Motherhood: My choice not to have children

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I have just started my final year at Durham, so I’ve started signing up to careers agencies and have half a dozen or so application pages bookmarked on my computer. The thought of deciding what to do with the rest of my life is a strange one – but what’s even stranger is knowing that I would only have so much time doing my job before I would have to take an extended absence, cut my hours or leave altogether.

We live in an era in which child care is increasingly shared between men and women, however, the balance is still way off kilter.

A 2017 study found that women spend twice as much time caring for their children as men and although 74% of women return in some capacity to the workforce, only 40% return full time.

The balance is still way off kilter

This has serious implications for how far up the ladder women are able to climb. The childless have the luxury of being free to network after work has ended, keep up with developments in their field and foster their reputation by simply being around the office longer than parents who have to take maternity leave and have to collect children from school.

If being a parent means more to you than being a CEO this is obviously a tolerable sacrifice. However, when I think about my interests and goals they align far more with doing a job I love and exploring the world.

I hate the idea of my body changing and another person being dependant on it.

So, I recently decided that if children and my independence are mutually exclusive, the kids would have to go. Even beyond career concerns, this should have been obvious since I like to think I know and understand myself well.

I am not, and have never been particularly maternal or comfortable around children. I hate the idea of my body changing and another person being dependant on it.

I have a tendency to catastrophise, so being responsible for someone as vulnerable as a child would give me chronic anxiety.

However, the idea that motherhood is an ideal end is so deeply embedded in society that I think even women who would call themselves progressive or aren’t suited to parenthood can miss it.

When I was a child, I had a plastic baby doll, which could cry and be bottle fed. It’s not uncommon for children to play adult by dressing up as police officers or playing with fire trucks, but the fact that these dolls are marketed towards little girls and rarely boys suggests that women could be conditioned into thinking motherhood ought to be integral to them.

When I think about being childless I can’t shake the feeling that I will have, or will be seen to have failed in some way.

Successful childless women are barraged with questions and comments about it, which subconsciously tell us that being the Prime Minister of Australia, the most powerful woman in the world or even Rachel from Friends is not good enough if we don’t procreate.

A statistic that has long interested me is that Saudi Arabia costs itself between $80 and $100 billion in GDP per year because only 21% of women take part in the labour force.

When I think about being childless I can’t shake the feeling that I will have, or will be seen to have failed in some way.

Granted, women making the free choice to have children is unquestionably different from women being forced not to work because of repressive religious laws. And yet, I do wonder how much innovation and how many trailblazers we are missing out on because some women feel obliged to put motherhood before their careers,

Having children is by no means a bad thing. In fact, for many people having children will be an endless source of joy and fulfilment. But I’d like to encourage young women to not only decide if they want children but consider why they want them too.

Photograph: Giuseppe Milo via Flickr Creative Commons

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