Written by Bel Carroll.
When Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister in 2012, you could almost hear the pitchforks being sharpened. On top of being a woman, she was an unmarried, childless atheist which caused a stir for the general Australian public. Oh and of course, she also got the job by knifing Kevin Rudd in the back. She was an unconventional Prime Minister to say the least. As a lifelong fan of strong independent women, I was personally very happy for Gillard at the time. However, her ascension into the top job brought to my attention a cultural phenomenon that still fascinates me to this day. The criticism of Gillard rained down after she took power, some of this was fair criticism and some of it was just brutal. But I will always remember her being slammed for one particular aspect of herself that I found quite odd: that she did not have children.
We have all probably had someone in our lives who just really wants to know when we are going to start producing babies. They may be your mother, your best friend, or even the random lady you got caught talking to in the line at the bank. Recently, I witnessed someone who is quite close to me be thoroughly interrogated about when she is getting pregnant. She had just moved in with her partner of eight years so this nosey person must have thought that babies were going to start popping out any time now. I should mention that my friend suffers from endometriosis, which can cause infertility. I know for a fact she does want kids one day, but she doesn’t know if she can. The nosey person did eventually drop the subject reluctantly, but I wonder if they would have been so persistent if they’d understood my friend’s unfortunate position.
Gillard has gone on record to say that she was never interested in having children; in her line of work being able to balance job and family commitments is extremely difficult and she did not think that she was up for it. That is fair enough; we have all been children and know how hard we were to handle at times (if not all the time). But at some point it seems we all cross an imaginary line from being a young person, to being a potential baby-maker. In society, why do we view adults less favourably if they do not have children? I personally believe we all have a deep fear of missing out and we don’t want the people we care about to miss out. That said, we should take a moment to remember that anyone else’s family planning, other than our own, is none of our business.
In Victoria, people have access to both affordable birth control and abortion, so parenthood is becoming much more of a choice here than it has been in the past. But there is still the expectation of ‘that’s just what you do’ and ‘you will change your mind.’ Asking someone when they are going to have children is quite similar to asking someone when they are going to marry their significant other: why does it really matter to you? It is up to the people involved what they want to do with their life and as long as they are happy, honestly who cares? Don’t get me wrong, I’m overjoyed for people who get engaged or announce they are pregnant, I simply don’t like the assumption that there is something wrong with you if you are not following the script we have created for how to live life. Unless you know the person is okay with being asked these questions, it’s none of your business anyway. Another way of looking at this is: don’t ask someone a question that you are not prepared to answer yourself.
Many months back I was berated by an old friend for joking that I was going to adopt dogs instead of having children. They justified their reaction by saying that some people can’t have children therefore I should have them if I can. I tried to redirect the conversation, but this person was really put out by the fact I was prioritising potential dogs over potential children. Part of me thinks we are living in a world where we’re all trying to convince each other that our point of view is the right one, and people forget that it’s okay to agree to disagree. While I do understand that all some people really want out of life is to be a parent, is it so hard to believe that there are people out there who feel the exact opposite?
So, from someone who does not have kids, here are some points to bear in mind before asking someone about their family planning …
- Some people are infertile.
- Some people are not in a financial position to raise children.
- Some people have health conditions they do not want to pass on to someone else.
- Some people don’t believe they are in a position to raise children because of their own health.
- Some people do not realise they want children until they can’t have them anymore.
- Some people had children but they may have passed away or have no contact with them.
- Some people want children but for many reasons it just won’t happen for them.
- Some people don’t want children just because they don’t want children.
- Some people do change their mind about not having children.
- Some people do not change their mind about not having children.
Fast forward to 2018 and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinta Ahern has given birth to her first child. I’m happy for her and I’m sure she and her partner will have all of the support they need to raise baby Neve. Even though she is doing what is expected of her (which is having a baby) her male partner will be taking care of the baby at home while she runs the country at work. However, despite this happy news, there will undoubtedly be commentary and criticism over her ability to parent and be Prime Minister. The defeatist approach in this scenario is that you will be criticised no matter what you choose to do regarding children. But maybe we can all learn from this instance. The road into parenthood is multifaceted and is not as simple as entering it with a positive pregnancy test. As someone who does not have kids, parenthood seems incredibly difficult no matter what your circumstances are, so it seems fair enough that some people will boycott the whole experience altogether.
Personally, I love dogs and I can’t wait for the day I can finally have a dog of my own.
Maybe I will have a kid one day, but maybe I will adopt four golden retrievers and name them Sasha, Charlotte, Becky and Bayley instead. After all, becoming a parent is my own business.