Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 14, 2002

Job demands can make pursuing family tough

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

Haunani-Kay Trask, a political organizer, poet, and professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, was in high school when she decided she would never have children.

"I wanted to be a political leader," she said. Even then, she knew her goal would be much harder to achieve if she was trying to raise a family at the same time.

But she grew up in an era that offered women unparalleled educational and economic opportunities. She went to a liberal college, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a place that had two of the first abortion clinics in the country. It was a generation of The Pill and of choices her mother's generation never faced.

Trask, who did her dissertation on feminist theory, married and stood by her choice to be childless, although she said she faced criticism from Hawaiians who told her "we are a diminishing people" and wondered why she wasn't adding to their ranks.

Trask never looked at children and wished she had some of her own. She had students, some of whom named their children after her. She never lacked the affection of young people. She became a beloved auntie, as well as a Hawaiian leader.

"For me, it was enormously liberating," said Trask, 52. "I don't have any regret or anything."

Emme Tomimbang Burns, a television personality, grew up within a Filipino culture that put a high value on family.

Even though she was an only child raised by her father, everyone around her had large families, and she assumed one day she would have kids, too.

"But as I worked hard to establish my career as a television reporter and anchor, at a time when there were so few women and minorities in the industry, I realized the demands of this career path would not make it easy to have children — not yet. So, I kept saying later ... later," she said. "Then, one day I turned around and realized 'later' was here."

By that time, she was married to Judge Jim Burns, who already had grown children, and she wondered whether it would be practical to follow her maternal instincts. She vowed to decide before she turned 40.

"My career kept me busy. And maybe I was avoiding the question," she said. "After I turned 40, I realized the window of opportunity was getting smaller. My husband and I discussed it, we agonized over it, but we knew 'time,' as it was passing, was making the decision for us."

She said she admires her friends who have it all and is more at peace with the idea of never having children of her own.

Linda Lingle, a Republican running for governor, said she never made a conscious decision not to have children.

Circumstances decided that for her.

The timing to have a family was never right. She was married for a year when she was in college and later married for 10 years to an older man who already had grown children.

"In my case, I never sat down and said, 'Should I do this? Should I have children or go into politics?' "

It just happened that way.

She was surrounded by male colleagues who had families as well as careers, but she didn't see that as the best option for herself as a woman climbing the political ladder.

As mayor of Maui from 1991 to 1998, she remembers going to a U.S. conference of mayors and realizing many women in her position had childlessness in common or already raised families before pursuing high-powered careers.

Lingle, 47, said she loves kids and has filled the void by doting on other people's children and volunteering as a tutor. But she no longer considers being a parent.

"Had my life gone in that direction, I don't think I would have gone into public service," she said. "I would have had too many difficult decisions."

Yuka Nagashima put her career on the fast track in her mid-20s.

She is choosing to wait to have children and isn't caught up by her ticking biological clock.

"I'm 32, so I still have room for that," said the former Punahou physics teacher, who married seven years ago and left academia a year after that to devote her time to being president of the Internet company LavaNet Inc.

Nagashima was born and raised in Japan, and said she has internalized that society's cultural pressure to have a family.

"If it doesn't happen, I'm not going to be disappointed," she said. "My career is very fulfilling."

If it turns out she is unable to conceive when she and her husband are ready to have a baby, she already has thought about adopting a child.

So far, Nagashima said her life isn't lacking anything, and she doesn't feel her career has meant sacrificing a chance to have children.

"It's great that we do have a choice." In America, she said, "you don't get penalized for not having kids."

Georja Skinner, executive director of the Hawai'i Filmmakers Initiative and an independent producer, considers her children the ones she works with in professional projects.

She always wanted children of her own but never had any in an 18-year marriage that ended in 1994.

Skinner, who divides her time between Maui, O'ahu and Los Angeles, has watched like a proud parent as her students' works have appeared on the big screen.

She said she was raised as a free thinker and never felt any outside pressure to have her own family.

Yet, at 50, she said she still thinks about adoption.

Maybe she will adopt one day, she said, but in any case, she will continue to embrace Hawai'i's concept of 'ohana by helping to raise the community's children.

"I have, at certain points in my life, lamented it," she said of never having children. "But if you're a giving person anyway, and sharing, that's really what it's all about."