Thursday, June 18, 2009

modern life and the transition to parenthood

In this month's Melbourne's Child (and I assume Sydney's Child and Perth's Child and ...) there were some fascinating observations about the transition from being a married couple to a married couple with kids.

It's interesting to see secular professionals reflecting on the stresses which come from the myriad choices in modern life, from putting off kids until you're established in a career, from rejecting traditional male and female roles, and from the devaluing of motherhood.

Dr Ingrid Sturmey ... thinks that the choices we now have in life contribute to a couple's struggle over the transition to parenthood. "... A couple might be committed to the idea of each other following the individual paths of their careers, but not to the idea of having children. ... People often set up relationships as leisure-time companions, where they have fun together and have sex. They don't necessarily do it with the idea of becoming a family; whereas in the past, people mostly didn't have sex until they got married, and they would choose a partner who would be a good parent." ...

[L]ots of couples reach the seven to eight-year mark of having fun, travelling, working on their separate careers, and then the woman feels ready to start a family and the man is not sure. "The relationships gets stressed because you have to choose the next stage, whereas in the past you didn't have to choose." Then it becomes about competing priorities.

Couples don't want to lose their freedom, and tension stems from how they are going to manage to keep up their lifestyle, with everyone trying to optimise all aspects of their life: career, family, and their own interests. And in most people's life, it doesn't all fit; something has to give. Sacrificing desired areas of our lives breeds resentment, especially if we perceive that we have sacrificed more than our partner.

Sturmey says, "When children come along, it's almost like couples who are used to getting on together as companion-lovers, or emotional-sexual friends are suddenly transformed into parents with the idea that they are responsible for raising a generation. Now that raises questions: 'Who is going to be responsible? Who is going to look after the child and who is going to continue the lifestyle they want?'

"It might work fine to say, 'we don't follow traditional roles' when there are just two of you and you head off for a ski weekend and both pack, and both cook a later dinner when you get home or get takeaway. But when it comes to who gets up at night to the baby, to breastfeeding, and who is going to give up their career moving forwards, then the model where neither member of the couple plays a traditional role doesn't work.

"Mostly, the woman has to go back into a dependent role and lose her professional edge. Mostly she withdraws to some degree from her career and her life as it was. As she copes with this - even if she loves having children - she has to change profoundly and some of her values and choices might have to change."

Maternal and child-health nurse Jeandanielle Evans agrees. "The transition to parenthood has really changed over the past 10 years. The average age of a first-time mum is now 30, and they come to motherhood having had a career, responsibilities and their own money. Most families have had two wages.

"Then when they suddenly have this little bundle which they have dreamed about forever, everything changes: they are suddenly down to one wage and the mum has a huge transition to motherhood because although she loves being a mother, society doesn't see being a mother as highly valuable or any great skill. So she has this massive transition to 'Is this who I am now? Is this what my life is?'"

It's enough to make you wonder if having kids young and traditional roles are such bad things after all!

Susan White From Partners to Parents in Melbourne's Child June 2009

image is from stock.xchng


Ali said...

Brilliant timing Jean - I might link this from EQUIP book club (I've actually suggested in comments yesterday that people might like to come here for more work/ home/mother input - because I am slightly out of my league). I looked at Sydney Child the other day and didn't pick it up (even though I occasionally do) so I might grab one sometime.

Jean said...

Thanks for the link, Ali, I'm glad it was helpful! I enjoyed your article on kangaroos BTW.

Jean said...

I mean kangaroos!

Ali said...

Thanks for that Jean. I wondered if anyone would be on that wavelength but I enjoyed trotting out a zoological example!