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.

257 replies
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  1. me
    me says:

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

    P: Reading the comments, it sounds like “being content” is enough (or is the end goal) for several of us. Maybe ENTJs (and others) need to have the all-consuming child/career focus that you write about, but certainly not everyone does.

    I’ve had the big/long career and it didnt do a damn thing for me on the quality of life front. True, it did allow me to save enough money to finally ditch it on my own terms …. but that’s about it.

    So, my ISFP self will just have to find a way to create a meaningful life: *without* a career or kids.

  2. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Yes, it’s okay not to want kids. To continue my standard of living, I would have to marry a good man who earns more than me and I must save enough to quit my job and to stay and work from home. I would also have to treat my depression before I marry and have children.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Why would you not treat your depression right now, this second? Depression is not a mystery– I mean we have a strong stable of pharmaceutical solutions to treat depression. They are so safe that they are approved for pregnant women and young children.

      It seems that really you need to treat your depression in order to start living. So, you should do that!


      • Elle Combs
        Elle Combs says:

        One more thing …….. who in the world told you that most careers begin by or before age 27 or 28. Tons of people in their 20s don’t have a clear idea on what career they want. Obviously you don’t get to see a lot in your tiny narrow minded world. At least half of my RN (nursing) college class consisted of women in their 30s and 40s. Many of them had been forced to work right after high school so they never had the chance to chase careers. There’s no timeline on chasing dreams or gaining a career. You can kick ass at any stage in life (kids or no kids).

  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    Penelope, now I love your insight into Asperger’s and how your brains work. My husband has Asperger and out of all the books and blogs I’ve read, you make sense to my NT brain.
    But……I really really disagree with this post. I am not career goal orientated, I work to live, not live to work. I love being at home and learning new things that aren’t work. But, when I am at work, I am hard on myself and try to do a damn fine job.
    The reason I do not want have kids is, my husband has AS, and doesn’t want kids because he won’t have all of the attention and he knows he will not be able to provide the love and support to an NT child and says he would feel horrible if he brought another AS child into the world because he has had such difficulty in life. I don’t want kids because at no point in my life (I am 36) have I ever wanted to squeeze a person out of my nether regions nor attach it to my breasts, nor clean up after it and raise it. I never played with baby dolls as a child and have been repulsed by children for as long as I can remember. I also have Cystic Fibrosis, ADHD, Heart Disease, addiction and Bi-polar in my family. Between my husband and I, we don’t have a gene pool, we have a cesspool. Humans are humans and we all life our lives differently and believe different things. This is the first time I have read something from you where that ridged thinking that AS people are known so much for carried over into your blog.

  4. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    Well, at least Penelope’s clear about her biases here. You either dedicate your life to a big career that contributes to economic growth (by making things, employing people, etc.) or you dedicate your life to growing little capitalists. Rarely have I seen Penelope exhibit such rigid thinking, and I’ve been reading this blog for a few years now. Ambition is not distributed evenly in the population, and P’s ignorance or intolerance of that fact is startling. Not everyone wants a big career OR to have kids. Some folks want to work for social justice. Some folks want to be educators. Some folks want to be tradespeople. Some folks just want to live happy quiet lives. And I imagine those folks would prefer not to have their choices judged so harshly.

    • Tiffany
      Tiffany says:

      I agree 100% Catherine. Life is not just career or kids. That sounds like extreme black and white thing. Life gives itself meaning. And sometimes having children is not a choice. Some people do not have the ability to procreate. Black and white thinking like this is a bit absurd. What if the purpose of life is just to live it? What if someone is a great aunt, cousin, friend, or neighbor? What if someone takes care of animals? There are so many other ways to live a meaningful life and it’s really up to the individual to determine what the meaning is.

    • Pirate Jo
      Pirate Jo says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. But then, obviously we must have had terrible childhoods. (eyeroll)

    • MJJ
      MJJ says:

      Catherine, I love your comment. Agree 100% as well.

      And at the risk of a gross generalization, a lot of those people who “just want to be” may make the world a better (or if not better, more tolerable) place while the capitalists and little capitalists will continue to take and consume…

  5. May
    May says:

    How ENTJ thinking of you, Penelope!

    What if I want neither and just want to play around for all my life? :D Does that make your brain hurt?

    Well, I do want kids at some point, but it’s not THE point. I am also happy watching my time too (which I am. I will be having kids exactly around 34/35 lol). Then I want to boot them out when they are grown so I can.. continue playing around!!

    What if playing around IS my career.

    I think Penelope’s main point is, Career or Family are the big MAIN “meaningful life” anchors, so it’s best if you choose at least one and stick with it, but if you happen to have another long-lasting anchor that won’t fizzle out, you are the exception (and probably rich lol). Otherwise the rest of the world will kind of look at you as a bit of a loser, and there’s very few people who will be able to rise above that judgment.

  6. Jen
    Jen says:

    Wow! Such an incredibly narrow view of the world.

    I’m 38F, about 5 years away from retiring from my job (yes job, not career), happily living without a relationship or children. I had a wonderfully boring middle class childhood in a stable, loving two-parent home.

    My sense of purpose and value in life comes from within, not from some random external source dictated by changeable societal mores.

    • MJJ
      MJJ says:

      “My sense of purpose and value in life comes from within, not from some random external source dictated by changeable societal mores.”

      THANK YOU. We don’t hear this enough – about making personal, individual choices that are meaningful – on this blog. Life is not black and white.

  7. NotDeadYet
    NotDeadYet says:

    “Look at people who are 40 years old. Or 50. What are they doing with their days?…
    Writing a novel? That takes an hour a day. Doing yoga? That takes an hour a day.”

    ??? I’m sorry but what? Writing a novel only takes and hour a day? What world are you living on where this is the case, cause its definitely not in reality. My art pieces can take up to 3 hours to finish and if you have a detailed style it takes even longer. The time, research, drafting and revising it takes to make a novel go well over an hour. Honestly this article is a mess on all levels trying to mascaraed as a meaningful well-written article when it isn’t. Honestly I just don’t like kids, I don’t want to spend my life dealing with shitty diapers and crying, I would probably kill myself if I had to, it sounds that miserable. I personally believe it is selfish to bring kids into the world just cause you are bored or need fulfillment. It better to have no purpose then to expect someone to give you purpose.

  8. lagier
    lagier says:

    la façon dont on élève son enfant est souvent le reflet de l’éducation reçue et il en sera de même pour votre enfant. C’est un schéma qui se reproduit.

  9. Stacey Scoggins
    Stacey Scoggins says:

    I am 45 and childless by choice. I didn’t want children when I was in my teens, or in my 20’s, or 30’s, or 40’s and I don’t regret it now.
    I did not have a difficult or rough childhood. I had good parents and a stable family. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t terrible either. Just putting this out there.

    • MJJ
      MJJ says:

      I never saw anything in my middle class, hetero, conformist suburban neighborhood that I wanted, but I didn’t have a miserable childhood. I just thought that the norm of “daddy has a big job and works outside and mommy takes care of everyone else” looked horrible for both parties (talk about assumptions about what you “should” do versus what either individual might want to do) and I could not understand why people kept falling into line without question.

  10. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I can relate to a lot of this, but not working since 21, working hard since roughly 14. Full time jobs every summer since age 12, 20-25 hours a week during high school and then 4 years of college. I was tired of working. I had been working for nearly 10 years prior!
    I got married at 20 and had my first kid at 22. I missed my college graduation because I was 9 months pregnant and couldn’t imagine sitting that long in an uncomfortable chair without the option of getting up to pee. Now my oldest is 10 and I look at all my 30something friends having babies and toddlers and think, “I’m so glad I had them early, there’s no way I could deal with it now.” I have the entire rest of my life to work. I get really, about 18 years at home with my kids, and that’s all. I know I’m perhaps an exception-not many people are ready to get married at 20 and have a kid at 22, but it was a really good choice for us.

  11. MJJ
    MJJ says:

    It’s a fallacy to assume that all women have a biological clock or interest in children. Some do, some don’t, some never identified with what they were told “women” must do and must be. I’m in my late 40s and could never figure out why I’d ever want to have children – that’s what other people do, like “women.” I don’t have gender identity issues, I’d just prefer to be “human” – who can choose anything, than “female” – where mainstream society has already decided what I “should” do or not do in order to be mainstream and not scare anyone conformist.

    Not enough people make their own choices (which is hugely risky, because no one has your back, but who’d want to conform to this toxic culture)?

  12. Lindsey Sparks
    Lindsey Sparks says:

    I think a lot of this stems from Penelope’s own inability to be content and happy. Like many of the other commenters, I have a good, but not “big,” career. My husband is a teacher, and not one of those crazy teachers who works a million hours a week. I like my job, and find some meaning in doing well, but it is not the thing that gives my life meaning. I am 35 and have never wanted kids. At all. Not even a little. I’m not yet Penelope’s magic number of 40, but I’m confident I’m not going to change my mind. If something crazy happens and my husband and I wake up at 40 and suddenly completely change who we are, we’re fine with adopting. We’d actually prefer that anyway. But I don’t see that happening because we LOVE our lives. We’re happy. We find meaning in each other and in constantly learning. We are never bored. I think this comes from being happy with who we are and content with what we have. We are both smart enough that I’m sure we could have had bigger careers if we wanted (and I’ve actually turned down promotions), but we didn’t want to sacrifice the lives we have. I do not need kids or a huge career to give my life meaning. I feel bad for Penelope and for anyone who feels that way. I am not Buddhist, but if you’re struggling with feeling content, I highly recommend reading the Dhammapadas, the Buddhist path of wisdom.

  13. Joan
    Joan says:

    I have much much more money than most peers with kids. People with kids live paycheck to paycheck. I, on the other hand, can spend as I please. I live a ZERO STRESS life.

    Life or kids or zero? LOLZMFAO!! 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. Zero stress. Explore and learn and read every single day.

    Many people live well-adjusted, healthy, balanced lives. 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.

  14. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    What if you are devoted to family, but not biological children? By that I mean aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, nieces, nephews, parents, grandparents, etc. My extended family is close and I have family devotedness, but no children of my own at 37. I had a wonderful childhood and maybe that’s why I don’t want kids now. I saw how much my parents put into parenting and I think now if I would want to do all they did for my brother and me and I think nah. Who knows, maybe my great childhood made me lazy because I’m certainly not career driven either. I was academically driven all through school and I have a job, but after taxes I make less than $25K a year. I’m content to be a worker bee meaning I come in, work my hours and leave at 5:00 sharp and leave work at work. I’m present and put in the effort at work, but in no way do I want a job that also takes over the time I want to spend on relationships. My husband makes good salary and like the other commentors have mentioned we live in our little bubble of activities and friends and extended family and enjoy it. My closest friends are childless by choice as well and I think it says something that my husband is 17 years older than I am and the boyfriend I was with for four years before him was 30 (!) years older with a daughter ten years older than I am. Choosing men where children would have been a more difficult option shows that even on a subconscience level children weren’t a priority. If I had wanted children or a big career I would have found a way to make it happen already. Over the years I have wondered when that desire to have a child might kick in, even trying to make myself want to have a baby, but it just isn’t happening. Maybe in the next year or two that could totally change, but so far, no change. I’m content with a quiet, drama-free life that some would find boring, but I find fulfilling.

  15. B
    B says:

    Penelope writes provocatively because it gets more comments. But in this case I think she sincerely lacks respect for regular working stiffs. How can the lives of such pitiful conformist underachievers have any possible meaning?

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      I think there are a lot of readers who aren’t trying for an “amazing” career. They just want a job in which they can be content and that pays enough to cover the bills, set some aside for savings and have some left over for the occasional vacation. They have zero interest in living to work because that’s not where they get their validation.

  16. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    The saddest thing about the post is that it is unkind (and alienating). Penelope, you’re going through stuff and maybe this post was part of sorting it out? You can’t actually believe it’s a career or kids and if one doesn’t have either, then life is meaningless. You’re so open minded about so many things. People struggle with meaning and define their lives in different ways, what about people who NEVER have a significant other? I have a friend who doesn’t have a big career (she’s disabled) and she has never had a boyfriend. Her life is not defined by these 2 things (because it can’t be). I’m relieved to see so many commenting, single women (without major careers) are disparaged enough. It’s unkind.

    • Bookish Jen
      Bookish Jen says:

      Ellen, I can’t think of more self-absorbed, least “woke” person than Penelope Trunk. She simply can’t see beyond her own solipsistic world.

  17. Muriel
    Muriel says:

    Just one thing.
    Please stop with the biology lie.
    I had my first child at 36, on first attempt.
    It wasn’t luck. My older sister had her third at 39, on third attempt.

    Propagating fear in women is just wrong, and the information is false.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      How is it a biology lie and not just you’re not the norm in terms of reproductive outcomes post 35 years of age?
      Most people know that odds drastically decrease for successful, viable and healthy pregnancies post 35.

  18. Erhaha
    Erhaha says:

    This afternoon I was called into my boss’s office and reprimanded in a really roundabout way. After about 12 minutes of reflection I realized it was because she was terrified of my influence over/rapport with her boss. It occurred to me, as it has a half-dozen times before, that I could make a career out of this influence/rapport. But I don’t want to. I’m dying to be at home with my kids and tending to the gardens (metaphorical and literal). So I’m back at community college getting the prerequisites to go to nursing school so I can pick up a couple of third shifts a week so I can contribute to the household income in a meaningful way but still focus on what is most important to me. I’m very tired.

    But my point here is that I agree with Penelope. You have to CHOOSE one. Making choices is difficult, and I put it off for so long. Because of fiscal pressures, must of us probably still have to work even if we decide to focus on our families. But the point is making the choice and saying this is what I stand for and I will massage and maneuver my life to support my choice.

    I have to do the dishes now and wash my hair. It’s been like two weeks. For my hair. Not the dishes.

  19. Michael LaRocca
    Michael LaRocca says:

    I was walking along the sidewalk this morning. A lovely day in Chapel Hill. A bicyclist was coming from the other direction, so I moved to one side to let her pass. However, she got off her bike and said, “Where in the world did you get that bod? I thought you were a monster coming at me. I was frightened.” I just kept on walking by.

    I guess some might say I didn’t need that vasectomy I got 28 years ago, but it’s best to be safe about these things. Not wanting kids is just fine.

  20. Poppy
    Poppy says:

    I’m 31, will start trying to conceive in a few months, and I am scared of having ruined my options already, of course, but I’m also glad that I took the time to explore other options and realise none of them were able to give me deep meaning. I spent a few months writing full time, then working full time on my small business, then travelling with my boyfriend and, eventually, I realised as P. says that life is indeed very long and I really didn’t want to spend it as I was stuck in my 20’s. For me, though, it was more an instinctual decision that a rational one, but I’m ok with it.

    I do recognise that I had plenty of time to build a great career and I didn’t. But I’m proud of the person I built. I’m certain I’ll be a better mother now that I’d been in my twenties, and I’ll have a better partnership with my soon to be husband. I wish I hadn’t need so much time to sort it out, but I come from a divorced family and I kind of had to rebuild all my views on family and marriage from scratch.

    I agree with most points of this post, specially because of course it’s a bold, not enough nuanced post and it doesn’t talk about the corner cases, but it’s what makes people pay enough attention to really think about their choices. The rest of the world tells you bland things about how happiness is the only thing that matters and how young you are, until of course you are not young anymore and people start telling you that you missed your opportunity and should have known better. I wish I’d had more bold, not nuanced advise to pick from when I was younger.

  21. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    The truth is this post has been making me sad because someone I really love (like more than anyone in the world) has chosen neither. She says she’s fine but I think this post shows why that might not be true. I want her to just marry a really old guy and have kids.
    She’s still of childbearing age, any men out there?

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      The thing to remember about marrying the really old guys is they often have had their kids and don’t want more or never wanted them so it comes down to be with them and no kids or find someone else. Also, depending on how much older the guy is, the younger wife could find herself with young kids and having to take care of the husband if something happens to his health. It can be done, but I imagine the stress and heartbreak would be through the roof.

    • Lindsey Sparks
      Lindsey Sparks says:

      Are you for real? If you really love this person you would respect her decisions and not assume she’s unhappy because she’s chosen differently than what you think she should do. Can you not see from many of the comments that there are plenty of people who are happy with neither a big career nor children? I feel sorry for the people who think those are the only two things that could possibly bring life meaning. What a small existence you must have. There is so much more to life than that.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Exactly. Typical religious person throwing around nothing but judgment based on their skewed view of what they think the world should be like.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          My mother is one of those. I have to constantly use logic and reason and ‘respect others choices even if you don’t personally agree due to religious beliefs’. I have to hammer it home for a while until it sinks in or the subject changes. She’s an INFJ.

  22. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I remember reading this part of a post from 2014 and Melissa saying this to P:

    “She told me that I’m having so much trouble with my current life because I want to be respected for work, but I feel compelled to give my kids a great childhood to make up for my own shitty childhood, so I am focused on my kids instead of my work and it’s not fulfilling.”

    P got defensive about it, but I remember thinking THIS!!! Absolutely this. Melissa had INFJ ability on that one. I don’t doubt for one minute that P doesn’t love her kids, she loves them to pieces, it’s just all this intimacy emotional stuff isn’t her wheelhouse. Work is more natural to her and doesn’t feel like work, but the other stuff is “work” for her. She can be so astute about some things, but also may not always see that others aren’t about the same things. In her post about a happy vs interesting life, I think a lot of readers here probably go for happy even if it may appear boring. She may not see how anyone could be satisfied without a big career or kids, but a lot of the stuff she might write off is where someone else does get their meaning.

  23. Bet
    Bet says:

    I’m almost sorry Penelope clarified her stance. I think for most women, with no outside help, the choice is actualize your career potential or be the best mom you can be. Doing both is unlikely.

    I have a great situation. I got married, went to grad school, and had 3 babies—all in my mid-30’s. I stayed at home and taught adjunct for 8 years while the kids were little. My mom and dad watched my kids whenever I needed. We never did daycare or nanny.

    When the youngest went to kindergarten, I became full-time faculty. Now she is in 2nd grade and I have also started my own private practice. Throughout, and still, my husband has been the breadwinner. I’m very lucky.

    If I had to choose, children would be the choice every time.

    But I would also agree that one’s 50’s can be very lonely without career or children.

    • KK
      KK says:

      How did you manage that? Did you adjunct in evenings? Did you hire someone to watch your kids on campus while you were teaching?

  24. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    The comments on this article have reinforced for me a very valuable life lesson.

    Which is that a good 85% of people have extremely poor reading comprehension.

    Anyway, your articles have been fantastic lately, Penelope. I’m so excited to see how much you’ve been writing.

    • Joan
      Joan says:

      Really? Reading comprehension?

      Perhaps you need to look in the mirror. 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.”

  25. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    Maybe the word “kids” should be substituted with “relationships.” I don’t have kids, but I’m devoted to plenty of people in my life and to me, my relationships are a higher priority than work. That’s why I don’t have or want a big career. I want time to nurture those relationships. Taken from that angle, yes I can see how if you aren’t all in on a big career that you love and don’t have much in the way of relationships then that could get lonely.
    Also, I may not have a big career or kids, but my days are anything but long. They are going frightfully fast.

  26. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    Call me odd. I’m the following:
    –28 years old
    –No Husband/Never married
    –Not dating
    –No kids camp

    Still working on the amazing career + comfy life though.


  27. Joan
    Joan says:

    Anyone else LOVE having a stable boring career where you leave work at work? I’ve noticed that small biz Workaholics live toxic lives. People who are always “on”, constantly thinking of new ways to generate money and sales and new clients live toxic and 1-dimensional lives. They are also very boring people with no outside interests or passions except reading “life hack” self-help success lit trash.

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      I’m fine with having a job that I leave at the end of each work day. I’m not high up in the chain of command and privy to loads of information, I’m paid hourly rather than being a salaried employee and the environment is laid back. My biggest complaint about what I do now is the pay. If I were single I wouldn’t be able to do this job because I’d need more money to support myself. It’s a shame to think that someone who is single would have a hard time of it in my current job. I have a feeling that by P’s standards there would be arrows pointing at me labeled “low performer.” Doesn’t bother me, though, because overall I’m happy.

    • Poppy
      Poppy says:

      I feel that yours is a one-dimensional, toxic comment, Joan.
      First of all, because people have all sort of reasons to start a small business. Some people want to create their own flexible job and be able to spend time with their kids. Others want creative freedom or want to fulfill a long time dream.
      Second, because as a small business owner, I gotta tell you: it’s difficult and demanding to generate a decent income, and sometimes you have little choice but to be “on” a lot of the time because otherwise you don’t eat. So it’s not that we don’t have other interests: is that a lot of the time we are stressed and scared and buried in taxes and expenses.
      And lastly, because you don’t need to bash other people’s ways to get meaning for their lives to defend your choices. Maybe that one-dimensional workaholic is happy and fulfilled and pities *you*.
      I deduce by your comments that you felt judged by Penelope’s article. I’ve written this comment to try and show you how easy it is to become judgemental yourself and hurt others along the way. Hope it makes you reconsider and maybe write in a more compassionate, nuanced style

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Sorry, your analysis doesn’t make sense. Most of the USA is small biz. Doctors, lawyers, financial, retail, restaurants etc.

      Sure, at the beginning it takes a lot of focus to get anything up an running, but let’s not go around insulting and over generalizing our countries’ economic bread and butter.

      P.s. who are you meeting?!

  28. Hendo
    Hendo says:

    I loved this post! Partly because I just plain agree with the premise as clarified by you, Penelope, in the comments – that if you don’t care about a big career you’ll probably be happiest putting your energy into a family. Partly because I know the target market that this post is aimed at. If you are one of the 0.0001% of women who hit age 50 with absolutely zero regrets about having kids, then that’s great for you. I know too many women in their 20s insisting they’ll never have kids and a bunch of other women who never wanted kids but now they’re 38 and and they do. Or 45 and they quietly admit they wonder what could have been. It can feel like there are more around who don’t want kids but that’s because it’s too painful for those who wanted kids and didn’t have them to be constantly talking about it. I went from ‘I don’t know’ to ‘Hell no’ and back again twice before I realised I did someday want kids. I always say to younger women now ‘Just don’t do anything that prevents you changing your mind when you’re older, so you still have the option.’

  29. Lola
    Lola says:

    I’m 39. I knew at a young age I just didn’t want kids. I am simply not wired that way. I married a guy with a small daughter 12 years ago. There are plenty of women who just don’t want kids. You won’t find them reading about work life balance issues that often.

    I had a big career, got laid off in the recession and decided I didn’t want to fight that hard to get back into something I didn’t love enough.

  30. Nick P
    Nick P says:

    To me, the truth of this post hinges on how one defines “amazing career”. If it’s to be in the top 1% (or .01% or whatever) of your chosen field (defined by title, earnings, etc.), then maybe. To accomplish that may well take most of the hours in a day to the exclusion of your family.

    If, on the other hand, you define “amazing career” as something that meets your personal needs whether for money, prestige, opportunity to contribute in a way you find meaningful or other ways, then I’m not buying it. In large part because part of that definition of an amazing career is one that coexists with your family life.

    If you define it as having other people admire you because THEY think that you have an amazing career, then you’re hopelessly misguided and doomed to fail.

  31. Meg
    Meg says:

    I think this feed is interesting because every one gives their own opinion. Whether a person wants to admit there is one true God or not, He instituted marriage, which also provides us the choice to conceive if possible. He has the rightful say of how a household is run and how a household will work. It is very humbling and absolutely a precious gift to be able to have children. It is a personal choice by single people to get married…have kids etc. no one should be judging another person on how to run their household as long as the husband is not being neglected as well as the children. It’s a balance. If there is no balance there is no proper functionality because some where there will be suffering. If someone puts their career before their child and pays someone else to take care of their child(ren) and has no time or energy left for family…that is not balance. You can have a career and a family. When one has more commitment or effort than the other, that is where the problem is. This is not my own thoughts or opinions. All credit for this mentality goes to God, so before you go judging someone else…go take a look in the mirror and see how well you are doing in this regard. Don’t point fingers or start judging others because the one being that is the ultimate judge that really counts, will judge you someday. You might not like it.

  32. Robert
    Robert says:

    Everyone has his opinion and way of life but having a child is a source of inexhaustible happiness. As hard as the day was, when you go home and take your child in the arms, no more problems can stop you

  33. aquila
    aquila says:

    having kids in order to give meaning to your life is extremely selfish. you´re basically using them as a tool to make yourself happy.

    encouraging people to have kids in order to give meaning and weight to their life is irresponsible. i´ve seen and see on daily basis way too many people who had kids because “it was their time” or because of the pressure by their family/environment. so many people should not have had children because they were not meant to be parents and they make their innocent children pay for it. please don´t encourage people to have kids just because they have nothing else to do with their lives.

    finally, saying that life is either work or children is a very narrow-minded black and white point of view, which is ok and to be respected as it´s what you think and feel life is about, but i´d be careful implying or projecting my own values as absolute truth that applies to everybody in this world. you, me or anybody else has no clue what´s going on in someone´s life/head and what motivates them. telling people that their life is worthless and empty if they have neither of the two things you mentioned comes across as quite arrogant and judgemental.

  34. Jay
    Jay says:

    I find the problem with this, as flagged by others, is the black and white binary: Kids or career. Nothing else. You’ve tried to categorise 3.2 billion people into the world (lets say half the global population) into a narrow box and have presented it as fact. It’s sadder still that you actually believe it to be fact.

    As though there are the only 2 things in life that bring joy or meaning. That really is a limited view.

    It also seems to tell women if they have nothing else motherhood is the route for them, in lieu of a career. But motherhood just isn’t for everyone. And we really need to stop telling women that motherhood brings automatic meaning. It’s a huge huge lie. And so antiquated. You’re basically telling women, look if you don’t get paid enough just breed. What else is there?


  35. Jay
    Jay says:

    And on consideration the title of the post needed only a single word response instead of the lengthly vastly generalised article

    “Is it okay if I don’t want kids?”


  36. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    ” 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…”
    Not strictly true. My wife and I are retired. She quit her job when we got married (1973). That was one quarter too early to be eligible for Social Security benefits based on her employment; you need 40 quarters (10 years). She never did get a job after that.
    HOWEVER, the wife of a Social Security recipient gets 50% of her husband’s benefits until he dies, and 100% of those benefits after he dies if she survives him. It appears that Social Security law does recognize the value of childbearing and child-rearing.
    She also is the beneficiary of my pensions (by choice, and by law). She will not be in a low-income nursing home.
    Disclosure: We have been married to each other for 43+ years. The situation may be different for divorcees or people with multiple spouses and ex-spouses. I couldn’t say.

  37. Sergey
    Sergey says:

    I think your outlook is too dualistic. In general, “either or” propositions are problematic as they do not adequately reflect real life. It is tempting to simplify things in that way and we do it all the time but let’s be honest- we are just making up our own story there that helps us navigate the world.

    Regarding the subject, I know quite a number of people 30+ years old who neither have kids nor want to. Most of them do not have particularly earth shattering careers either. They just go about their daily lives without any grand mission. They seem to be fine, at least as fine as everybody else. We are born, we live and then we die- the universe does not have any spectacular plans for us and certainly does not force us between the two options you brought up.

    I really feel that the sentiment you are expressing is a product of pressure that white, Protestant-based middle class culture exerts on all of us. For myself, I find it helpful to recognize that social programming and kind of live around it. If one feels a deep urge to either reproduce or have an intense career life, then all the power to them. But let’s not spread the message that these are the only options for a happy, fulfilling life. As it is, there are way too many inauthentic people who are not helping anyone, including themselves.

  38. A S
    A S says:

    You have an incredibly narrow-minded view of life. There are far more options available to people than career or family. Try thinking critically and openly.

  39. Kymberly
    Kymberly says:

    I wasn’t given either choice, career or kids. And my part of a large community with similar issues – the chronically ill and disabled.

    Severe endometriosis and adenomyosis ate my fertility, but luckily I never wanted kids – partly from an extremely abusive childhood, partly because I am not well enough to care for anyone, let alone a child (with several painful chronic illnesses in addition), and partly because I would hate to pass these Inheritable diseases on – I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone! Of course, illness has also stopped me from pursuing a career.

    Please consider the grey areas and who falls within them – not everyone is abled and healthy.

    So you can get a feel for the world I and a large number of my friends live in – I’ve lost the ability to bend my fingers from psoriatic arthritis. As a pianist, this is the most distressing thing that could happen. Ask your cellist son how he’d feel if he lost the use of his fingers. And good luck to him for his audition results!

  40. Lorri
    Lorri says:

    58-year-old woman here. Never wanted kids and no regrets. Still don’t want them.

    I’m divorced, but if I met a man with a grandchild, I guess that would be okay. I care about how kids are raised and want the best for them, but I’ve never been personally interested in them.

  41. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Everyone’s getting riled up by one person’s personal definition of meaning and happiness, these are what the writer sees as meaningful things and therefore for her they are. I quite like working with kids and not having my own; working with kids is not a high flying career but satisfying and short hours to dedicate to what makes me happy. Our individuality, including choices and assignment of importance to different things, is what makes this world interesting!

  42. Bec
    Bec says:

    Your article manages to be condescending to both women who want children and women who don’t! Why does this is question always have to fall on the woman anyway? Men have fruitful careers AND children and nobody questions their capacity to achieve both. What if a woman wanted to focus on her career and the man took the primary care of the child/ren, or the couple share the parenting tasks, both working less hours and/or utilising childcare?
    Also there are many alternatives, it’s not career OR children. Some people take extensive breaks to travel, freelance, study and as others have pointed out…some people just work enough to earn money to enjoy their lives. We can’t all be at the top of the career ladder. This high-achieving, capitalist, binary mindset is what drives people into the ground and makes them feel never good enough. Each human being has something valuable to contribute, regardless of job title, income earned, whether or not we’re a parent.

  43. Sandy Ronson
    Sandy Ronson says:

    Unfortunately, she felt she only had two choices and probably feels like she didn’t choose correctly, so she now has to justify it. Luckily, I have many more choices and I’m definitely not choosing kids. I’m also not going to waste all my time on my career because I have so many other interests. I think people who have kids are more likely to have to focus on careers because they need to money to support the kids who are financially draining. I don’t need to remain a corporate slave if I don’t want to because I only need enough money to live for me.

  44. Sam
    Sam says:

    I read every comment. Very good debate on this chat. I’m a 35 year old male with a 34 yr old soon to be wed fiance. I don’t want kids, I feel like I already have no free time and energy to do anything that I want to do. Every day when I leave work I feel like I lost another day if my life and it’s fked up I’m working away my life. I just want to come home and relax. However I recently decide I’m going to have a kid anyway because I have been with my fiance for over a decade and she really wants a child. I would be doing this mainly for her. I know I would probably wind up loving my own child but still I really really don’t want to give up my free time. Anyhow I’m getting very scared because the time is coming. I still have very big aspirations of being a traveling DJ. My DJ career just started to pick up this year also with the gain of 1400 local followers. I’m voluntraly giving up my life’s dream and my desire for free time for my fiance. I hope she really knows how much I’m sacificing.

  45. Mariah
    Mariah says:

    I wish I could say I am surprised to read that it only seems to come down to two choices according to the author and a few commenters: Career or Children. This narrative has been pushed time and time again. I’m 26, married, and knew I never wanted to be a parent. I also knew that I didn’t care if I was this career powerhouse, as long as I was able to help support the household in a balanced fashion. I think it’s narrow minded to assume you MUST choose one of the two in order to have meaning in your life. I had a wonderful childhood with two loving parents who are still married. I never saw children as my future, and I never saw having a career as an end-all-be all to life’s success. I understand everyone has their own opinion about what’s considered meaningful, but it’s pretty presumptuous to say if you choose not to have children or a “successful” career you devote your life to, your life is meaning less and empty. Life is about choices, and what your neighbor chooses doesn’t always equal success for you. I don’t regret deciding not to have kids, or a big career. Choosing “nothing” means everything to me.

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