The conversations I’ve been having around motherhood lately have been really interesting – not only with mums, but with dads and even those who choose not to parent. I’m a firm believer that one should only have kids if you really do have a strong desire to be a parent. Some women don’t. Some women are completely fulfilled in their life without parenting a child and it really annoys me when these lovely ladies get pressure from others about whether they will have children. It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century, a woman is still judged on the choices that she makes about her own reproductive system.
A male friend and dad was going through a hard time and asked me why women appeared to change once they have kids. I answered this at the time but it’s been churning around in my head ever since. The answer, I think, is threefold:
- Life doesn’t change as much for the dad as it does for the mum. That’s not some heteronormative cis-gendered point of view; it’s simple biology. The birthing process and breastfeeding experience (even if it’s a struggle and you don’t continue with it) hormonally wire women to connect deeply. I think this is often why we hear of “mum guilt” and not “dad guilt”, why custodial arrangement so often have a higher percentage of care by mothers. Mothers (for the most part) don’t choose how involved they are in the raising of their children – dads do, whether they are in a relationship with the mother or not.
- Almost every woman I have spoken to has either experienced a massive loss or massive change of self to deal with the constant demands on their time. Nothing prepares you for it. I work with children for a job, I baby-sat, I was by no means the first one of my friends to have a child. But my self disappeared amongst massive anxiety about my child, amongst being the only person that could fulfil my son’s needs the majority of the time, amongst the loss of freedom to someone who had never before felt caged. The one thing that kept me going through the earliest and most difficult of days was that I had always wanted to be a mother and that a part of me would always have felt incomplete if it had not happened for me. But the part of me that could just up and go, the part of me that made my own decisions based on MY needs, she had to disappear for a while. Now that CJ is older, I have way more flexibility than I did in those early days. It’s definitely easier to seek out short-term care solutions when I need it. But the big stuff? The life decisions about our future? They are always being made with what is good for him in mind.
- Any single problem that you had in your relationship beforehand? Exacerbated ten-fold when you have kids. Scientific studies have shown that two-thirds of married couples have a decrease in relationship satisfaction after having kids. It’s the truth that makes me flinch whenever I see couples trying for “band-aid” babies; I’ve never ever seen that situation work out well. I mean, I get it – only two months before our inevitable split, CJ’s dad and I were talking about having another kid – but it’s not a good idea. If there’s a lack of trust, a lack of intimacy, an issue that is a frequent bone of contention, mismatched libidos (add any other marital problem you have here)… having a kid is not going to make that better. Being chronically sleep-deprived makes you less tolerant of your partner’s flaws than you were before. Resentment can build up very quickly on both sides and something that you may have let slide before (he stayed out late with his friends drinking, she spent money that you’d agreed you’d save) suddenly is a big deal. Everything feels much higher-stakes and you live your lives with a constant audience growing ever more aware of the state of your relationship.
I don’t regret becoming a mother and I never will. Being a solo mum is hard sometimes but it still will never make me wish for a different life. But I openly agree with my friend that women change because I’m not the same person I used to be. Huge life events do that to you. I’m not the same person I was before my mum died. I’m not the same person that I was before I became a mum myself. I like the growing up that becoming a mum forced me to do (who knew that at 29, I still had some growing up to do?) but I do know I’m different. And I know that in that, I’m not alone.