10 Jul After the wedding…parenthood
The excitement of the wedding is over and the first rush of married life has settled into a comfortable rhythm. Now, for some, parenthood is just around the corner.
The prospect of a little person transforming ‘coupledom’ into family life is frankly irresistible. It is what has kept civilisations populating the earth for millennia. The pull of hormones is unstoppable. The conviction that you will be the best parents in the world is enticing. You set off on a path of medical appointments, baby googling and purchasing essentials you didn’t even know existed. Like ‘the snoo’ – the 21st century version of ‘rocking the cradle’ without any human intervention required…if you haven’t heard of it, google it now!
Spoiler alert – Parenthood can be a shock
Yet, despite all the ‘modcons’ and Dr Google at our fingertips, parenting, quite honestly, can be a shock. Although most millennials have successfully navigated demanding jobs, an insane property market, backpacking through third world countries and organising the wedding extravaganza of your dreams, you aren’t prepared for what comes next. You suddenly find yourselves shackled to the couch with a burping, vomiting, pooping earthling that you neither recognise nor particularly like. There’s nothing quite like being splattered with a mixture of vomit and poo to bring anyone down from the love cloud with a thud! Whereas pre-parenthood mornings may have started with a romantic breakfast in bed, a new baby will ensure that unless someone delivers a lasagne to the door, you may not eat for days…
The dangers of ‘perfection’ parenthood
Books are constantly being written to try to prepare loved-up couples for what’s ahead. Mostly focused on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ from pregnancy to teens, it can be overwhelming and confusing. Worst of all, it can create an ideal of parenting perfection that is unachievable.
To offer a dose of realism to the mix, author Jamila Rizvi, finding herself in a situation of post-natal crisis, decided to enlist the support of a collective ‘sisterhood’ to help others navigate this unchartered territory. Her book, simply entitled ‘The Motherhood’, is a curation of reflections from Australian writers and celebrities recounting their experiences from fame and fabulousness pre-baby to confusion and chaos postpartum. The intention is to try to warn couples, and women in particular, of how their world will be turned upside down in ways they could never have imagined. Having a shower will become a major milestone. Writing a shopping list will feel like being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature…
Australian tv series, ‘The Letdown’ is another attempt to alert parents to the trials and tribulations of the parenting life. Following the chaotic adventures of Audrey as a new mother, it is both hilarious and heartwarming. No matter how bad your day is going, watching Audrey muddle her way through getting out of the house in clothes other than her pyjamas will make you feel like you are acing it!
So, along with inhaling the myriad of parenting advice and books with bewildering titles like ‘The Danish way of parenting’ mixing your hubris with a dose of reality to help you avoid the ‘perfect parenting’ trap may not be a bad idea!
Rites of passage
The new parenting maze has caused me to ponder the circle of life and how we prepare, or not, for the next stage we are about to enter. Rites of passage are still marked by rituals and celebrations, weddings being a prime example, but not in the way that our forebears used to do. We expect to seamlessly float into puberty, marriage, parenthood and old age as if we know all the pitfalls. Women used to gather together in villages to help new mothers, even providing breast milk for those unable to feed their young. However, since the rise of the nuclear family, we have become more isolated, more protectionist and more individualistic. This has led to the breakdown of familial and community support for the most vulnerable in our society, including new parents. A recent report released by the Australasian Birth Trauma Association, highlights the shocking findings that almost half the women surveyed across Australia, New Zealand and the UK had not only experienced physical birth trauma, but also ongoing pain, incontinence, and mental health challenges, post-natally. Where is the ‘sisterhood’ or the ‘village’ to help these new mothers and partners cope with what should be the most predictable and evolutionary ‘normal’ event of their lives?
Parenthood in the 1950s and 1960s
Parenting has always been a challenge, but perhaps in previous generations our expectations were lower, and help was more available? Motherhood in the 1950s was a revered institution. Women were expected to stay at home, caring for children and their working husbands. Advice was simple and practical, and an army of likewise ‘at home’ mothers, sisters, aunties and friends were on hand to assist. As we know, this was essentially an undesirable and unsustainable situation for women. Despite their intellect and abilities, they were forced into lives of servitude, dependent on their husbands for their financial security. But maybe it had its merits in terms of ‘mothering’ support?
The 1960s saw women emerge from the home and into the workforce. Birth control gave them the opportunity to plan their lives so that motherhood could be delayed, or combined with earning a salary to support themselves and their families. By 1966, women made up 30 per cent of the workforce in Australia, which has now swollen to almost half. It was a time of liberation and progression, and the future looked bright for mothers, fathers and working families.
Parenthood in the 1970s – 1990s
By the 1970s – 1990s the boomer generation seemed to be on the path to ‘having it all’ – family life, career satisfaction and financial freedom. Women felt privileged to combine both parenthood and work – the first ‘dual income’ families. What a game changer!
Well, it was a game changer, but, as it turned out, it wasn’t exactly fun. Although the right to work had improved, helping women achieve both motherhood and a career at the same time has proven to be complex. Paid maternity leave was first introduced in 1973 for Australian public servants , providing 12 week’s paid leave with a maximum of 52 weeks for paid and unpaid leave. However, any woman contemplating returning to work when her baby is 12 weeks’ old will understand how sleep-deprivation, physical wellbeing and parenting overwhelm, are still a factor.
Thankfully, today, government-funded maternity leave is available to all women. However, provisions beyond the 12 weeks’ paid leave and further unpaid leave, as well as leave for partners, varies across the public and private sectors. Part-time and flexible work is also more accessible, depending on the industry and employer. This has been made even more acceptable thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The only remaining hurdle to overcome is superannuation payments while on maternity leave…
So, you would think that with all these advancements, parenthood would be a breeze. But that is far from the case!
In an age where parenting information and opportunities to access help is always ‘on’, and there are a plethora of gadgets to make parenting so much easier, why are things still so overwhelming? Parents seem to be drowning in an ocean of uncertainty and unpredictability without a life raft in sight.
What is going wrong? What else do we need to do to make parenthood more bearable, particularly in those first, shock-inducing weeks?
Humanity depends on reproduction
Humanity needs reproduction. For our civilisation to continue to survive, we need to keep reproducing. Regardless of the challenges, we need to embrace optimism – an egotistical self-belief that despite what has been the undisputed truth for millennia that parenthood is the most challenging job you will ever not apply for – you will ace it! You will be the best parent this world has ever seen.
So, maybe the answer is to go forth and multiply, regardless, but don’t try to do it alone. Don’t be tough, or brave or strong, and definitely don’t aim for ‘parenthood perfection’. Be prepared to admit your vulnerability and reach out.
Parenting is hard.
Use your ‘village’ and your ‘sisterhood’. Stream ‘The Letdown’ on repeat if that makes you feel better about life…and, ultimately, keep those babies coming!
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