Since two people have jokingly asked, no, “Andrea” in this column is not me:
Last Saturday I chatted with a young woman I met after a panel discussion I’d participated in. “Andrea” has high ambitions typical of most young women today, but she also looks forward to marriage and a lot of children. She asked what advice I might have for her.
I was stymied, I must admit. She is already 25 years old and in no hurry to settle down, statistically about par for the course. Her career ambitions demand heavy educational investment, but to end up with her big family she should have started yesterday. A woman’s fertility peaks between the ages of 15 and 25. After 30, fertility declines somewhat, and after 35, a lot.
Andrea is a complete anomaly these days. There are certainly millions of women in the world who willingly accept and make room in their hearts for as many children as nature provides. And there are millions of women of ambition pursuing higher education and demanding careers. But there are hardly any women in both camps.
Ah, 25. At the time I had returned from an internship in Europe, was unemployed, looking for work and was in the midst of a relationship breakup that lasted almost as long as the relationship itself. Needless to say, I don’t long to be 25 again.
I never said things like what this “Andrea” has said anyway, though I might agree in principle. I did my Masters degree by accident, yes, by accident, and have generally speaking been nonchalant about “career” (in a meticulous, please, dear God don’t ever let me be fired kind of way). That’s one of life’s great ironies–you think you can control it but you can’t.
I’m not surprised Barbara Kay couldn’t give any advice. Because there’s no micromanaging life, fertility, babies or careers, which is the general opinion of this blog and the main reason why young, early 20s students who get pregnant unexpectedly should be strongly encouraged, indeed, admonished to keep their babies. Because life isn’t actually going to go according to their powerpoint plan anyway, so why not just do the right thing now?
Never miss a chance to express your opinion, so they say. Bottom line, that “Andrea” wasn’t me.
Véronique adds: As an higher-educated woman with a career and a super-sized family, I feel compelled to have a whack at this one!
First, she should indeed have started yesterday. At 25, I had three children and a law degree. But more fundamentally, she needs to know that she can have it “all”… but not at the same time. When I hear women ask how they can have an education, a career, a functional marriage and a family, I get the impression that what they really want to know is how they can have all these things concurrently. But the fact is that all these things must be pursued relentlessly to achieve success. As a result, “Andrea” must have vision, patience, and focused attention. All her decisions — starting at 25 — will be determined by whether or not they “fit” in the bigger plan. And that includes decisions about dating and education.
Secondly, at the risk of sounding like a crusty old goat, she must find Mr. Right. Because to be a working/studying mother of a large family, she will need a partner who is 100% committed to the end game and to the family. But marriage is never a one-way street and she shouldn’t expect her partner to commit to her objectives if she doesn’t commit to his. Teamwork and focus: both spouses have to be pulling in the same direction.
Once you accept that you can’t have it all at the same time, go ahead and have your children young. You will be healthier. They will be healthier. They will have the chance to enjoy their grandparents. And they won’t have to care for aging parents at an age where they should be starting a family and a career. In my case, I cannot say that I have it all yet. I have a solid 15-year marriage. I have half-a-dozen healthy and happy children. I have a house. I am healthy and fit. I have a university education. And finally, I am starting a career. But I make 1/5 of my husband’s salary with more education. And my peers on Parliament Hill are 10 to 15 years younger than me. All in all, I expect that by my 50th birthday — by then my children will be 14, 17, 21, 23, 26 and 27 — I will finally “have it all”.by