UK columnist Madeleine Bunting argues that one of the main reasons why birth rates are declining is a culture that is incompatible with parenthood.
The subtitle of the article says it all: "In a society that values consumption, choice and independence above all, it's a wonder that we have as many babies as we do."
Here is the most salient section of the article:
Pregnancy sabotages three characteristics highly valued by our culture.
First, independence: pregnancy heralds at least one relationship of
dependence, and there is often greater dependence on partners, mothers and,
eventually, childminders and the like. But you've spent much of the previous 10
years attempting to eradicate any hint of dependence, either of your own or of
others on you. Secondly, pregnancy is about a long-term commitment, and having avoided all such (including probably to your partner), you are, at the very
least, uneasy about it. Finally, the big bump in your stomach spells out one
thing for sure - a huge constraint on many choices, and choice has been integral
to your sense of a life worth living.
In other words, the self we are encouraged to develop through much of our education system and early adulthood is of no use whatsoever to a new parent. What use is that sassy, independent, self-assertive, knowing-what-youwant-and-how-to-get-it type when you fast forward five years to the emotional labour of helping a child develop selfconfidence? Once there's a baby in the cot, you
need steadiness, loyalty, endurance, patience, sensitivity and even self-denial
- all the characteristics that you've spent the previous decade trashing as dull
or, even worse, for losers. Forget trying to work out your own feelings - you'll
be too busy trying to work out those of your children; ditto self-confidence and
Motherhood hits most women like a car crash: they have absolutely no idea
of what is coming. Nothing in our culture recognises, let alone encourages, the
characteristics you will need once a bawling infant has been tenderly placed in
your arms. So the debate about the baby gap is about far more than tweaking parental leave; it's about what a culture values and promotes. And it matters not just because of that falling birthrate, but because of how women stumble towards their own private insights into the importance of mothering - to which they cling in the face of not just zero endorsement from wider society but
The painful paradox is that while women have liberated themselves from
being defined by their biology - the fate of the girl in many African and Asian
societies who is not truly a woman until she has given birth - mothers have
ended up relegated to the status of constant abject failure in a culture driven by consumerism and workaholism. There is no kudos in being a mum, only in being other things - such as thin, or the boss - despite being a mum. Motherhood is a form of handicap.
While I'm not a mother, I can tell you that parenting requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice. Just this morning, I calculated that our monthly expenses are about 10X what they were when my wife and I were just a single couple living on our own, mostly due to our two bundles of joy.
And that's just the money. Let's not forget that all the time and energy that used to be devoted to parties, socializing, eating out, sports, shopping, and all the other consumer activities of our society, are redirected towards diaper-changing, feeding, and sorting through a vertigo-inducing amount of advice from every source imaginable.
I'm not sure if I agree with everything stated in the column, but I think she's 100% correct that our culture has swung against parenthood, and that is a fact that should disturb all of us. Ultimately, man is like any other animal, and the decline of birthrates below replacement levels, if maintained indefinitely, will lead to our extinction.