So today I was making up my children’s beds with fresh sheets and listening to another ABC Podcast looking into the pressure that women feel to have kids. I listened to it with mixed feelings. It caused me to question why I decided (I’m going to say “I” and we’ll talk about the “we” bit later) to have kids. And it also frustrated me because men were only mentioned as partners or husbands, not as Dads, and this seemed peculiar to me. There’s an old saying “It takes two to tango”…
I have a vivid memory of being alone with my daughter in hospital the night after she was born. I was changing her nappy. I looked down at her little form and suddenly I felt the full responsibility of being her mother. My only previous point of comparison was pets. But pets are simpler relationships. If you supply your pet with comfort, socialization, food, water and exercise, that’s a pretty complete package. A pet would be expected to be happy assuming those requirements are fulfilled. A child is a whole other ball game and it shocked me how strongly that came home to me on that very first night of motherhood. I think it was the psychological well being thing that hit me hardest. How do I take care of that? What qualifications do I have?
Society has lots of expectations around this that I was blissfully unaware of until I became a parent. So it was a revelation to me that there are women out there who are choosing NOT to have kids because of the pressure to be “the perfect” parent. Wow! At that decision-making stage, I was untroubled by this spectre.
When P and I were discussing the kid question there are two chief points that I remember – one in the negative and one in the positive.
The one in the negative was climate change and overpopulation. So that was a world issue. And the guilt surrounding bringing the kids into this world knowing about that is one of the chief factors which got me writing this blog.
But the thing that made me want to have kids was about getting old. Now on this podcast they talked about wanting to be cared for in old age. That’s nonsense, as far as I’m concerned. I saw my grandparents go into nursing homes. This isn’t a society which romanticizes the idea of familial duty. No, I’m don’t expect to be looked after. But I do worry about loneliness. I feel like if I get old and all I have done is work and have holidays and whatnot, there’s a lot hanging on my friends and the continuing good health of my husband. So many studies have shown that the key factor in human happiness is solid, trusting relationships. I know people say “Your kid may not even like you” and maybe they’ll be right but the more family you have, the more chance there is that you’ll get along quite well with one or two of them. I think it’s just herd instinct. Our modern society doesn’t glue like communities did in the olden days but we still need a herd and so we make our own. For me, that herd was a traditional family. Some people can find it elsewhere. I don’t think I knew how.
But note, I did not think about all this on my own. I discussed it at length with P. In fact, we had these discussions before we got married. I understand that the pill has given women the power to carry “no” off more successfully. But either side in a partnership have the power of veto. And if one can’t live with and the other can’t live without, that’s a pretty irreconcilable difference.
P just told me about a work colleague whose partner always got the questions about kids while he was left alone. When he asked his Dad why this was so, his Dad said that women have the final say. Is this a general perception?
And that’s why the podcast frustrated me. I want to know the other side of the story. Do men feel pressure to have kids? Surely if women are expected to be mothers, there is a parallel logic which recognizes that every ovum needs a sperm in order for a child to happen. So please, any men out there happy to share your story, I would love to know what this podcast was missing.