Rebecca Barry

Rebecca Barry is a Herald columnist

Rebecca Barry: Scare tactics put off parenthood

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The gory details of raising children are no longer a secret. Photo / Getty Images
The gory details of raising children are no longer a secret. Photo / Getty Images

Dinks are in fashion. There are now more empty-nesters - those who can claim to have Double Income, No Kids - than those who have contributed to the population in New Zealand. The figures are about to rise to well over a third of the population.

Voluntary childlessness increased from less than 1 per cent of women born in 1936 to almost 10 per cent of women in 1996. Why? The ageing population might be the official cause but the unofficial reasons are more revealing.

Apparently it's no longer taboo to reveal the dark truth about having kids. Not that most of us were raised to think it would be about blowing endless raspberries and enjoying the on-off adoration of a fickle fan club, but there was a time when the prospect didn't induce a panic attack.

Now it seems it's accepted to spill how protracted and excruciating the labour was (with drugs), that a few weeks after choosing a name for their newborn they've forgotten their own, that they're overcome with guilt that they never made it to Buenos Aires for tango lessons.

And that's just the men.

"It's better you know the whole truth," a mum of two recently intoned, before revealing the depths of her domestic misery. I can't handle the truth! What had started as a pleasant catch-up over Thai had quickly turned into a raw confessional as to the ethical dilemmas of loving one's child but hating their disposable nappies, until the panang curry that had slipped down moments ago began to resemble something else.

She's joined by a chorus of authors whose work revolves around a similar premise: it's better out than in. See Heidi Raykel's Confessions of a Naughty Mommy, about one woman's retrieval of her libido following childbirth, and the slew of confessional blogsites by reluctant parents. You're not alone, they suggest to those actively searching for them. Is it fair to unleash such truths on the childless?

We all know it's hard. The laws of physics tell us that it's not going to feel like a bubble bath while squeezing a Russian doll through a toothpaste tube. Who wouldn't want to be there for their friends to shoulder some of the hardship when they're so delirious they have accidentally put breastmilk on their cereal?

Perhaps scare tactics are no bad thing for teens. Hit them with the gory details, the financial realities, the sleepless nights. For those of us at child-rearing age who are yet to conceive (and possibly still considering trying), all this over-sharing can be a tad traumatising, if not off-putting. I'd rather reality hit at time of impact, rather than the lead-in to the nine-month incubation period.

Denial is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Most of us adapt and cope when the time comes. Which it won't if every detail of what is frequently coming out of a bundle of joy's rear-end is revealed over a meal.

Even my mother, who spent a lifetime warning me that things would never be the same again once pureed apple featured predominantly on the menu, had refrained from spilling the whole truth until recently.

Perhaps deciding I'm old enough to hear how much inconvenience my arrival initially caused, she revealed there were times she was so busy looking after me as a baby that she couldn't even go to the toilet. So there's your little darling weeing and pooing all over the show and you can't even go to the loo yourself. Now if that doesn't put you off having kids ...

It doesn't help that we're growing up slower than the previous generation. Where once it made sense to focus on raising a family, now we're trying to do it all: hold down jobs, vacuum the stairs and still have time for pole-dancing class. Community life has shrunk to the point we no longer know our neighbours; we're spending more time with just ourselves and our laptops for company.

It's harder to raise a child because there are fewer clan members around to help and too many status updates to write on Facebook.

Perhaps it's the growing novelty factor of having babies that lends some couples to spill so recklessly about the downsides.

Of course, in the next breath, they'll hastily add that having children is the most wondrous, joyous, deeply satisfying thing they have ever done.

They're only warning you for your own benefit. And they can't wait for you to have kids, too.

- NZ Herald

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