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What women don't talk about: Parenting pressures and choosing to be child free

‘It’s a hard thing to say as you’re meant to be completely 100 per cent adoring of your children, which is bollocks’

By: Emma Clifton

Whether it’s a family issue, a health concern or a career crisis, women are experts at brushing off all manner of worries with two little words: ‘I’m fine’.

So NEXT deputy editor Emma Clifton invited a group of women to gather for lunch, laughter and candid chatter on the sort of topics we all think about but often sweep aside.

Over rose and platters at a central Auckland restaurant, NEXT writers Nicky Pellegrino, Kylie Bailey, Deborah Hill Cone and lifestyle coach Sarah Laurie covered everything from social media and parenting pressures, to navigating menopause and negotiating a pay rise.

While the opinions sometimes differed, the consensus was the same: these are issues all modern women face, and usually keep to ourselves – but we shouldn’t be afraid of starting a conversation.

Today, we discuss parenting, and choosing to not have kids.

Emma: Is parenting becoming more of a minefield?

Sarah: When I had young children, I remember being at work and talking about being the best mum I could be when I was working, and this guy who didn’t have children said to me: “When I was growing up, my mum washed everything by hand, she cooked, she baked, she cleaned. She wasn’t concerned with taking me to sports events, she was just my mum and that was enough. She wasn’t trying to be the best.” I think we do put too much pressure on ourselves around quality time with the children, how we speak to the children, what kids should or shouldn’t be doing; I think that’s making it hard.

Nicky: Nowadays everyone has much higher expectations. There is so much more pressure and it’s like people are unforgiving of anyone who doesn’t meet the standards. You’re not meant to fail ever, at anything. And that’s a really unhealthy way to live.

Sarah: It’s not real. People are so scared of failing, and I don’t know if it’s only women who think this.

Nicky: I have noticed with a lot of my friends who have 16-year-old kids doing exams – the pressure around it! I don’t think my mum even knew when my exams were on. Now all of a sudden mum is doing test papers with the kids, and it’s like ‘what can I feed them for breakfast for maximum brain power?’

Sarah: I don’t know whether, with all this trying to help our children be better, this is why we end up with anxious children. We’re actually feeding those issues to our kids by putting so much pressure on.

Deborah: There’s this psychologist who talks about how we only have to be the ‘good enough’ mother, not perfect. In fact being perfect can be damaging as it teaches kids people are all perfect and they’re not. We’re all going to make mistakes, but it’s all about the repair. This generation is probably the first where it’s acceptable for parents to say ‘I’m sorry’ to your kid, or ‘I got it wrong, I shouldn’t have done it that way’. Generations before, I don’t think parents were thinking like that. I don’t think my parents were thinking ‘I hope I’m a good parent’. They just got on with it, went to work, made dinner and watched Coronation Street.

Emma: Parenting is hard, but choosing not to become a mother must be a difficult decision too?

Kylie: I don’t know at what point I decided I didn’t want children, but I knew really early on, and thankfully my husband doesn’t want them either, so we’re in a happy union.

Nicky: (to Kylie) Do you get pressure from friends with kids, and family though?

Kylie: Our families have never said anything about it. Thankfully my brother has had children and that’s got me off the hook, but people you meet in the street often have an opinion. I don’t have a problem with that, I’m actually more than happy to engage with people on the subject because I feel really confident in my choice, but people ask you so many things. Someone actually said to me, “Well that’s the decision you’ll regret on your death bed.”

Nicky: When I was in my late 30s, I got lots of questions, and my biggest worry was that I would regret not doing it. I was thinking, ‘What if I hit my late 40s or early 50s and I really regret it?’ And there’s no way of knowing. I don’t regret it, but that might just be luck. I think it was the hardest thing, trying to look forward to the future and thinking, ‘I might regret it when there’s no one to look after me.’

Deborah: Don’t worry, I don’t think many people’s kids are going to be there to look after them!

Nicky: In the end I started telling people we couldn’t have children, because I just got sick of the questions and that was easier than trying to justify myself. It wasn’t just one simple reason, it was a whole bunch of things. When I said, “Well actually we can’t”, then people shut up.

Kylie: It’s an interesting one; people do feel like they have open slather. I do get a lot of people saying, “Don’t you want to just see what it would be like?”

Nicky: But what if you don’t like it?!

Kylie: Then they say, “But aren’t you just kind of intrigued to see what it would be like to have a little human that is you and your husband?” I’m actually not.

Deborah: That could be the worst possible reason to have a child! The narcissistic idea of ‘I want a little me’. I’m sorry but whoever said that I suggest they get some help!

Nicky: I did meet a couple of older women at the time who said, “I love my kids but I could have not had them.” And they were fantastic and so honest. It’s a hard thing to say as you’re meant to be completely 100 per cent adoring of your children, which is bollocks. That was refreshing for me when I was panicking about it, to hear that from these women.

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