Culture

I Agree With Camille Paglia on This Kind of Family Planning for Teens

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Camille Paglia gave a wide-ranging interview to the Wall Street Journal last week, covering everything from diminished respect for the military to radical feminism as a threat to all of Western civilization. Paglia, a liberal feminist and lesbian who voted for Obama and excels at destroying sacred cows, said that “our culture doesn’t allow women to know how to be womanly” and falsely promises them that they can “have it all.”

Paglia also broached a topic that’s not discussed nearly enough, even in conservative circles. Saying that sex education classes focus too much on mechanics, she said that girls should be taught to consider how vocational decisions they make as teens can impact their futures:

I want every 14-year-old girl . . . to be told: You better start thinking what do you want in life. If you just want a career and no children you don’t have much to worry about. If, however, you are thinking you’d like to have children some day you should start thinking about when do you want to have them. Early or late? To have them early means you are going to make a career sacrifice, but you’re going to have more energy and less risks. Both the pros and the cons should be presented.

In our “have it all” culture, young people — young women in particular — are told to go to college, have a career, and then, perhaps somewhere way off in the future,  get married and have kids. But no one really explains to young women about the requisite costs and trade-offs along the way. If a girl thinks she would like to have a family and children some day, it’s essential for her to consider how and when that might happen and whether that goal conflicts with other plans she has for her future. Despite the stereotypes fed to us by Hollywood, for most families, babies do not just pop out into designer 5-bedroom homes with live-in nannies. A 17-year-old girl may not want to think about such mundane things as child care when she is dreaming about a glamorous career as a CSI investigator, but better to consider them at age 17 than to have reality come crashing in later when she has less flexibility to make career-related decisions. Unfortunately, this kind of “family planning” is not only absent from most sex education classes, but it’s also rarely mentioned in career and vocational planning for teens. 

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For example, let’s say Amy, with a 4.0 GPA in high school and a knack for math and science, decides that she wants to be a doctor. Why shouldn’t she, right? This is America and there’s no reason a woman shouldn’t be able to achieve her career goals and follow her dreams. But what if she also dreams of being a mother and even wants to be a stay-at-home mother when her children are young? Consider that she’ll spend all of her 20s completing her education and training and will graduate with an average of $166,000 in student loan debt. In many cases it will take her thirty years and (with interest) nearly half a million dollars to pay those loans off. Exactly how realistic is it to think that after all of her schooling and heavily in debt, she will be able to walk away from her medical career in order to stay home with her children full time? She is facing a future with two competing goals and something will have to give. It can be done (I know a family that managed it), but it’s not the norm and it requires an incredible amount of sacrifice. And this is assuming she is even able to conceive in her 30s, a time of declining fertility.

Of course, whether a woman chooses to be a doctor or an artist, a construction worker or a homemaker, it’s her prerogative, as is her decision to put a husband and children on hold in order to pursue her career. Our family chose to go with the traditional gender roles — mom at home, dad bringing home the bacon — but whatever your personal views on women and careers and raising a family, if you have a daughter, you have a responsibility to spell out the choices before her and explain the long-term consequences of career decisions she makes in her teens, hopefully in the context of your family’s faith and values. It’s not that we want to limit a girl’s choices; rather, we want to help her realistically envision what her future might look like under various scenarios as a result of life choices she makes so she can make more informed decisions about her future.

Shaun Lichti Photography

Shaun Lichti Photography

And don’t think the boys are relieved of any responsibility for this sort of strategic “family planning.” We have had the same discussions with both of our sons and asked them to consider questions like: If you plan to have kids, do you want a parent to stay home with them? What would you be willing to sacrifice in order to make that a possibility? Would you consider marrying a girl for whom that was not a priority? How do those priorities factor into the type of girl you might choose to marry someday?

Our elder son is getting married in September. He and his fiance have both long considered this type of “family planning” to be part of their career planning and now they’re considering it together as a couple. They share the goal of wanting to try to live on only his income right from the start so they do not become dependent on two incomes. They anticipate having children one day and our son’s fiance plans to stay home with them when they are young and to eventually homeschool them. My husband and I also began to live on one income not long after we were married and it obviously made the transition from two incomes much easier (not easy, but less traumatic).

Again, this is not about limiting anyone’s choices but about making the best of the wide array of choices available. As Paglia said, “Both pros and cons should be presented” so our daughters — and our sons — go into their futures with eyes wide open. “Family planning” combined with career planning is far preferable to a 40-year-old college professor with $70,000 in student loans suddenly realizing she cannot afford to quit her job to stay home with her new baby — that sweet little face that she will have to send off to daycare the minute her maternity leave is up. Now she realizes she should have thought this through a little more and wishes someone would have warned her about the consequences of choices she was making when she was a determined 18 year old. If only there had been full disclosure about that sweet little face looking up at her from the cradle right now…