Is there a best time to have kids? So asks Dr. Peggy Drexler, a “gender scholar,” on the Huffington Post. It’s a quick read if you desire insight into the culture’s perspective on motherhood. The gist: how tough it is for us poor women that our peak years of fertility coincide with the most formative years of our careers. For those of us who choose the career of motherhood and homemaking, that biological fact is actually pretty convenient. For those who try to have it all and juggle outside careers and family life, it makes things difficult. There’s this shocking line in the penultimate paragraph: “women [who choose to have children earlier] may feel they are making certain sacrifices.” This is breaking news on HuffPo, folks. Having a child may require sacrifice.
When we talk about what’s best, we have to ask, “best for whom?” Feminists like Drexler worry about what’s best for themselves and their careers. I’m going to start sounding like a broken record here every time I review a motherhood article, but shouldn’t we be asking what’s best for the children? They’re the helpless, dependent ones, and we’re the adults. Where do their needs figure into this complex calculus of finances and earning potential and personal fulfillment? The decision to have a child is not like a decision to buy a house—it’s one that involves real, living people, who are utterly dependent on us. Assuming you are in a position to choose to have children (many of my still-single friends are not), there’s quite a bit to be said for starting a family when your body is designed to have babies, when you have the most energy to run after a little one. I want to state clearly that I have many friends who became mothers later than their 20s, due to later marriage, infertility, and/or adoption delays, and I’m not saying that they’re worse mothers. Rather, those who attempt to time parenthood around their adult agendas often neglect to take into account the time and energy that children require 24-7 for many, many years. In this situation, children are usually the losers.
Drexler meditates, “Spending your early 20s as a mother necessarily can mean missing out on, well, your 20s.” What part of my 20s did I miss out on by getting married and becoming a mother? As a career homemaker, I spent most of the decade investing all my energy into my life’s work. I didn’t get to party it up, bar hopping through the weekends, but the prospect of extending adolescence for another decade was unappealing, anyway. I didn’t get the weekly manicures that my single working friends could afford, but I was usually too busy getting my hands dirty with the kids. I didn’t get take a bunch of expensive vacations, though my husband and I have managed to visit some fun places with his job. I didn’t get an advanced degree like a large number of my friends, but I’ve been able to become a domestic generalist, baking bread, making yogurt, quilting, sewing matching dresses for my girls, thrifting, perfecting pie crust, managing money, making my own chicken stock, learning to cut children’s hair, and running a functional home. I’m not Martha Stewart, but I’m a pretty confident homemaker.
I’m not going to equivocate here. Children are work. Whenever you become a parent, you must sacrifice, at a different level than any paying job requires. Having a child requires a couple to grow up, or be miserable. My life, time, energy are not all my own anymore. I don’t look as cute and put together as my single girlfriends. My husband and I have to work and plan to invest in our marriage, because it doesn’t just happen. Having children through my 20s forced me to be a responsible adult right away, and I don’t think that was a bad thing at all.
So can we figure out a way to time having children so that we can have it all? No. As Elizabeth Carey writes in First Things, motherhood and career inherently conflict. You can’t have it all. But you can be everything to someone. Regardless of when you have your children, bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a worthy full-time job.