Tuesday, 19 February 2013

125/111 - Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti

This week I have a week off work in which I plan to do as little as possible as well as to read some interesting and hopefully uplifting books. This is always a tough time of year for me, so I'm taking a week out to relax, which for me, means spending a fair amount of time with books.

I bought this book a little while ago in the hope that it would provide some insight into the question of having children. I'm getting to an age where I'm starting to see some of my friends beginning to think about having families, and that slightly odd feeling of observing people on Facebook who have already started to do so, which feels strange as they're people I don't know very well.

To begin with, my own position on whether or not to have children is as follows: I'm not sure I want them. I have always seen myself as someone who could take it or leave it when it comes to having children, and I cold picture myself as someone who just never ends up having them. Not because I necessarily hate the idea (although there are definitely aspects of it which make me incredibly uncomfortable) but because it's never really been an inevitability for me. I don't see myself as just 'ending up' with children, and I don't buy into the idea that it's the only end point in life.

However, I'm open to the idea that there may be such a thing as a biological clock and that one day, I might be struck with Baby Rabies, and in a sense, that would be a much simpler decision for me. If I really, desperately wanted children, then great! I'll have them. But I'm not sure that I do want them, and that's cool for now.

This book is an exploration of lots of areas concerning motherhood and childbearing, and is separated into 'Lies' and 'Truth'. Jessica explores things like 'natural' motherhood and breastfeeding, and the way that mothers can be extremely judgemental with themselves and each other when it comes to how to raise your children. I was in particular quite interested in the ideas surrounding identity, and that to be the perfect mother (if there is such a thing) you have to self-sacrifice almost everything about yourself - your time, your body, your work, and frighteningly, your autonomy.

I was also really pleased by the honesty in the book, particularly when it comes to whether having children truly makes you happy, and how boring it actually is. There are obviously women out there who had children with certain expectations, and wish they never had. I would hate to be in that position, which is why this book is so interesting to me - I would rather regret not having children than regret having them.

Bits that made me uncomfortable to think about were the bodily autonomy bits. Pregnant women lose a lot of their rights, as well as having to sacrifice their bodies to pregnancy, which probably sucks. They also become public property, with people touching their bellies and asking after them, or judging them on having some sushi or strong cheese.

I'm also really uncomfortable with the idea of not being able to work, or having to rely on a partner for income if I had kids and stayed at home with them. Jessica does a really good job of taking apart the myth that motherhood is 'the most challenging and rewarding job in the world'. Really? If that's the case, then why aren't more men doing it? It's a really fucking patronising thing to say if you're not willing to do it yourself. I'm not sure if I agree that mother should be paid for raising children, however I consider myself to be quite lucky in that in the UK at least, my rights as a mother would be better than in the US as I have things like maternity leave and childcare.

It's crazy to think that so many people don't even consider whether or not they want children before they have them. I remember reading something online a long time ago which likened it to going to a restaurant and asking for something that's not on the menu. People are so concerned with when and how they're going to do it, do they ever really stop to think about whether they should? Or whether they want to?

Conclusion: still not sure...

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