There are a lot of weak arguments against young people having children. People presume you are financially unstable without really knowing anything about your situation. For some reason, people believe it’s a crime to have a baby before you’re married. The weakest argument of all, however, has got to be that having a baby makes travelling more difficult.
You see, there’s a commonly-held belief that every single person under the age of 25 in the history of – well, forever – wants to go travelling. The most vocal proclaimers of the travelling argument found their six week rainforest hike in the Amazon, or their month-long safari in Tanzania, to be, like, the most philosophical and enlightening journey of their lives. After all, nothing quite says “I have discovered the meaning of life” like riding a jeep through a field full of wild animals (West Midlands Safari Park, anyone?) or getting bitten by mosquitos (anywhere south of Birmingham during the summer, anyone?). Regardless, because of their amazing journey of spiritual and philosophical enlightenment (the italics are for emphasis because, let’s face it, that’s EXACTLY how they talk about their ‘gap yah’) was SO incredibly amazing and spiritual and philosophical, they can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to go travelling.
Let’s see. There’s people who hate flying for various reasons, and people who hate hot countries (I fit into both of these categories – my eardrums burst every time I fly, and I can barely cope with a lukewarm September day, let alone an equatorial country in the middle of summer). There’s people who can’t afford to go on these fancy trips because they have to work. There’s people who really just aren’t interested in the spiritual journey of watching a couple of lions tear a zebra to shreds, or catching malaria. That’s four reasons why someone wouldn’t go travelling for you right there – and not one of them to do with having a baby at a young age.
What annoys me more than people assuming that we all want to take a gap year and go hitchhiking in foreign countries, is that when I do point out that I never had any interest in taking a year out to travel, I’m told that I’m just saying that because I regret not being able to do it. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that one of the gifts you received on your magical journey of enlightenment was the power to read people’s freaking minds!
Also, why do I never hear people say this to someone who goes onto further study rather than taking a gap year? I’ve never heard someone saying “I’m about to do my PhD” get “But you could have gone travelling!” whined at them in response. Same goes for building your career. “Oh, I’m going straight into a graduate position at Ernst & Young” – “But you haven’t taken a gap year, think of all the travelling you’ll miss out on!”. It just doesn’t happen.
I see it said to young parents all the time, though. If you read any pregnancy forum, look out for a thread where someone between the ages of sixteen and twenty three is talking about considering trying for a baby. Within ten posts, someone will have posted to say “No hun don’t tie urself down now! U r so YOUNG, u have so much LIFE ahead of u, u could go travelling bbz, LIVE YOUR LIFE hun xx” – or, if you’re on Mumsnet, you’ll have essentially the same, but with better spelling and a dash more sanctimony. “Well I would be horrified if my 21 year old DD [that’s ‘dear daughter’, to the uninitiated] wanted a baby. I want her to go travelling and enjoy her life before she ties herself down”.
I have two major issues with that. First of all, stop trying to live out your own dreams through your daughter, as you have no idea whether she actually wants to go travelling or not. Secondly, all these people suggesting that you should “enjoy your life before you have a baby” – are you suggesting that life with a baby is never enjoyable?
Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoy parenting. It’s tough – it’s actually the toughest thing I’ve ever done, and the sharpest learning curve you’ll ever take, so equally as (if not more) educational as three weeks on a beach in Phuket – but it’s fun, it’s rewarding and I enjoy it. I enjoy it more than I enjoyed life before I had a baby – and I don’t think my pre-baby life was particularly boring at all!
Isn’t it partly to do with how society still sees mums, and parenting in general? It’s not something that can be fulfilling and enlightening – it’s a menial task, something you have to do. Quite often, I think we as mums can feel an obligation to go along with that; to keep quiet about the aspects of parenting we do enjoy, because it’s not supposed to be fun – it’s supposed to be hard work, there’s supposed to be tantrums and teething, and we’re supposed to tear our hair out over it.
It’s also to do with how society sees young people. I don’t know if it’s a case of people looking back on their youth with rose-tinted glasses, or just another baseless argument against young people choosing to have children, but young people can’t win. If they have responsibilities like parenting or studying or work, they’re “wasting their youth”. If they’re not working and choose to spend their time gaming, blogging, whatever their interests are, they’re “immature” and “need to grow up”. Unless we indulge in the exploits of perfectly middle-class young people – that is, travelling to hot third-world countries or backpacking through a dozen rural Eastern European countries that all look the same as mid-Wales on a gloomy afternoon – we aren’t doing what young people should be doing.
Travelling isn’t the be-all and end-all, no matter what you might think. Before anyone thinks I’m using this post to make a dig at people who do go travelling, I’d like to say I’m not. I have friends who’ve been travelling, and although some do use wanky terms like “enlightening” and “spiritual” to describe their trips, they all appreciate that it’s really not for everyone. I’m also not denigrating gap years – I just don’t think they’re as vital as people try to make out they are. In short – if you’re not judging me, I’m not judging you!
I’m also not saying that parenting is a ‘bigger’ adventure than travelling, or that being a young parent makes you any better than someone who decides to travel. Some people would find parenting a toddler either entirely mind-numbing or so difficult that it’s no fun at all – in exactly the same way that I find the thought of travelling about as fun as stapling my ears to my head – so I can’t claim to speak for everyone. I just wish some people would realise that they can’t claim to either.
So you can keep your mock sympathy and your false concern for my poor, unenlightened life and my almost-empty passport. For me, parenting is the biggest adventure I’ve ever been on – and I’ve got it all without needing to leave the house.