Is modern life changing motherhood expectations?
A few days ago, I met with an old friend from my uni years who had to overnight in London. It’s been ages since we saw each other and ever since many things have happened to us. As we kept on talking and catching up, the conversation moved on to marriage, mortgage, and kids i.e. the true adult world. In a period of my life when half of my Facebook page is saturated with pictures of weddings, and the other half with pictures of new-born babies, I have to recognise I still astonish myself when some acquaintance has tied the knot or is about to, or has had a baby. One of those times I couldn’t help but slipping an ‘already??’ in a conversation with my mom, after learning a friend from childhood younger than I just got married. ‘Oh well, it’s a good age to get married, you’re not that young’ my mom would say. And I agreed with her; putting it from perspective it wouldn’t be abnormal to get married or start a family at my age. Thinking about it, at my age my mom was already married, had a mortgage and a one-year-old baby (spoiler alert: myself). Maybe because my lifestyle is far different from those expectations and my most direct responsibilities include a potential cat, a couple of regular subscriptions and a rent in London, there’s still the feeling that I can’t reach yet those three commitments.
Sure, I want to be a mom, but not yet. It’s not the right timing.
It’s interesting how motherhood expectations have evolved during my lifetime. I still remember how much I wanted to be a mom and be pregnant as a child. I just found it beautiful. I would nurse my dolls, I would tuck a cushion under my sweater to resemblance a pregnancy and I would draw stories with lots of babies and moms to be. All I wanted to be was a mom and I wanted to be so by the age of 22 –because as a child that seemed a very reasonable age to have children; it sounded adult enough–. Then, my teens arrived and Sex & the city with them; Carry Bradshaw became my heroine and my ultimate goal of being a young mom changed. I had more things to focus on and more dreams to fulfil before getting onto the mysterious -but still beautiful- motherhood world. I swapped all those dreams filled with babies and swollen bellies by a dream-life of independence, living on takeaway and writing on my desk facing a window just like Carrie. It was much more exciting dreaming about travelling the world, discovering other cultures, enjoying the perks of earning my own money, living abroad and speaking lots of English. That’s what I thought becoming a modern, 21st century professional woman should be. And partially yes, there’s been travelling and living abroad and speaking lots of English and being completely independent, and earning my own money –even writing articles facing a window. I got all that and beyond, so my teen-self can be damn happy about it. But what about my dreams of having a baby? Oh well, during my teens I also realised 22 was too soon to have a baby and I put that goal off. Career and independence first, babies maybe later. Moreover, all the talks and fears around teen pregnancies terrified me enough to erase any wish left of getting pregnant. Now the goal turned into avoid having babies.
Pregnancy equals panic.
So by the time I was having the conversation last Wednesday with my friend, I would say I didn’t see myself having children until reaching at least 35 years old, as if my uterus was an oven I could switch on to bake my buns at my best convenience. If only it was that easy. She made a great point by saying how much we spend half of our reproductive life focusing on avoiding pregnancy by all means to maybe then discover that it is too late for that. But who does think about it until the very moment you decide to start trying? – I still remember how much I freaked out when last winter, my GP asked me in total seriousness if I was planning to get pregnant in two years’ time. I said ‘of course not’ and he said ‘well, the clock is ticking, and you’re not getting any younger’. I suddenly got goosebumps and a cold sweat. He gave me a prescription and a week of identity crisis for free; that was pressure and not my pressure cooker. Of course, we all have different bodies and reproductive lives, but it made me reflect on how our modern lifestyle does affect our life priorities.
After that visit to the GP I felt two poles pulling from opposite directions; do I want to use my eggs now or wait longer and settle in my professional path? After giving it a quick thought, I decided it wasn’t the best idea to have a baby just for the sake of my reproductive system. However, I started wondering, is today’s lifestyle affecting our traditional conceptions and values? Unlike previous generations who had much more extreme choices -either having a family or a career-, all the changes we have gone through in the last 25 years have consequently shifted some priorities our parents had. It is a step forward that now we can choose to have both a career and a family; however, the issue relies on when and how.
Even though choices in life are quickly changing from baby-boomers, gender expectations are not as fast as we wanted.
Nowadays, choices and limitations are so different to those from the baby-boom generation that it seems to me life stages are not as structured as they used to. If back in the day getting a fixed job with a fixed salary was easier, nowadays we jump from contract to contract, even from country to country to build our career. It is therefore that settlement is getting more difficult overtime; marriage is not as relevant anymore -even though social pressure is still lingering there- and getting a mortgage is harder than ever. We have also seen that motherhood is not as ideal as they used to put it, and managing a career and a family is something we do have to think twice before diving in. It is therefore that we want to give ourselves the freedom to enjoy our youth maybe travelling abroad, sleeping 9 hours in the weekends or binge-watching series if we want to before juggling with the tricky work-family balance.
However, one of the the trickiest obstacles we have to come up with is ambition. According to a Harvard study, even though expectations in work and family tend to be similar between men and women, in reality it is not. Half of the millennial men interviewed in the study still have the breadwinner role expectations in raising children, by leaning more responsibility to women and 42 per cent of women still believed they had more responsibility in the care taking. Cultural inertia is a thing, and we still have to deal with it. So what do we do? Shall we expect to find the best timing to have a family before it's too late? Well, I believe the first step should come from governments and workplaces, which are still struggling with the incorporation of women to workforce. Maybe there is where fear lies and maybe, someday, younger generations won’t feel the fear of having babies anymore because they will feel fully supported. However, in the meantime, I’ll get a kitten while I wait a little longer for my time to be a successful professional and a mom. I hope I have some eggs left by then.