I want kids, but I'm scared I'll be a rubbish mother

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

OPINION: 

After spending the past year having every variation of a conversation about Jacinda Ardern being pregnant/a working mum, I think I've decided I don't want to be a mother.

Now before you sigh wisely and mutter sagely,  "You'll change your mind", I want to make a distinction here.

I don't mean I don't want to have kids. Admittedly, I'm not exactly throwing myself at every passing man in the mall crying, "Take these beating eggs!" But sure, maybe one day. The kids thing, I mean, not the sexually harassing strangers in the food court thing.

What I'm not keen on is the job of being a mother. Because being a mother is a job, and if it was being handed to me on a contract it would say something like: 

"Full-time unpaid position involving 90+ hours a week of unpaid overtime, copious mess, boredom, repetition, frustration and shame. Perks of the job can include a sense of warm fulfilment from nurturing something much purer and greater than yourself. However, possible downsides include constant tiredness, cleaning and the need to scream."

Now admittedly the ratio of the deep fulfilment versus desire to gouge things will change depending on your partner, children and your own tolerance for dirt.

However, even if you have a child and partner made from sunshine and lollipops, there's still a lot of inescapable unpleasant parts to being a mother.

We're becoming much better in recent years at acknowledging this, with all kinds of parenting blogs and articles rising up to decry how mindless and frustrating parenting kids can be.

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Let's face it, there's nothing inherently fascinating about attending to the basic needs of anything, even your own small human.

Then there's the isolation and loneliness, the feeling that you've given up the beating, living heart of your identity and practically all of your independence, especially in the first few years of parenthood. Not to mention the damaged relationships, no more all-night benders and the fact you will probably end up doing the majority of housework again.

Longitudinal research out of Australia suggests that, after the birth of their first child, women in heterosexual partnerships are doing 74 per cent of care and 64 per cent of housework – and this continues for the first 10 years of the child's life. And yes, that's even if they had a more egalitarian approach to domestic labour pre-children.

But it's not really the job description that scares me, although the discussions of the washing, whining and Peppa Pig reruns haven't exactly sold it to me.

What scares me is that I can't think of another job where I am so expected to find it fulfilling.  

Many of the mum blogs talk about how crap the mechanics of parenting are, but they say it's worth it. The underlying sense of joy from loving something more than anything else eclipses the daily frustration of scraping hardened Weet-Bix off a table for three hours.

The ones that always catch my eye are the ones who admit that they don't think it's worth it. They love their kids, but don't find the job satisfying on balance. They're the mothers who give interviews with pseudonyms, because they're so eaten up with heretical shame. Plus they know they'll get scalped if someone finds out they said that.

We still insist that mothers are supposed to find it ultimately satisfying. Hard, but satisfying. It's supposed to be like teaching – you might hate the hours, the pay, the thanklessness, the workload and the gaping holes in social systems that the job exposes. But you still love the kids, so it's worth it.

But what if you don't, or won't, find it ultimately satisfying?

Sure, that might mean you're selfish. Which doesn't mean you're a bad person, rather that you probably shouldn't have kids. But there's also a whole lot of kind, generous people who wouldn't find the job of parenting ultimately fulfilling.

That's not to say they don't love kids, or enjoy nurturing young people, just that parenthood would drive them insane. For instance, what if you're one of those razor-sharp people who needs constant intellectual stimulation? You might happily give up your weekends to tutor teenagers for free in advanced physics, but get cold sweats at the thought of spending the day with a toddler.

But we're still resolutely holding on to the martyred idea that women are supposed to find the sacrifice worth it. Which is bizarre, because not only do we not expect this in any other part of normal life, but self-sacrificial behaviour is enormously difficult for pretty much anyone who isn't Nelson Mandela.

The most terrifying part is reading that you'll probably only find out if you're suited to parenthood after you have kids. And that's a terrifying gamble, as I can't think of anything worse for kids than ending up with a parent who just isn't that interested in you, or worse, just plain resents you.

- Stuff