Okay, so not a recipe. The camera battery died, so have this instead: not a post about parenting, but about not parenting! Perhaps an odd way to start off something that is ultimately a parenting blog, but I’m full of surprises. I will be using gender-neutral pronouns in this post: xe for s/he, hir for his/her/him.
For a long time I have been aware of the Desperate Grandparent phenomenon online – the forums I frequent (Shakesville in particular) are full of people who do not want to have children and whose parents don’t understand or believe them. Recently I’ve become aware of it in my own life, although (obviously) not applied directly to me, but to a relative of mine who is ambitious, works hard, and appears to be completely happy in hir chosen career. Furthermore, xe is vocal about not wanting to have children. And I can understand why.
Thirteen months ago, I had a full-time job with a good salary, worked part-time as a freelance writer, and updated my cooking blog several times a week. Now I do no paid work, have only just started writing again, and spend my days catering to N’s every whim. This is not something I begrudge, but I do worry about my career, about my family finances, about my ability to interact with other adults, about my sanity (there are occasional days where I hate N’s behaviour and the situation I’m stuck in, and on those days I fear depression). At the same time I love N and enjoy my life with her, relish the opportunity to spend so much time watching and helping her develop, feel pride in the fact that she is exclusively breastfed.
Ultimately, none of the things I was doing thirteen months ago were that important to me. I hated teaching and was beginning to resent the internalized pressure of keeping a blog updated regularly (foreshadowing? I hope not!). The only thing that was important to me was continuing to write, and that is something I have managed to keep doing – but only just. N is nearly five months old and only now have I got the mental energy to write.
If I had loved my job – like my relative does – then things would be entirely different. On becoming pregnant, I would not be able to do that job for a significant period of time. I would miss out on anything that happened in my field during my maternity leave. I would not progress any further in my career – in fact, it’s more likely that I would slip back a notch or two, and when I returned to work, have to waste another few months (or years?) getting back to the position I started in. I would be passed over for promotion in favour of men, or of people without children. I would have to use my holiday and sick days to look after that child during school holidays and hir illnesses. In hir early years, a large proportion of my salary would go to childcare providers. My superiors would think less of me for having children – my family and peers would think less of me for being so career-minded. To me, this sounds like some form of hell.
These desperate grandparents say things like “it’s different once you have your own!” It is, yes. I love N fiercely. But that love does not change anything else about the world. I’m still less likely to get a job than another twenty-two-year-old with a good degree.
I wanted children. (I still do.) I knew some of what it entailed as my parents were always very honest with me about parenting – I was present at my sister’s birth, I witnessed my mother breastfeeding my siblings, I watched my parents raising us and discussed it with them when I felt there was something better they could do (as only a teenager could) – but I still had no idea.
I don’t know why my relative – or anyone else – doesn’t want children, and I don’t need to know. Personally, I can imagine not wanting children because the working world is unfriendly towards parents (especially, I believe, towards parents who experience pregnancy), because some people value their career and/or lack of dependents above potential children, and because pregnancy is kind of horrifying.*
It baffles me that you would want to force children on anyone – let alone your own offspring.
*This is something I feel very strongly about and intend to revisit in another post. Pregnancy is natural, sure, but also weirdly like a horror movie.