Part of the financial calculation, as Taha spells out, is "the often significant loss of income from becoming a mother, even if she continues working full time." In a nutshell, then, because work and family often don't work together, it is just as rational to make the trade-off in favor of work as in favor of family. Lest this line of argument seem idiosyncratic, look at Europe. In countries like France and Scandinavia, where governments bend over backwards to make it as easy as possible to have both careers and families, with generous leaves, affordable daycare, and financial incentives, the birthrate has been moving back upward. In countries where governments make it difficult, the birthrates are falling precipitously.
Something very important is getting lost here. In the first place, I might have been able to make these sorts of calculations at 22 or even 30, but by 35 I felt very differently. It is impossible to predict your future self. And it is not only the biological clock that changes things: As we age, our assessment of the relative value of material success and career advancement versus the simpler joys of human connection often shifts.
Above all, it is impossible on a spreadsheet or in response to a survey to factor in the sheer delight, pleasure, and wonder that child-rearing often affords. Allison Stevens of the Washington Post put it best, in a post responding to my Atlantic article Why Women Still Can't Have It All. I wrote that I did not just feel that I needed to be home with our teenagers, but that I wanted to be; I did not want to miss the last 5 years they would still be at home. Stevens commented on the absence of that view from much of feminist literature. "In Betty Friedan's world," she wrote, "traditional motherhood is all about boredom and vacuuming and being a 'putter on of pants.' In many ways, [Friedan is] right on. But she's also way off: in my experience, child care has been all of that (minus the vacuuming—wink, wink), but it's also been laughter, sunshine, swing sets and wonder. Some of the best stuff life has to offer."
The equal-caregiver/fully engaged fathers who have recently launched a magazine for dads titled Kindling Quarterly take the same view. In a New York Times piece on the venture, publisher and editor David Michael Perez observes: "Before I became a dad, everybody was saying how hard it would be." When his son Amon was born, he realized, "nobody told me I'd actually enjoy this."
For months, I have been giving roughly two speeches a week to audiences of women of all ages. Virtually all the younger women are grateful for the conversation, but worried and often downright grim about the prospects of work and family. It's hard—harder than either our government or our employers are willing to recognize and accommodate. That's why we need change. But make no mistake: Having children is the best thing I've ever done, by a mile. The pleasure of helping and watching them grow, of family life (even with its fights and scenes), of the shared bond between my husband and me as parents (even when we disagree), and of the depth of love it is possible to feel for other human beings... I wouldn't trade it for the world.
The answer is not to stop having or adopting children. The answer is to put our national obsession with work as the only measure of success and happiness into a saner and healthier perspective. Believe it or not, we will actually be better and happier workers if we are allowed to be better parents. We might even rediscover our capacity for fun.