Motherhood and freedom

Posted June 16, 2011

Motherhood and freedom

My niece recently had a baby.  She’s 20 and didn’t plan on having a child so young but her seamless transition from late night clubber to devoted mother has astounded us all. She’s determined to continue her education and build a career but hasn’t yet figured out (but she will!) how everything is going to slot into place. 

For my mother, now in her 70s, things were different. Like most of the women of her generation she married at the earliest opportunity and settled into a life of domesticity. A career was simply out of the question. Indeed, up until her mid-thirties, my mother’s life was all about being a good Irish housewife and raising her kids well. Then my parents decided to set up their own business and my mother’s world changed dramatically. She started helping out in the business, gradually taking on more responsibility, until she became pivotal to its success. Being her own boss brought her the opportunity to fulfil ambitions that reached far beyond the four walls of her house.  Looking back now I can see that she loved her children but hated being a stay at home mother.

I sensed this conflict in my mother as I was growing up and I’m sure it shaped the way I saw things. Whilst my mother’s idea of freedom was ‘escaping’ from motherhood, mine was to avoid becoming a mother at all. Children would have been a shackle. So I spent my twenties and thirties laying the foundations for a career and making sure that I didn’t fall pregnant. No kids became my mantra. I don’t regret my decision for a moment.  However, seeing how my niece has adjusted to her life as a new mum has made me reflect on the shifting attitudes of women towards motherhood and career.

My mother always assumed that she would have children – it was the norm for her generation but always hankered after a life outside the home. Although she experienced both, many women of her generation didn’t get the same opportunity.  Not having children has been a liberating experience for me even though my life choice isn’t fully understood by everyone. It can sometimes stop a ‘getting to know you' conversation with other women in its tracks (I can see them wondering if I’m harbouring some tragic history of doomed pregnancies) but on the whole they respect my decision.  If my mother had made the same choice she would have been labelled an oddity.

My niece certainly doesn’t see motherhood and career as an either/or choice. As far as she’s concerned it’s all there for the taking. So what if you have a child when you’re young? Whereas I would have seen it as a life limiting event, she has simply flipped things over. She’ll raise her family first before turning her attention to her career and she takes it for granted that she will achieve both. It’s me and my mum who fret more about her future. My niece would have been equally comfortable if it had been the other way round – career first, then kids – but for now she is happy to live in the present and enjoy her time with her child. And I love that her generation has the confidence to mix and match their lifestyle depending on their circumstances. That’s true freedom.

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