Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Do women really change when they have babies?

In my opinion, no they don’t. Not really, not underneath.

After giving birth a woman’s working hours may change, her ability to go out on a Saturday night be curtailed and her reactions to Oxfam adverts move from academic concern to actual tears BUT she is fundamentally the same person.

Let me explain what I mean.

The women I know who continue to have career aspirations after a baby, always had long-term career aspirations and never imagined their lives differently.

Those women who may have worked extremely hard and been extremely successful before children but do give up work, always had only short-term career aspirations and/or always wanted and expected to raise a family at home. Or hated their job.

The women who take picture perfect cupcakes into the school fetes were the ones who had matching dinner services and crystal at their dinner parties before they had kids, like designer clothes or expensive home d├ęcor i.e. perfectionists or the highly competitive.

The women who take in shop-bought fairy cakes or ones covered in globs of imperfectly mixed icing to the school fete were the ones who always considered it OK to bring friends home for dinner when they weren’t entirely sure what was in the fridge but thought they might have some ketchup somewhere i.e. pragmatists who know that once you’re drunk you’ll eat anything and that this is a golden opportunity to get rid of the out-of-date hummus.

What I’m trying to say, not very articulately, is that our daily activities may change, but our quintessential characteristics - ambition, pragmatism, sense of humour, young-at-heartedness, stinginess, selfishness - don’t change.

Why does it matter?

For two reasons.

Firstly, it matters to those women who haven’t had kids, who are thoroughly enjoying their current lives, work, social or otherwise but fear that birthing a baby will somehow change them beyond recognition and that this scary new person may well turn out to be much less fun to be. Be comforted; you will remain yourself unless you let yourself be lost (and, in my opinion, the tendency to allow yourself to get lost is a quintessential characteristic in itself).

Secondly, to the on-lookers, (partners, bosses, work colleagues of both genders), who can be incredibly patronising to as-yet-childless or pregnant women; acting as if everything she does or says before becoming a mother, cannot be trusted because she ‘will change’.

Aaagh! She will not change! Or if she is forced to become something she is not by economic pressures or society’s demands, she will become increasingly unhappy exactly because she hasn’t changed!

Details change, principles do not.

And yes I do know that the number of women, as a percentage of the world population, who have a reasonable degree of control over the structure and content of their lives is pitifully small. Far too small. But if a woman somewhere is standing up and saying ‘this is me and this is who I am’; we shouldn’t bat her down by saying ‘ah yes, but only until you have a child’.