In news unlikely to surprise you, a majority of Australians are raising, or have raised, children. You might’ve checked this at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, or, maybe made the calculation based on the prams parked outside your local coffee joint. You may have noted that our species tends to raise small persons. It’s been popular for some time, and I suspect that human history would’ve been quite short had this not long been the case.
You may not know that there are those who neither bear nor raise children. Yes, it’s true! And, in Australia, it is becoming truer. Ours is one of several nations with “sub-replacement fertility”, which is to say, we’ve lost the knack of having babies. Projections indicate that we’re going to keep losing that knack. Without immigration, our population would quickly shrink. Which would be a bother.
There are plenty of opinions about this downward trend. Well, I say “plenty”, but they’re usually variations on “young people are lazy and dreadful and would rather have avocado toasts than a nice baby.” This does not explain our new non-baby-having. People tend to do it if they can. “Family is everything,” is a phrase I’ve heard uttered very sincerely more than once.
However much politicians might like to praise “flexible” gigs, babies aren’t so keen on them.
The reason that young folks are making little folks in diminishing number is this: work. Millennials can’t rely on its regular future availability. They’re the first generation in several to experience extreme job insecurity and wage stagnation. However much politicians might like to praise “flexible” gigs, babies aren’t so keen on them. If care-givers need to pop out at a moment’s notice to do that short-term job, baby doesn’t get that routine of sleep, food, play and love that will guarantee their passage into adulthood.
Millennials, contrary to press opinion, are not a bunch of thickos. They can count the hours in a day and the dollars on a debit card. They know these do not equal the precious sum of a healthy child, and so they don’t produce one.
I am not a Millennial, but I understand “flexible” work. I have been “flexible” for so long now, I could be rolled up and used as a handy yoga mat. With flexible work came uneven pay, and the inflexible knowledge that having a kid would have produced statements like, “Helen Mummy is on a delivery schedule, and she can’t change your diaper until she has made one-hundred dollars.” It was never going to work.
I feel sore for the generation of people whose work “flexibility” makes an inflexible decision on their behalf. If you’re young and working in the “sharing” economy—if Uber, a company currently valued at $US70 billion whose Australian drivers can expect to earn basic wage is “sharing”, then Sesame Street needs to update—you have little hope of sharing your life with a child. I feel sore for you.
I don’t feel sore for myself, though. I can’t be sure, but suspect I may not have had a kid even with that secure employment. Childlessness did not strike me as deprivation.
What is a deprivation, though, is a life without the company of kids. I came to know this in past weeks when several small persons engaged me at holiday celebrations. I learned that kids are not only quite funny, but instructive. You can listen to the chatter of a little one, and learn a little of what it takes to become human.
No. I’m not saying “children are wise”. No one yet to learn the four times table can be considered wise. They know nothing of politics, social systems or international peace brokerage. They do know, however, that there is a great deal yet to learn. This, I think, is an excellent quality.
What is a deprivation, though, is a life without the company of kids.
I was sitting with a little button named Aya. She introduced herself by removing a wad of turkey from her mouth and cramming it in mine. Before I could thank her for the gift of poultry masticated by baby-teeth, she bounded back with a new picture book and said, “Wead!” I wead, and Aya, who speaks both toddler English and toddler Arabic, listened closely until she saw the image of a rhinoceros. “Horn pig?” she asked, fairly certain she was wrong.
We moved on to a page full of wallabies—Aya prefers pronouncing the “w” creatures to the trickier “r”. I moved toward knowing that giving care to children was not only something I’d like to do every so often, but still possible for me.
Persons who are three, like Aya, nine, like Gus, or any age en route to adulthood naturally take part in a true sharing economy. They ask that you explain the world, and, in exchange, they remind you of all the adult labour that brought you to this sofa with this little girl so impatient to learn the difference between a cow, a rhino and all the characters in two alphabets.
To my Millennial friends who may never see a world that can accommodate their children and to all, like me, who have no child: there are ways to parent “flexibly” and opportunities, if you look for them, to spend time with the most flexible minds.
Watch Insight's episode 'Child-free by choice' on SBS On Demand: