I asked this question recently to a room of bright, female scholars—all of whom are destined for greatness after their college careers:
“Can a woman really be a great mother and a great leader? Is it even possible to be both?”
I’ve been contemplating this question, stirring it around in the cauldron of my dreams, ever since I got to college. Not like I’m about to up and leave with a baby in the next nine months — that’s not exactly my point.
The topic of children, the possibility of and the implications of raising them, has become a permanent resident among many of my female friends in conversation, now that we’re in our 20’s (the ideal child-rearing decade, or so they say). It’s like this looming responsibility for all of us with womb carrying capacity:
“When, not if, are you going to have children?”
I think it’s a perfectly reasonable and logical question to ask oneself, especially if you’re a female intent on making an impact in your working life. I’m not the kind of female who’s just in college to find a husband and earn a degree because she has to, because that’s what’s expected of women in the American 21st century. Maybe that’s you — but it’s certainly not me.
I’m over here, day-dreaming about the various graduate and PhD programs I’ll one day pursue, while some of my friends are practically setting the birthdate of their first-born child.
So, back to my original question:
“Is it possible to have both? Can a woman be taken seriously for her work, and be an accomplished academic, while still being a mother?”
I’ve come to think that there is evidence for both sides of this particular dilemma.
On the one hand, a female like myself could make the argument that the world is already too overpopulated (7.4 billion and counting) and exceeding its carrying capacity, so it’s not exactly necessary to “make” the next generation.
She could, instead, focus her career on equipping the next generation of global leaders with vital skills, fostering within them confidence, intelligence, and empathy, without being a literal “mother” herself. Her role in the professional sphere could be seen as a mother-like figure — though she may not necessarily choose to be seen as this gender-constructed personality herself.
I’ve seen it done, and I’ve seen these women lead successful, enriching, and impactful lives. There’s no reason to think that my life would be any less meaningful should I choose to not have my own children.
But, then again, I wonder if — I worry — our next generation won’t come to realize some of the truths I’ve come to know: That the world is in desperate need of global cooperation and innovation to solve the human-impacted phenomena of climate change, human rights issues, and unfettered access to medical resources and assistance.
Why should the next generation of learners and thinkers have to re-discover these truths? Doesn’t global change start with peer-to-peer education and small steps on a family-unit basis?
Basically, on some ego-centric continuum, I’m fearful that the world will cease to progress should I choose to not bring up the next generation.
(That’s a lot of hypothetical and generational responsibility on one young woman’s shoulders, let me tell you!)
But this conversation doesn’t end here. What I learned from this particular discussion with the female scholars — and ruminating on the topic for quite some months — is that a female’s decision to pursue her career, pursue mothership, or pursue both, should be one that is purposeful. Intention is really the key to a successful and bountiful life in all aspects.
Only by refusing to forge our own path, make our own decisions, or commit to our own destiny, do we fail to become self-actualized human beings.
It starts with our choices, and our choices set us free.
This essay also appears on Medium