We’re Not ‘Putting Off’ Having Kids To Have Fun. We’re Too Terrified Of The Future To Even Consider It

Aren't babies just becoming a 21st century luxury?


by Daisy Buchanan |
Published on

It’s not as if we needed reminding that, as women, our bodies are disputed territory. Everyone, whether they’re a gynaecologist, a pop star, the Pope, a plastic surgeon or our Mum seems to have strong and sometimes offensive views about what goes where, how we use it, what it should look like and who should get to look at it. Still, this week, the debate seems to be raging extra hard.

It began with Kirstie Allsopp’s suggestion that women should think more carefully about their fertility window, and maybe consider having a family first, before going off to university and working out what they want from their careers. Then MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy pointed out that if UKIP are in a position to implement policies that restrict immigration, the UK birth rate will plummet, and we’re going to have a real problem sustaining growth in the future. ‘So unless women like me have a lot of children very quickly our ability to sustain our economy, to sustain our public services [will suffer],’ she told Progress.

There are more people on my Facebook feed complaining about babies than there are actual babies

It’s doesn’t surprise me that there are more over-65s than under-16s in Britain – no-one in my immediate circle has children of their own. I have 16 cousins, four boys and 12 girls, aged between 21 and 33. Most of us went to university. None of us have children. And it’s a similar scenario in my friendship group. There are more people on my Facebook feed complaining about babies than there are actual babies.

So what’s going on? Are we a generation of selfish narcissists, too obsessed with documenting our dinner to respect and take part of the miracle of life? Are we just too fussy when it comes to finding someone? Are we obsessed with our careers; cold and incapable of motherly love but all too eager to spunk stupid amounts of money on stupid shoes? None of those apply to anyone I know.

There's an assumption that Millennials aren't thinking enough about their future, but I believe it’s all we think about. So we’re not ‘putting off’ having children to have fun. Most of us are too broke to be having much fun, and too fearful about the future to think it’s ever going to be a good idea to have children at all.

‘There’s never a “right time” for babies, darling,' is the advice my mum has given me on the subject. 'You just have to get on with it. You’re never going to have enough time and money, but it all works out somehow!’ Mum, I love you, but ‘it all works out somehow’ isn’t something I can cheerfully tell the Student Loan collection officers.

When my parents bought their first house in the 1980s, the average house cost £40,000 and the average salary was just over £14,000. Getting a permanent place to raise your family was feasible. Since then wages have gone up, on average, by just over £10k, but houses cost, on average, an extra £146,00. When the cost of living has shot up this dramatically, why talk euphemistically about the ‘right time’? It’s the wrong bloody decade.

My friend Hannah is getting married in a few months and the plan was to ‘crack on’ with kids immediately afterwards – she’s 28, so more or less on schedule according to Kirstie. ‘But the more I think about it, the more I want to delay it, and the more I think “maybe not ever”,’ she told me. Hannah is an incredibly successful environmental planner, and her fiancé is a freelancer. ‘We’ve just bought a house, which has been a bit of a financial nightmare. Every other month some insane, random expense leaps out and grabs us by the ankles. And we only have one income we can rely on. When we’ve had a bad month, we can eat cereal for dinner. You can’t raise a baby on Weetabix suppers.’

'When we’ve had a bad month, we can eat cereal for dinner. You can’t raise a baby on Weetabix suppers’

Hannah adds that she’s not unusual. ‘In every couple I know, at least one person has an unpredictable income, and that’s not necessarily because of the industry they have chosen to work in. Increasingly, people seem to be losing permanent jobs and stuck on contracts. And it’s really difficult to run a house on a single income, unless you have some six-figure salary that requires you to work 50 hours a week and never see the family you’re supporting.’

However, Hannah isn’t heartbroken about a childfree future.‘I really love my job, and I know I’m good at it. I love having the time to hang out with my fiancé, and being able to live in a house I own,’ she says. ‘It makes me angry that some people would see not having kids and enjoying myself as a selfish choice, when I’m really just trying to make the best of the situation I find myself in. Wouldn’t it be more selfish to have kids just because I wanted them, and then force my mum to look after them full time because I have to go out to work? I feel like the future has never been more uncertain for people in their 20s and 30s, and I wouldn’t want to have children growing up with that horrible sense of uncertainty.’

Personally, I’m with Hannah. I feel like I was born at the wrong time for babies, so I might as well enjoy the enforced freedom that comes with deciding not to be a mum, instead of bringing children into the world and knowing every day would be a stretch and a struggle.

But Stella Creasy’s point is a worrying one. If a generation of women feel like Hannah and me, there just won’t be a generation that comes afterwards. We urgently need affordable housing, greater job security, and a working (and social) culture that promotes parenting in both men and women. If women in their 20s are out earning menfor example, it might be time to ask the boys some pertinent questions about if and when they intend to become fathers, too.

If there’s any upside to this situation, though, it’s that we’re not accepting motherhood as our automatic destiny, just because we’re women. We’re being much more mindful about the choices we make, and calmly accepting that we can’t have it all. At the moment, a career isn’t something we choose, it’s a necessity if we want to survive. Babies are a 21st century luxury.

Follow Daisy on Twitter @NotRollerGirl

Picture: Beth Hoeckel

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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