"A lot of the appeal of remaining child-free has been spurred by the recognition that I drew the long stick when it comes to parents."
“You won’t have kids if you don’t already. People who think about having them rarely do,” my friend’s partner tells me. Between the two of them they have four children versus my nil. He may be right.
Overthinking child-rearing has fuelled my ambivalence. That, and growing up I don’t recall motherhood being an ambition of mine. Singing, yeah. Journalism, sure. But not so much doing the work of motherhood.
Being responsible for and accountable to easily influenced young minds. Role-modelling, being an example and catching yourself when you’re knowing better doesn’t always translate to doing better.
Thinking about nutrition; home-blended butternut versus store-bought, when to introduce meat-eating – whether to do it at all. The psychological impact of junk food as positive reinforcement on a child’s future relationship with food.
Thinking about discipline. Private versus public school; class size, extra-murals, and associated costs.
Building relationships with the child’s circle; their friends, friend’s parents, teachers, coaches. Being involved in things that don’t interest you – soccer matches and classical music recitals.
Working out what you’ll say about religion, spirituality, ‘relationshipping’, sex.
Lessons on being a conscientious citizen and a contributing member of society.
Lessons on money and finance, and saving and investing. And whether I can realistically afford a child, considering that women often end up on the back foot financially with the time lost being away from work.
The missed career-enhancing opportunities thanks to maternity leave – which is hopefully paid. Being sidelined for child-free employees and, well, men. Employers seeing you as a liability.
Being a present, mindful parent aware of the impact – positive or negative – that you have on your child is exhausting. Parenting-induced fatigue is on its own level. Being called to selflessness.
Being paralysed seeing your body unrecognisable in the mirror. Losing yourself.
Extending the self even when the cup is empty – reaching inward and deeply to find something when there is nothing left to give – excruciating.
Learning and living new definitions of sacrifice. Learning and living new definitions of love – of hurt.
In addition to child-rearing as unconditional love and life-changing, mothers I know have also used the terms lonely, disorienting, reconciling loss, traumatising.
I think about being mentally fit to undertake this. What that looks like. What that means.
What it’ll take raising a boy in South Africa who does not harm. What it’ll take raising a girl in South Africa who is not harmed.
Thinking about a child who may not identify with either gender and whose sexual orientation may be something that hasn’t yet been articulated – how to insulate them from people’s cruelty with a measured protectiveness that neither stunts nor stifles, nor shames.
Having enough self-awareness to know when you’re enacting your past traumas in the home. Not responding from a place of hurt and anger when your child triggers you. Being vulnerable with your child. Being human. Being fallible.
Thinking about raising a child in a pandemic and in lockdown. In looting and shopkeepers shooting civilians dead. In taxi violence and burning busses. In load-shedding and water shortages.
In poverty and unemployment right across the road from affluence and abundance.
Failing to make sense of the dichotomy; the starkness of waking to ugliness while you window-shop gourmet meals, leisure travel and ‘sho’t lefts’, park picnics, walking the dog and going for a jog – while the country burns.
The thinking is a lot. It’s a dizzying overwhelm. Cue ambivalence.
A lot of the appeal of remaining child-free has been spurred by the recognition that I drew the long stick when it comes to parents.
My siblings and I often joked with uMama noTata that they had a copy of How to be a dope parent and raise fairly well-adjusted kids who have deep love for themselves, each other, and you, or some such hypothetical book title.
After watching Generations in the lounge, my parents would settle down in bed; uMama often with iBhayibhile, uTata with a newspaper – a conversation between them.
My brother and I would busy ourselves washing dishes and getting ready for the next day.
And when my sister was back from boarding, we’d be chilling watching Yizo Yizo or CSI and the multitude of options in between.
Slowly, we’d each make our way to the main bedroom. And somehow all end up finding a spot on the bed.
Conversing, reflecting, checking-in, taking stock, ideating, sharing, listening, learning, teasing. There was always laughter. There was always love.
About 15 years ago, I started writing love letters to the parents honouring and celebrating the life they’ve built for me. An acknowledgment. Gratitude.
I resonate with the idea of being able to give a child this. I think about whether it’s fair to create a life if I can’t.