Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The most tiresome old saw of all...

"Why have children if you aren't going to look after them?"

It's such an easily dismantled judgement against working parents that I am stunned it still gets airplay. As the letter writers to the Age quite succinctly managed to articulate yesterday, there are any number of reasons why parents use child care and there can be few people, even childless people, who really don't get the complexity behind individual family situations.

But it's worth looking at the question minus the judgement and ignorance, because even our righteously outraged responses belie our need to justify our parenting choices, our shopping list of acceptable reasons for using what we seem to be subconsciously tagging as a sub-optimal choice.

The best way for me to talk about why I had children if I was going to "get someone else to bring them up" (that's a fallacy for another post, all on its own) is to talk about my own story.

When I had my first child at the age of twenty, I very much was of Ms Hutchison's bewildered point of view - how could anyone give birth and then surrender care of that infant? Then after another child appeared soon after, my marriage broke down, and I was suffering a severe post natal depression with two children under two. I found myself using family daycare two days a week, because my mental health demanded it. All of a sudden, I understood that sacrificing two days a week did not mean sacrificing my status as mother. (I suggest that most mothers of teenagers wish it were so easy to let oneself off the hook!)

Why did I have those two children? Like many young mothers, there was no reason that I had them other than that a sperm met an egg, and I gestated. Twice. There was no relationship between my reasoning to have them (what little reasoning there was, and I fully own the deficit) and my subsequent decision to use daycare. We functioned as a unit, and there was a need, and as the only responsible parent in the picture, I met the need as best I could.

I know women - stay at home mothers and working-out-of-home mothers alike who have had children for a variety of reasons. Holding their marriage together. A daughter fantasy. A son dream. A desire to heal a fractured childhood. An inability to feel purpose without a foetus on board. An insufficiency of love. Hormones. Intense maternal instinct. A great love of children, babies, laughs, learning to walk and read, the soft skin on a toddler's belly when you push your lips against it and blow raspberries and the ripples of giggles that flow through them to your kiss.

Why have children if.... you are going to shout at them when they are naughty? Choose public schooling? Not give them siblings? Vaccinate them? Not vaccinate them? Not breastfeed them? Pass on family illnesses? These are our assumptions, our judgements, our retaliations against why we think people ought to have children, but how many of us had children "just so we could do everything right"? Is that anyone's motivation for having a child?

It's not mine, and never has been. These are judgements we make after our children are a fact, after they've burrowed into our hearts and we are already caught up on the balancing beam of meeting their needs, assuaging our love, and defending it all against the challenges of a world that insists on throwing us parents off kilter at every turn.

Fast forward twenty years.

Here I am. Without intending it, a sperm met and egg, and I am gestating. I wasn't thrilled about it to begin with, but like many relationships, it's growing on me. At nearly five months, I can feel my little precious baby wriggling around from time to time, reminding me that it's there.

Will I use daycare? Probably, at some point. I'm planning on returning to work after taking a year off to be "just mum". But my income is necessary for the other five children to have the chances they deserve in life, and the world benefits in some small way from the work I do. And my husband and I will go on juggling what we have been juggling for some time while he does the "mum stuff" and I come home from work and ask what's for tea.

So why have this baby? Because I love it. Because it's growing in me, and it's my baby, and will be my toddler and my grown daughter or son. And the fact that it will be in the world and loved is enough reason to have it.

I hope that answers your question, Ms Hutchison.

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