I don’t want to have children. I never have. When I look into my future, motherhood isn’t something I desire or look forward to. I see myself surrounded by stone artefacts and prehistoric crania and books and papers and friends and the thought of that makes me impossibly happy. I know that motherhood brings many wonderful (and frustrating) things to many women – but personally, I just have no desire for it.
A conversation I had today with two other girls in class highlighted to me just how glad I was that I don’t want to become a mother. (Because hey, it’s so justified to have to choose between work and career, and if you want to work then just stick your children in childcare, and if you’re single or can’t afford childcare, then just don’t have children, for god’s sake.)
I don’t want to have children because we live in a society where motherhood is simultaneously fetishised and policed. Mothers are upheld as the epitome of womanhood – if you’re white and heterosexual and middle-class. Any woman who doesn’t want to have children is scorned as being selfish, or brushed off with a “oh, you’ll change your mind later.” And at the same time, motherhood is policed, especially for women who are non-heterosexual, non-white, have a disability, or come from the lower classes. Do this, don’t do that or you’ll automatically be classed as a bad parent. What do you mean, you sent your child to a public school? How dare you let your child become “overweight!” Breastfeeding in public? How disgusting.
I don’t want to have children because women who take time off work to start or care for a family face significant and pervasive financial disadvantages over women who work continuously and especially over men. Despite mothers doing more paid work than ever, they are still doing the same amount of domestic work, which is still almost double the amount that men in two-parent families do (source). It’s not enough that women only earn eight-two cents to a man’s dollar (source): on average, women in Australia will manage to save 40% less superannuation than males (source) and 2007 figures showed that 59% of women will have no superannuation savings at all (source). Indeed, women are overrepresented in the numbers of retirees who rely solely on government pensions.
Why? Because women are still the primary carers for children in two-parents families (source) and caring for those children involves taking time off work, or working casually or part-time rather than full time. Because women who have taken time off work to have children often find it incredibly difficult to find employment again, as they are seen as unreliable. And of course, all that domestic work and caring work isn’t paid at all, unless you’re lucky enough to have a few months of paid parental leave from your employer, which many employees just don’t have the luxury of.
That’s just two-parent families though: and with a divorce rate at almost 45%, single parents are becoming ever more prevalent. 87% of single parents in Australia are mothers (source), and they are even more financially disadvantaged and socially stigmatised than families with two parents. And the blows just keep coming if you can count up any number of intersecting disadvantages: low socio-economic status, disability, ethnicity, youth, low education levels. A 2006 study has shown that young mothers especially are among the most disadvantaged groups in Australia and almost all rely on government financial support (source).
I don’t want to have children because motherhood still involves too much sacrifice. So many women don’t feel that they have a choice in whether or not to have children, because of pressure put on them by society (who doesn’t see them as proper women if they don’t) and often male partners, who just assume that because they can have both a career and a family, women can too. But it’s not that simple. For women who want to work while caring for children, formal childcare is not always an option, and not all families have non-parent carers available. How is it justified that women have to sacrifice so much and work so much harder to participate in both parenting and paid work?
I don’t want to have children because I don’t desire to have children. But when I look at how parenting is still predominantly mothering, and how mothers are marginalised and financially disadvantaged, I’m very, very relieved that I feel the way I do. Because I don’t want to be even more disadvantaged than I already am.
And it’s absolutely ridiculous to state that the sacrifices women have to make as mothers are in any way justified.