Emily Articulated: Millennial mom dread

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

I recently came across an article, the title of which grabbed me so tightly that I was forced to stop — mid-charge of a busy day — and read on. The title was uniquely intriguing, as it connected to something I had only admitted in the half-hazy, half-formed place of unarticulated ideas: “How Millenials Learned to Dread Motherhood,” by Rachel Cohen, senior reporter specializing in women, family and economics policy for Vox.com. 

But, first, a little context. I’ve never been the kind of person who was positive I wanted to be a mom — never beelining to the lone baby in the room, picking out future baby names or plotting “have a family” on my five-year plan. Nor have I been the kind of person who is adamant about not having kids; 100% convinced that parenthood isn’t for them.

I’ve always attributed my uncertainty to babysitting too many times while I was still a kid myself and a deep love of — and fear of altering — my life exactly as it is. When prompted, I tell people, “I can’t really picture myself with kids; but, I guess, I can’t really picture getting to the end of my life without having had them either.” 

Emily Erickson. Courtesy photo.

In reading the Vox article’s headline, I wondered if instead of this uncertainty and trepidation just being a “me” thing, that a greater societal questioning might be influencing me as well.

Cohen writes, “For at least the last decade, women my age have absorbed cultural messaging that motherhood is thankless and depleting, straining careers, health and friendships, and destroying sex lives. Today, it’s genuinely difficult to find mainstream portrayals of moms who are not stressed to the brink, depressed, isolated or increasingly resentful.” 

In the age of sharing, where transparency over curation is having its moment, women and parents are more empowered than ever to share the real-ness of their experiences: the loneliness of parenthood; the effects that having kids has had on their bodies, their relationships and their financial prospects. They’re finding community in being able to express the challenges of their roles without feeling compelled to downplay the difficulty and acknowledge how profoundly it affects their lives.

Like Cohen, and many other child-free women my age, I see this content in a positive light, aiming to establish realistic expectations for myself and, as she put it, “learn in solidarity with those who are already moms.” This honest perspective is valuable as a response to the former societal expectation that parents, particularly women, should wholeheartedly embrace parenthood and silently endure its challenges and difficulties, all in the name of procreation.

But, this transparency with the difficulties of parenthood is also paired with apprehension to share the good moments, not wanting to be that person when it comes to sharing about their kids (a message women, in particular, are asked to internalize). This leaves the majority of the positive parenting messaging up to the conservative and religious-tilting voices; voices that frequently contradict other truths people like me often hold dear — like starting families being a choice, not a sentence, and people and partners of all genders and sexual orientations being more than qualified to be parents.

This leaves us in the limbo of apprehension, if we’re still considering having kids at all. We’re hyper-informed, able to recite statistics about mortality rates, inequitable mental loads in heterosexual partnerships, and costs and scarcity of child care, while also being skeptical of “too perfect” examples of having kids as potential sales pitches (something else we’ve been trained to be wary of). 

Despite all of it, we also wonder, if parenthood is so bad, why do people keep having kids? And is it actually worth the gamble?

In the comments section of the article, a woman summed up my feelings like she was renting a piece of my brain as I read. She wrote, “As a fellow millennial struggling with this decision in her 30s, thank you for this article, I feel so seen. It feels like online content about motherhood is always black and white (you will ruin your life, or it’s the best joy you will ever experience). It makes it so hard to get an accurate look into the reality [of parenthood] to determine if it’s suitable for yourself.”

The solution to this questioning is, I’m sure, like most things: better when considered personally, turning to the people in our small circles and asking a wide array of questions in the hopes of getting a more complete picture. The decision to become a parent will be made by having honest conversations with the people (if any) we’re hoping to share the job with, setting realistic expectations for each other and ourselves. If we do decide to be parents, it’ll be with a striving for non-perfect, but “damn, we’re trying” parenting, and preparedness for joy just as much as hardship.

As for me, if it’s not obvious, I’m still unsure about motherhood. But, at least I know I’m not alone in it (I know, typical millennial).

Emily Erickson is a writer and business owner with an affinity for black coffee and playing in the mountains. Connect with her online at www.bigbluehat.studio.

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