Are you delaying parenthood until conditions are perfect?

I have heard that in nature animals will not reproduce if conditions are not right, if there’s not enough food or a safe place to nest. Plants don’t grow and reproduce without the right mix of nutrients, sun and water. What about people?

During the Great Depression (1929-1939), birth rates dropped to 1.9 per woman in the U.S. Couples could barely feed themselves; how could they feed their children? The birth rate went up to over 3.5 during the baby boom that followed World War II. At that time, the economy was booming. People could get good jobs. They could afford to buy homes and raise children.

During the “Great Recession” that started in 2007, birth rates dived again, back to 1.9, and they have not come back up.

I got to thinking all this after reading an article at Jezebel by Madeleine Davies titled “With Environmental Disasters Looming, Many are Choosing Childless Futures.” She discusses how some people are deciding not to have children because they worry about the environment and the world into which these babies would be born. That world includes the wildfires, floods and hurricanes that devastated much of the U.S. last year. I would add mass shootings like the one yesterday at a school in Florida, terrorist attacks, political upheaval, wars, and families living far from each other.

Workers in my dad’s day were reasonably confident that they could stay in the same job and live in the same house until they chose to retire. Now, who can count on that? In Silicon Valley, high tech companies pay high wages, but they also lay people off by the thousands. The cost of living is ridiculous. It feels like we have to keep changing jobs and keep moving just to keep up with the bills. How can we add a child to this situation?

But let’s go beyond the big-picture issues. How many of us with reluctant-to-parent mates have heard variations of “conditions are not right”? We need to finish school, get better jobs, save more money, buy a house, etc. In other words, we need to make everything perfect. But time is passing, and perfection is impossible. Maybe we can have it for a moment, but then the job goes away, a tree falls on the house, or someone gets sick. Maybe we should try for “good enough.”

I could be wrong, but I think men generally worry about the money part more than women do. They feel the burden of supporting a family, even when their partners provide half the income. Women, full of hormones and watching the biological clock, are more likely to say, “We’ll figure it out.” Am I totally wrong on this?

Let’s talk about it. Are one or both of you putting off having children until conditions are right? What would need to change? Do you worry about the world into which they would be born? Do you know others who are having these feelings? I await your comments.

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Is childlessness the norm for millennials?

Dear readers:

In response to my request for ideas for the blog, I got this response from Crystal:

I would really like to see a post about childlessness being the defacto relationship situation for millennials. It says in the title in your blog “parenting is expected.” Well, for me and my experience, I would disagree with that statement. My family told me to wait to get married until 25, and I was expected to go to college and find a career path. I was asked at an early age, what do you want to be when you grow up? Not, how many children would you like to have?

When I got married my husband was still in school racking up an $80,000 student loan debt. He graduated and had every opportunity that he needed to have a career and have enough income to afford a comfortable lifestyle and be able to pay his student loans. Nevertheless, he used the student loans as an excuse to “wait” before having kids. I asked how long, and never got a straight answer. This is a huge topic in other blogs and forums I visit. Millennials can’t afford to have kids in many instances. They are waiting longer to have kids, or just not having them. Real estate debt, student loans, credit card debt, are putting stress on the family. And the kicker is this…no one seems to care. I was never asked about when I was going to have kids. My parents never pressured me to have kids. I even went to my friends who are the same age as me and tried to talk about it, and they were like it’s so hard to have kids, you know, but it’s OK for us to because we have relatives in town to help us. I was like wtf?

As I read Crystal’s comment, light bulbs lit up in my head. I am not a millennial, far from it. I grew up in the “Leave It to Beaver” era when all women were expected to become moms wearing aprons and baking cookies–or that was the illusion we were given to believe. Things have changed tremendously.

I had to look up the dates that define millennials. There are different definitions, but the most common is folks born between 1982 and 2002. They’re between 18 and 36 years old now. The older millennials are edging toward the end of their fertility.

I see exactly what Crystal is talking about in my friends’ children and the younger members of my family. They are marrying much later than we did and putting off having children for years if not forever. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I come from, nobody with an ordinary job can afford to buy a house. Rents are two or three times what I’m paying for my four-bedroom house in Oregon. Everything is ridiculously expensive. And student loans can dog a person forever. When you’re already struggling to get from one pay period to the next, how can anyone think about having children?

There is tremendous pressure for both men and women to get their education and establish their careers before starting their families, by which time it might be too late. Back in that different world where I grew up, the priorities were reversed for women. We were supposed to get married and have children. Whatever else we did was extra.

I’m not a millennial or even Gen-X. But I know that many of you readers do fall into those age groups. So let’s talk about it. Enlighten me. Where are you in the work-education-money-babies conundrum? What are the biggest challenges for your age group? Where do you see this heading?

I look forward to your comments.

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Read about it:

“Why are Millennials Putting Off Marriage? Let Me Count the Ways” by Gabriela Barkho, Washington Post, June 6, 2016

“Nine Ways Millennials are Approaching Marriage Differently from their Parents” by Shana Lebowitz, Business Insider, Nov. 19, 2017

“Young Americans are Killing Marriage” by Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, April 4, 2017