If parenting is making Americans unhappy, if it’s impossible to “have it all,” if people don’t have the economic, social, or political structures needed to support parenting, then why do it? And why are anxious new parents flocking to every Tiger Mother and Bébé-raiser for advice on how to raise kids?
In Why Have Kids?, Valenti explores these controversial questions through on-the-ground reporting, startling new research, and her own unique experiences as a mom. She moves beyond the black and white “mommy wars” over natural parenting, discipline, and work-life balance to explore a more nuanced reality: one filled with ambivalence, joy, guilt, and exhaustion.
1. Our society does not support mothers The United States is the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave, putting families and children at severe economic risk. And due to the distinctly American belief that child care is a personal—not a political—issue, there is very little momentum behind changing the status quo. Parents are too busy fighting over breast vs. formula feeding to mobilize for lasting change.
2. Inequality Women still do the bulk of domestic work whether it's household chores or raising children. And when previously equal marriages bring babies into the mix, the relationship shifts to a more traditional one. And within marriages, the culturally reinforced essentialism that ‘mother-knows-best’ justifies the gross inequality of parenting and care-giving, women are still doing the bulk of the work. What does it say to young women, when people claim that motherhood is the most important job in the world? Not only does this take women out of the public professional sphere, but what does it say about a woman’s worth - that the most important thing mothers can do is foster the life of their child, so they can succeed beyond them.
3. Happiness The expectation of a sense of self-worth, pride, joy and completeness that comes with becoming a parent is exaggerated and unobtainable, making the reality all the more harsher when it inevitably descends. Having children does not make people happier. What's more, Robin Simon, a sociology professor at Florida State University and researcher on parenting and happiness, told The Daily Beast in 2008 that no group of parents—married, single, step, or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children,” she said. “It’s such a counterintuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they’re not."
4. Money/Maternal Pay Gap Having children costs a lot of money and resources – center-based child care can cost more than college tuition. And according to the Census Bureau in families with working mothers and incomes below the poverty line, child care takes up a third of household costs. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising.org, has long pointed out that the maternal pay gap is all too real: Women who don’t have children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar; women with children make 73 cents to that dollar. And let’s not forget the study out of Cornell that showed that a woman without children is twice as likely to be hired as a mother with the same résumé—and is offered eleven thousand dollars more in starting salary.
5. Change/Independence Having children can disrupt relationships: your friends, colleagues, and most directly your spouse. When women become mothers, they are more likely to report unhappiness in their marriage. Laura Scott, author of Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice, says that the number one reason women cite for not wanting to have children is not wanting their life to change. Scott conducted a study over the course of two years of child-free women and found these reasons given for not wanting children: loving the relationship they were in “as it is,” valuing “freedom and independence,” not wanting to take on the responsibility of raising a child, the desire to focus time and energy “on my own interests, needs and goals,” and wanting to accomplish “things in life that would be difficult to do if I was a parent.”
Adapted from the book, Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti (Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, 2012)