but, if I had to start again my life, I wouldn’t have them”.
    Loving them doesn’t mean not having some regrets.

    IMHO, some people are born to be parents, and some aren’t.
    Stop pretending there’s a “one size fits all” solution to life; only narrow-minded and dishonest people do that.

    Lastly, women who choose to not having kids are already getting lots of family and societal pressure. There’s no need to add even more!

  28. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I spent so much time being lost in my 20s and now I have just hit 30, terrified that I’ll never catch up in the working world. And I know it’s a waste of time, being terrified. My mother had fertility issues and wasn’t able to have me until she was 34, then went straight into early menopause. Secretly I hope the same happens to me so I’ll be off the hook. I know that’s awful, and I have friends who are struggling with their fertility now. What I want is “success”, “admiration” and “freedom”, without really knowing what I mean by any of those (the narrow and short-sighted definition of not having to be terribly bored by kid-related stuff or pay for childcare, probably) and what I actually need is most likely just courage, or therapy.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Harriet thanks for this comment. You wrote:

      “What I want is “success”, “admiration” and “freedom”, without really knowing what I mean by any of those ”

      I think this desire might be the defining thing of Gen Y women. As a member of Gen X I don’t recall this line of thinking anywhere on our radar.


      • River
        River says:

        Ha. Those Gen Y women.

        Maybe the world was rather less rigid and rather more complex while they were growing up than the X’ers.

        I’m not here for kids. I’m not here for “a career” if career means I must have a job title made only of letters.

        Maybe I’ll spend more than “an hour” a day writing useless books, and feel ever so empty knowing I’ve reached someone out there with words that never instructed me on cutthroat networking or sippy cups.

      • Kitty
        Kitty says:

        HI THERE!
        50 year old Gen X woman here!
        My desire was always, ALWAYS for freedom and independence, both financial and personal. And to be happy with my life, which for me falls under the heading of “success”.

        So now you’ve met (at least virtually) a Gen X woman who had at least some of those desires on her radar.
        I’m certainty not the only woman my age I know who did or does. I wonder what kind of narrow sample of women you must know to make such a generalized statement.

        And I will add that none of my desires ever included having children. From as far back as I can remember I have had not even the slightest desire for them. I never cared for babydolls, thought playing ‘house’ was boring, never imagined a future where I was a mom or thought about what I might name kids someday. It was something that never even entered my thoughts.

        My family was awesome by the way. Parents and extended. My brother and I were loved & cherished, nurtured & encouraged, and my childhood was very happy as far as family was concerned.

        I have zero regrets over not having kids. At 40 I was thrilled when people stopped pestering me about it and at 50 I breathe a sigh of relief that menopause is just around the corner and then pregnancy is something I will never have to worry about again.

        • Not interested in kids nor big career
          Not interested in kids nor big career says:

          Another 51 yo who didn’t want to have kids. I’m married, and love to travel, which I can do more frequently than my husband.

          I did not build a big career (repeatedly said no to executive level positions that would make me work 50+ hours a week), but like my financial independence (two 6-figure salaries and no kids makes us very comfortable and capable of doing what we like best, traveling).

          I find happiness and purpose through contributing to important causes like Charity: Water.

  29. Jo
    Jo says:

    So basically you’re trying to say that all women want kids, and they put off having them because they want a great career, and if their career isn’t going great they should go get pregnant because otherwise they’ll regret it. Otherwise, it’s because they had traumatic childhoods.
    I’m so i just don’t agree. You’re basically trying to say that the only meaning you can derive from life is from either putting yet another child on an overpopulated planet or to toil constantly at work. You’ve tried to take a very complicated and naunced topic and simplify it. Personally I’m offended by your view that unless I’m great at my career I should go pop out a kid.

  30. says:

    How utterly condescending to those of us who had normal childhoods and made the CHOICE not to have kids.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You are right, in a way, that I’m condescending, but you misunderstand WHO I’m condescending to. It’s the people who choose nothing. They choose not to devote themselves to work or kids. I’m saying that life has a weightlessness that smacks of meaninglessness. We are defined by the hurdles we set for ourselves. Or we are defined as being too fearful to set up any hurdles.


      • Sydney
        Sydney says:

        You’re not choosing “nothing” if you don’t chose to devote yourself to work or kids. That’s just silly. I understood perfectly whom you are condescending to.

      • Sandra
        Sandra says:

        It seems too narrow to me to say to have a meaningful life is a choice between career or kids. A meaningful life is so deep, complicated, sad, funny and beautiful. It’s so much more than those two choices. It maybe your conclusion and that’s good for you, it’s just not the only one.

      • Alex
        Alex says:

        This is so insulting to those of us who ready your blog who don’t fit in your definition of meaning in life. I’m scrolling down the responses from you and just getting more angry. You can continue to insult the people who read your blog, but as of this reply I just read from you… I will no longer be one of them.

      • River
        River says:

        Yeah so basically you’re being condescending to your beloved advice-ees, but it’s okay because you’ve intellectualized it and are using big words?

        I’m going to go spend my meaningless time elsewhere now.

      • Debs
        Debs says:

        I have to say I agree with some of the comments here. It seems slightly short-sighted to me to state that you can only have a meaningful life if you choose for either a career or for kids. Not only can this be quite hurtful to women that for whatever reason do not have these choices, also the word “meaningful” means something different to each person.

        • Maria
          Maria says:

          This way of thinking (career vs. kids) is definately not applicable in Europe. There are so many women and men who dont choose kids and they also dont choose a career. They just choose a confortable quite and pleasant life. When I moved to Germany, I just dint get why so many people would choose not to have kids. I was wrong, like Penelope, in thinking that life was about carreer and/or kids. I know so many Germans that have a regular 9-5 job, are in their 40s and have no kids. They dont regret a bit of it. They just like to have a quiet and pleasant life. It is a different way of thinking and finding meaning in life.

  31. Chass
    Chass says:

    I’m 39 and have always known I’d never want kids. I feel 0 desire to have them and that’s never changed. I wouldn’t want to revisit my childhood, but it was normal. But I do have an amazing marriage to a man who is my best friend and still the only person I want after 16 years–we have good careers that pay us well (accounting), but our careers are not our top priorities. Our life together is our top priority. We each have hobbies, but most of our free time is spent together. We basically live in our own little bubble and it’s wonderful!

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      It’s funny because this is actually my #1 reason (in addition to other reasons). I’ve known my husband a long time and have a great marriage. Our little bubble is all I want and neither of us really wanted kids anyway. We both decided our marriage is our #1 priority and kids are nothing but a threat to that. The data supports this.

      We have solid careers and what not so we are still supporting Penelope’s point. I just never hear marriage as a factor in someone’s decision. Some people say depending on marriage is a bad gamble, but to me, kids are the low hand.

        • AngieP77
          AngieP77 says:

          I have always found it ironic that the trolls that have the audacity to insult another’s physical appearance seemingly fail to post a picture of themselves. PLEASE, Kellie, DO post a picture of your oh so “fabulous self”; I’d be genuinely surprised you’re not as ugly as you are in the inside.

  32. Katrin
    Katrin says:

    As usual, a persuasive post. But write a novel in an hour a day? No way, not unless it’s a hobby like crocheting. In fact, this very issue is a huge problem for creative women which means being self driven, persistent and having lots and lots of time to think. That’s almost impossible to pull off as a woman when you’re the primary caregiver of needy little ones. And currently earning money at being a writer is so hard that making the sacrifices to be professional is a no-win situation. I know many female writers who have chosen to remain childless because of this.

  33. Amy Harding
    Amy Harding says:

    Great post! Although I absolutely take issue with the opinion that ppl who don’t want kids had a bad childhood. I’m 42 never wanted them, perfectly fine childhood. Could not be happier with my choice. Same can be said of two very close friends.

  34. Lynne Reale
    Lynne Reale says:

    Conscious decision to remain child-free. Knew long ago my skills & interests would not result in an “amazing career”. Did however decide to build / create / construct an amazingly happy,content,exciting & flourishing life during my time on this earth of 35 years of adult life. 8 Have some regrets but definitely not about remaining child-free or “amazing career-free”. The costs were too high in relation to the results.

  35. Burro
    Burro says:

    As usual you have hit the nail on the head very succinctly!

    Thank you for confirming what I had suspected all along – with not much of a career to speak of, I am now headed for a lonely and impoverished future.

  36. Sydney
    Sydney says:

    I just think maybe you don’t have many friends who don’t have kids. I had a career I liked, not one I lived for. When I didn’t like it anymore, I retired at the age of 44. I’m 53 now and still loving retirement.

    Oh, and I never wanted kids (NOT because of my career, I didn’t care that much about my career.) I just never wanted them. There are just some people in the world who want an uncomplicated life, uncomplicated by work or kids. Finding stuff to occupy my time is not a problem. There are still not enough hours in the day.

    And I don’t buy that part about not wanting kids because of some terrible childhood. I don’t know anyone who had as nice a childhood as I did. And I knew back then I didn’t want kids. I think it’s the total opposite. I was so used to a cush life I didn’t want to wreck that. So I never did. You talked about your childhood as not being idyllic and you wanted kids. So I think maybe you have that part backward. People with traumatic childhoods want kids to go back and try and fix that. And most people didn’t have great childhoods, so most people have kids.

    • Pirate Jo
      Pirate Jo says:

      You and I are a lot alike.

      Being able to spend my spend my time free of both children and the annoyances of work WAS the goal, and I have achieved that. Now I am just enjoying it.

  37. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    First point: Humans are animals. Unless women have babies we will go extinct.

    Second point: Careers are a cunning trick to give men something to do and keep them out of trouble when they aren’t needed for border wars and plowing any more. Now we are tricking Good Little Girls to do the same. Don’t be fooled.

    Third point: Unless you have daughters you won’t have anyone to look after you and make absolutely crazy when you are a nasty old woman of 85 with dementia.

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      Hahahahaha! Having someone to take care of you in old age is one of the dumbest reasons in the world to have kids. Nothing is guaranteed. My bio mother is married to a child molester. She can rot. My boys have autism. They can no more care for me in old age than a pet rabbit. They’ll actually become homeless once I die, thanks to our rollback on social welfare programs.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Yes to 1 and 2!!!!!!!
      I can’t believe all the silliness women fall for. They think they get all giddy about careers in spite of the fact that they are women. Exact opposite. Obviously, it’s because they are women that they have such childlike naïveté about pounding rocks: expressing yourself! Leadership! Winning!

    • Laurel
      Laurel says:

      Hit the nail on the head, CC. Plus now that I’m an old (but very productive) fart, I “WANT” my genetic pool to go on! I have only 1 child who def doesn’t want kids. At my age, I’m looking at her decision to not procreate as extremely selfish. She is ending ME!

  38. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    It’s odd to me that people think that there are requirements to have or do something (kids or career) in order for life to have “meaning”. Especially when the ability to meet these requirements is largely out of one’s control.

    Life has meaning on its own. We are all going to have to play the cards we are dealt and no person’s life has any more or less meaning than any other person’s regardless of kids or career. It’s about the journey people!!

  39. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    What are the criteria for an amazing career? Is it salary and compensation level? Is it what you love and being good at it? Start up culture? Establishment company? Certain industries? A military leader? Savvy politician? I’m curious if we are only talking about Marissa Meyer level or not.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Are we talking about meaning or being engaged?

      Being engaged for anyone is measured at an individual level.

      At a certain point raising children ceases, and at another point careers cease.

      I understand women need to be prepared to have children pre-40, but don’t most people know this? Facts of life thing?

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I don’t know, really. This post and others like it from this blog are very confusing for me. I feel like she writes these posts for Melissa to get her to settle down and have kids. Otherwise, it seems like this “advice” is something one would find on a hyper religious blog. I am not interested in that.

  40. SP
    SP says:

    To Penelope, don’t pidgeon-hole the people reading this post by saying that they don’t care about this issue if they have a big career already. I’m 29 and have a seven-figure salary running my own company. I’m reading this post because I want to feel less socially stigmatized for not wanting kids most of the time. Don’t demean your readers by assuming their motive.

  41. Joan
    Joan says:

    I disagree that there are only 2 things in life. What a strange false dichotomy!

    I am middle age, and I don’t have kids. Does that mean my whole life’s meaning is in my job? LOL. I have a career I enjoy, but work moderate hours (40 hours). It is hardly the entire meaning of my existence.

    I have a great life. I have a great LT relationship, and have time to see friends. I have serious interests outside of work, and many passions and am constantly learning new things. I cook daily, play several sports, read constantly. Sleep 8 hours a night. I have lots of money, more than I will ever be able to spend.

  42. me
    me says:

    This post hit home (minus the kid angle, that is).

    I recently left a successful (all-consuming/soul-sucking) career after 25 years and now am struggling. I finally have all the free time in the world, but dont know what to do with it.

    My high-stress job sucked so much out of me for so many years that I barely had the energy/capacity for anything else. So, without the job, I dont have anything major to focus on anymore.

    The mundane things I never had time for – sleeping late,
    working out, going to museums, decluttering my basement, watching Law&Order reruns, etc – have been a nice change of pace, but definitely arent cutting it on the meaningful/passion front.

    I know I need to formulate a plan. But I keep getting stuck on the question: “So, NOW what ?”

      • me
        me says:


        I had always assumed I’d work for another five years, but I realized I just couldnt take the rat race job (+ hideous commute) anymore. So, I quit a few months ago (and now do a little freelance from home).

  43. ElKay
    ElKay says:

    The comments from women who didn’t expect/want an especially “amazing career” but also knew they didn’t want to have children are making my day. I’ve always felt so lucky that a) I came of age in an era when I had a choice about having kids, and b) I found at age 27 a great guy who wasn’t looking to have kids (we’re now 56.)

    Living here in a nice little hillside house in the suburbs we are no doubt judged and/or pitied for not having children, but I am living a fun, engaged, quiet, creative, relatively stressfree life (because no kids, we’d easily saved enough so I could leave my stressful corporate job at age 47 to pursue less lucrative but fulfilling creative pursuits). This is *exactly* what I had hoped for myself as a young woman–and I’m willing to set 60 years of living true to my self against those last lonely dementia years in my 80s with no visitors (because no loving kids), as some are predicting here! (-:

      • Elkay
        Elkay says:

        It depends on your meaning of “meaning.” I think everyone finds meaning in their different ways, as I do in my modestly “engaging” life. That could be one of the reasons that P’s post is rubbing people the wrong way. Meaning is so multifaceted and subjective. If the definition of ‘meaningful’ means an impact on the outside world, rather than oneself, where does volunteering or being a community leader or creating thought-provoking art fit into Ps rather binary vision of a meaningful life (great career or raising kids)? That vision does not take into consideration a broad range of people in infinite different situations.

        • me
          me says:

          Your post actually gives me some hope.

          Now that I’ve ditched my all-consuming career (and never was interested in having kids), I’m feeling a bit lost. Especially reading PT’s conclusion that we must have something huge (like career or kids) to have a meaningful life.


          Maybe being content – as you sound & as I aspire to be – is enough? Maybe other people need more than that, but if some of us dont, then maybe that’s okay ….

  44. J
    J says:

    I don’t want kids and I’ve had more or less the same stuff you’ve written thrown at my head since I was 16 and said I didn’t want kids. The thought of parenting bores me to death. It’s like a poorly paid series of chores. Also I’d prefer something covered with fur rather than skin.

    But my parents did a great job, I was happy and all is well. Their choices did not make me choose mine.

    I think breeders tend to view all non-breeders through the lens of their own bias. Breeders also tend think that their joy = everyones joy, their meaningful life choices the default somehow. There are websites where parents anonymously post regrets about having kids. Once you have them I really don’t think

    It is actually possible that there are other choices besides the 2: career and kids.

  45. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I choose weightlessness before I would choose dead weight (husband) or worse – concrete weights tied to my feet (kids). The thing that sucks is, it’s ok to condescend to women who don’t have families. It’s ok because when single women respond they are pitied for being “bitter”. And it’s 2017.

  46. Alan
    Alan says:

    I think this is a false dichotomy. Kids, Career, they are both careers – the product at the end is the focus. And you harvest what you sow.

  47. NT
    NT says:

    Really? All of human existence boils down to family or big career?

    No thank you. I have never had children, because I never wanted them. No regrets.

    I don’t have a big career, either. But at age 59 I can say I’ve so far had a very interesting life exploring the world, experimenting in half-a-dozen different fields of work. I am far from wealthy, but I DON’T CARE.

    I have enjoyed the freedom to follow my curiosity and my talents where they might lead me. I have never married, but I am in a very satisfactory long-term (8 years and counting) relationship.

    I don’t need to be famous. I have a home I own, that I live in by myself, happily. I have a great community, lovely friends, and an awesome cat. Life is good.

    I once was on a “big career” path. I was educated at elite institutions, and worked at prestigious entities. I stepped off and have never looked back.

    If my old age ends up being impoverished, that will be sad, but at least I’ve lived my own life, not someone else’s. And I’ll always have the interesting and self-directed life that has made me who I am. I am free to contribute much of my time and energy to the greater good hrough volunteering and political activity.

    There are many more than two paths to a meaningful life.

    • Joan
      Joan says:

      I’ve had a very similar life. I have much much more money than most peers with kids. People with kids live paycheck to paycheck. I on the other hand, own 5 cars, and spend lots of money on private coaching/lessons in several serious hobbies. The people who need to worry about being broke in old age are those who will 2nd mortgage their home equity to finance the college rat race of prestige.

      • L
        L says:

        Priorities are funny. Owning 5 cars would be my personal version of failing at life. Similar to hoarding, it wouldn’t be something that I’d be proud of. You use it as a marker of success.

        • Melissa
          Melissa says:

          I feel similarly, L. It’s like Joan is saying, “Life without kids has really helped me to achieve my dream of contributing to increased rates of childhood asthma!”

          The toll that private cars take on our environment and the health of all people is really high. That seems like a terrible way to give meaning to your life.

          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            I don’t suppose it’s occurred to you that Joan can only drive one of these cars at a time, and that therefore she can’t actually add any more exhaust to the atmosphere than a person with one car can?

            Collecting cars is not my hobby either, but I don’t see the harm here.

  48. Joan
    Joan says:

    These comments are refreshing to know many people who live well-adjusted, healthy, balanced lives. It is a distorted lens who thinks life literally only has 2 purposes: Work and kids. To the author, I say it’s time to get a 9-5 job and an serious engaging hobby. You will be much happier.

    • Miodrag
      Miodrag says:

      I agree with you. Being a parent is much more than working and caring for kids. You also have to take care of yourself. Do sport, engage with other parents, take care of your health and body, and so on…

  49. Lynne
    Lynne says:

    Childless by choice

    I chose to not have children when I was 13, and had a tubal ligation when I was 24. Before I was to marry, I told him clearly that if he wanted children he could not marry me. After 42 years of marriage, neither one of us has regretted that decision.

    We have 15 nieces and nephews. We have no expectation of someone “taking care” of us as we age. We have long term care insurance and a healthy portfolio to make sure we can hire someone to assist.

    Of the 15 nieces and nephews, only a very few would even consider having a parent live with them or take primary care for them. Having a child does not mean they can help. Additionally, geographically, they may not live close enough to help. The 15 live in CT, VT, MA, ME, CA, FL, AZ, NY, Vancouver, Canada, and Thailand. You tell me how parental care would work.

    I had an awesome career, went to college at age 27, got a BS and later an MBA to complement technical certifications. My husband and cat(s) are enough family for me. My life is enriched with knowledge and love. What more can you ask for.
    Make your choice based on what you want your life to look like. We always knew if we wanted a child later in life we could adopt. Not having your own child is not a final decision.

    • Totoro
      Totoro says:

      Nothing wrong with being happy! Also, I think if you do have kids karma often plays out – what you give you later get back. And there is not just kids or career for meaning – what about your life partner for one??

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