Cross-posted at Ex-expat
This seems to becoming a weekly thing, ex-expat being pissed at something in the SST. Last week I was away from the computer to complain about yet another article in which women were told we should stop holding our for Mr Right bollocks. But sure enough the SST has again made my blood boil again with reports that New Zealand women are not not having children. Zuh? Unless I misunderstood my sex ed classes, I was under the impression that men were also needed to create offspring and ideally should be around to help raise them.
I am well aware that men's reproductive lifespan is far longer which is part of the reason for the undue focus on women's reproduction. However what is making my blood boil is the underlying assumption of this and other stories is that women are the ones that will take time out to raise a family.
And certainly as someone who is getting into her late 20s, I am well aware of the pressure for me to 'settle down' and 'sprog up.' Mostly it comes from other women for whom my status as a happy single is source of immense concern that I am may end up husband-less child-less and without a large mortgage on a big house.
But the simple reason is that I am not sure that I want a husband, a mortgage and most importantly I am in no rush to have children. Hell I am not even ready to have the conversation with myself about whether I actually want children. I do realise at my age this is something that I do need to think about. However it is my choice as to whether I wish to contribute to the gene pool or not and it is, or at least in my view, should be, the most important decision that I will ever make in my life. Unlike marriages which can be dissolved, it isn't like you can stuff a kid back in and ask for a refund if things don't work out. They are yours for life.
Which is why I don't understand how people can be so caviler about having kids. Whether it is to fix an unhealthy relationship or from people who have bought into the talks from their friends and family on the subject which always seem to gloss over the hard parts of parenting.
But perhaps it is because I don't have a dewy-eyed view of child-rearing. There is a 10-year age gap between my brother and I thus am well-aware of how much hard work children and babies are. Particularly because my family had a part-time parent. My dad worked in an industry that in between months of not working demanded 14-16 hour days for months at a time and often involved working in far-flung locations. When my brother was just a few months old Dad went to Africa for almost four months leaving my mother with myself, my six year old sister and no family in town. As the eldest child, it was my responsibility to help pick up some of the slack.
While this was a big burden for a 10 year old, there have been some bonuses. Unlike most of my friends, I have had some hands-on experience in dealing with these weird creatures we call babies. I can change a diaper and learned how to cook for the rest of the family when my mum was busy. I also learned that despite the best of intentions, single parenthood may become a reality whether by choice or circumstance and I should make no assumptions that parenting will always be a team effort in my decision to breed.
But as result of this experience, I do have immense respect for people who decide to breed, particularly if it they are doing it because they want to do it. Because along with all the fun parts of parenting it undoubtedly a hard and, at times, an incredibly isolating experience.
But I also have respect for those who choose or have foisted upon them the other option, to not have children. For those who wish to smash the glass ceiling in their fields, a child might hinder that goal and it is not my nor anyone's place to begrudge them their decision to be child-free. Because along with all the good stuff about not having children, to go against societal norms can be hard and, at times, an incredibly isolating experience.
Moreover I do wish that our discussions over babymaking would stop making the assumption that it is just women who should be making decisions about whether they want a high-flying career or a baby because as I said at the beginning of my rant, men have a role in reproduction as well. Also because there are real alternatives to the primary caregiver-loses-all option.
And again I find myself looking at my own experience to see that it can be done. During the course of his working life my father built a highly successful business from scratch. Because my mother was in full-time employment, it was my Dad who was the parent that was the primary caregiver for me when I was a baby and who was also the parent who often accompanied my sister and I on school trips when his business was quiet. He enjoyed the experience immensely however almost three decades later is sad that my upbringing is still viewed as being unorthodox. Although I can assure you that it was highly revolutionary back in the early to mid 1980s and did ensure some rather odd situations during my childhood.
But I do wonder how many other couples there are out there that are pursuing a 'third way' in child-rearing. Surely if our discussions on this topic are going to evolve past the gender roles of the past we need to see present alternatives to build a more just future for both genders.