My husband recently mentioned to a colleague that we were expecting again. (We have one daughter who is sixteen months and we are expecting a little boy this summer!)
My husband is finishing up his second year of grad school, and when he made this announcement, his fellow student immediately replied, “What did you do that for?”
If this shocks you, it really shouldn’t. Yes, it’s wildly rude, but it’s also consistent with the current Western attitude towards parenting.
We seem to think parenting is a prerogative of the upper class only and even then it’s questionable how desirable it is.
Because my husband and I decided to start our family young and while he is still in school, we have simply gotten used to responses like this. People assume we got pregnant on accident – that we couldn’t possibly have wanted this for our lives – and they are not shy about voicing their disbelief or disapproval.
This is just one more way in which our modern Western world has failed to support mothers.
Culture propagates myths about parenthood that make the task seem impossible and daunting, and we even shame those who willingly become parents in what culture deems “unideal” circumstances. It’s important to debunk these myths because they feed on fear – and couples or women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant are being sold lies about their options.
So here are five myths of modern motherhood and why they are false.
1. There’s such a thing as being “ready”
People seem to talk a lot about not being “ready” for kids – but it’s really unclear what “ready” means. I think most parents will agree that there’s really no way to be ready for kids. They happen like an explosion – an amazing, life-changing, exhausting, best thing in the world explosion. Yes there are more or less ideal circumstances for getting pregnant of course – but the biggest thing that makes you ready is simply doing it.
The myth of readiness can make parents who find themselves pregnant unexpectedly feel like they’ve done something wrong. You haven’t. Children are a blessing no matter what.
2. You need to be in a certain income bracket
It’s funny to compare how much different people think you “need” to start a family. I was once told that the typical starting salary for a Harvard engineering graduate wasn’t enough to afford kids.
I find that hilarious.
My husband and I are technically below the poverty line in this season of life, and we’ve managed fine. Even more amazing – people all over the world have kids on way less. Does this mean that kids are free or that you can have an Instagram-perfect mom-style on any budget whatsoever? Of course not. Does it mean you have no responsibility to think about financially providing for your child? Definitely not. But it does mean that resources are available to women of all walks of life, and if you want to start a family or find yourself pregnant unexpectedly, you can do it. And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
3. You need to own a home
I’m not sure what’s so magical about owning a home when it comes to kids. I mean, yes, it would be nice to have the freedom to keep a growth chart for my kids in permanent marker on the laundry room wall like I grew up with, but it’s far from necessary. Our first year of parenthood we lived with my parents – something few from my generation will consider doing.
But it was actually a very practical and blessing-filled way to adjust to parenthood.
This year we’re living in a small apartment. And you know what? My daughter loves both places. We get outside and go to parks and do a lot of free stuff, and she has all the space, shelter, and security she needs.
4. You need tons and tons of baby stuff
As with everything in our culture, we’ve turned motherhood into an identity.
It comes with certain clothes and gear and a Pottery Barn nursery. I’ve known women to express fear of motherhood because they are afraid of turning into the Upper East Side moms they nannied for, of only having other mom friends, and of losing their sense of style to baby toys and spit up. The point is that this is just one niche culture’s way of doing motherhood.
What about motherhood in Brazil? In the Philippines? In Harlem or rural Arkansas? Every culture is different. But rest assured – you don’t need all the stuff.
It’s nice of course, but not necessary. Do you have Tupperware? You’re set on toys. Can you get a pack-n-play? Skip the crib. I didn’t get a stroller for my daughter till she was four months old and really didn’t miss it. She’s never had her own room and she sleeps on a crib mattress on the floor. We’re healthy and happy and not missing anything.
5. Being a young mom is undesirable
This is one of the biggest cultural lies. We tell young women that they are wasting their youth and careers – that they should freeze their eggs and delay “settling down” as long as possible. I’ve had several friends confide in me that they are afraid of what pregnancy will do their bodies.
Yes, pregnancy definitely changes your body – but not in ways that make you less beautiful.
And what you won’t hear from mainstream culture is that having kids young is actually way easier. It’s easier to get back in shape, you have more energy, and you’re at lower risk of pregnancy complications. It’s a shame that our culture has defined success in such a way that mothers are often excluded. Motherhood is beautiful and the work is so worthy and fulfilling. Cultural standards will change, but this truth will last.
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It’s necessary that we challenge these myths in whatever form we find them, that we keep pointing out the ways in which modern Western culture is failing women and that we keep encouraging and supporting mothers everywhere and in every season.
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