Parenthood and cultural attitudes: Quick thoughts, and a question

The furore over Kirstie Allsopp and the right-age-to-start-a-family question has made me wonder something about the bigger picture. In recent years, I’ve noticed that that certain attitudes about starting a family are quite prevalent in our culture, and have been for as long as I remember: Having a baby is about doing what’s expected of you at a certain age, and/or about fixing your life’s wrongs. Being a parent is seen as what makes you an adult; not that you’re an adult regardless of whether you’re a parent, or that maturing is something you should do before you become one, however old you are. A baby is often seen as a personal growth tool, a sticking plaster: a way to compensate for a shitty childhood, strengthen a weak relationship, make someone (read: a man), grow up or commit. I can see it right across the social divide: from the school cleaner who meets an abusive addict with eight kids by eight women and thinks her baby will change him, to the politicians’s wife who thinks bambino number three will stop him drinking in the afternoon and boffing journalists (true stories by the way, lest I be accused of stereotyping…). Similarly, the modern idea of children as a PR exercise; a veneer of public respectability and maturity for philandering manboys, seems quite Anglo-American. People in the rest of the world don’t use their children that way so much (or complain about press intrusion, then parade their family around on TV when it suits them). My mum, who grew up in East Germany under Communism, says attitudes there are quite different, and there is much less emphasis on personal growth or reputation enhancement as reasons for having a child. Over there, ideas about when’s “the right time” are much more focused around stability (which doesn’t mean being older, or wealthy, but being emotionally stable, having a supportive extended family around you, and job security). Having children if you don’t work is considered irresponsible, arguably because education is better, and abortion and contraception are historically less taboo, although I’m not sure it’s only because of that. It makes me think a lot of our attitudes to parenthood are cultural and not necessarily universal.

Thoughts, anyone? Do people in this country have children for more negative reasons than in Germany or Scandinavia?

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