If there’s an easy way to describe what parenting life looks like, it would be a line from Barney in How I Met Your Mother. When he saw his newborn baby he said: “You are the love of my life, everything I am and everything I have is yours forever.”
Parenting is a lifelong process, full of commitment and compassion. Simply put, it’s not for everyone, least of all for Indonesian content creator Gita Savitri. She triggered a debate on whether it’s OK not to have children that’s been raging on social media for the past couple of days.
It all started with her comment on Instagram that children are a burden and that being child-free is the key to staying young. A comment that has stirred passions among mothers and even non-mothers in Indonesia.
The rage towards Gita’s point of view became really palpable on social media. While some detractors were rational enough, looking at the issue through different lenses, others were defensively protecting their own values.
The Indonesian media, which these days seem to take their cue from social media, also jumped on the bandwagon and wrote stories pointing out that some celebrities such as Sophia Latjuba to Wulan Guritno managed to retain their youthful beauty despite having offspring.
I don’t want to dive deep into the privilege those celebrities enjoy and how they take care of themselves and keep their body in shape. What intrigued me the most was how our society responded to Gita’s statement.
I personally don’t think Gita’s point of view is right, but it’s not wrong either. She was just holding to her own values and beliefs, the very things that shape the way we live and the decisions we make. If a child-free life makes her happy, why should it bother people so much?
This leads back to what is considered to be right in our community. Some really believe that a child is a blessing and that each child brings fortune. But they may also be so right in their conviction that they look down on those holding different views.
Growing up, I’ve always been told by my late mother to live the life I wanted before making the big decision of building a family. Raising a child, my mother said, is a lifetime commitment and once you become a parent you can never go back.
The underlying problem that people rarely talk about is that it takes a village to raise a child. What if some people need to be more privileged to have a solid support system? What if it takes longer for someone to be mentally and financially prepared to raise a child?
In 2019, approximately 70 to 80 percent of new mothers globally felt mood swings after the birth of their child. In Indonesia, 24.4 percent of women experienced postpartum depression with tiredness, anxiety, and the lack of emotional support from family as the main trigger.
The micro-stress that triggers depression in new mothers are also rippling and affecting other aspects of their life, including their relationship with the baby.
One of my friends who is a mother to a toddler mentioned that the first year as a mother was a total nightmare. Her son didn’t grow as expected and all fingers were pointed at her for not being able to properly take care of him. She felt like a failure.
If happy moms equal a happy baby, then collective efforts from their family is ultimately needed to ensure that the mother and baby are both physically and mentally happy. A supportive environment is important to help them get through the challenging yet exciting times of their parenting journey.
Two-way communication with partners and a willingness to seek professional help when feelings are becoming overwhelming are one of the easiest ways to prevent postpartum depression. Only when these new mothers open up will they get the help they need.
Another important point is financial readiness. There’s no doubt that all parents want the best for their children but to give them the world takes strong financial support, to provide them with a daily diet of nutritious food to secure them a seat in the best private school.
Way before this child-free discussion took place, parents were arguing about the skyrocketing budget needed to enroll their children in a private school in Jakarta. These parents made parenting a competition while in fact, it’s supposed to be a journey.
The “burden” that Gita tries to imply in her comment, therefore, is so much more than having the children itself, but more on the other contributing factors – the stress, public opinion, support system, the urge to follow the norms and parenting trends.
Speaking as a woman – we already have to carry a heavy burden on our shoulders every day. If a decision to not have a child helps ease this weight, even just for a tiny bit, why don’t we just accept and respect such a view?
Written by Putrika Santiaji, Senior Associate