Monday, 31 March 2008

Cross-post - Thank you for (not) breeding

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.


Julie said...

Every time I attempt to write a comment for this just end up saying "I agree!!11!!" over and over again.

Idiot/Savant said...

There's a simple reason demographers talk about childbearing as if it was exclusively the responsibility of women: because its methodologically easy. It would be nice if they acknowledged that the real world is somewhat more complicated, though.

The report the story is based on is here. It's quite interesting reading.

Anonymous said...

While the decision is often a joint one, it is worth noting that women can veto that decision without the knowledge of their partner thanks to modern contraception- thus just like the burden is usually on women for reproduction, now some of the choice is being restored to them disproportionately. Still, I certainly agree that the best general way to frame the demographics is that people are largely choosing not to have children- as there are so many alternatives now that men have plenty of choices even if their partner is unable to or doesn't want to get pregnant.

One thing that always annoys me about dads as full-time or primary parents is that women tend to just go "yay, he's not dragging his partner down!" instead of actually judging them fairly on their merits, and offering support and criticism when appropriate. If we want full-time fathers to be viewed as mainstream, those of us supporting them have to not conveniently forgive anything they lack. In that spirit, thankyou for the balanced perspective on men as primary parents. :)

Idiot/Savant said...

some of the choice is being restored to them disproportionately


Screw it, if a guy wants to have kids, they can carry the damn thing for nine months.

Anonymous said...

Know what irritates me? If you choose not to have kids (a very fair choice and most likely well thought through) you get hassled. Yet if you have kids you get attacked from all quarters as well e.g. mummy wars, over-populating the world, messing up my world with your crotch maggots (yes seriously that has been said). Either way it seems like another way to have a go at women

Stephanie said...

I/S a lot of the commentary surrounding the article were missing and was clearly directed at women. Moreover given that the stats used came from census data surely we could have had some analysis of the male side of the equation?

Anonymous said...

My family [puts hand up]! We're pursuing the 'third way'. We're on to child number two and subject to how much sleep deprivation we can stand we aren't finished yet. I went back to work when my son and daughter were each five weeks old (now 2 1/2 years and 3 months respectively) and my husband stays at home with them and cares for them full time.

I thought before we had kids that the SAHD was, in our modern age, a relatively common situation. But you're right, it's not - while dads may stay home for a month or six, very few make the same career sacrifices that many women make to look after their children. Turns out it has worked well for us with my husband having (in my view) the more patient and calm temperament of the two of us (and my salary being higher).

The people at my work seem to have finally stopped assuming that I would eventually quit work so my husband could go back to work outside the home. We often still strike the situation, however, where people insist on referring child related issues to me even when my husband is present. And my husband is the only man in both the plunket coffee groups :)

Thanks for writing this post Stef.

Anonymous said...

I/S: I totally agree with you- I need like a badge or something, that says "Don't Worry, I'm a (Pro-)Feminist". I was commenting quickly that the variety of birth control is disproportionate- and saying that's good for now because women need it a lot more, because the responsibility of having children is ALSO highly disproportionate- that is, however you choose to divide looking after sprogs between the partners, women have nine months with a kid growing inside them, and they are likely to be semi-incapacitated for a chunk of that time. This means they rightly get veto powers over what they do with their body, (when society provides adequate contraception, anyway) and we shouldn't forget that when we're reminding people that women aren't the only ones responsible for pregnancies.

I'm a pedantic bastard, in other words, and can't tell someone they're wrong without acknowledging small ways in which they're right.

The implication was meant to be that about the only good birth control that is male-oriented is the condom, which ladies will definitely know if we're using, wheras girls have a pretty good spread of things that are okay, and many of them can be used covertly if she doesn't want a sprog and he does- I don't care at all for dudes who want a child when she doesn't. They can try raising adoption, or they can find a new partner if it's really that much of a deal-breaker. Us guys have plenty of options, but I'm greedy and I want more. :)

I'd love to see more birth control for men- specifically a male pill- so that we can take our own precautions. That will let those of us who want to be dads get on with it properly, and take away any remaining excuse from all of those loser jerks who run away from their kids.

And ex-expat: Abso-freaking-lutely. What's the point of leaving out fathers, when so many mothers rely on them for support in one way or another? This is a two-way street.

Craig Ranapia said...

This seems to becoming a weekly thing, ex-expat being pissed at something in the SST.

You could save yourself a lot of time and energy if you just assume the SST is going to piss you off, and save the time and money you'd otherwise invest in reading the damn thing.

Idiot/Savant said...

Ex-Expat: it wasn't a report on gender-roles in childrearing; it was a report on population demographics, primarily concerned with trends in birth-rates. And the language reflects this. Demographers simply don't talk about fathers because they can't measure fatherhood as accurately as motherhood. OTOH, their whole thing about women not having children because they are "busy having other plans" shows that its a bit more than just a mathematical exercise.

They are doing a followup report on reasons for childlessness, and I'd hope that they talked about the male side of the equation there, rather than blaming women for refusing to conform to traditional norms.

Stilltruckin: I agree; more and better options for male contraception would be a Good Thing.

Deborah said...

What Julie said! Fantastic post, Stef.

Stephanie said...

Craig I didn't purchase the SST but it was lying around the flat.

Deborah said...

but it was lying around the flat.

No pun intended, Stef?

Julie said...

I heard an interview on Nine to Noon with someone from Fertility Associates a couple of months back, talking about a survey they had done on why women haven't bred yet. They found that for some hugely high percentage, something like 90% iirc, one of the major factors was that they were not in what they consider a suitable stable relationship.

The relationship "problem" is certainly a double-sided one. Yes there will be some women who are looking for a suitable stable relationship with another woman (or for whom gender isn't an issue). But most will be looking for a suitable stable relationship with a man. And that very much makes men a part of this "problem."

Anonymous said...

As the featured 'real person' in this article I can honestly say I didn't even think about this perspective when I was asked to comment, yet I whole heartedly support it. I can't work out whether that makes me more or less of a feminist. Anyway - nice to find this blog (via TUMEKE). I look forward to reading it on a regular basis.

Frank Stupid said...

...argh, I often have the opposite problem of wanting to ask mothers I meet "no, but what do you do for a job?", when they tell me that they are mothers/homemakers (a strong instinct for self-preservation means I surpress the urge to actually say that, I hasten to add).

It's been drummed into me for so long that status in society is tied to a paying job that it is hard to break the train of thinking.

... it occurs to me that quite apart from the cultural shift, it will also take a much greater narrowing of the wage gap between men and women before more men make the jump into full-time child-raising.

Ex-expat said...


Thanks for stopping by! I don't think that your comments make you less of a feminist but a shows the lack of analyitical thought in the article as I notice the other 'real person' was also a woman who had given up a career to be with her kids.