Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alpha Female

There's a mythical female creature whose sole purpose and meaning in life is derived from her career. She is career hungry! She climbs corporate ladders in a single bound! She tosses people (and babies!) aside as she claws her way to the highest levels of the corporate stratosphere. Her job comes before everything in life. She's like a man in women's clothing - an aggressive, ball-busting, over-achieving, Type A, workaholic. She leaves early in the morning. She stays at work late, burning the midnight oil. Her Blackberry is strapped on like an extra appendage. She gets big promotions and makes big bucks. She drives a BMW and wears designer suits - a true material girl. She is all about getting ahead, so get the hell out of her way! She is the Alpha Female.

She has chosen not to have kids because her job is too important to her. Career comes before everything and while she likes the idea of having a baby, she'd rather have the prestige of a high-level position, an inflated salary, a nice car and clothes. She's worked too hard to get this far and she's not willing to sacrifice or compromise her career, or take a few years out of the workforce to raise children. That would be a big step backwards for her.

The problem with this portrayal of the childfree woman is that it bears little resemblance to reality. Are there childfree women who are intensely career-focused? I am sure there are, just as there are many moms who are intensely career-focused. Are most childfree women Alpha Females whose decision not to have children is purely a refusal to compromise their careers? I don't think so.

In my experience, from my many interactions and interviews with childfree women, the majority have made the decision not to have kids for one or more of the following reasons - most of which have nothing to do with career:

1. She has no maternal instinct or desire to have children, or simply doesn't like kids.

2. She finds the parental lifestyle (and all the burdens associated with it) highly unappealing.

3. She is happy with her life as-is and doesn't want anything coming in and wrecking it.

4. She doesn't want anything to detract from her marriage and other relationships.

5. She has seen what having children has done to her family and friends and wants to spare herself the same awful fate.

6. She enjoys freedom, spontaneity and flexibility in her lifestyle.

7. She has many interests that she does not want to sacrifice.

8. Recreational time is very important to her - time to relax, read, think, dream, vacation, enjoy her time with her partner/spouse and friends.

9. She's done a cost/benefits analysis on having kids and has decided the cost of having kids far outweighs the benefits.

10. She has a low tolerance for stress and chaos.

11. She knows that having children is far too expensive (financially and otherwise).

The idea that all women struggle choosing between motherhood and career (or trying to do both simultaneously) is one that should be put out to pasture.

I am a childfree woman - probably one of the more vocal ones out there - and my decision to be childfree had absolutely nothing to do with career aspirations. Sure, when imagining a life with kids, I contemplated how difficult it would be to balance work and motherhood (since I am not someone who could afford to be a stay-at-home-mom). But that was only one small part of the analysis. Ultimately, my decision to forego the role of mother was about embracing the things in my life that make me truly happy - and relaxed - and fulfilled - and joyful - and spontaneous - and free - and realizing that most (if not all) of those things would go by the wayside the very moment I popped out a child.

In other words, I was simply unwilling to trade a life of:

A happy marriage
A quiet, tranquil household
An abundance of recreation/down time
Positive psychological wellbeing
Quality friendships
Full immersion in interests, education and hobbies
Financial stability
Physical and emotional health


A deteriorating marriage
A noisy, stressful, chaotic household
No time to myself
A stressed-out, burned-out psychological state
Loss of friendships
Loss of hobbies, interests, education
Rigid schedule
Financial strain
Deteriorating physical and emotional health

It's time people stopped assuming that there is only one real reason a woman would opt out of motherhood - that she is a driven, career-starved ladder climber. The truth is, many (if not most) of us have chosen not to have kids for one simple reason:

We believe that parenthood sucks - and we want no part of it.


lauracarroll said...

I too have found from interviews with childfree women that they choose to have no children NOT because they are alpha females who are living for nothing but their career. They have some of the reasons you list, and some would say in one way or another that parenthood sucks, but for lots of others it is not that clear cut. But in the end, their concerns outweigh their desire to have their life be about parenthood.
Laura, Families of Two

charmed said...

well said

Kristine said...

True on all 11 counts and many joys that pop up visiting my nephew in the Virgin Islands next Christmas (instead of buying a boatload of useless crap.)

CeCe said...

I have no career to speak of and I too want no kids. It wasn't a choice of one or the other-it was just a choice.

Rebecca said...

I agree! My work is so far down the list of reasons as to why I've chosen to be childfree, it's almost not worth mentioning.

What is worth mentioning? Pretty much what you've already touched on.

I treasure peace and quiet. I need regular "alone time" (even from my spouse) to be energized and able to give back to others. I am committed to volunteering several hours a week for a cause I believe in, in addition to donating to charities every month. I am concerned about the number of people on the planet and how having a child automatically increases one's "footprint", regardless of how much you try. I am frustrated at seeing friends and colleagues claim that their children (the upcoming generation) will be the ones to do great things for society when they could do those great things themselves RIGHT NOW! I am sad when I see friends and colleagues who are exhausted (physically, mentally, and financially) claim that one special moment with their kids, however infrequent, makes it "all worthwhile". It just seems like so much denial.

I trained to be a teacher and, during my in-class time, I realized that I didn't want to be a teacher. I could have done it, and done a better than average job, but I wouldn't have been happy with that career and the kids would have known it.

I see my decision to not have children the same way. I could do a better than average job, but I wouldn't be happy and the kids would know it. That's not fair to anyone involved.

Tiffany said...

Very true. My career is revolved around students, but I don't want children of my own. I couldn't imagine teaching all day and coming home to more children.

That said, my job isn't the main reason I don't want children. Parents look unhappy and exhausted. All the time. I couldn't do it. I don't want to. The desire to parent is not in me.

Fanboy Wife said...

My career has nothing to do with my lack of children. I can agree a lot with the items listed on the realistic list.

CFVixen said...

Excellent post!

This brings to mind an incident that happened at a family reunion (DH's side). One of DH's aunts was grilling me on "WHEN" we were going to have children. My MIL (mother of EIGHT) thought she was helping me by coming to my defense and said, "CFVixen has a really good job. She doesn't want to have kids and give that up." I know her intentions were good, but her argument was dead wrong. While I like my job, my decision not to have children had nothing to do with my job. I knew since I was a child that I didn't want children of my own.

Allie said...

I love your blog. I feel like I've found "my people" when I come here! haha
That being said, have you seen the interview that was aired on the Today Show this morning with the couple that has six children? If not, you can find the video on their website
It's actually named "Sextuplets wreak havoc on TODAY". I saw a piece of it on tv this morning, but had turn the volume down. It was that bad.

JK said...

Thank you! So well said. I recently started a new job and was told by my boss (who is a mother) that "all the mommies leave at 5, but you should stay later." The assumption that just because I don't have children means I don't have a fulfilling life outside of work (and that clearly, I should work longer hours than mothers) left me angry and insulted. I have many hobbies and interests, not to mention my own family of husband and dog, to attend to. While I have a good career, I am far more than my job and children aren't the only thing that make it all right to put my personal life before my work. I could speak for hours on this subject.

Dave said...

At the risk of stating the obvious, your list of the 11 things and the summary of the trade shown below it applies to childfree men (such as myself), too. Just change each "She" to a "He" and that's how I view things.

I never bought into that "Alpha Male" thing. I had never heard the term untl a few years ago.

Christy said...


I wanted to stand up and cheer at the end!

I think people just don't get it. When the "career-hungry" fallacy gets busted, another one will replace it. Some people, who have never known any differently, and who aren't capable of thinking for themselves in any other area of life, will never be able to conceive that there is a whole other world that exists without children in it.

I'm not all pessimism, though. Eventually, it will get better. Attitudes will change, I think, but it will be a slow process. I think that's why continuing to talk about it is so important. Bravo!

Spectra said...

I'm not intensely career-focused, either. I'm just not a fan of becoming a mom. My own mother dislikes kids and wasn't a great mom herself. I don't intensely hate children or anything, but I do know that having them around me 24/7 would probably drive me crazy. I really like my life the way it is...quiet, organized, predictable.

Gumby said...

Julie - I totally agree. That comment would have left me really miffed!!

There's one other reason I think you missed - genetic problems or diseases that run in the family. I have seen/heard of a number of people who have bipolar or other extreme mental or physical disorders who do not want to pass that on to children but STILL get people trying to convince them to have kids. Like it's really worth it to play Russian Roulette with your (potential) kid's life on the off chance that he won't have the same (possibly debilitating) problem as yourself!

That one just floors me. I suppose it's fine to convince someone to take such a risk when you're not the one who will have to live with a negative outcome...

Jake said...

Remember not to hang yourself out to dry, Childfree women. Sometimes writing as though "it's her decision to not have kids" makes it sound like you're doing it against your man's wishes. It can be a joint decision too!

punctuator said...

Don't know if this quite applies, but on a celebrity gossip blog (which for purposes of tact and/or Google-ability shall remain nameless), someone posted pictures of Rachel McAdams working in Paris on the set of Woody Allen's latest film. And someone else posted a comment along the lines of "She's got birthin' hips!" (Jesus criminy, the woman must be all of a size four on a "fat" day), which triggered a landslide of comments along the lines of "When she finally has BABIES, it will be the BEST DAY EVER!!!" So. Anyway. Rachel McAdams strikes me as at least a semi-Alpha. I know she mouthed some platitudes about mommyhood on press junkets for "The Time Traveler's Wife," but she seems like someone who enjoys her freedom, her privacy, her spontaneity, and her rest. Not to mention, she's fairly eco-minded, and nothing mushrooms that ol' carbon footprint better than babies. Can't see her thundering out onto the breeding path any time soon-- if (and here's hoping) at all. So, like I said, maybe this isn't quite on-point, but Ms. McAdams seems both career-driven and content with her life as it stands. And that "birthin' hips" line just made my blood boil.

Sea_creature said...

I love this post. I am not defined by a career, either. I have a job and for that I am very thankful! It's horrible out there right now.
That list was spot on for me. One of the most important things to me is FREE TIME. I couldn't imagine not having time for myself. I'd be miserable and bored out of my mind going through all the riggamaroo of daily life with kids.
Another thing for me is dealing with other mothers. I thought the girls in school were bad. Mothers today are like a bunch of high school girls competing against each other. They can be evil!

Cara said...

Great post.

One of the main reason's choosing to be a childfree woman is presented in this very slanted way is because, apparently, society is somehow still stuck in the 50s/60s and wants to condemn any woman as an overachieving, selfish workaholic who dares not breed. (You know, as if only "mommies" are unselfish when some of the MOST selfish women I've known are "moms.")

I think the more reasonable among us childfree will gradually change that perception...but it is a high mountain to climb.

Jah said...

I second Frugalista's comment

katie said...

I agree that the career woman / mom dichotomy is a false one. Don't we all know obsessively workaholic career women who then go on to become obsessively devoted moms, or who try to do both at once? To me, both paths require a temperamental similarity that's completely overlooked.

If I were inclined to become enslaved to a project, to sacrifice sleep and health, to abandon many of the freedoms and activities I enjoy, to replace artistic and social pastimes with obligations, and to experience a narrowing of my leisure time and enjoyment, I could as easily choose the High Powered Career Path or the Full Time Mom path.

I choose neither. Thank you for writing about the lack of imagination in the debate on childfreedom.

Serotonin Storm said...


Erin said...

@ Julie - Are you kidding me?! Put your foot down and don't fall for that crap (this coming from an HR person). That's one workplace issue that's always bugged me. My female coworkers frequently leave early to retrieve sick kids from daycare, attend school events, etc. Yet, once, I was told I had to "ask" if I could leave early due to something personal that came up unexpectedly. I figure I'm saving the company thousands of dollars every year because I don't have kids (or a spouse) on the healthcare plan - so I should get a break. By the way, are they treating the men in the office the same way, ie the "daddies " leave by 5:00 and the non-parents pull the extra weight.

On the article, I, too, do not define my life by my career. It's a good job and I like it, but it's my life outside of 9-5 that defines me and why I've chosen to be childfree.

Anonymous said...

I have never been, and, at nearly 35, suspect I never will be intensely career-focused/driven. I am still trying to figure out "what I want to be when I grown up"! I have had jobs that are semi-fulfilling (mainly at nonprofit orgs.), but nothing that has been incredibly thrilling or demanding. I am so not an alpha female when it comes to work. I actually detest the hardcore work lifestyle, and would probably drop dead from the stress of it. Hell, just thinking of it exhausts me!

I simply enjoy my life as it is. I have my husband, two dogs (who are challenge enough for me!), my writing, friendships (some are parenting folk and a few are not), and I love the option of QUIET, stress-free nights to myself, and the opportunity to be spontaneous.

My husband and I both enjoy having the opp. to travel when we have the time and money, and to not have to worry about schlepping children along with us, or dumping children at a family member's house. My cousin occasionally dog-sits for us, but usually we take our dogs with us, unless we go abroad.

And another thing--I have no biological clock (is this for real, anyway??) and no desire to parent anything other than "fur babies." I do not dislike children, and actually have a lovely bond with several in my life, but that does not mean I want the burden of caring for them 24/7. Most of my friends have aged from having kids, and look quite tired and a bit haggard in their mid-30s. I'd like to remain looking like a 20-something for as long as possible! ;)

Amy Guskin said...

Another great post. I find that this perceived dichotomy exists both in real life (non-fiction articles and books), and also in fiction. How often in a movie is the woman with children (or aspirations of children) the sympathetic one, while the woman with the career is the stereotypical bitch-with-a-briefcase? Bleh!

Retired Syd said...

I had a career which I liked. But mostly, I worked to make a living, it wasn't some "calling" or anything. I never wanted kids for many of the reasons you mention.

Paritally as a consequence of not having the expense of raising children, my husband and I were able to retire in our 40's. So much for the single-minded-career-focus theory on not having kids, huh?

Anna said...

This website is soooooooooooo cool. Finally, someone who speaks for all of us. Those are exactly my reasons! I'm so glad I had critical thinking and didn't get so brainwashed by the culture, maybe because my mom was always honest about the "joys" of motherhood.

Stella said...


I want MORE time for my hobbies and existing relationships. I would quit working today, this minute, if it were an option.

Tessa said...

I'm really late in this, but I just had to comment. I am childfree, mostly because I simply don't have and never had any desire to birth and raise children. I just don't, it's not me at all. But I have to be honest: the desire for a career is part of the reason I am childfree.

Women don't exactly fare well on average in the workplace if they have children, which has been pointed out numerous times on this blog and elsewhere. They won't be as productive, won't get raises or promotions, and often suffer other penalties. I have always wanted a career that I loved, ever since I was little. In fact, I would play career instead of mommy when I was in kindergarten. If I couldn't be a professor, couldn't be a part of an intellectually stimulating environment and teach what I'm passionate about, as well as learn from my students, then I would die a little (ok, a lot) inside.

I don't see why wanting a fulfilling and successful career, and having that factor into your decision to not have children, automatically makes you type A, selfish, and bitchy. I value my career and work hard to build it up, and I will someday take pride in my well-earned money and like to buy nice things for myself with it (I am still a student at the moment). My field excites me, and I wouldn't give it up for the world. Basically, part of me is career-driven. And I am nothing like what the "career woman" has been described as.