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The baby bust: female perspectives
After last week's article on falling birth rates, a lot of men blamed generational selfishness. (Kids today!) Here's what the sex that actually gives birth had to say...
After seeing the interest that last week’s baby bust article generated (over 500 comments and emails), I can promise I’ll be coming back to the topic.
Meanwhile, some of your thoughts. Women seem to be driving declines in birth rates globally, both for the obvious reason - women have children, men don’t - and more subtle factors. So this reader mailbag is devoted to female perspectives.
(For what it’s worth, many men wrote along the lines of “We have created an entire generation of entitled narcissists.” Men also tended to mention higher birth rates in Muslim countries. They are generally higher, but they are also falling quickly, especially in wealthier Muslim nations.)
As always, emails are edited only for grammar and length.
So - without further ado, except for the inevitable subscription plea - here goes:
(As promised, the inevitable subscription plea. Come on, don’t make me start throwing up paywalls all the time.)
I met my husband when I was 33, almost 34. We got married when I was 36 and had our daughter that same year (we were actually pregnant already at the wedding, this was during Covid and because of our ages we decided not to wait and risk infertility). Then we tried for our second and thankfully got pregnant with her right away and are due this upcoming February. My husband is 11 years older than me. We always say if we had met at 28 and 39 instead of (essentially) 34 and 45, we would have had 4 children…
I think some of the reasons we got here are 1. The breakdown of the nuclear family and the way society downplays it’s significance 2. It’s hard to be a working mom… society has devalued the stay at home mom. It’s not seen as something worthwhile, or it’s a “luxury”…
There’s even the illusion that kids need a lot of stuff to be happy. They need present two parent households that are loving and supportive. People don’t seem to get that anymore. We live on much less than we make. We have friends who say they couldn’t afford to stay home, but they also won’t drive used cars or live in a townhome. They get a raise and they upgrade their lifestyles. And suddenly they can’t afford and don’t have time for kids or more kids.
One possibility...they're terrified of having kids with disabilities. My daughter is dating a guy whose brother is severely disabled. He doesn't want to marry or have kids because who wants to face raising a disabled child the rest of your life? His entire childhood was affected by this. I understand his position.
Not to mention kids these days are raised so poorly, schools are crap, it doesn't look very appealing anymore.
Culture/media influence has taught most people not to value children. It is no coincidence that religious people of various faiths have continued to have children at a similar pace, because they are often people who generally try to avoid heavy cultural media influence.
I did recently see a report on the trends for what parents want for their adult children. For the first time in decades, "children" wasn't at the top of the list. They would have rather seen a good career or money for their kids over grandbabies. Could the lack of pressure from parents to "make me a grandma before I die?" be part of the cause? Cultural and familial pressure is a real factor, I believe. Just food for thought. The priority shift may be happening more with us older people than we want to admit.
Eagerly awaiting my grandbabies
(The incredibly depressing article Linsey mentioned)
Some women felt women are sublimating their desire for kids with pets:
Alarming indeed. I myself have one child and would have had more; however medical complications prevented this.
I see this trend with friends and colleagues of mine, and it is most certainly cultural. It seems many feel their life will be "ruined" by having children (as we know, the truth is quite the opposite). They opt for pets instead, which I find extremely funny. Dogs and cats, while great additions to a home, are solely reliant on you for their 10+ years of life, whereas the tough baby and toddler phases end well before that…
People, specifically men, are having far less sex than before. It’s staggering. Probably because of the next point.
The rise of online pornography and AI girlfriends are off the chart. Who needs a real human to procreate with or have companionship with!
Screens/devices/social media addiction take away our desire for human connection (i.e. family), but don’t actually meet the need. And they leave us far more depressed and often suicidal, feeling truly unconnected and lost. This point can’t be stated enough.
An over-abundance of material stuff feeds temporarily our void for significance and meaning (but it’s never enough and doesn’t actually meet our real need). So both parents earn income…
Who needs a kid when you have a fur baby? It never talks back to you, doesn’t challenge you, or tell the truth. It’s pretty cuddly though and even better fairly self-sufficient.
Contraceptives and abortion – let’s be honest when these became readily available in the last century, birth rates truly began their decline. We stopped valuing human life and took matters into our own hands, focusing totally on convenience and self-needs…
(20 cents a day! Say it with me, 20 cents a day!)
And some female readers blamed selfishness too:
Being a mother doesn't fit in anymore and I think it's mostly it is because as a society we are more selfish. Having babies takes an incredible amount of selflessness. Also, I think woman not getting married until they are older and having more time to think about the anxiety of carrying and delivering is scary.
I make sure my kids know that the best thing in the whole entire world is being their mother and being a mom is the most amazing thing I have done and will do.
Last thing is I think woman try too hard to "have it all". I had a career for years but always knew being a mom would trump that and I was okay with that. Many women aren't or men okay with not having a career. Some families both parents need to work but in many they don't but choose to in order to live their lifestyle with a big house and vacation homes.
A very thought-provoking piece, indeed. I believe this baby bust is primarily the result of a societal selfishness. Gen Zers and millennials have been taught that THEIR feelings take precedence over all others’. They hate being inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Parenting is both inconvenient and uncomfortable. While hard, parenting is also incredibly rewarding, but the generations who are used to trophies for participating don’t want to work hard. They don’t see the point.
Instead, they will continue brunching with friends and taking weekend trips they can share on social media..
Finally, a long story of the challenges of modern fertility and parenting from a mother who seems - to me, anyway - way too hard on herself.
I think there are many reasons but the one that comes most to mind for me, as a 43 year old with children ages 8, 6 and 3, is that it is really hard to sacrifice… when I was in college and beyond I sought out only self-fulfillment and pleasure. That’s not to say those pursuits didn’t include a tremendous amount of academic work… I worked hard. I made sacrifices. But it was for me. The benefits of that work were real and tangible and often immediate. And I was autonomous, independent…
I put off having children until 35 even though I was married at 27. I was scared. I didn’t want to give up my life. If my husband had not insisted that having children was essential, I don’t know that I would have had any…
It was hard to delegate and hand off the great responsibility of caring for my children to someone else. Having researched and become aware of the toxic nature of our environments led me to be scrupulous about what my children consumed - what they ate and environmental exposures - chemical and ideological. In other words, it’s very hard to trust anyone and I often don’t. This makes it very hard to parent…
I know I could hire help and resume a social life of some sort but I’m too tired. It’s too much work. And I feel guilty about it. I spend so much time with them, I’ve been away from them once for 24 hours, and I still feel guilty about leaving them to do anything else.
I’d love to have a fourth child despite all this because they are beautiful, funny, adorable, sweet, innocent, amazing and to see how they love each other is more beautiful than anything I could have imagined…
I am constantly falling short of my expectations for myself as a mother. But I feel like I simply haven’t learned how to joyfully sacrifice and really focus on all the beautiful aspects of my life, of which there are many.
And this says nothing about how brutal pregnancy and childbirth were for me. Again, I guess I just haven’t learned that suffering and pain are simply part of life. That life isn’t meant to be comfortable. I know this rationally, but in the thick of it (all of which is just ordinarily life stuff), it gets me down.
Anyway, that’s my story and now you know a lot about me. Maybe others out there have had a similar experience or similar fears that caused them to delay having children.
I will also add that a lot of kids are chronically sick. Friends who have stopped at two kids have said that they simply can’t do more or risk having another sick child. Others have struggled with fertility. I know a lot of families with 5+ kids, they are very religious. They tend to have a much more hands off approach to parenting. Perhaps I need a lesson from them.
Have a great weekend, everyone, and Vanessa - give yourself the night off!