“You’ll be better around children once you have your own”
After months of living alone in London due to lockdown restrictions, I finally decided to pay a visit to my family home. And perfect timing too, my elder sister had just welcomed her daughter, her first child, early this January and I had yet to meet her. In celebration, my sister threw a belated baby shower at my mother’s house. My eldest sister with my niece and nephew would also be in attendance, as well as friends and their children. I haven’t seen my family for over a year, so I was excited to see everyone again. Once I had said my greetings to everyone, my sister brings my new niece over to me and asks if I’d like to hold her – but I found myself refusing.
What if she cries? What if she doesn’t like me? What do I do? I found all these thoughts racing through my head. I hate to admit it, but children and babies scare me. Or, more so, I’m scared that they won’t like me.
As the youngest of three, I was always the baby. I never had to encounter babies or children younger than me. So when my nephew was born in 2016, I was excited to be an aunt, but at the same time, I felt awkward when my sister would ask me to look after him. And I felt awful about it. And now as an older woman, I look back and think, why did I feel so guilty?
I know children are not something I should be worrying about right now; I’m not in the best place to bring a child into the world. However, it is something that I would like one day. But I often catch myself wondering, am I the right amount of maternal?
My boyfriend and I have discussed the possibility of having children in the future, and we both seem to be on the same page. But I find myself telling him: “I am worried I’ll be a terrible mother.” With both my sisters being incredible mothers, I can’t help but feel I have some stiff competition – some ever-expanding sized shoes to fill. It seems to come naturally to them, whereas me, not so much. And I always feel this overwhelming pressure to match that.
One time, I supervised my mother while we babysat my nephew, and he ran away from me. Mum shouted at me to catch him, which I did. When I returned, she told me: “You need to learn how to be better for when you have your own children.” Those words never quite left me.
There always seems to be this pressure for women to be naturally gifted when it comes to child-rearing, even if they have no children of their own or do not want to have children themselves. And, at least in my family, it’s always a competition. My sister would always claim she was the favourite auntie, and in comparison, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case.
I often see girls that I went to school with posting pictures on social media of their little ones or announcing they are expecting. I always think, “God, I feel like I’m still too young to have children. How do they do it?”
When I was little, I imagined myself with at least three kids of my own. But now, I’m starting to think that one child might be enough for me. Maybe I’d feel better about it if I felt my choices were respected by my family, who gasped in horror when I told them that maybe I’d only stick to having one child. Between wanting children and not, I feel like I’m swaying in the middle.
In her article for Medium, The Maternal Instinct is a Myth, Jennifer Neal spoke of her similar dilemma. She also spoke with mothers who immediately scrutinized themselves from when their children were born. This preconception is that maternal instinct is biologically built into women, and any woman who feels disconnected from children is abnormal. I’ve often heard stories of women who decide not to have children for whatever reason, being told they’ll eventually change their minds. “Surely.” In Neal’s article, Dr Ragsdale states that this idea of a maternal instinct “pathologizes women who don’t want to have children, as portraying women as natural caregivers makes it feel like a duty.”
Even after being told by my sister that my nephew had said I was the best at playing ‘keepy-uppy,’ even after having great conversation with him, even after bonding over Pokémon cards, the fear persists. I know that my nieces and nephews do not hate me. But I can’t help but compare myself to others.
More so, I think it’s the pressure to perform to the standards expected of me that is the most frightening. My mum and sisters always tell me, “It’ll be much easier when you have your own children,” but I think it’s the opposite. When I think of getting pregnant, I can only think of the hard responsibility of bringing a person into this world. This person isn’t going to be here for a while, and I hope when they do, I won’t be so scared of the thought.
One day, I know I won’t feel so nervous about holding my niece. But I also know I’m not the only woman grappling with the issue of not feeling maternal enough. To those fellow women, I hope you know that your feelings are valid, and you’re not alone.