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By now, you have seen the results of a study conducted by the Urban Institute, about Millennials and childbearing. The study denotes "a dramatic decline in birth rates" across all ethnic groups and among married and unmarried women born between 1980 and 1995. Until recently, most women had their first child in their mid 20's. This study points to a shift in the age women are having their first child and offers that financial reasons might be the cause.
I was born in 1983 and had my first child at 30. My anecdotal research confirms this study. Conversations around financial anxiety plague my generation. There is always someone who was laid off, rejected from a job or working a less than stellar job because they cannot find another or are saddled with student debt.
While financial woes are not unique to us, our response to the circumstances is unique. The internet, our parents and changing attitudes about family size are also impacting our choices.
Here are 4 better reasons I think Millennials are holding out on parenthood.
1. We compare our lives to other people
Millennials were dealt a unique set of challenges that also coincides with the rise of the "filtered life." We are masters at brand management. It is no coincidence our patron saint, Kim Kardashian, just published a book of selfies aptly titled, "Selfish".
We are the first generation to have to manage our online presence from a very young age. The ability to share your life with the internet has its perils. If it seems like everyone is having a pinterest-worthy wedding, getting a decorated baby shower and flashing their 2-carat, princess-cut ring, we will inevitably feel inadequate when we cannot afford the same things.
The truth is often far from glamorous, but even those of us who are hyper aware of this can fall prey to the allure of a filtered life. Last September we hosted a joint birthday party for my son and his sister. It was his first birthday and so a small party soon went way off budget. We had a printed invite (designed by dad), DIY crafts (made by my BFF, my little sister and me), catered food (generously paid for by their grandparents) and, of course, a photographer to capture it all.
I am embarrassed to say our bank account was running dangerously low at the time, since I had just been unemployed for a year. I worried about what message I was sending by hosting such a party during a time when it would have been more prudent not to host a party. A few months later I talked to a friend about how expensive it was to raise a family and that money was big concern for me. She pointed out that it doesn't appear as though we have financial issues. This was a stark reminder for me that we never know what lies behind the shiny exterior of our public personas.
The reality is that many Millennials are living paycheck to paycheck and potentially taking on substantial debt—or relying on the generosity of parents to pay for their lifestyles. Perhaps it is time for us to have more honest conversations about our finances, and then we will realize that those feelings of inadequacy are based on misconceptions about the financial state of others. Comparison-itis puts immense pressure on all of us.
We might never feel ready to be parents, I know I felt delight and intense anxiety as soon as I found out I was expecting.
2. We think we need THE best of everything
Aziz Ansari recently alluded to a phenomenon that is also unique to the world Millennials inhabit. "The Best of Everything" Syndrome. It goes like this: You decide you "need" to purchase a new stroller for your child, you immediately do a Google search for "best strollers for large toddlers." Your search returns a few hundred listings of strollers that cost significantly more than you would like to pay. But, hey, it is "THE BEST," and your child needs the best, right? After all what kind of a parent are you if you don't purchase your child the best things.
You then decide that, indeed, you need that stroller and feel inadequate about the fact that you had a child when you cannot afford said stroller. Having a child is a constant game of rapid cost-benefit analysis. I now ask myself, "Does my child need this to be a healthy, thriving individual?" or "Do I need him to have this to feel like I am a good parent?" The consumerism culture impacts our ability to parent. With rising inequality, stagnant salaries and exorbitant rent and home prices, each purchasing decision can become more complex and anxiety ridden.
Our relationship with money is intermingled with our own feelings of self-worth, and we project those feelings onto our children. Strollers, car seats, clothes and even diaper choices are status symbols, and none of us wants to feel like we are less than.
(In case you are wondering, after much research and consultation we chose this stroller. I am forcing myself to differentiate my "needs vs. wants" and develop financial priorities as I want to raise a child that values experiences not just things.)
3. Our mothers
It is no secret that our parents invested a lot of time, money and energy into our upbringing. Our parents popularized helicopter parenting and took parenting to new levels of paranoia. The days of children spending large amounts of time unsupervised became a thing of the past, and so the pressures of motherhood mounted.
My mother rarely did anything for herself—all of her energy was invested in raising children, working to buy things for her children and giving me experiences she never had. While I am incredibly thankful, I now realize my busy afternoon schedule meant she rarely had time for herself in the evenings until I was in high school. Many of my fears about having children centered around this: "How could I still be myself even after I became a mother?"
If motherhood is an all encompassing role that requires the sacrifice of the self, then it is no wonder many of us are scared of taking it on and will delay it as much as possible. Now that I am a mother, every day I strive for a balance between caring for myself first and being the mother and partner I want to be.
We might never feel ready to be parents, I know I felt delight and intense anxiety as soon as I found out I was expecting. Millennials are waiting to be financially prepared and older because we are aware of the financial and emotional investment children require.
4. We just don't want them or we only want one
A new book titled, "Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed" explores the lives people who have chosen to not have children and the complex reasons why people don't want children—reasons that are not often discussed. In her review of the anthology, Sophie Gilbert noted that, even in this day and age, "it's more acceptable to talk about wanting to be beaten by a sexual partner than it is to express honestly and openly a deliberate intent to not procreate."
Reproductive rights also encompasses a woman's right to not have children, have only one child and not having to justify that choice to anyone.
It is hard to go against the tide that sanctifies motherhood and that pressure is felt by those who have and don't have children. The increased affordability and accessibility is making it possible for more women to live their reproductive years without having children or only having one child. I have a few friends who only want one child, and they have recounted that people will tell them that it is "selfish" to not give their child a sibling.
My son has an older sister from his father's previously relationship. For all intents and purposes, I feel as though we have two children already. But people are constantly reminding me that "I should have another one" and that I should just "get it over with," which assumes that we must want another child.
Reproductive rights also encompasses a woman's right to not have children, have only one child and not having to justify that choice to anyone. As the definition of what constitutes a family continues to evolve, millennials are exploring the possibility that it is possible to live a fulfilled life without children or with only one child.
Financial uncertainty, external pressures and family dynamics might be playing a role in why more millennials are delaying parenthood or opting out of it. Millennials are also known to be a hopeful group so maybe we keep waiting for things to get better, waiting for our incomes to rise, waiting for paid parental leave and waiting for homes to be more affordable, because we recognize that it is very hard to make a living and raise a family in this country.
There's no universal truth about how one prepares for parenthood, but given the enormous responsibility it entails I'm glad my generation is taking its time.