By Salomée Lou, October 2023
When I was about 9 years old and playing games in my own little world, I would always make the doll a single-mum who was juggling a million different things. Going through my teenage years and being formed by the heteronormative patriarchy (thank you very much), scenarios of me having a family were always just me and my child. No one else. By no one else, as someone who grew up in a single parent household, I was thinking no man, no father.
The environment we grow up in as children shapes our ways of apprehending the world and the way we envision family-making. I only started to deconstruct what family means very recently, realising the power of healing that lies in chosen family, friends, community.
Reading The Parenthood Dilemma: Decisions in Our Age of Uncertainty by Gina Rushton didn’t provide me with an answer as to whether or not I would like to have children in the current world we live in, but it did bring me some kind of peace in not knowing. Feeling uncertain is normal in the dark times we are going through. And yes, the clock is ticking (for everyone) but there are multiple ways to create a family and it’s never too late to do so.
Gina Rushton, a reporter who has written for various magazines, has gifted us with The Parenthood Dilemma, a meticulously researched and captivating account of parenthood, weaving memoir and journalism.
She interviews people with different experiences of parenthood, showing us the intersectionality of narratives, the taboos, the importance of choice and body agency.
The author uses multiple lenses to show us that the indecision around parenthood is affecting everyone, and whilst it might be rooted in climate anxiety, in fearing of reproducing the same patterns as generations before us, and a whole myriad of other reasons, Gina, reminds us that women (and by women, the author reminds us before starting the book that “not all people with uteruses are mothers, and not all mothers have uteruses”) have been doing, and preparing to do the emotional labour since the moment they were born and being a parent has so many different layers and meanings.
Gina Rushton also reminds us of the impact working life, and capitalism more broadly has on our choices as human beings. She asks us a crucial question: “What if more idleness isn’t self-interest but survival?”
Especially as millennials, where we’ve been told by our parents and grandparents that working hard is the key to success and to a stable and secure life, we’re slowly realising that work doesn’t have to be “a central place of meaning-making” and that it doesn’t have to define our whole sense of self.
The chapter that most resonated with me was the last one, called Inheritance. In the last decade or so, we have become more equipped with language on how to express our emotions, our mental state and our feelings. These themes might have haunted many generations before us, but Gina Rushton rightly says “millennials are more resentful and armed with an emotional literacy many of our predecessors did not have the latitude to develop before they were parents - if at all.”
What do we want to pass on? What patterns are we trying to break away from? Do we want to make the same sacrifices? And if so, why? So many questions, and yet the one I cannot stop thinking about (and that, in my opinion, is vital before taking the step of founding a family), is how do we re-parent ourselves as adults when our childhood has had long-lasting damage on our psyches?
The Parenthood Dilemma raises more questions than it provides answers, but what it does provide us with is an honest and beautiful guide to how to deconstruct preconceived notions of family making. A book I will recommend to anyone who would like to learn from different perspectives and come to terms with the beauty of collective uncertainty.