Have Expectations on Motherhood Become Too High?

 

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.

Why?

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

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!

Comments

  1. Michelle G says:

    >AHHH…refreshing! ;)
    We have 6 kids. We are often looked at like we are aliens on this planet. We have had MANY people ask how we expect to "pay" for this many kids. I wish people understood the value and benefits of having a large family. Our time together isn't spent doing expensive things – but that's okay! We make use of (free) parks, (free) beaches and (cheap!!) board games or cards!
    When I begin to worry that the kids may be missing out on things such as family vacations to EXPENSIVE theme parks….all I have to do is listen in when they are reminiscing about their "favorite" times together. It's usually when we went apple picking or snow tubing up north….fishing or camping out in our back yard here in South Florida! – These were not the times when we spent outrageous money! These were times when we started singalongs and laughed till we cried at funny stories and jokes.
    When people ask how I plan to put them all through college – I say – "they will need to make very good grades (think scholarships!! :)and they will need jobs."
    Our children are constantly praised for being responsible, hard working, family oriented young men and women. If I do nothing more on this planet than raise children who have such things said about them…..I will have been truly blessed indeed :)

    That is what I have to remember when I too begin to place outrageous expectations on motherhood!

    thank you for your blog!!
    Michelle@
    http://undeservingyetoverblessed.blogspot.com/

  2. >I can see this is some areas–birthday parties are getting bigger and kids take lots of lessons. But honestly most people are surprised I cook for my family at all. Many are eating out all the time. Even the birthday party thing often seems to be about the mom not doing the work. So we pay a lot of money to outsource it and have something really fancy. Even all the lessons and activities seems to be about paying for all the stimulation we think our kdis need instead of just interacting with them. And I don't mean that we need to spend all our time cooking and throwing parties and stimulating our kids. Things can be simple but we can still do them at home, with the family together. And if we spend less time driving to all these places it will probably take no more of our day to do it all.

    Honestly I think the reason people don't have more kids is that it takes self-sacrifice. You give a lot of yourself to have kids. People don't want to do that. They still want to have "me time."

  3. >Love the blog and love the comments. Reading Michelle's brought tears to my eyes (that might have something to do with the pregnancy hormones lol) I especially love the part "If I do nothing more on this planet than raise children who have such things said about them I will have been truly blessed indeed."
    I am so excited to introduce more children into this world. Children who will get more of their parents' time than their money.
    Don't get me wrong, I want to have a decent house to raise my kids in and I want to be able to take them to Disneyland one day. But I have a feeling that their best memories will be about playing in the sandbox, or going on a family walk, or putting the tarp on the silage pit (farm kid memories right there lol).
    I sometimes feel like I have to be stimulating my son and teaching him things all the time. But he's learning some amazing things just playing outside int he sandbox for a couple hours every morning. He knows how to clean up poop in a cow barn better than any two year old I've met :D
    Thanks so much for this. It really re-energizes me in my desire for a large(r) family!

  4. >I have wished for more children but it didn't work out for me… had the first at 37 (didn't get married till 30 and then hubby was 10 years younger and not ready for a family)… and the second one at 43. Then I had a miscarriage (with my second husband) at 45 and now the dr. says it is "next to impossible" — although as he put it "hope springs eternal." At the time the dr. was quite cynical about the third pregnancy and asked "what I planned to do about it" and gruffly said to hubby "And how many children do YOU have??" and when he said "None" — the attitude completely changed…

    So, at 48, I am trying to reconcile myself to the fact that I will only have two children … I was so stressed when they were little I didn't really enjoy their babyhood and now those days have flown and the youngest starts Kindergarten next Monday…

    I wonder sometimes how many children I would have had, had my life been different and I'd married younger or had a more supportive spouse from the beginning etc. etc. There are no answers to these questions and "What Ifs" — I am glad, though, that I have gotten the opportunity to experience Motherhood, even if delayed. And it is a joy to see the children interacting with their stepdad – who, although he never had any biological children, really should have answered TWO, when they doctor asked! When a 56 year old guy will stop his work in the oil field to pick up a bucket of sand and a salamander, you KNOW he's enjoying Fatherhood!

    One of my first cousins has 10 kids and three others all ascribe to the "quiver full" movement and have 7 each… I can't quite imagine a couple not using any birth control at all and having such large numbers of children, but still 3 or 4 doesn't seem like many…

    I guess I also don't like having 2 kids because it is somehow the norm — a boy and a girl and now you're expected to be done… Why is it anyone's business? Yet people feel free to share their opinions about how many children they feel you should have (my former mother-in-law encouraged us to stop at one, for example!)

    Adam and Eve were instructed to "go forth and multiply" not "go forth and get your tubes tied!" (Dr. tried to persuade me to do that while having C-Section with my daughter, and I refused)… It's all up to God… maybe we can be a modern day "Abraham and Sarah" yet!

    Denise in Saskatchewan
    writeright@sasktel.net

  5. >I have wished for more children but it didn't work out for me… had the first at 37 (didn't get married till 30 and then hubby was 10 years younger and not ready for a family)… and the second one at 43. Then I had a miscarriage (with my second husband) at 45 and now the dr. says it is "next to impossible" — although as he put it "hope springs eternal." At the time the dr. was quite cynical about the third pregnancy and asked "what I planned to do about it" and gruffly said to hubby "And how many children do YOU have??" and when he said "None" — the attitude completely changed…

    So, at 48, I am trying to reconcile myself to the fact that I will only have two children … I was so stressed when they were little I didn't really enjoy their babyhood and now those days have flown and the youngest starts Kindergarten next Monday…

    I wonder sometimes how many children I would have had, had my life been different and I'd married younger or had a more supportive spouse from the beginning etc. etc. There are no answers to these questions and "What Ifs" — I am glad, though, that I have gotten the opportunity to experience Motherhood, even if delayed. And it is a joy to see the children interacting with their stepdad – who, although he never had any biological children, really should have answered TWO, when they doctor asked! When a 56 year old guy will stop his work in the oil field to pick up a bucket of sand and a salamander, you KNOW he's enjoying Fatherhood!

    One of my first cousins has 10 kids and three others all ascribe to the "quiver full" movement and have 7 each… I can't quite imagine a couple not using any birth control at all and having such large numbers of children, but still 3 or 4 doesn't seem like many…

    I guess I also don't like having 2 kids because it is somehow the norm — a boy and a girl and now you're expected to be done… Why is it anyone's business? Yet people feel free to share their opinions about how many children they feel you should have (my former mother-in-law encouraged us to stop at one, for example!)

    Adam and Eve were instructed to "go forth and multiply" not "go forth and get your tubes tied!" (Dr. tried to persuade me to do that while having C-Section with my daughter, and I refused)… It's all up to God… maybe we can be a modern day "Abraham and Sarah" yet!

    Denise in Saskatchewan
    writeright@sasktel.net

  6. americanfamilynow says:

    >I completely agree with you, but I would like to add one more thought. I read not too long ago that one of the strongest influences on the downward trend in birth rates is the economy. People are choosing not to get pregnant, or to abort, because they believe they can't afford to have children. And that directly ties into your thoughts on finances and children, that it really doesn't take lots of money to raise your children well.

  7. >My husband and I "only" have 2 children, and we send our children to the neighbourhood public school (gasp). I have felt pressure as a mom in many areas: the fact that I'm a stay at home mom is one, and I have recently had an added pressure of people wanting to know if or when I'm going to go to work, now that my kids are in school; pressure to have a single family home as we live in a comfortable but modest semi-detached home; pressure to have my kids in 10001 extra-cirricular activities because "everyone else" is doing it; pressure of birthday parties (to have or not to have); the list goes on and on. I remember asking my Mom if it was like this for her when she was raising my brother & I, and I got the answer "not so much." I feel like every decision I make must be defended, researched & backed up with scientific proof. I find people today make everything regarding parenting and raising children to be competitive and "their" business. While there has been a general trend in society to downplay and diminish motherhood and SAHM's in particular, there has been a huge upswing in the expectations placed on women and SAHMs in particular. It is not fun. Some of us struggle with these things and find that it saps the joy out of what is supposed to be, overall, an enjoyable time of life.

  8. Denise Nielsen says:

    >I came across your blog lookong for more info on split grades in Ontario (a post you wrote last year came up), but enjoyed reading through it – your take on society selling us dissatisfaction was bang-on as far as I am concerned. Cheers.

  9. >Would you be surprised if I told you my opinions on this are the same as yours? I'm all for more simple, scaled-down childhood and life in general.

    And I've found reading parenting magazines before bed contributes to insomnia. I'm never going to be the perfect mom or anything close, but I just try to love my kid and make sure she knows it.

    Nurse Bee

  10. >It is good to hear your insights…these are all things I KNOW and even agree with but it helps to know there are other people out there and I'm not the only one! Our family lives overseas and all my parenting experiences have been so lonely when I'm already so different culturally. I get social pressure from a foreign culture on top of the unrealistic expectations of my own! I am learning (the hard way) that I can't worry about what other people think, I need to worry about first, pleasing the Lord and second, doing what is best for my family.

  11. >The expectations of motherhood are much too high. As moms we need to evaluate the pressures and expectations coming at us and set our own standards. We often put pressure on ourselves for the perfect home and perfect children. Being a Christian doesn't mean we must be perfect. I am thankful to have a supportive church with great programs for our kids.
    My husband and I have 3 kids who are now teenagers. I have recently reentered the work force part-time after many years as a stay at home mom. I am grateful that I was able to be home in the time they were young. We limited the extra-curricular activities, not only due to cost but also to have meals and time together. I encourage friends (who feel the need to involve their kids in as many activities as possible) that kids need time just to play together.

  12. >Thoughtful, and thought provoking, post. I especially agree with the correlation between religion and families.

    (Stopped by from the Stumbleupon hop, decided to become your newest follower!)

    Jo
    http://www.over40style.com

  13. Maureen @Tatter Scoops says:

    >Greatly written and I agree with you. The expectations both from our surrounding and our own self are a lot harder than generations before.

    Here, I see how mothers compete in putting their kids in the most expensive schools (I just saw a preschool that cost $5k a month!), pushing the children to take as much courses as possibles from piano, foreign language to computers.

    I feel like this has pushed the children to lost touch of their once in a lifetime childhood. And only increases the stress in mothers.

  14. I definitely agree that we feel we need to do and have much more in order to have kids. I think that’s ultimately our own devising, though. Magazines, after all, cater to what they know we want: sex, money, a new kitchen, everything else. I had a friend before who was, with her husband, pulling in about $140,000 a year. They had a boat, a house they built in an expensive area of the country, some property they’d purchased to retire on (she was in her 30s, by the way), and she was amazed that I could leave my job to take care of our children. “I could never afford that,” she would say. But if an American – even the poorest of us – can’t afford a child, then no one else in the world can. We’re a very blessed nation.

  15. I know this is an old post, but it reminds me of a recent post I made on my blog about 21st Century Moms – http://www.whatsupfagans.com/2013/09/21st-century-stay-at-home-mom/ I think though that moms today don’t have the same rigorous demands of feeding and clothing and home-taking caring that they did 50 years ago, so they turn all this time and attention to their children, making THEM their prized trophies. And perhaps it is this hypocrisy that their friends see, that they no longer have a life of their own and live vicarious through their children, that turns them off from wanting children of their own…
    Katelyn recently posted…Thinking about Homeschooling: SocializationMy Profile

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