31/05/2018 06:09 SAST | Updated 31/05/2018 06:09 SAST

The Decision To Have Kids Later Is A Personal One, And It Should Be Respected

'I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.'

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Delaying parenthood is still a big deal today, even though studies show that women have generally been choosing to have children later in their lives. One can connect this to various societal expectations that women must first finish some kind of formal education then get a good enough job, perhaps decide to get married and, as soon as possible after that, start popping buns out the oven.

There are myriad reasons why women choose to have kids later in life, and this differs for each individual. What I have found among my peers, is that the ages that are said to be our peak fertility years and the years in which our career trajectory is taking off coincide.

Contrary to popular belief, children don't "kill careers". It is possible to have children and continue to excel at work — however, there is a link that can be drawn between when one has one's first child and the pace at which one's career advances, which has a direct link to income gains made in one's career.

NBER Working Paper Series/ National Bureau Of Economic Research

NBER Working Paper Series/ National Bureau Of Economic Research

This would mean that women who decide to start families at a later age will have made many strides in the career and educational aspirations, and in the process reap the monetary rewards which come with such advancement.

And it is not to say that one cannot have both — it's just that we all want different things for ourselves, and we should all be afforded the space to make the kind of decisions which we believe work for us as individuals without being shamed about it.

An aunt of mine recently mentioned in passing that she thought the next time I called her, it would be with good news, that she would soon become uMakhulu (grandmother). She went on to say that I have been married long enough now, and that surely we should be looking into extending the family.

Usually, I would have been amused by the casual way this was thrown into our conversation, but the fact that it came right after one of my closest friends telling me that it's about time I joined the mama brigade because "time was running out", it really annoyed me.

The decision to wait on having kids is a personal one, irrespective of the reasons behind such a decision and the ramifications that come with it. Yet it is also one of those things about which people think it is okay to give their unsolicited take on your body, and police your decisions. It isn't.

Structure of society

Nobody has asked my partner why he isn't a father yet, which is also very telling about the different societal expectations placed on men and women. Women have generally evolved in terms of their role in and outside the household, and not as many men have come to the party when it comes to the sharing of household responsibilities. A big part of the reason for this is that it is socially acceptable.

Some of the glaring differences between women and men who have kids are the number of hours people put into work and the types of jobs they choose — families with lower incomes are the ones that suffer the most as a result of this bias. This is because with lower resources, it's hard to avoid the economic costs that accompany the responsibility of raising children.

Culturally it is also seen as the norm to expect women to take on more responsibility when it comes to raising the kids — this is seen in the way women are often mocked when they have to wean their kids off breastmilk in order to go back to work, and it is often frowned upon when a working mum decides to take on more at the office and get someone to look after the child.

I am not by any means trying to position myself as an authority on this — women have different lived experiences and it hardly plays out the same on a case-by-case basis. I have found that I get a lot of disapproval when I state that we are not interested in making mini versions of ourselves just yet, without people asking why.

Wear the shoe, or don't — it's your prerogative

I shouldn't have to explain myself and my choices, or the fact that I prefer to concentrate on my career right now and to invest my time in all the other facets of my life. I am sure that when I do choose to become a mother, that it will be a great and fulfilling role, but right now I am content with where I am.

In her book "Sula", Morrison writes that people often place their own ideas of how things should be on others. She writes "When you gon to get married? You need to have some babies. It'll settle you." To which a response follows: "I don't want to make somebody else. I want to make myself."

And that should be that on that.

Let's please respect each other and our personal choices. The fact that I had to write an entire blog about this, is not just annoying — it should also be seen as a damning indictment of the intrusive nature we have as humans, and the need to constantly prescribe to others as to how they should live their lives.