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Do babies make grown-ups?

Date
Is parenthood still what it used to be?

Is parenthood still what it used to be? Photo: Michele Mossop

Is it babies, not baby-making, that makes you truly adult?

I just turned 25. My father is in his 50th year. I did the sums, and bowled myself over.

‘Not ready for children’, the catch-cry of my generation. A personal default view informed by a relatively infinitesimal social sphere. But then, one of the Hansons is due for baby number five. He’s 29.

When will I be ready? Are you ever ‘ready’? Is a lack of readiness a sign of immaturity?

I wonder, looking around at lads clad in superhero shirts pressing flesh with little princesses. This is the stuff of kidulthood screen scenes, but the stuff proper grown-ups are made of? Have we evolved to a higher level of homonid that cultivates young for longer? Where adolescence stretches far beyond teenage years?

Based on current projected lifespans in big, rich countries such as this, so much would make sense. We’re living to 100, why should the ‘best years of our life’ end when they used to. If 40 is the new 30, did I just turn 15?

Perhaps I should wait a couple of years before doing adult things, like driving or voting. Or losing my virginity. Oh wait...

Latest figures have most women bearing children at 31, first shoot or otherwise. Age 32 for men. Not everyone was married either. Ah marriage, another one of those things that used to be a rite-of-passage, not just a right-to-protest. At what cost I wonder?

My friend with three young children is in his 30s. He thinks that kids make you age you quickly at first. But then they become the small, slightly different yet altogether familiar versions of somebody you used to be. And you regress, slightly, spending hours in toy stores not entirely against your will.

Is it different if you’re buying action men and dolls houses to furnish your empty nest?

According to pop culture’s varied litany of criticism concerning the spending habits of the original childless couple, uncles Bob and Steven, yes; buying things for pleasure without a family plan is sign of stunted social development. Maybe this is a fair appraisal of some, but not at all a general rule.

Much like it is not right to say children make you more grown up. Plenty of children raise children. Some parents remain more juvenile than their offspring their whole lives. Some children are born aged.

But reproduction is becoming ever more optional. We’re not far off a male contraceptive pill. My female cohort was born knowing they could choose. In fact, population is one global problem we know we know how to fix. Declining birth rates might not be a bad thing, long-term.

Unless childlessness undoes mature society – picture a kiddies table groaning with guests demanding ever more from the big people managing with adult cups and cutlery.

I’m not sure I’ll ever have children. I certainly don’t feel an urge to have babies right now, though I enjoy the practice. Sometimes I encounter judgement from parental types because of this. I’m not willing to reproduce just now, so I must have... issues... they probably explain why I’m not yet married too...

How about you? Do you have to have children to live a full life? Will not having kids make you less mature, less able and less equipped? Is dying without offspring the saddest death of all? Or are you happier for the other life experiences your barrenness affords?

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kfeeney@fairfaxmedia.com.au

145 comments so far

  • People are less ready to have children for the simple reason of economics.
    I have my doubts about whether the cost of having children has increased over the last few generations. However, I do believe that the expecation people put on themselves to provide for those children has increased. Social pressures to allow their kids the latest gadgets, clothes etc in order to maintain their childs social status. Its very consumer driven these days, but less of a consideration in times past.
    So, in order to provide these extras, couples hold back on having kids or limit the amount of children they have.
    My mother is the eldest of 5 and she said all they really had were food, shelter, clothing and each other. And that they should be greateful for. That is an attitude being lost in succeeding generations. I'm not saying it was better or worse back then, just different. We've evolved as a society.

    Commenter
    sum
    Date and time
    April 20, 2012, 7:22AM
    • I'd agree with that. I'm also one of many and each extra child was not a significant extra expense given the frugal way we lived. Even things like doctor's visits (no medicare) were extremely rare. I have two significant scars from injuries that I would have seen me in emergency with my daughter. Provided you didn't faint from lack of blood you were considered to be o.k.

      Commenter
      bornagirl
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 20, 2012, 8:52AM
  • Kate

    Interesting topic.

    Do babies make you? Yes!

    But not for the reasons you cite.

    I don't agree that having children makes a person more mature. To me, maturity develops for other reasons. That said, having children can enhance the maturation process.

    I suggest having children differentiates people because of the nurturing.

    Decades ago I was living in an Ashram with my partner and children. It was an intense closed community with no access to chocolate, grog or smokes. Being in a remote area, there was no escape to shops, etc.. The lifestyle exacerbated everyone's behaviours. We noticed that childless adults were far more likely to display quite selfish attributes. They were also far more likely to dummy spit when they couldn't get what they wanted. And, they tended to avoid communal cleaning chores.

    There is something in having a child that forces one to be more giving, less self centred, and listen more attentively.

    These attributes are generally amplified relative to the time spent caring for the offspring.

    Cheers

    Commenter
    Dalliance
    Date and time
    April 20, 2012, 7:39AM
    • Yeah definitely. A close to home ie. I live with an unmarried childless brother. He's all of those. Hell to live with. (Fortunately I was married many years and learned tolerance and to overlook things) Also his lifestyle has become more removed from the friends he used to have. (If he was not my brother I'd avoid him too) He does however have regrets, but too old to change anything.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Date and time
      April 20, 2012, 9:24AM
    • Another comment below caught my eye, and I thought I'd add a bit.

      Another attribute of having a baby is that one's parents see you in a different light.

      It's as if parents view the (first) delivery as an introduction for the baby's parents into a special club (or something).

      As I noted above, parenting does make a person consider beyond themself. And, maybe that's the signifier that enables one's parents to view them in a different light.

      - - -

      As for maturity. There are plenty of immature people who also have children - a visit to the Children's Court will illustrate this.

      My take is that a recognition of responsibility is not dependant on having a child. Rather, the person is a thinking and reasoning individual who, when confronted with a pregnancy - takes the time to consider the implications. It's that process that reflects maturity; the baby is merely a vehicle for the process to be materialised. The two are not interdependent.

      Cheers

      Commenter
      Dalliance
      Date and time
      April 20, 2012, 11:33AM
  • You don't realise what it's like to have kids until you have them. The world isn't about you anymore, it becomes about them.

    Commenter
    Krypto
    Date and time
    April 20, 2012, 8:15AM
    • Very true. I had a wife (Ok defacto) and two children (double trouble twins even), all three unexpected. And they were the best part of my life. And the rest of my life has been pretty good.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Date and time
      April 20, 2012, 9:50AM
    • And to hell with everybody else! And that's why you now need an urban tank to drive the precious littlies around in, and a pram that takes up the whole footpath, and suddenly no-one else in the world is as important as you and yours.

      Your world view closes right in, your selfishness increases, and your sense of entitlement with it.

      I wouldn't exactly call modern, middle class breeders very mature at all. They've just fulfilled their biological function, that's it.

      Commenter
      Pete
      Date and time
      April 20, 2012, 10:21AM
    • Pete

      Thanks for the vacuous diatribe.

      Most humans have the agility to walk around a pram if necessary.

      Commenter
      BeachBoy
      Date and time
      April 20, 2012, 11:11AM
    • Kyrpto
      How very true, I could not even imagine the world as a father before becoming one... Now I cannot imagine what it was like before... But I have to say my life now is much more fun and fulfilling than it was.
      Pete, becoming a parent actually makes you much less selfish as you tend to put yourself 2nd or 3rd or 4th in everything you do... You also get this great point of view that is all about not stressing about the small stuff. Like people who take up the whole footpath, or drive so fast or slow or cut you off. None of that rubbish really matters.
      Your comments actually show more of a closed view and selfishness than the people you actually directed it at...
      One day you will have kids hopefully and you will understand. Till then mate, fight the power

      Commenter
      THE FLASH
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      April 20, 2012, 12:08PM

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