In early 1994 I found myself writing about the idea of the “creativity clock.” I had borrowed the idea from the infamous biological clock, but rather than counting the days until I could no longer procreate, my creativity clock counted the days until I could no longer contribute significantly to the world. Obviously, the timeline for the latter was—and is—way more forgiving and the options much more plentiful. The idea was a comfort to me as I considered whether or not I wanted children.

Back then I was questioning why a woman’s creative urge had to be so narrowly defined around having kids because I wasn’t sure I wanted to have them and also wasn’t sure what not having them would look like. Back then, when all I saw were friends and colleagues and classmates hell-bent on procreation, I wanted all creative possibilities to be valued as highly as motherhood. Yet now that I am a mom, I want parenting to garner as much respect any other creative pursuit. Funny how one’s perspective shifts.

Women seem to have three choices around this—to be moms, to be professionals, or to be both. But in reality I suggest that only one choice is socially acceptable, and that is to be both. From experience I know that if you choose to focus your life around motherhood, you end up an isolated stay-at-home mom disregarded by society until they need you to populate their exercise classes or consume the latest trends. I suspect (though don’t know for sure) that if you choose not to have kids and focus instead on your career, you’re left with the internal task of redefining yourself as a nonmother and the external task of explaining your choice to an ever-shrinking social circle, as the friends around you who have become parents close ranks in a desperate need for mutual support. The only one to question the choice to have kids and continue your career will be you—and it will be the kind of conversation you have in your head as you juggle the competing demands of job, family, and self while letting more than one ball fall.

The creativity clock solves most of these problems simply because it defines womanhood as more than motherhood, personhood as more than parenthood. Motherhood and parenthood are all good choices, but so too is every other creative endeavor. Or perhaps I should say every other meaningful endeavor, as meaning is what we’re really talking about here, right?

To be sure, some of us will find all the meaning they need in having kids, while others may find all the meaning they need in not having them. But for most of us, whether we’re parents or not, I’m guessing meaning will be found somewhere in the middle, not just in the grand gestures we make in life but in the little, often overlooked acts as well. And so our creativity clocks keep ticking, every minute an opportunity to define ourselves anew.