Last weekend I was sitting with a friend of mine over dinner and somehow the topic of having kids came up. "The older I get, the more terrifying having a baby sounds," I said to her, only half-joking.
As a single woman in her late-20s, the thought of children is only conceptual. Yet, since I entered the workforce I've thought about it a lot. The fears I have about having kids go beyond how physically exhausting being pregnant sounds and the fact that it means you can't have sushi for nine months. I know I would be having a child in a world where the financial costs are high, in a country with poor maternity and paternity leave policies, in a society where women still take on the majority of housework and child care, and where finding a truly flexible job is pretty damn hard. Basically, it sounds like a stressful clusterf**k.
I've read Lean In, and every Atlantic piece about "having it all" and the inevitable responses to those pieces. I've seen friends get pregnant and I've spoken to my female colleagues who already have kids about their experiences. In other words, I'm well-informed. And that's exactly why a recent New York Times piece outlining how young women are more likely than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers to anticipate pauses in their career paths for motherhood didn't surprise me.
According to the Times:
A survey of Harvard Business School alumni, released as part of the school’s new gender initiative, found that 37 percent of millennial women and 42 percent of those already married planned to interrupt their career for family. That compared with 28 percent of Generation X women and 17 percent of baby boomers.
At New York Magazine, Jessica Roy argued that this information proves we've "evolved past Lean In" -- in a good way. "Younger women, it seems, have given up the Having-It-All ghost," she wrote. "Maybe now they'll be able to Have Most of It -- which is all anybody really needs, anyway."
This sounds great -- and to an extent, I agree. We shouldn't feel obligated as women to be Super Mom, or feel as though we've failed if we opt for flexible hours over a CEO title. (Personally, I think being a CEO sounds terrible!) And "having it all" is definitely a bullsh*t concept which I am more than happy to never use again after I write this piece. Young women want to live saner lives, and they're taking steps to make that happen. Co-sign on all of that.
But the truth remains that the professional deck is still stacked against us as women. Millennial women who want children (or at least might want children) are being realists. We are looking at the the society we live in, assessing our options and trying to make pragmatic choices so that we don't end up (let's be honest) miserable. Yet, our male counterparts are still not expected to do the same.
To its credit, the New York Times piece does at least mention male attitudes -- but not until the last paragraph:
Men’s attitudes are also beginning to change. Eventually, that could lead to more shared responsibilities, though it is happening slowly. For example, 13 percent of millennial men said they expected to interrupt their careers for children. That is more than the 4 percent of Generation X men and 3 percent of baby boomer men who said the same — but significantly less than the 37 percent of women who said so.
It's heartening that male attitudes are (slowly) changing, but it's not enough for millennial women who are thinking about having kids now, or at least in the next decade. We need to engage men in this conversation in a more real way.
The data in the Times piece backs up the idea that women are just getting real with how hard it is to find professional and personal "success" without policies in place that support women -- and families in general.
In a Pew study, 58 percent of working millennial women with kids said that being a working mom made professional advancement harder. And the aforementioned Harvard Business School survey found that just "66 percent of millennial women said they expected their careers to be equal to those of their spouses, compared with 79 percent of baby boomers," and fewer millennial women than baby boomers "expected to succeed in combining their careers and family life."
As Rebecca Traister tweeted:
Millennial women should feel empowered to lean in or out or right in between. But as it stands, is stepping back really such an active choice? Or are we simply more resigned to reality?
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