I have a friend who is one of three sisters in her family. Two of them (including my friend) have no children, and they have gone through mourning over missing their chance to be parents. They weren’t in the right relationships though and didn’t have the money to go it on their own. The third sister, despite being in a rocky marriage, had three children. Her marriage eventually broke up, and she was left raising three young kids, two under five, and commuting an hour each way to a stressful, professional job from her house in the suburbs. It sounds as if her life is in chaos and the kids are suffering from it.
I see this pattern in my friendships. Some women foregoing the motherhood experience due to practical concerns; others ignoring those concerns and forging ahead with one, two, and sometimes three children despite lack of money and/or a supportive partner.
It is hard for me to know what to say when these women, struggling to raise one child, announce their intentions to have more, usually because they believe children should have siblings or it is their dream to have a large family. I have a lot of beliefs and dreams, too, but that doesn’t mean that reality always aligns with them. I sometimes encourage the idea of stopping at one, but mostly I keep my mouth shut. Somehow, in our society, it is seen as cruel to suggest to someone that they aren’t in a position to have children. Given that I am childless, my advice could also be written off as sour grapes.
And yet I wonder how supportive the childless are required to be to the heedless. It does take a village to raise a child, and these children will be supporting the oldsters one day. Also, if these women lived in a village in another country, having children would be easier and they would have a lot more institutional support. Is it their fault that they don’t? On the other hand, having foregone motherhood myself because I understood the reality of raising children in this country, it puts me in a frustrating bind. I buy gifts and offer support through the first one, but I begin to falter when a tenuous situation is purposefully compounded.
Of course, given that this is the U.S., it is every woman for herself, and one can have as many kids as one wants but will be left alone to figure out alone how to care for them. As a village, we need to offer more concrete support, while at the same time, figuring out the limits of that support.
Another one of my friends had a baby on her own, and her father has been a happy and involved grandpa. When she thought about having a second, however, he said she couldn’t afford it. She has gotten pregnant anyway and was incensed when she asked him to help financially and he suggested she abort. It does sound harsh, right? But is it? Perhaps he is thinking of the child who is already here.