The pressure to have a second child | Eva Wiseman | Life and style

If you are a woman in the world, instead of being sent a telegram from the Queen, upon turning 30 you receive 1,000 magazine articles about motherhood. Some will come directly, arriving on your phone at 4am in the masked form of links to feminist websites. Some will appear in your lap at the hairdressers, or hidden in an interview with a director whose film you keep meaning to see, or ripped carefully against a ruler and included in a birthday card from your mum. Some you will search out yourself, as if you are a woman creeping through a lonely house with a knife having heard glass break downstairs – better you catch this intruder, than it catches you.

Depending on the decade in which you come of age, these stories will be focused on the importance of having children young, or old, or of freezing your eggs so you can think about it later, or of how to find the perfect mate, or of the liberating glee that comes with doing it alone. There will be an equal number, too, explaining the benefits of remaining childless, your fellow women in snazzy heels and shiny skin leaning in to tell you about the fulfilling life it is possible to lead without the weight of a kid round your neck and, indeed, the compelling political reasons why you should never procreate.

But despite being different stories, they all have the same ending. They all suggest that having a child or not having a child is simply a matter of a woman’s decision. They force you to think about babies, even if your hormones aren’t interested. These stories poke at your intellect, your curiosity about life and its side-effects. And they all make you feel extremely weary. And anxious. And lonely, sometimes, and also, on bad nights, already 75 and regretful about the other life you could have led.

Having waded through that swamp of commentary, and having emerged virtually unscathed, with (though I don’t like to boast) the best three-year-old in Britain, I was unprepared for the second chapter. While the pressure to have children is so well-documented, there are no warnings about the pressure to have a second. It sneaks in, like ants come summer. There are few glossy magazine articles about this – in fact, so ingrained is the importance of siblings in the swarming consciousness of our culture that, unlike the seemingly genuine questions about whether to procreate in the first place, the adjacent debate about having more than one focuses purely on whether the existing child will be ruined by their onlyness. The parents are no longer part of the conversation. And it’s a conversation that is much stickier, seeing as it is now seen to be less about what the family wants but about what the child needs.

A mother’s decision not to do it again, for reasons ranging from the practical (they’d have to move house, they can’t afford maternity leave) to the emotional (she had postnatal depression, she found the weight of love painful, like a two-year hangover), is irrelevant when faced with the idea that it will screw up her kid. If you have a child, then you must have another. To choose to stop there, it seems, from the combination of frozen smiles and earthy anecdotes about the psychopathic only child they knew growing up, or the future sadness of this two-year-old having to organise your funeral without a sister, is to be not just selfish, but perverse. Mothers are divided, again, into good and bad.

I remember quite confidently predicting that one of the great benefits of growing up later than our parents would be the inevitable camaraderie of my friends either having one child or none at all, yet living close enough to each other that it would feel like we were a big sprawling family, but without the daily fights about hairdryers. It didn’t happen. Instead, we either mirrored the journeys of our parents, slotting new families into the holes left behind, or blazed off into radical new futures far far away. The middle way, with one child and no marriage, seemed so much more sensible to 20-odd-year-old me – so much more portable, and affordable. So neat. And then I had a baby.

Does it screw a kid up, to be an only child? The evidence is sparse and weighted oddly. For every thin study saying yes, there’s a companion one saying no. And if it does, then what? The answer can’t simply be to have more children. Even if the idea of choice was real and solid – rather than a melting Solero in our hand – to me the whole exercise stinks slightly. We bring ourselves up to believe that we are perfectible. That simply by eradicating sugar from our diet, or by altering the questions we ask of our partners, or upon cutting in a choppy bob, all fear and anxiety will float away. Similarly, we’re encouraged to follow marked paths in order to create this version of symmetrical perfection, in the sunken belief that there is one correct way for a family to look. I’m not worried that being an only child will screw our daughter up. I have every confidence we’ll manage that anyway, whatever shape our family takes.

One more thing…

Suburbia is the subject of a brilliant essay on Boundless arguing that they are more than somewhere that exists only to be escaped from. Bowie thought the most derogatory thing he could say about something was, ‘God, it’s so fucking Croydon!’ writes Andy Miller. ‘This is not a view I share with Mr “Stardust” [sic], who grew up not on the planet Mars, as he would have you believe, but in the neighbouring suburb of Bromley.’

In a speech last week, Sophie Walker (the leader of the Women’s Equality party) pointed out a problem with many businesses half-hearted movements towards equal representation. ‘Women don’t need mentors to get ahead. Get mentors for the men who don’t think there is a problem.’

I’m writing under the threat of rain and it occurs to me the perfect name for the next spate of severe weather. I’d welcome Storm Daniels any day.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.ukor follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *