Tuesday, July 6, 2010

CHOICE AND CONSEQUENCE: Terry Gross and One Life to Live

We went to hear terry gross of NPR fame a few weeks past. It was wonderful. She is wonderful.

There was an interesting moment when she answered a question in the q & a period that was never asked by this particular audience. Undoubtedly she had been asked the question at some other time.

She never had children. It was a deliberate choice. She is probably 60 or close to it. But I guess she knew early on that her life as a journalist, whether it was on her current show “Fresh Air” or not, was going to be all consuming. What she said was (and of course I am paraphrasing as best I can), “I never could figure out how I could do it—do my job and have a child and raise that child well. I know other people do it, but I couldn’t figure out how I could do it.”

For those who don’t know Terry Gross, she has a wonderful interview show on NPR, 5 days a week, interviewing novelists, biographers, historians, political analysts, pundits, musicians, movie and theatre people, etc., etc. The level of conversation she promotes is unusually high for radio and other media. This requires intensive preparation, she reads and understands the books, she listens and understands the music, the theatre, the geopolitical situation under discussion. She facilitates conversation at a very high level. Her job is terrifically demanding.

What struck me about her disclosure was her humility, her maturity. She accepted, probably at a fairly young age, that she was a limited human being, that she could do this or should could do that but she couldn’t do both and she needed to choose.

Elizabeth Gilbert whose book “Committed” I just finished, said something similar about her own choice to remain childless.

This post is not about the decision to remain childless. Both Gilbert and Terry Gross helped me think about the omnipresent work life/balance struggle that so many, maybe all young parents struggle with; women maybe more than men. I certainly struggled with it.   Coming to terms with the push/pull of career choices and family life style choices for those who indeed do have a choice (a privileged class, those who have a choice to work or not), requires humility.

We can neither do everything or have everything. Every decision has consequences: to have a child, to not have a child, to work full time, or to not work full time, to forego the career, to pursue the career full tilt, to have one child, or two, or many.

This is an obvious point I’m making, perhaps, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a barely acknowledged assumption buried in the heart of young parents, that if one does it just right, there will be no great pain or sacrifice. The children will not suffer, our careers will not suffer, our spouse will not suffer, our marriages will not suffer, we will not suffer.

I think there is always sacrifice, at the very least there is always consequence, and we can’t always forsee what that will be when we make our choices, or how we will feel on the other end. What’s important in my estimation is an acceptance of that truth.

Terry Gross struck me as surpassingly wise and humble when she decided she couldn’t have it all.


  1. An interesting article in NY Magazine relating to this very topic:

  2. A middle aged single woman once told me that no one EVER questions why she didn't get married - but she frequently encounters judgment about her decision not to have children

  3. I have friends who pursued career instead of family. They own their own companies now. They travel the world for business and pleasure. They have money to spend on themselves.

    I look at them and realize that the idea that we can have it all -- which I always assumed was true -- is wrong. You give up something no matter how you live your life, and making peace with that seems to be the best anyone can hope for.