Newspapers are filled with the "birth dearth", or the lack of fertility of today's women. As a culture, we are choosing not to reproduce. The United States' fertility rate puts it barely at replacement level. Canada's is below replacement level, and Europe's is even worse off than that. We are choosing not to have children.
Columnist Mark Steyn has long argued that fertility and religion are linked. When people lose their faith in something greater than themselves, then it's hard to look towards the future. And without a future-orientation, the present, and having fun, become all that matters. If you don't have a sense that you have a purpose in life, why reproduce?
I agree, but I don't think that's the only reason. I also think our consumer culture has made motherhood almost impossible. Remember this article, when I talked about how the two rules that our society wants us to live by are "I deserve to be happy" and "I'll be happy if I just try a little bit harder." Our culture sells us on dissatisfaction so that we will try harder. It sells us on bigger is better, and boy is that apparent when it comes to motherhood.
Think about how standards have changed. Fifty years ago, most women married knowing how to make seven main meals, one for each week, with company on Sundays. Bridal magazines were filled with this. And if each of the weekday meals were simple casseroles, so much the better, because they were cheaper.
Today we're supposed to cook gourmet meals. We're supposed to cook interesting things for kids' lunches (no more bologna sandwiches). Have you ever actually looked through a woman's magazine or a parenting magazine and imagined, "if I actually did everything that it tells me to do between these pages, how much time would it take?" I'm sure it would take longer than the 24 hours the good Lord chose to give us.
Birthday parties, when I was young, mostly consisted of playing out in the backyard, perhaps with some skipping ropes or bubbles, and then eating hot dogs and a homemade cake. There were no ice cream cakes that cost easily $30. There was no renting out the rec center so everyone could go swimming. Occasionally some kid's parents would take you to a McDonald's birthday, and that was extra special. But that was about it.
Today we go bowling, or swimming, or something big. I know one mom who took ten girls to a glamour photo shoot! I can't even imagine how much that cost, because they all had their hair and makeup done, too.
Then there are all the lessons. We just weren't in that many when we were young, but I know some families wiht multiple kids all in rep hockey (meaning that they travel every weekend for tournaments). Their whole lives are wrapped up in taking their 8-year-olds to out of town hockey games! And then in the summer there's hockey camp, or ballet camp, or karate camp. Add up all that money, and it's a small fortune.
In fact, one recent study found the cost of raising an average kid, from birth to 18, to be a quarter of a million dollars. I wouldn't be surprised if many twenty and thirtysomethings looked at their friends with kids, who were run off their feet taking their kids to all these lessons and activities, shelling out money left, right, and center, and these people said, "I'd rather spend my money on cruises," and forgot about childrearing altogether.
We have overburdened motherhood. We have said you need to pay all this money, you need to be chairperson of the PTA, you need to make gourmet meals, decorate your children's rooms, buy a bigger house, baby-proof everything, and give up all your own goals and dreams for the foreseeable future. We think moms should work harder now than they did fifty years ago, when women had more time to devote to motherhood. I think we've gone insane.
Yes, being a mom is time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be as hectic as everyone makes it out to be. You don't have to have your child in every activity. You don't have to be on every committee. It's okay if you only know how to make a few meals, if your children share a room, if you leave the kids with grandparents occasionally so you can get adult time, if you don't throw a birthday party every year, if you don't take your kids to tons of cultural events, and if you don't put up a swing set in your backyard. It's okay if you still have your own time. It's okay if you still have a marriage. It's okay if you live in a smaller home, and don't have all the kids' stuff, but instead just learn how to make your own fun.
Maybe if we stopped demanding that motherhood be bigger and better, and simply concentrated on it being part of our lives, instead of the whole thing, we'd be a lot better off!
If families just got back to what we did well--hanging out without any plans, taking walks, playing football in the park, playing Scrabble, lying on the bed reading bedtime stories, enforcing bedtime so parents still had parent time, ensuring siblings could play so you still had a life--all of these things would make parenting so much easier. But we throw that aside so that we can live up to some ideal, and that ideal takes a LOT of work that probably isn't necessary.
Here's a show that I did a few years ago on "Are Kids Worth It?" You can see more of my thoughts there:
What do you find is the most overhyped part of motherhood--the part that our society demands we devote so much time and money to, that really isn't that important in the end? Let me know, and let's talk!
About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.