Why I will tell my daughter to marry and have babies young



Your uterus and ovaries take a turn for the worse at age 27. Age 35? Yours is officially a high-risk pregnancy. Come 40 — forget it. Your chances of having a baby without significant fertility treatments are slim. Women who find themselves facing those chances often also find themselves devastated and broke.

These are facts. Not trends or social movements. You cannot change biology.

Other facts: humans find relationships with other humans to be the most important and enjoyable parts of their lives. Relationships with romantic partners. Relationships with children. Another force of biology.

And yet. And yet this weekend I read with horror in The New York Times Magazine article about college women and the hookup culture, which found that young women are a) so busy pursuing their careers that they don’t have time for real boyfriends, and instead have “hookup buddies” and dole out copious numbers of blow jobs as the sole way they connect with men, b) College women are not factoring in a husband or children into near-term goals, c) College guys get what they want sexually because they are now the minority, and market economics dictates they have the power to get what they want sexually. And what they want are BJs.

This article made me a little sad, and a lot angry. If in your parenting you relegate family planning to an afterthought, you denigrate your children, their innate dreams and desires, and stunt their potential to truly achieve  fulfillment in both work and family that we all strive for.

Yes, we have a lot of work to on the front of gender equality at work. Yes it is fantastic that young women see a clear connection between their hard work and smarts and professional potential. But this article quotes numerous college students and experts who say that pressure from parents and society is for young women to focus on professional achievement above all else — and far above marriage and children. A few quotes:

“I positioned myself in college in such a way that I can’t have a meaningful romantic relationship, because I’m always busy.”

“They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through all those transitions was hard for many to imagine.”

“Increasingly many privileged young people see college as a unique life stage in which they don’t — and shouldn’t — have obligations other marry young collegethan their own self-development.

“A. said that she did not want to settle down until she could choose a partner knowing that his goals and values were fixed.” 

“[The women] tried very hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed that getting too attached to someone would interfere with their work. They saw a woman’s marrying young as either proof of a lack of ambition or a tragic mistake that would stunt her career.”

I admit that I have held that latter attitude. I was 28 when I married, 31 when I had my first child. People — and by “people,” I mean New York lefties — often remark how young I was when I married, even though I was a full year older than the national average for women, and pushing my fertility luck when I got pregnant. Once, when I was in my early 20s, my mom casually said: “You should have your kids by the time you’re 30.” At the time that struck me as sexist and old-fashioned. Today it sounds to me simply sensible and respectful of nature.

Which is exactly the message that I will impart on my daughter. It goes without saying that my daughter’s intellectual interests and aptitude will be nurtured. Duh. But what about her personal ones? The standard-issue advice for college-bound women is to establish a career first, then start a family. But the laws of fertility include a time limit. Career does not.  The laws of the heart demand spontaneity and serendipity. Women need love — romantic love, maternal love. Career is but one part of a young woman’s development. As a mother, it is my obligation encourage my daughter to develop every part of herself.

I fully embrace the concerns of the women quoted in the article who worry their partners will grow and change in their 20s and 30s — and perhaps grow and change away from them. Which is why I say we need to shake up old ideas about marriage. It is time to return to age-old marriage models that account for biology and the need for romantic love at all stages of life — not just when it’s convenient to schedule it into our career trajectories.

My 10-year marriage model is the blueprint for turning around this worrisome trend. Clearly the current Ozzie-and-Harriet-one-mate-for-life model has failed, and young people are rejecting family in favor of chasing money and professional success. Instead, I urge my fellow parents to help our daughters and sons recognize the simple facts about their hearts and bodies. Help them work towards futures that meld their personal and professional needs. What if we gave them permission to marry and start a family with a fantastic person while their bodies are equipped to do so — then, should they need to, gracefully move on to other relationships that fulfill the next chapter of their lives?

As parents, we are pioneers in this new frontier of women and work. And we have an obligation to help our daughters map out a path that includes a meaningful and lucrative job, as well as a relationship with a man that is more than just an, um, job.Other stories in this project:


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32 thoughts on “Why I will tell my daughter to marry and have babies young

  1. Well. Yes and no. I never, while going to college and planning for the career I wanted and while getting going on that career post-graduation,pushed aside thoughts of marriage and children until “later.” I never thought I couldn’t do both. I also, like you, figured 30 or 31 would be a great time to have a first child.

    Life had other plans, as it often does. You can’t shove yourself into a mold of marrying young if, you know, the right man isn’t also there. Sure I’d have loved to have had a child at 31, but at 30 the man I thought would be that kid’s father changed his mind on the whole together-forever thing, and i didn’t meet the right man until I was nearly 33.

    Life happens. And while it is still true statistically that fertility goes down steadily as your 20 leave you, it doesn’t entirely disappear and plenty of folks (me included!) have no trouble having babies late into their 30s.

    I’m not saying I was lucky. I’m saying I lived my life the way it unfolded for me. You can plan and then you have to follow the places the chips fall.

    I am reading a bunch of stuff lately about moms who became moms young talking about how that choice was better, but it seems plenty of young moms didn’t choose it so much as dealt with it when it happened. Which is exactly what I did.

    1. There are some things we have control over, and some things we do not.The longer you wait to have babies, the fewer choices you have. Period.

      Of course life happens, and we roll with the punches sometimes. But I challenge women who, at a late age and face fertility issues, who throw their hands up and say, “Gosh! This just HAPPENED to me! I didn’t luck out and find a guy at the right time!” Sure she may have been born with fertility issues, but age is the likely culprit.

      Suggesting to young women to ignore family planning in their 20s and focus only on career has created untold social ills: countless women (and their spouses) who are devastated by infertility. A boom in babies born to older moms and suffer developmental and other challenges – not to mention the financial costs to the whole health and education systems.

      There is a reason that the UK and France have launched public health campaigns to encourage women to have children younger than the current trend.

  2. I agree generally. It’s human nature to want to have a sort of ‘model’ for success. I DO NOT think it’s a negative trend for women to not factor in babies before 30 though. Family and maternal love is not only biological. Is there a lack of population concern? because at some points in this article it sounds so; reminder: we are nearly 7billion on the planet and cannot afford to feed us all, let alone provide a standard of living which is relatively equal for all. For every educated women who wants to concentrate on other things besides making babies, there are girls who have babies without thinking about it (at 16 years of age no less). So for now, I still think there is a balance. Don’t assume your daughter will want biological children. The rewards of being a foster mother and/or adopting children are equally as fulfilling and should also be considered a legitimate (and in my world premier) family option.

    1. There is a population shortage – shortage of professional, educated people — the very people who are waiting to have babies, and as a result, have fewer children than they would like — and the economy needs. Agreed: adoption and foster care are excellent alternatives and should be given more government and corporate support. But as along as affluent women have access to sophisticated fertility treatments, biological children will continue to be the preference.

    2. Adopting children has its own issues and of course no one ever thinks about the effects on the adoptee (not the least of which is not being able to access their original birth certificate in most U.S. states–you know, that geneology thing the rest of us take for granted?) and most definitely do not think about how it affects the surrendering parents. Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER tell anyone that adoption should be their first option for “building a family.” The selfishness inherent in that notion is breathtaking, that some other family should willingly tear itself up just to make you happy.

      If you want to be a foster parent, that’s great. Lots of kids need foster parents. Most adoption, though, is practiced as legal child trafficking. Mostly because most adoption in the United States is not from U.S. foster care.

      And at the end of the day, it’s not reproduction. It’s not “having kids.” If you want to HAVE KIDS, there’s only one way to do that. You make the baby with your own egg.

  3. To me this, and other articles I’ve read as of late, seem to be a response to Jean Twenge’s article about how long women can delay their plans to have children. It also resonates with what another Feminist, Sheryl Sandberg, has to say in her book “Lean In.” I’m also not at all surprised that many of these articles are written by other women.

    With all that said- and trying to pull everything together- I think certain messages are reinforced to women in order to maintain the status quo. As long as women believe that the proper time for marriage and family is between 20-30 without fully understanding fertility, their bodies (let’s be real many women DON’T understand them), and where these statistics about fertility actually come from (see Twenge’s article) they will continue to make decisions that may inhibit their careers and financial capabilities and leave them dependent (see Sandberg’s “Lean In”); thus keeping society- and our position in it- exactly where it is.

    In my eyes 28 or 31 isn’t too young to marry and start a family (nor is it really pushing your fertility either). I too wanted to be married and pregnant by a certain time but as another poster commented, sometimes life happens and not everything is under your complete control.

    I’m unresolved about what I’d tell my daughter about marriage/family/career. There are certainly things I’d want to her to know that my mother didn’t tell me. I certainly want her to be as well educated as possible but I also want her to be able to position herself to meet quality men and have meaningful relationships too. But at the same token I wouldn’t want her to feel the same (seemingly unyielding) pressures about marriage and children.

    1. Zabeth – Part of the big issue here is that women are looking for the right person with whom to start families. Of course, half of those “right person” has an excellent chance of also becoming an ex. But as young women have more and more professional opportunties, and face pressure to maximize those opportuntiies, the threshold for “right person” get higher and higher. Further, as a society, we are increasingly focused on personal development – growing as people and professionals through work, travel, hobbies and therapy :) As the students in the NYT article say – they expect their male peers to grow and change in the near-term, and don’t want to commit to them until they “Become who they are.” Well, by then the women’s fertility is depleted, and there are still no guarantees.

      I call for a shake-up of the whole thing: get married young to a nice guy who will be a good dad and hopefully support you and care for you long-term. And, when all those business trips to Hong Kong and IPOs and medical residencies force the couple apart, they can start anew with different partners. Certainly, this is not idea, but as a divorced mom myself, I can say that dating in my late 30s is far more enjoyable, genuine than if I were desperately trying to find a father for children I craved but did not have.

      1. Then what’s the point of getting married at all? Why not just have kids and then date later or do what other people have been doing- date, move in together, maybe have some kids, and decide whether or not you want to stay together. What’s the point of all the formalities all together- whether they be a formal marriage ceremony OR contract?

      2. The fifty percent statistic is fifty percent of ALL marriages. Everybody knows that once you’ve been divorced, your chances of divorcing again are much higher. First marriages actually have a pretty good success rate if people stick with them.

  4. I was lucky. I married at 36 (which seemed just a little older than average, in the DC area), had kids at 37, 39, and 42, and then divorced at 45. For my own selish reasons, I’d like to see my kids having their kids earlier than I did, since I want to be young enough to have fun with them. Also, in terms of retirement planning, it’s better to get started early so you’re not hit with college and retirement costs at the same time, as I will be. But….you can’t plan for love in your 20s, much as you can’t plan for it at any age. If it doesn’t happen, what can you do?

    All this said, that article scared the sh*t out of me when I think about dating now. But as a 40-something woman, at least I have more confidence and shouldn’t be afraid to speak my mind. Hopefully I’ll be able to raise my daughters to be the same way. What craziness!

    1. I agree, the thought of all those BJs make a girl’s jaw tired! But the fact that dating in college is so distorted just underscores my point: young women are denying deep emotional, biologically driven needs for the sake of professional success. Today they are denying themselves love and fulfilling sex, but in a few years that translates into both romantic and maternal love. You get what you want in this world. It is all about where you put your energy.

    2. Hi Eve, you were very lucky, you were really quite old (from a medical perspective) to have children anyway as for age 42 wow, I know a lot people won’t like this but that is very old, sorry. I am definitely encouraging my daughter to have kids before 30 if possible as I would anyone under 30. If men want children and to get married the old fashioned way, averages show they prefer to marry before 35. If they marry over 35 and want children they will look for a much younger women (only if they want kids). They tend to go off women over 35 if that a woman wants children. Not nice facts but ask any guy, if nothing else for medical reasons and health reasons.

  5. I loved your concept about marrying young, but had to agree with Denise – life happens. I married at 24, but didn’t have my first child until I was 29 because I wasn’t ready. I had my second child at 34 and loved the spacing between the two.

    It is really sad that young women feel that they can’t marry until everything is in place. I know my daughter sort of feels that way. I also hate the quick sex & blow jobs that 20 somethings are participating in these days because (I believe) it leaves young women in a bad state of mind.

    Here’s the thing – when the man for you shows up, it almost doesn’t matter what other things you are doing, you marry and either continue with your original plans or make new ones.

    Thanks for responding to my Trying to Stay Sane parenting blog @ http://authorclynnwilliams.wordpress.com/. Follow me @cgwwbook on Twitter.

    C. Lynn

  6. Hi C. Lynn — Of course life happens. But I reject the idea that romantic partnership is simply a product of serendipity and aligning stars. Let’s be grown ups here. There is no other part of life — career, finances, fitness, friendships — that we assign a la-la fairytale attitude. There are dire consequences to refusing to take responsibility for your romantic and family planning. I aim to empower my daughter to get what she wants, not sit back and wait for cupid to strike her heart.

    1. “There is no other part of life — career, finances, fitness, friendships — that we assign a la-la fairytale attitude.”

      The difference here is that you have greater control over these areas. You can find another job, start a business, pick investments, choose where and how you want to exercise, start or end new relationships (that don’t have the pressures that come along with sex and romantic partnerships). Whereas you can’t control whether or not another person is attracted to you, wants to be with you or marry you. You can’t make someone else love or want you. You can put yourself out there to make the most of romantic opportunities available but you can’t control how others will respond to you.

  7. That’s exactly the point Zabeth. Finding someone you want to have kids with or marry is not easy for most of us. That is exactly why the article was so sad. Cutting out the possibility of romantic relationships and children for a decade is cheating yourself out of a big part of life right at the time that having a baby is best for the health of the child *and* the mother (having children younger reduces risks of not just breast cancer but also heart disease, hypertension, and other cancers). And by the time these young women decide they want to get married and/or have kids they won’t have any experience dating or knowing how to have a romantic partnership. I’ve met so many smart privileged female college students this summer in DC for internships and most of them sound like the young women in this article. From my perspective, Emma is talking about a work-life balance in each decade of life and I fully support that.

  8. Like the idea of a marriage 10 year contract, this type of thing requires a massive change in “the way we do things”. At least for a certain type of ambitious, educated women. This type of change takes years. I actually do agree with you and I think it’s important for lots of people to get out there and challenge the status quo because that’s the only way it will eventually happen.

    I had my kids at a “decent” age – 30 and 32 and had no fertility problems, but I am seeing friends around me have fertility issues now. Not all of them is due to the fact that they just met their partner later in life… some of these folks have been with their partners a long time and just didn’t start trying until later. I know I waited as long as I did because I just wanted to live responsibility free for a while and didn’t have a real urgent drive to have kids yet. But it’s also because I thought it happens pretty easily. It’s “natural” it’ll “just happen”. That’s why it was a shock to me when my first pregnancy was high risk (I had no problems getting pregnant, but found out there was more to being pregnant than just getting pregnant… who knew?!!).

    I believe it is because you don’t hear a lot about fertility issues or at least think too seriously about them until you are around the age where it starts to really affect you. And by then it could be too late. In fact, the couple friends I have who knew AHEAD OF TIME that their family had a history of fertility issues and had given it real thought already got very serious about getting pregnant around 26-27 and even then they still had some issues. Yes, probably someone in their family scared the crap out of them that they might not be able to have babies if they wait too long. But you know what? That is a fact. Maybe scare tactics are the best way to really get someone to accept the truth and take things seriously. Maybe they should talk about fertility more in sex and health education in high school (which I guess is usually about preventing pregnancy). Or female mentors at work should make a real effort to communicate with the younger women just starting out that there is MUCH more to life than a career and if you wait too long to start that family thing, you may not get the chance.

    Maybe women just need to get more “ambitious” about having families as well as being ambitious about having a career.

    1. I agree with everything you say, Erica. Yes, I am calling for a massive overhaul of thinking. But let’s remember that attitudes about dating, marriage and careers have taken a drastic change in just a couple generations, so I am optimistic that change is possible in the near-term.

      And yes, most educated people intellectually understand fertility and the risks of waiting. But our behaviors suggest we turn a blind eye to those realities.

  9. i’ll never be a mom, so i don’t have a horse in this race, but what say you to this story:

    Specifically this:

    The widely cited statistic that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, for instance, is based on an article published in 2004 in the journal Human Reproduction. Rarely mentioned is the source of the data: French birth records from 1670 to 1830. The chance of remaining childless—30 percent—was also calculated based on historical populations.

    And this:

    Surprisingly few well-designed studies of female age and natural fertility include women born in the 20th century—but those that do tend to paint a more optimistic picture. One study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2004 and headed by David Dunson (now of Duke University), examined the chances of pregnancy among 770 European women. It found that with sex at least twice a week, 82 percent of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year, compared with 86 percent of 27-to-34-year-olds. (The fertility of women in their late 20s and early 30s was almost identical—news in and of itself.) Another study, released this March in Fertility and Sterility and led by Kenneth Rothman of Boston University, followed 2,820 Danish women as they tried to get pregnant. Among women having sex during their fertile times, 78 percent of 35-to-40-year-olds got pregnant within a year, compared with 84 percent of 20-to-34-year-olds. A study headed by Anne Steiner, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, the results of which were presented in June, found that among 38- and 39-year-olds who had been pregnant before, 80 percent of white women of normal weight got pregnant naturally within six months (although that percentage was lower among other races and among the overweight). “In our data, we’re not seeing huge drops until age 40,” she told me.

  10. Why can’t we accept the reality that comes with liberation—that different women are going to make different choices? The expectation—or should I say, the prescription—that all women should have their children before thirty is as offensive as it is unrealistic.

    The fact that there are a vocal group of young women who postpone romance and family planning is a good thing. They are exercising their option and their agency to design a life on their terms and their timeline. THIS IS PROGRESS. There is no path in life that doesn’t include some sort of sacrifice, and I suggest we let young adults decide for themselves which sacrifices to sign up for.

    I also don’t believe that the anecdotal testimonials represent the majority of young women. The draw for love and motherhood for twenty-something women has not evaporated in this demographic—but there are other realistic models to pursue. I say, let the women make their own decisions. It’s neither your business, nor mine.

    1. Vicki Marie – I get so disappointed when women’s issues come up and someone argues: Just respect everyone’s choices!! Urgh! My blood pressure just spiked typing that.

      Just because someone makes a choices does not mean it is an informed one, or a good one. Yes, we all aim for choice (career, family, reproductive, political, and on). But are those choices totally informed about the true realities of fertility? About biologicla drive to be a parent? The human need for partnership?

      Many members of the current crop of professional women in their late 30s and 40s (not to mention those older), did not approach their lives, careers and family planning with clarity. I am not blaming them. That group of women broke glass ceilings, busted into professional and educational towers that were previously off-limits. While the movement cheered them on and held them up as glowing examples, family planning was an after thought. Until it wasn’t.

      One of my fav examples of this paradox is this NYT story: http://is.gd/ujfyDk

      >>With long brown hair and come-hither curves, Melissa Foss looks — and feels — fabulous at 41. “I’ve spent hours of my life and a lot of money making sure I was healthy, and that my hair was shiny, my teeth were white and my complexion clear,” said Ms. Foss, a magazine editor in New York City.

      So when it came to conceiving a child with her husband, a marketing executive, Ms. Foss wasn’t at all worried. After all, she noted, those same traits of youth and beauty “are all the hallmarks of fertility.”

      Fifteen unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization later, Ms. Foss now realizes that appearances can be deceiving. “I’d based a lot of my self-worth on looking young and fertile, and to have that not be the case was really depressing and shocking,” she said. The couple are now trying to have a baby with the help of a surrogate and a donor egg.


      Today we are in a fascinating and critical moment in the history in feminism. The majority political, legal, education and business hurdles have been lifted and we are working out the finer points of equality and what it means to be an empowered woman. What can we learn from previous generations? What have I learned? What, as a mother, will I teach my daughter from this chapter in feminism?

      If all we can take away is: “To each her own!” We have failed our children so so so so so miserably.

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