Momma’s support your future

Photo by Alex Pasarelu / Unsplash

We’re stuck with the question of whether or not to have children – and no, it’s not our fault

We’re addicted to asking all of the questions: “Will you do it?” “What has your friend said about it?” “When do you think you’ll go through with it?”

The question of whether or not to have a child has become a feverish obsession over the past two years amongst my friends and I. Nearly every time we speak these days, invariably, conversation will turn to the question; at stovetops while we make dinner, over wines or during long walks with coffee. We’re addicted to asking all of the questions: “Will you do it?” “What has your friend said about it?” “When do you think you’ll go through with it?” We’re all caught in a loop, with the only realistic ticket out being one of the most profound decisions we’ll make in our lifetimes. 

I feel the burden of this question at home constantly, too. From time to time, my partner and I will speak with confidence about “When we have children” but just as quickly we’ll retract days later with a “Yeah, actually – I don’t think it’s a good idea”. This cycle may continue until we both simply die. For some people, it seems like their desire to become a parent has been long-nurtured and near unwavering. Some people seem to experience an imperative that embraces all of the questions and concerns and holds them steadily on their march towards parenthood. I am so wildly jealous of those people. 

Of course, questioning whether or not to have children is hardly new and works like Gina Rushton’s book, The Most Important Job In The World’ reflect on the overwhelm we feel as we reflect on questions around the climate crisis, gender roles, and the pain of sacrificing career progression (obviously, a far more pronounced issue for women than men in heterosexual relationships). However, I also think that, besides these considerations, millennials and Gen Z right now are looking at the growing issues of financial and housing strain that make the whole thing feel that much more impossible. 

The decision to have a child can be driven by a deep-seated emotional desire, but there are also unavoidably pragmatic elements to it. And recently, the clash between that desire and that pragmatism has become so much more tipped in favour of the latter. The cost of rent (let alone a housing deposit) has become so absurdly untenable in Australia’s capital cities that middle-aged people are being forced to either exit cities in droves or move back in with parents. Despite the federal government’s recent move to ‘wipe’ $3 billion in HECS debts by altering indexation, the cost of tertiary education continues to rise, with the average HECS debt of somebody in their 20s sitting at around $30,000 (a rise of 145% of what we would have seen in 2005-6). In some parts of Sydney and Melbourne, childcare has risen to up to $200 per day, leaving many with stressful decisions about household income and careers. Recent estimates state that the cost of raising a child until adulthood reaches around $30,000 a year – a figure that simply does not make sense for a growing number of people. 

All of this in mind, it’s little wonder that Australia’s birth rate has now dropped to around 1.6 (the magic number for a population to sustain itself over time is 2.1) and research projects that in just over a decade Australia’s population will be set to decline – that is, without international migration. I would love to be a parent but we can scarcely afford to support ourselves. I would love to be a parent but we live in a rental and cannot afford a house. I would love to be a parent but neither of our careers are secure enough to afford our child long-term stability. 

While I think that the question of whether or not to have a child is always accompanied by a certain amount of complexity, these external forces are keeping so many of us in this limbo and it’s becoming increasingly clear that generational inequality is not only impacting the generations we’re part of, it will have huge ramifications for the generations we could be producing. We should rightly be angry about this – the way that the trajectory of our lives, and the fundamental human experience of having children is being altered by a potent combination of greed and poor policy. People who choose not to have children are so often (bizarrely) accused of selfishness and, for those of us who feel so agonised by the decision to have children in light of these broad, unyielding pressures, I would say: it’s not our selfishness that got us here.