Children and burdens

May 16, 2007 | 9 comments

Christine’s recent post about her astonishment about how often mothers speak disdainfully of motherhood — often in front of their kids — is really worth reading. Go check it out.

I’ll never cease to be amazed at how frequently I see this. Just this week I was CC’d on an email exchange between my mom and a family friend who, upon learning that her daughter is pregnant, said that she was glad to hear it so that her daughter will finally understand how difficult it is to be a mother. And an acquaintance who was having a tough day with her three-year-old son (her only child), said to me in an almost accusatory tone, “I’m so glad we’re done [having children]. You want to have more kids WHY?” And that’s just this week.

I should be clear that I’m not saying that I don’t have bad days or that I don’t (frequently) feel stressed and overwhelmed by all that I have to do on a daily basis. I do. In fact, just this morning I was groaning about the difficulties of carrying around a 22 lb. baby in a two-story house while pregnant and keeping up with a toddler. But I think there’s a difference between seeing it as just part of life vs. some extraordinary, borderline unnatural burden.

I haven’t been able to put my finger on what exactly I think is going on in our culture here, though, as usual, I think the widespread acceptance and use of contraception has something to do with it, as I mentioned here (my regular readers know that I can trace the root of every world problem except global warming back to contraception). 🙂 It seems that women (and men) see our default state in life as one of childlessness, and that having children is seen as something out of the ordinary that we might choose to take on after careful planning and consideration. It’s always mentally more difficult to deal with something that we categorize as unusual as opposed to something we see as a natural (perhaps challenging, but natural) part of life.


  1. alicia

    You should be able to trace global warming to contraception, don’t you think? Resources that might otherwise have gone to raise families being used instead for recreational travel, high end energy consumption, that attitude of entitlement, etc.

  2. Christine


    Thank you so much for the link!


    NICE ONE! 🙂

  3. 4andcounting

    I think a lot of it has to do with accepting consequences and instant gratification. The selfishness is hard to deny.

  4. melanieb


    I like the way you think!


    I think contraception definitely has something to do with it. Though I’m not sure if the contraception causes selfishness or vice-versa. Or maybe it’s cyclical and one leads to the other leads to the other.

  5. Literacy-chic

    I don’t necessarily think contraception is to blame–at least not initially. Perhaps it might enhance the negativity and resentment that are already present for some women. I’m thinking of older generations, and hard-working mothers were not necessarily all warm & fuzzy about their children–particularly if they had more than, say, they would have ideally liked to have or felt they could handle (and here, I’m not speaking from a pro-contraception or feminist position, just thinking of my own maternal grandmother and great-grandmother and historical accounts more broadly). There were, of course, happy mothers in the past, and there were happy mothers who were not particularly affectionate because the farm work kept them too busy to show affection the same way we think of mothers showing affection. Remember that our concept of childhood is a rather recent development–sometime in the 19th century, children were conceptualized differently, as children rather than mini-adults (unfortunately, the trend is to treat them as mini-adults again, in terms of sex if not in terms of responsibility!!) I do agree, however, that contemporary society promotes the attitude that any number of unpredictable circumstances in life are to be rejected rather than being accepted, and that that attitude had extremely negative consequences for family life. We are no longer taught to “make the best” of things. Rather, we are taught to wallow in misery or harm others in order to preserve what we have defined as out “selves.”

    Interesting post!

  6. Jeannine

    I read Christine’s post, and it seemed so familiar to me. My children are now grown up (mostly)–the youngest is 20–but I too remember moms complaining about their children being home all day for the summer. I loved the summer! I loved spending time with those fascinating personalities, each one of the four different from the others. It’s hard to put it into words, but every sacrifice we made for our children was infinitely worth it. I wish that more people could see that motherhood and fatherhood are wonderful gifts.

  7. Milehimama

    Contraception does affect the environment – the hormones are in the water and messing with the fish, they are in our drinking water too and possibly affecting the development of our little boys.

    I think it’s because children, in our society, are OPTIONS now, not blessings.

    It’s also parenthood on *MY* terms. “I’M ready for a baby”. “I only want two”. “We won’t have kids until we own a house with a yard and have their college funds started” “We’ll have children at our convenience so as to cause as little disruption as possible”.

    It used to be, you didn’t get married unless you were ready to start a family. And if you didn’t conceive in the first couple of years, people would whisper! Now you are expected to marry, buy a house, climb the career ladder, and then 10 years later have kids (maybe).

    Mama Says

  8. Sarah

    My (childless) former college roommate said this to me when she met my children for the first time- “I couldn’t stand to stay home with kids all day long.”

    Why do I have to feel like the odd one because I actually like being with my kids? There are many reasons why mothers choose to work outside the home, but “because I can’t stand to be with my children” is not a good one. Sadly, this friend has since had her heart broken with 2 miscarriages after IVF attempts. I can’t understand why she was trying so hard to have kids that she assumed she wouldn’t want to be around.

  9. lyrl

    I think a distinction needs to be made between choosing to not use contraception, and not having any contraception available. Historically, women who could afford to do so frequently hired wet nurses and others to care for their children full-time, because they did not enjoy being mothers. Even in a world without contraception, raising children was still sometimes seen as drudgery – something only done by those who had no choice. (Can a couple be considered to have a “contraceptive mentality” even if they don’t avoid pregnancy?)

    Historically also, women spending the majority of their waking hours alone with small children has not been normal. Women have always worked, with other women or even with men (preparing and storing food, making clothing, etc.) I find implications that women who choose to become mothers, but not full-time stay-at-home-mothers, have something wrong with them, to be very judgmental. (Not that I think the pp was saying this, but I have seen that attitude before, and the pp’s comment reminded me of it.)

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