La Vie Childfree

Talk Childfree & Beyond with Laura Carroll

In The Baby Matrix, I talk about about how pronatalism is all around us. I’ll be posting on this in a myriad of ways. Here’s an example for starters that deserves a bit of discussion. In a recent article on titled, “Loving So Much It Hurts: Why I’m Not Sure I Can Be a Mom” author Nina Jacinto writes about how she is struggling with her uncertainty about becoming a mom.  Here is an excerpt of what she says about this:

It’s the “‘loving so much it hurts’ that makes me want to scream and run away from the land of mamas. Caring for someone with all your heart that way requires a tremendous amount of trust in oneself, and even more vulnerability. Opening up our heart to love, and letting in everything that comes with it — happiness, sadness, fear, intimacy, risk, compassion sounds… terrifying. I struggle with this already as a daughter, as a person in a committed romantic relationship. I feel this way as a best friend. How can I take this on as a mother? The insecure and scared person inside me who has experienced and remains afraid of loss says, What if I can’t handle it?”

To this I say – If she decides she can’t handle it, that Should Be OK. She seems to be beating herself up for fearing she is not “ready” or does not have what it takes to be a mom.

Pronatalism, what The Baby Matrix explores in depth, includes the idea that a) there comes a time when we should all be ready to become parents, and b) there’s a strong connection between the ability to give birth and the ability to parent.  Not only is a) not true, b) is a myth.

If she comes to the conclusion that motherhood is not something she has the ability to take on, she need not feel badly about this. If we lived in a society that did not unquestionably believe that parenthood should be the central focus of our adult lives, she would not have to be hard on herself for this choice.

But she does say that she thinks she wants to be a mom one day. So what could help her get beyond her anxieties and feel she has the abilities she needs to raise kids well? I give answers in Chapter 5 of The Baby Matrix,  where I look at an old pronatal assumption surrounding our “right  to reproduce,”  and propose an alternative mindset about that right to reproduce.

The alternative mindset includes having solid education for people to think through why they want to become parents (because it is not everyone’s biological destiny, as the book also dissects), and to assist them in assessing and learning the skill sets that parenting requires.

Like any other “job” parenting requires certain aptitudes, certain “components of capability,” as I call them. What if our society required adult parenthood programs to help people really examine whether parenthood is right for them, and if it is, help them prepare for it?

If we did, people like Ms. Jacinto would have a place to go to explore her feelings, and get what she needs in order for her to be able to confidently say, “I can handle it,” or decide that parenthood is not right for her, and make this decision without judgment.

If you could institute a required parenthood education program, what would it entail?




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Comments (6)Posted by Laura on Friday, June 1st, 2012

6 Responses to “Pronatalism at Work” Add your own

  • Susan said:

    Hi Laura, great question. One item a required parenthood education program would include is a comprehensive list of all the negative aspects of parenthood, which I think too many women (and teen girls too) are discouraged from thinking about. I don’t need to give such a list here, because the CF know all about them. :)

    After having the students in this program study the list, I would ask each one if they could or WANTED to cope with all the negatives. If they said no to any of them, I would point out that IF they become parents, they would have to cope anyway, so NOW would be the time to make the choice to be parents or not. After a baby arrives, it is obviously too late to decide they really don’t like parenting.

  • Scott said:

    It would be good for a parent education program to get students to see the reasons WHY people have children or don’t have children. It would be a revolutionary step if everyone really saw having children as something to make a conscious choice about, not just something you do because it seems to be the normal thing to do or because you never even considered NOT doing it.

    I don’t see why one couldn’t teach it as a social science or anthropology class — here are the reasons that people in different societies have children or don’t have children. Explain all the various reasons people give for becoming parents, and have students evaluate the different reasons.

  • Susan said:

    I just thought of another important assignment for a required parenting program. I would require all students to read the WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING and the WHAT TO EXPECT THE FIRST YEAR. These books are written in the question-and-answer format, and all kinds of questions about pregnancy and what to expect during a baby’s first year are answered in VERY honest detail.

    When participating on various discussion forums, I’ve often recommended that anyone who is “on the fence” about having children read both books rather than relying on possibly pronatalist family members and friends for information. Whenever I’ve done that, I noticed I got several responses along the lines of “you don’t really know what you’re getting into just by reading a couple of books.” I would reply with something like, “not exactly, but people who may not know ALL the details about what being a parent involves now certainly WILL know after reading the books.” Then I would get accused of “trying to scare people out of having children,” which I found quite amusing. I guess the posters who made that kind of accusation were afraid of people getting TOO much information from the books and opt OUT of parenthood altogether. :)

  • Laura said:

    Susan and Scott–love your ideas. The strong message that it is truly a choice needs to be “the” cornerstone theme IMHO. The idea of getting too much information influencing the opt out brings to mind some of what I learned about the history of pronatalism and talk about in the new book…

    Sociologist EE LeMasters talks about how because in times past pregnancy did not come without its risks so “romantic myths” needed to be created to influence women to have children. Early feminist Leta Hollingsworth aptly calls these myths “social devices” or “social controls” put in place to promote the perpetuation of pronatalism. When it comes to the taboo of talking about negative aspects of pregnancy and parenthood this is a “device” (along with a slew of others!) remains alive and well today….

  • Susan said:

    Laura, I continually raise the point that “motherhood is OPTIONAL, not required” on any forum that discusses the topics of abortion or teen pregnancy. Thank you for stating it FIRST, and I hope you don’t mind my “borrowing” your thought. :)

    Just recently, on another forum I regular participate in, a real pronatalist made an appearance, stating something like “Motherhood is the reason women were put on this planet.” Isn’t that one of the biggest pronatalist MYTHS still floating around?

    I challenge nonsense like that all the time, and it’s funny — and sometimes scary — how hostile these conservative pronatalists can be when these myths are challenged publicly. But I think it is important to go on doing so, because as we all know, these myths are NOT facts.

  • Susan said:

    Oops. I forgot to add that I also make it a point to post an essay I wrote, called “The HARDSHIPS of Motherhood” whenever I get the chance. I’ve gotten some hostile responses to that as well, and I think it’s because I provided “too much information” on that taboo subject.

    Whenever I read the hostile comments, I know I’ve done a good job of countering the myths.

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