Despite every objective measurement that demonstrates today’s children are safer and more privileged that any previous generation, their parents seem more fearful and anxious than any parents before them, even those who faced times of real peril - like during World Wars I and II. It seems there are no greater fears than imaginary ones.
Oddly enough, the cause of all this parental angst, I suspect, is the very thing parents say they want so much more of: parental choice.
Let’s just take a look at some of the choices that face today’s parents. First, they get to choose whether or not they want to be parents at all and as the continual increase in the age of first-time mothers shows, spend years debating the possible pros and cons. So long, in fact, that by the time they decide, their fertility has often declined to such a point they must then choose whether to let nature take its course, or embark on the emotional roller coaster that is fertility treatment.
Then, when and if they do get pregnant, they must decide whether to have all the plethora of tests that are now recommended for pregnant women, particularly those who are over 30, some of which carry with them the chance of causing miscarriage. I have spent many anguished hours with newly pregnant friends facing that difficult decision.
Even if all goes well, there are more difficult choices to be faced. Will you choose to know the child’s gender before it’s born, or not? Will you have a home birth, a birth at a birthing centre or at an ordinary labour ward? Do you want access to pain-relieving drugs or are you hell-bent on a natural birth?
Now, more and more women are choosing elective caesareans, though why anyone would choose to have abdominal surgery is beyond me. Will you give birth in water, standing up, on all fours, on a birthing stool, or with feet in stirrups?
Who do you want to support you at the birth? Your partner, obviously, but how do you choose between your best friend, your sister and your mother, particularly when you know someone’s nose is bound to be out of joint. Oh, what the hell, ask them all. Some parents are even including older siblings in the “miracle of birth”. A good way to make sure you never get grandchildren, if you ask me.
And once you’ve got the cast lined up, what about the entertainment? People spend months planning exactly what food, music, familiar objects and other paraphernalia they are going to take with them. Far be it from me to suggest that once that first real labour pain hits, you won’t notice much else from then on. And speaking of suggestions, everyone who has ever given birth - and a whole lot who haven’t - will be determined to put their two cents in no matter what you choose.
Once the poor little mite makes it into the world - usually in the manner of their own choosing, no matter what their parents may have decided - you have to choose a name. People start making lists the day they see the pink line on the pregnancy test but usually don’t make up their mind till they’ve actually seen the baby. How any newborn looks anything like a Saffron, a Pearl, a Tex or a Hunter, I cannot imagine but obviously some do.
Then you take it home, will you breastfeed and for how long? Will it sleep in your bed or in its own? Will you leave it to cry or rush to comfort? Will you feed on demand or on schedule? When will you give solids? Is a non-organic carrot going to give it cancer? Cloth nappies or disposables? Canned baby food or homemade? Vegetarian or omnivore? Will you immunise or not? When should you potty train, leave baby with a sitter and the big one; when should you go back to work? And for all these choices there are a thousand opinions, all different, all plausible, all sure they are right.
Then, as the child grows, if you do go back into the workforce, what sort of childcare do you choose? Expensive and private, a nanny, perhaps? Long day care, occasional day care, family day care, the lady next door, or, like many parents, a cobbled together schedule of grandparents, neighbours and paid care?
And, whether your child is in childcare or not, do you hothouse? Do you restrict TV, spend hours with flashcards, get them into kindy gym, toddler’s music lessons and baby ballet? Or let them run around the backyard with their nappies off playing in the mud, while you watch from the sidelines with a well-earned glass of cask white (the 21st century’s version of mother’s ruin)?