It seems that many modern women have a great deal of difficulty reconciling their desire to have a fulfilling professional career with their desire to have children. It is as if having children represents a need to open themselves to the emotional vulnerability that they have spent much of their lives trying to seal off in order to be successful in their chosen line of work. Actually, these feminist- leaning attitudes form the basis of just one of the reasons why many women are refusing to have children at all. There is the fear of bringing children into a world which is becoming increasingly uncomfortable as well as downright dangerous as a result of climate change, terrorism and crime. Then, at least for heterosexual women who want to have a partner in raising their children., there is the frustration that comes from trying to find a man who is not just interested in hooking up and who is willing to make a commitment to a life partner. There is also the notion that raising a child is becoming increasingly expensive in today’s world. Finally, there is the situation, where, by the time a woman feels sufficiently advanced in her career, both professionally and financially, to think about having children, it has become increasingly difficult for her to get pregnant. At that point, she has to decide whether she wants to go through the expense of artificial insemination which may or may not work.
All these represent important considerations for a modern woman as she grapples with whether or not to have children. And yet I would submit there is another problem that operates on an unconscious level that is very important in preventing a woman from jumping into what has been in the past the most fundamental role of all for her to play in her life. And that is the growing numbness that she feels with regard to her psychological preparedness to having children.
Because most women today operate out of a more nuclear family situation rather than a more traditional extended family situation, very few of them get the opportunity to watch other women who are mothers interact with their babies and older children. In traditional families, which have tended to have a lot more children than modern nuclear families, older daughters have been required from an early age to help their mothers in taking care of their younger siblings. Younger daughters have been drawn into helping their older siblings with their children after they start families of their own. Everybody gets to watch and participate in taking care of their aunts’ and cousins’ children. All this is the way that women have traditionally learned how to be mothers and the way that they have been drawn into adopting a maternal role in their lives. Young girls watch and then they help their mothers and their sisters and their aunts and their cousins and their friends with their daily motherly tasks, learning how to hold the babies and how to dress them and how to feed the ones that are able to absorb solid food. They have learned how to watch over their younger siblings as they get older and make sure that they behave. Young women in traditional societies learn to consider motherhood as an integral part of their daily task schedule rather than something that stands outside of the “serious activities” in their lives which is of course the profession, the career on which modern women have been focused much of their lives to give their lives real meaning.
But for traditional women, all the help that they give in taking care of young babies and young children acts as a stimulant to them psychologically as well as physically to prepare them for the time in their lives when they too will give birth to children. When they are ready to start having children, it doesn’t feel like something that is foreign to their being, the way it does to modern women. It is part of the flow of their life narratives.
For women today, having a child is not a part of the flowing stream of their life experiences. In most cases, it is a defined discrete project that is inserted into their lives practically out of nowhere. In modern technological society, having a child is one that offers little opportunity for shared caregiving experienceexperience either with contemporaries who are also dealing with the problems of raising children or with parents who either live far away or who psychologically are too differentiated themselves to be a part of a natural flow of generations.
Now some people may ask why I am not talking about a lack of preparation of modern men for fatherhood. As a result of the fact that men don’t give birth or breastfeed, they just don’t have the biological or the psychological connection to their children that women do, a fact which is recognized in most traditional societies by the assignment of a larger caregiving role to mothers rather than fathers.
Anyway, modern women just are not as immersed from an early age in caregiving situations as traditional women, and their caregiving natures never get the opportunity to fully develop. As a result, having a child becomes a situation with a level of organic stimulation that is far more intense than they are capable of absorbing. So, psychologically, they run away from it.