No, Society Doesn’t Pressure Women to Have Children

No, Society Doesn’t Pressure Women to Have Children

The best decision couples will ever make is to raise children.
Bethany Mandel
By

In what might be the friendliest piece National Review Online has ever published about Amanda Marcotte, writer A.J. Delgado defends her (and Marcotte’s) choice to be childless as a conservative woman. Delgado argues that children and women are better off without mothers who bear them out of a sense of societal pressure or obligation.

As a mother who had her first child several years before her 30th birthday to a chorus of family and friends asking, “What’s the rush?” I was immediately struck by this question: “What pressure?” Our society no longer places marriage and parenthood at the top of our list of priorities, as evidenced by plunging birth rates and rising average ages for first marriages.

Since having a baby last year, I’ve had the same interaction a dozen times with friends and family members who do not have children. Friends from years past and present come out of the woodwork to ask me about parenthood. There is one universal emotion they all seem to feel about becoming parents: fear. (It’s more like abject terror.) They’ve heard the horror stories from friends, family, the entertainment world. Blogs like this highlight miserable parents who regret their life choices, accentuating everyone else’s fears. Parents and the childless alike have no qualms about portraying early parenthood as a sleep-deprived, vomit-covered, miserable period in life.

The Great Sleep God

Their first question, posed with extreme trepidation, is always about sleep. How do I possibly manage it? Can I still see straight? Is my soul being destroyed slowly by this little creature draining me of my life force? They try to convince me that, unlike every other human being, they really need their sleep. Like, really need it. They cannot possibly function without it. Despite my assurances that it is indeed possible, as evidenced by the survival of the human race, they never stop looking at me skeptically, eyeing the bags under my eyes (which, for the record, have always been there). Most of the conversation about my relatively new experience of motherhood revolves around sleep, to the exclusion of all other experiences outside of what can be a very challenging aspect of beginning parenting.

So what do I tell them?

One can never really be ready for parenthood and, somehow, everyone makes it work.

When I was pregnant I kept asking my husband why we were doing this totally illogical thing. This baby would take our spare money, sleep, patience, and time, and then some. It would derail my career and interfere with my love of travel and leisurely weekend cooking and baking. And yet, we were doing it. But why? To quote the great Bob Kelso: “Nothing in this world that’s worth having comes easy.” And yes, children are worth having, sleep deprivation or not.

And yet, Americans are having children later and later in life. They are waiting for any number of reasons: money, career, a fuzzy but nagging desire to really “live life” before settling down. Kids are too much work, so society tells us to just get a dog instead. Delgado’s piece specifically references Pope Francis’s admonishments for those who choose to treat their dogs and cats as replacement children.

This delay in childbearing has personal and societal consequences. Those facing infertility face an uphill battle when the first attempts at procreation take place after their mid-20s. With fewer childbearing years, there are fewer children born to American parents as the years pass. Americans are making the supposedly “logical” decision and delaying children until they deem the time is “right,” according to financial, career, and personal benchmarks. Many, like Delgado, believe that the time will never truly be right, and have written at length about their decision forgo parenthood altogether. My husband and I decided to blaze ahead, hoping that our finances, careers, and personal lives would work themselves out to make room for a third person in our family, and thankfully, they have. We heeded the advice of older generations of our families who told us that one can never really be ready for parenthood and, somehow, everyone makes it work.

Actually, People Find Children Fulfilling

Making it work means different things for different people, and doesn’t require one to become a “welfare queen,” as Delgado references later in the piece. What the “child-free” don’t seem to understand is that having children isn’t a selfless decision made by individuals easily pressured by friends and family to produce offspring. Parenthood is enjoyable, fulfilling, and highly entertaining, even through its challenges.

A funny thing happens when people have children. They tend to do the whole thing over again. An ad for Coca Cola in South America went viral last year among most of my parent friends. It showed the hell and utter joy of new parenthood, ending with the couple celebrating their second pregnancy. Horror stories and listicles highlighting the horrors of pregnancy and childrearing earn clicks. They make parents laugh and validate the decisions of those who have chosen to delay or avoid parenthood altogether, but they don’t paint an accurate picture of the joys of parenthood nearly as well as they do the challenges.

While Delgado is completely within her rights to remain “child-free,” it’s absurd to think that having children is a decision that parents make based solely on societal or social pressure. Men and women are having children later and later across the West, if they are having children at all. Before deciding to totally turn our lives upside-down, my husband and I didn’t take the plunge because all of our friends were doing it, because they’re not. We did it because we thought it was worth the upheaval in our lives. And we were right.

Give Birth Before Belittling It

Child-free individuals like Delgado lose those of us in the parent camp by deeming childrearing “breeding.” Delgado claims, “Having children isn’t an achievement. The entire animal kingdom does it. The ‘welfare queen’ down the block has done it six times with another on the way. Having a child is not an achievement—raising a child well is.” As any woman who has grown a human being inside their body and then either pushed it out or had it surgically removed, I can assure her that pregnancy and birth is itself an accomplishment.

Any woman who chooses to take a pregnancy to term, something many do not, should be applauded and celebrated. As a conservative, Delgado shouldn’t be so quick to write off the importance of celebrating a woman bringing new life into the world, even if she is a “welfare queen.” Every child has value, regardless of the circumstances of its birth. This inherent need to minimize the act of childbearing on the part of the child-free is as Progressive as it gets, despite Delgado’s claim that the child-free life is a choice that is “certainly no less conservative.”

I invite other conservative parents to help change our cultural narrative on parenting. We need to talk about why we became parents, and why we continue to “have a child, then another, then another.” We’re not just doing it for society, for our friends, for our families. Even if we have to get a little mushy, it’s worth extolling the virtue of childbearing and childrearing, lest the Delgados and Marcottes of the world scare more couples away from the best decision they will ever make.

Bethany Mandel is a stay-at-home mother of three children under four and a writer on politics and culture. She is a columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward, and a contributor at Acculturated. She lives with her husband, Seth, in New Jersey. You can follow her on Twitter @BethanyShondark.
Photo By: David Dodge

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