On a cloudy Wednesday morning last month, I signed up to do some volunteering with my coworkers. About seven of us showed up, and after our task was completed, we walked to a restaurant across the street from the volunteer site for lunch. While waiting for the food, conversations began about a variety of topics. At one point, one of my coworkers, a 29 year old female, declared out loud that she felt no desire to have kids whatsoever.
“I mean, I love kids and all, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll be a good mom, but I just don’t feel any need or want to have kids,” she said.
Another coworker, a white female in her mid-thirties, echoed the sentiment. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I feel like I’d rather be a very good aunt.”
A second coworker chimed in, “I’m still on the fence about it,” she said.
A few murmurs went around table. Of course, mine was not one of them. I remained silent. After all, I was the only person at that table who have kids. I felt like the odd (wo)man out.
When I was 23 years old, I got married. Fresh out of college, I married my high school sweetheart. We’d already been together for six years by that point. Like many smart twenty-somethings, we decided to wait a few years before having a kid. We figured we were still very young and not ready yet. Thus, we had a couple of years of childless freedom, where waking up at 9 a.m. was normal on the weekends, and we could go anywhere we wanted without having to consider logistics thoroughly, as one would often do when there is a kid involved.
When my daughter was born, I had just turned 28 ten days prior, and my husband was 26. Therefore, we thought we were pretty “normal.” We had reached at point where the consensus was, “Even though we’re not ready financially, we are ready mentally, so we’re going to do it.”
Jumping into parenthood in your late twenties was something that I thought everyone from my generation did. Little did I know that a few years later, I would come to discover that a lot of people from my generational cohort do not feel the same way.
The reality is this–more and more people are delaying parenthood. Take, for example, in a recent survey done by Discover.com illustrates this ambivalence towards parenthood has a lot to do with age and people’s perception of their maturity. They found that out of 1000 people born between 1981 and 1997, the older the person the more “ready” they feel for parenthood. Feeling like you’re ready is a major personal accomplishment. The majority of 19 to 27 year olds do not feel ready at all, whereas those ages 28 to 36 feels somewhat ready. [Keyword: somewhat… because nobody is ever truly 100% ready].
I wondered to myself if geography plays a role in child rearing. After all, where I live (the Pacific Northwest) people’s political views tend to be more liberal, and along with that comes a new wave of feminism in which women (and men) are delaying parenthood for the pursuit other goals, because it makes them feel empowered to be able to choose. Nowadays, it’s quite common to see parents of toddlers with gray hair at the playground and libraries (two places that are always filled with kids). This realization is unsettling to me. It makes me feel even more out of place in this parenting journey. Perhaps if I was a thirty-something ten years ago, I mused, I would’ve seen more parents my own age, but nowadays I do not. I see parents who have obtained higher education (masters and Ph.Ds), began their careers many years ago, and have purchased a home and have money in savings. In other words, they are more “well-off” than I am. Their gray hair gave way to the years of maturity demonstrated in their age and their wrinkle lines, the result of the careful planning of their lives.
I discussed this observation with my husband, and he agreed. We both felt like a little fish in a big body of water, who somehow managed to swim away from its own territory and are now lost in the sea of much older, larger, and more aggressive fishes.
So it’s not surprising that my 29-year-old feminist coworker feels empowered by NOT having kids. After all, statistics show that not only do millenials feel that they’re not ready yet, but they also want to pursue personal goals such as buying a home, getting a pet, having money in the bank, and having a stable, well-paying career before having kids. As if having all of those things will ensure that you will be a great parent.
Never have this evidence been so evident last year, when my daughter was in her first year of preschool. At the time, we took her to the university daycare center where my husband was a student. My daughter, although new to the social realm of preschool, made friends quickly. One day, one of her friend’s moms invited us over to their place for a play date. She also invited two other boys and their moms.
While our kids played in the other room, the four of us sat in the living room and talked. We talked about a variety of things that our children did, what they did for extracurricular activities, and so on. As I sat there and observed the other moms, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, they must be at least 5 years older than me.” Turns out, two of the moms were around 10 years older than I am. One was a lesbian mom whose partner was also slightly older. Another mom had a husband who became a college professor before the age of 30. And the mom who invited us over was in her early forties, I presumed, because she talked about how there isn’t much of an age difference between her and her husband, and when I finally saw her husband later, he resembled an older version of Homer Simpson.
The realization that these parents probably graduated college before I even began high school stayed with me for awhile.
Many of us forget that women have a biological clock. This clock certainly will not slow down even if you have a big house, your student loans paid off, a stable career, a savings account, and so on. So often I hear tales of infertility, and I wondered to myself–did these people thought that their fertility was invincible, that they can just easily get pregnant in less than a year once they deemed themselves “ready”? Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where your body and your mind may not agree. It is incredibly heart-wrenching to wait so long to have kids, only to wait even longer to have them. At that point, you just hope for a miracle of some kind.
My mom is a perfect example of a “fertility miracle.” Unlike her sisters and sisters-in-law, she was told by doctors after having her second kid that she would never have another one. This was difficult for a 27-year-old woman to hear. But she trooped on and went about with her life. So it was a great surprise to my parents when I came to the world ten years later, when she was 37.
Because I was born to an older mom, and one who worked a lot, I had an unstable relationship with her. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t like other moms who were always around, taking care of everyone, making sure I had enough kisses and snuggles. She put food on the table, and kept our family from sinking even further into poverty, but as far as the relationship factor was concerned, it was nonexistent.
Thus, armed with this experience, I knew that I didn’t want to wait until my mid-thirties to have children. I knew that waiting was the right choice, but only up to a certain point. Waiting so long because you want to achieve other extrinsic goals first was not something I considered. Simply put, I knew that I wanted to be able to relate to my kids better, and felt that I could only do so if I was a younger mom.
As millenials are projected to beat Baby Boomers as the largest generation ever, as indicated by the Pew Research Center, we must think about how these attitudes on child rearing will affect FUTURE generations. If millenials at their prime childbearing ages do not children, many family lineages will stop there. Once the said millennials reach old age, they will not have children or grandchildren around to take care of them. Instead, they will have to rely on those (other millenials’ children) to take care of them. I can imagine a certain level of loneliness will ensue when those no-children millennials realize that perhaps having children wasn’t such a bad idea after all, but nonetheless it’s too late. I imagine that a certain level of guilt will accrue in their minds, but then again, who am I to judge?
I think the best way to describe having kids as this–my husband once said, “You don’t know that you want a baby until you have one, and when you finally have one, you don’t know how you could possibly live without them.” I know I can’t convince my strong-willed, independent millennial coworkers have children, but I can definitely say that having them changed my life for the better. I know that if I had waited until I felt “mature enough” personally, then that moment will most likely never happen.