When I first moved to New York, I went to an event at an Upper West Side apartment on Jewish continuity. It was a small group discussing the degree to which we as young folks are responsible for the Jewish future. (Do I even need to mention that Chanel now would stay far, far away from such a situation? She would.)
The facilitator began the conversation by asking if anyone in the room did not want to have children. I almost didn’t raise my hand, but then I thought about the people who might want to raise their hand but didn’t want to do it alone, and also the fact that it was important for me to represent myself. It turns out that I should have left my hand down, because the facilitator turned to me, her jaw hanging open, and said, in front of the entire gathering, “You don’t want to have children? Why?” I don’t remember what I said after that, just that I wanted to disappear into the well manicured carpet. (The fact that I still remember it so many years later is evidence that it was slightly traumatic and that I am bad at letting things go.)
I’m thinking about this now because of this week’s episode of Opinionated, in which Samhita, Amanda and Ann Friedman discuss the “women having it all” issue. You should go and listen to the whole thing, but one of the best parts, as far as I’m concerned, is the conversation around what it might mean to have it all when you don’t mean babies.
The “Busy Trap” piece in the New York Times last week about how no one has any time also ties into this conversation. I’m not going to summarize it here, but as someone who is often busy doing things that people don’t always understand as being work, it’s pretty clear that we live under a microscope (which varies according to race, class, gender, etc) in regard to how we spend our time.
The irony is that while caring for other people is also not valued work (thanks, capitalism!), and the majority of people doing that caretaking are women, a woman who doesn’t have children whom she will then take care of is still considered strange, suspicious and even dangerous.
Do we get to demand work/life balance when our lives don’t look the way everyone expects them to? The answer, of course, is yes, but I suspect there’s a question not so deep below the surface of what women do if they don’t eventually have children. I mean, what will you do if you don’t have tiny time suckers running around, right? (Calm down, I’m sure your tiny time suckers are adorable.)