For most of history women had children whether they wanted to or not. It wasn’t a choice. Although unplanned pregnancies do occur today, there are various forms of contraception which can provide choice in the matter. Back in the fifties when I was a small child it was assumed a young woman would marry and have children. It was seen as her role and duty. These days women can have other roles beside that of wife and mother. Times and attitudes are changing.
Back in the 1950s in general, women started having babies at an earlier age and had a larger family than these days. Many of my childhood friends came from a family where there were four or more children. These days families are usually smaller.
It is not just the number of children and at what age a woman has them that has changed. These days a family often seems to revolve around the children. Respecting the rights of the child is a good thing but it may seem children have lots of rights and no responsibilities. Adults used to make the rules and tell children what to do.
However, children weren’t always obedient and it was considered acceptable to use corporal punishment. Some children suffered physically and emotionally from cruel methods of punishment. Sometimes innocent children were bullied by adults. Various forms of abuse occurred. Legislation and the general views of society now attempt to prevent this.
Children used to have more responsibility and independence than these days. I find it interesting to note that while the practice these days is to encourage people with disabilities who were once cared for in an institution to be independent, society is making children more dependent.
In courses about providing care for people with disabilities who now live independently in the community, ‘dignity of risk’ is promoted. Instead of making all the decisions for people, support workers are told to allow them to make choices. Sometimes these choices involve an element of risk but the current practice is to avoid over protecting this group of people.
Meanwhile we are discouraging children from climbing trees, cooking at a young age and a host of other activities because we fear they might hurt themselves. I am all in favour of protecting children where there is a high risk. However, by over protecting children we do not allow them a ‘dignity of risk’. Yes, a child may fall out of a tree and break their arm. They may also trip over their own feet, hit the cement hard and break an arm. We can’t prevent all accidents.
In day to day activities where children have a level of independence they learn to trust their instincts and their ability to make decisions. Sometimes they will do things differently from the way we would have suggested but their way just might work for them. Sometimes, given some independence, children will collaborate with their peers to problem solve. This helps them socially and builds confidence.
It is difficult to dare to give children independence when we hear about all the ‘bad things’ that happen in the world. We want to protect our children from injury and frightening experiences. We also fear people will judge us if we allow our children more freedom than others feel is advisable. (What if we make the wrong call, our child is badly injured and our parenting ability is called into question?)
As a result women can spend a lot of time worrying about whether they are doing the right thing by their children. There is so much information and a host of contradicting theories. We tend to hold ourselves responsible for everything that happens to our children. We ask ourselves if we had done something different would they be more ‘resilient’ or whatever the current buzz word is.
We also want our children to have time to enjoy their childhood. To free up their time we may do things for them which they could do themselves. (I am guilty of doing this.) Meanwhile the time poor mother is sacrificing her time.
We may feel we need to entertain our children rather than letting them make their own fun. Sometimes playing with the kids is enjoyable, a time of bonding and relaxation. At other times it may seem like another chore as we worry about all the things on our ‘to do’ list.
Some women now decide not to have children. Sometimes we hear others say such a choice is selfish. The assumption is those who choose to be childless want to have more time to do what they want and to spend their money on themselves. Interestingly, those who want children may say they want the ‘unconditional love’ of a child and someone to look after them in their old age.