For some, having children and teaching them how to navigate our messy world is the most important thing a person can do. To others, the horrors of childbirth and the commitment to a nuclear family with 2.4 children is enough to make them break out in hives. The rest are somewhere in between. Kids could be on the horizon, but they need to work out how to look after themselves a bit better, first.
While biological advances mean fewer obstacles stand in the way of conceiving, it’s easier to keep postponing the conversation with yourself or your partner about whether kids fit into your life when being childfree is less taboo and the cost of living just keeps on crawling up. And being able to do more or less whatever the hell you want - whether that’s sitting in your PJs until 5pm on a Sunday afternoon or jetting off to Tunisia on a whim - surely never gets old. And so, birthrates among millennials are dropping.
“Right now, I have no idea if I'll want kids,” says Ruby Webbe*, a 24-year-old who works in marketing in London. “When I was a teenager, I always thought I'd grow up, get married, have kids and the traditional family set-up. Now I've started my career, it just seems like so much to give up. And I know people say you don't have to give up your whole life when you have kids but you kind of do, I think.”
She argues that the weight on women to decide whether or not to add ‘become a mum’ to their bucket list is heavier than that on men, because the toll it takes on their bodies and their careers.
“I imagine my mindset might change by the time I'm in my 30s, but right now, I don't even like children. Apparently you like your own, but right now the prospect is most unappealing,” she says.
Rosie Bird, a 25-year-old mother of three, warns anyone of the fence that parenthood is hardly rainbows and sunshine (unless the rainbows you’re envisioning are made of baby poop and greeny-yellow puke).
“I think the main thing people need to consider is if they're willing to give up looking out mainly for themselves. It all shifts when you have a kid,” she warns. “You have a tiny human you have to look after, no just jumping in the shower whenever you want or having a 3 hour nap.
“Oh,” she adds wistfully, “and the lay ins...make the most of them while you can.”
Kids are also bloody expensive, she adds. Bird would know, she has three boys aged six, four and 15-months. “Financial stability. That helps a lot," she says.
She reassures anyone who recoils a little when they are near children that they're probably not dead inside. She didn’t always like kids, either.
“I just knew they were usually sticky and loud. Now I have my three boys though I love all kids! They're so innocent and cute. As soon as I saw my chubby nearly 10lb baby lifted up to me, covered in his own poo I fell in love," she says with a laugh. "Plus it gives you an excuse to play with Lego and watch Disney movies all day.”
But, Bird wishes that there was more honesty about how tough parenting is. Understanding how a child is a lifelong commitment, long past the nappies and night-feeding stage, is key in deciding whether or not to have them. “You see other parents and they have their stuff handled. Or so you think. You don't see the constant nappy changes, the sleepless nights, the screaming, the struggle getting out of the house to go anywhere and getting there on time and then forgetting the changing bag, or realising you are wearing odd shoes, and haven't brushed your hair. Nobody sees those bits.”
Who you might have these hypothetical children with - or not- is another issue to consider. Ammanda Major, Relates Head of Clinical Practice and Service Quality, tells The Independent that the issue of parenthood is something that comes up regularly in the counselling room, and came sometimes, but not always, end relationships.
“Out of all the things I’ve had to deal with over my years as a counsellor, I’ve found that childlessness can cause some of the most pain in relationships,” she says.
“It’s very often the case that the couple haven’t discussed having children as part of their getting together. People sometimes just assume that their partner will want children. In second or third relationships one partner may already have children but doesn’t want any more. For other couples who both have children, having a child of their own can feel like a seal on the relationship.”
“You might choose to accept the partner doesn’t want to have children or go along with a partner who does but often this will resurface later down the line.
“It’s important to remember that even if one of you has spoken in the past about wanting children, life changes mean that they could think differently in a few years’ time," she says.
One thing that is clear is that having a child to save a relationship is almost always a terrible idea.
Mirroring Bird’s warning, Major adds that those on the fence must consider the toll a child can take on a relationship. “What will it feel like if one of you is too tired for sex or talking or working? Talk about what support you have and how you can feed the couple relationship as well as the family relationship. Having children doesn’t come with a manual and it’s different for everyone.”
“You absolutely need to talk about whether to have children and don’t make any assumptions. You might think you want children them but nobody prepares you for what it’s really going to be like. Until you get there, it can be difficult to imagine how much a child can impact on a relationship. But if possible, think about the kind of conversations you might need to have to keep the show on the road.”
And at the end of the day, no one can decide whether or not you want children but you.
*Name has been changed
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