Keli Goff hits the nail on the head in her post "Why Women Shouldn't Want To Have it All" when she makes the point that for all the solutions Anne-Marie Slaughter lays out as necessary for more women to be able to "have it all," "she completely omits one of the most obvious: the need to change the entire conversation about how women define success, from a one-size fits all model that includes marriage, motherhood and career into a find-what-works-for-you model."
Why is parenthood always in the work-life equation? Because we assume that at one point or another, our personal lives will involve raising children. And we make this assumption because for generations, we've been taught to believe that parenthood is the ultimate path to fulfillment in life. We may have successful careers and do many other things in life, but becoming a mother and father is what's going to make life truly worthwhile.
The key phrase here is what we "have been taught to believe" about parenthood. To understand how we've come to believe what we do about parenthood we have to go back in time. Throughout history, valuing fertility was necessary to ensure survival. Leaders encouraged, even mandated population growth to offset population losses due to infant mortality, war and disease. The larger a society's population, the more it could expand and gain power. However, women's valued reproductive role didn't come without its downsides and risks. According to sociologist E.E. LeMasters, when a social role like motherhood is difficult, romantic myths need to surround it to keep it in its most positive light. And this is exactly what happened. Lots of myths exalting motherhood and fatherhood were created to persuade people to have many babies. The positive myths were emphasized, while the negatives, such as difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth, death in childbirth or the downsides of child rearing, were not.
Early feminist Leta Hollingsworth called the myths "social devices," as their purpose was to influence behavior. These "devices" created a set of beliefs called "pronatalism," which has driven what we believe about parenthood and reproduction for generations. Many "pronatal" assumptions were born at this time, including what The Baby Matrix calls the "Fulfillment Assumption."
That was then -- when having children was more of a necessity. The Fulfillment Assumption has stuck even though we don't need it anymore (because we have more than enough people on the planet now). Today, it's so ingrained that we just think it's "true" about life. Now, for many couples it is true; they do find meaning in their lives by marrying and having children. Many others, however, are realizing what's been true all along -- that parenthood is but one path to fulfillment in life.
Couples who have no children by choice know this to be true, and pursue many roads to fulfillment. What does "having it all" mean to these couples? They don't subscribe to a one-size-fits-all "childfree" model, but these themes stand out.
Relationship is #1
Childfree couples put the highest value on themselves as a couple. They know that to go the distance, relationships take work and cultivation. Part of "having it all" is the ability to have the time and space to devote to their relationship.
Cory Jones, who runs the site DINKlife (DINK stands for "double income no kids"), says that to "have it all" also means "growing as individuals through their life experience" together. Interviews with hundreds of childfree couples in long-term relationships say the same. For many childfree couples, part of "having it all" means that their relationship serves as a forum for personal growth and all that this can mean on the journey of love.
Die-hard Dedication to Mutual Support
Childfree couples "have it all" when they can support their partner's goals. While they have goals as a couple, these couples "have it all" when they have partners who deeply "value each other's pursuit of career and personal goals and ambitions," says Jones. They not only value it, but encourage, help and are really there for their partner in the pursuit of their passions.
Balance of Individual and Co-creation
They "have it all" when they have struck a balance between pursuing what is important to them individually and together as a couple. Many childfree couples have independent streaks and personal goals that are very important for them to reach in life. At the same time, these couples share values and visions, and work together to create those visions for themselves over the course of their lives as a couple.
In childfree relationships, Jones notes that this often includes "establishing financial foundations" together and sharing in the financial aspects of the relationship to make their visions a reality.
Freud said that love and work are cornerstones of life. Childfree couples' "have it all" model has these ingredients in a way that balances reaching their individual potentials with the ability to create more together than they ever could on their own. Each couple's balancing act shows us the many ways to find fulfillment without the experience of parenthood.