Why is it that when the subject of birth control comes up the some men immediately react with a statement like "I always use a condom because I'm not going to be hit with twenty-one years of child support"?
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This statement often comes from men I like, men who are caring and whom I respect, yet their knee-jerk reaction to the prospect of an unexpected child is that they don't want one because it will cost them so much money.
Financial responsibility is certainly a part of raising a child, but I rarely hear these men express reservations about providing the emotional support that a child needs, or doubt that they could furnish enough of a physical presence to make the kind of difference a good father makes.
Sometimes, there's even a nasty little sub-text about women who selfishly and deliberately become pregnant, "tricking" the man into a lifetime of financial responsibility that he neither sought nor wanted. The beginning and end of their reaction is about cost.
Certainly, some women are opposed to ever having children. More often, I encounter women with reservations about having them right now. These women say things like "I don't know if I'm ready to settle down" and "I just don't think that I'm emotionally ready for that kind of responsibility," and "I'm not certain enough of this relationship," and/or "I think that a pregnancy at this time would be damaging to my relationship," and (yes) "I don't know if I could make enough money to support myself and a child *and* pay for childcare."
Or stated more simply, the women say "I may not be prepared for this emotionally or financially, and I may not be able to supply the time and attention a child requires." The men say "I'm not prepared for the cost of a child."
These men and women are operating from very different sets of assumptions. The women are assuming that if they choose to have a child they will be an active caregiver, that the child will be with them, and that they will have to at least try to provide the many kinds of support that every child needs in order to thrive. They are also facing the hard fact that they may have to provide some or all of these things themselves, all on their own.
The men are acknowledging that they may have little or no control over whether an unplanned child is born. From there, they appear to assume that they won't be around for any actual child-rearing, or even for a relationship with the child. The men are laying claim to the privilege of continuing their regular life, writing a check once a month and being done with it.
They are also assuming that the woman will want the child--after all, abortion is legal, isn't it? There's no acknowledgement that a pregnant woman simply may not want to have an abortion, a very different thing--and a decision that may be made for a wide variety of reasons. They don't seem to have considered this: a woman may not want to have a child at a given moment, and may want an abortion (or adoption) even less.
At least the man with this particular reaction is acknowledging he has a responsibility in the situation. There are worse reactions. I know women whose partners have just disappeared when they discovered the pregnancy, or once the baby was born, or after the baby stopped being a novelty.
But I'm still very frustrated that any intelligent, caring man, can approach the (imaginary) prospect of an unplanned child with such callousness. If I didn't hold the men I'm thinking of in such high regard it wouldn't bother me so much. But I do, and I can't fathom it.
Is it that they really don't understand all of the things that go into child-rearing? Have they never spent time with children, and really, truly have no idea of the immense love and attention that children require--and reciprocate?
Is it a simple artifact of Jr High School, where macho was the only acceptable attitude, and a tender, caring response to anything was the equivalent of a social death sentence among the other boys?
If it's either of these reasons, I think they need to change. Men need to see children as individuals who require much more from them than an agreed-upon amount of money each month. Boys need to be encouraged to experience all of their feelings, and applauded when they value the nurturing parts of themselves.
Or is it something else?
I don't have children. And I don't believe that anyone can really understand the immensity of loving and caring and being entirely responsible for a child unless they have done it.
But I believe this:
There are events in life which are mistakes. Some mistakes are best left in the past, hopefully learned from, but then discarded. A child is not one of these. A child is an incalculable gift and a profound responsibility. Dollars spent can't begin to represent the enormous demands of raising a child, and they can never, ever approximate the measureless rewards.
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