One day, my grandmother and I were sitting on her burnt orange, microfiber sofa discussing everything from pop culture to the latest family gossip.
“You know, *Anna and Chris are both extremely successful and wealthy. But they’re in their mid-50s and don’t have any children,” she said, referring to our cousins. “See, you’ve got to be very careful with that sort of thing. You look up one day and have all the money in the world, but nobody to leave it to.”
Those words have stuck with me for quite some time. My grandmother is of the generation when you married, worked a job (not a career, there’s a huge difference), and you had children. Our grandmothers worked, but their children had a home cooked meal every night, the house was cleaned, clothes were washed, and the majority of childcare fell to the women. But children were the joy of a woman’s life. Desiring to be childless was rare; and women without children were viewed just as my grandmother viewed our cousin—somewhat of a failure as a woman.
However, the number of women today who don’t want to marry or raise children is steadily rising. The women of Generations X and Y call their own shots more than their mothers, and their mother’s mothers, ever did. Women are consciously choosing to chase dreams, build careers, and make a name for themselves before even thinking of starting a family. I am one of those women. But what about the ambitious women who do want a family, but run out of time?
While Anna was focused on her career, years were passing her by. She had the intention of dating, but her work consumed her. But she still had time. As she aged, the pickings of eligible men decreased dramatically, if only for the reason that women outnumber men. Anna finally met the love of her life, they married, and both continued to work in their demanding fields. They lived and breathed their careers. They discussed having children, but the time never seemed right. Besides, they wanted to enjoy marital bliss for at least two years before conceiving. Anna’s 50th birthday celebration rolled around and she realized that biologically having a child was probably not in the cards for her. She never meant for this to happen. But time slipped away from her as she was embarking on her career.
Of course, there are countless women who have it all—the career, a healthy marriage, and children. Yet when I think about the most successful woman in the world, Oprah, her wealth and power aren’t all I think of. Her aloneness is linked to the magnitude of her success. I wonder if, for Oprah, it was all worth it.
Naomi Campbell, Janet Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, and Vivica Fox are only a few other women in their 40s, with fame, glamour and success, but no families of their own. Perhaps by choice, but maybe not.
I understand patriarchy has conditioned women to believe that their greatest achievement is the having of children. I don’t agree that this traditional construct should be imposed on us. Women are not a monolith; and we all have different ideas of what we want for our lives, and how we define success. But for the women who believe that Clair Huxtable was the epitome of the ideal woman, and aspire to be Clair-ish, how do we slow down long enough to make sure that all of our dreams come true, and not just the one that earns us an office overlooking the East River with the six-figure salary?
An ambitious woman is a beautiful thing. But the cost of chasing our dreams was never supposed to be so high; so high that we forfeit the opportunity to have the very things we once considered to be a part of the equation.
As our mother’s daughters, we were taught to take care of ourselves above all else. Inevitably that created a generation of women whose focus reached far beyond staying in the home, cooking three meals a day. We desired to be the masters of our fates, knowing we could make it with, or without, a man. But what some of us didn’t learn was that success usually comes with a hefty price.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those mentioned in this piece.