Why Being 25.4 Years Old is a Milestone in the USA
As a non-married 25-year-old woman in a committed relationship, it's something that wanders across my mind from time to time. Kids. Whether or not to have them, when to have them, how and where. It's not a consuming thought, and it's not even something my partner and I have discussed with each other yet, although we hint at it from time to time. But it's there, on the back of my mind. And a few things happend this year that have me thinking about this more than I have in the past:
1. Two people I know gave birth to their first child this year: a close friend in Tennessee had a boy in February, and my cousin gave birth about a month ago to the first of a new Candler generation. In my family, that was a big deal. Both of these ladies were 28 or 29.
2. The second thing that put this on my map was the article by Anne-Marie Slaughter that ran in The Atlantic this summer, entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." I was traveling back from Canada and I picked it up in the airport for some plane reading, and wow. In the piece, she discusses why she left her high-level position in the State Department to be with her two adolescent boys, and how her experience reflects the lack of equal opportunities for mothers (and why it's different for fathers) in the professional world. She cites things that she'd like to see change in the workplace in order to iron out some of the difficulties for working mothers and also for people caring for aging parents.
More than her personal experiences in the workplace, what struck me about her article was what she had to say about timing your kids. Deciding whether or not to raise children is a huge event, up there with the biggest decisions you'll ever make. The fact that (some form of) birth control is fairly easy to obtain, along with the knowledge we now have of men's and women's reproductive health as it relates to age makes timing a big factor. And for women with less flexible jobs or a meager maternity leave, waiting to establish some level of professional satisfaction before even trying to have kids is common. Recently, I spoke to a man who had always planned on starting a family with his wife, but they waited too long for him to achieve financial stability, and by the time he did, it was too late.
Which makes me think: are we making something extremely complicated out of something that's actually pretty simple? Yes, there's a lot to think about and it's a huge decision. But people have been reproducing literally forever, and you know what? I don't think it has ever been this easy. We have a lot of knowledge now and a lot of control over the decision now, and there might be some pretty hairy or uncertain factors, but at some point, you just have to say: yes. Or no. And stick with that. I mean, the reason we're all here is because our parents at some point decided to (or accidentally did) have us. It's not a new situation. If we all went through life trying to be extremely risk-averse, things would get pretty boring.*
3. And lastly, I just discovered this blog on the Scientific American website called Context and Variation written by Dr. Kate Clancy. In a word, it's great. She's a passionate, intelligent, and pleasantly articulate scientist dissecting popular discussions (and books) that deal with, in her words, ladybusiness. I want to go back and read every one of her articles, she's that good. That's how I learned that the mean age of a US woman having her first child is 25.4. Which made me think - hey, I'm almost exactly that age.
So why write about it? Well, I think it's an interesting discussion, and I'm intrigued by the reasons people have for making this huge decision. It's something we all deal with, at some point or another. What are your thoughts on having or not having kids? Are/were these things considerations for you? Did you read Anne-Marie Slaughter's article?
*A side note rant: I think this is important to think about, but sometimes I find this entire discussion a bit overwhelming. Women's bodies are so politicized - whether through maternity leave or abortion, as we witnessed in certain comments leading up to the election. It's one of those issues that makes me want to live 200 years in the future, when people will probably laugh at things like inequality in the workplace, women having to decide between being a mother and being a professional, and the right of a woman to exercise control over her reproductive decisions.