Peer pressure is something that’s been on my mind lately. When I hear the phrase “peer pressure” I instantly think of teenagers being bullied by their mates into shoplifting or experimenting with alcohol. When I was in school, that’s what I thought peer pressure was. I recall being made to watch countless videos of unfortunate teens who desperately wanted to fit in so they caved to their friends’ coercion and took a drag from the proffered cigarette/downed a swig from a communal bottle of booze/ nicked an eyeliner from the chemist. (Ultimately getting caught and reflecting on how they should have listened to their gut instead of their bonehead mates).
But peer pressure isn’t just something that affects teens. As I near my thirties I’ve noticed a different kind of peer pressure creeping into my life. Only this time it isn’t booze and cigarettes that are being pushed onto me, it’s babies.
Now, I’m pretty darn sure that I don’t want kids. I have nothing against children per se, but they have never really been a part of my plan. Motherhood just doesn’t appeal to me and I’m OK with that. There are enough people procreating that I’m confident that the universe won’t implode if I decide not to add my spawn to the gene pool. But lately I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure around the topic of children and motherhood.
The first one to jump on the Baby Pressure Bandwagon was my mother. She has two sisters who each have an adorable brood of grandchildren and I think Mum’s eager to join them in their photo-and-story-sharing sessions. And in order for her join the Grandma Club I have to squeeze out a baby. And when she found out that I had no intention of doing that, ever, she seems to have made it her personal mission to change my mind.
Like those peer pressure vids from high school, it started with some casual needling. A few questions here and there to feel out my position. “You’re so great with babies, don’t you think you’ll make a wonderful mother?” “So-and-so named their baby Sunflower, which I think is really cute. What baby names do you like?” and so forth. Then when my answers proved maddeningly obtuse, she started with a more direct line of questioning. “When do you think you’ll have kids?” became her catch-cry.
Once I made it clear that I didn’t intend to reproduce, she took it upon herself to convince me. She will jump at any opportunity to remind me that kids are great, and being a mother is awesome, and when you have kids you get to do all kinds of fun things like play in sandpits and have play-doh in the house again. Any time she sees me holding one of my friends’ kids she will give me a little knowing nod and make a point to tell me how great I am with kids, as though to reinforce my maternal behaviours.
At this point it was easy to shrug these things off as a bit of silliness from my baby-crazy mother. But then the balance shifted when many of my friends started to join The Motherhood, rolling down the streets with their strollers and colourful collection of Peppa Pig toys. All of a sudden, the pressure wasn’t just coming from my mother, it was everywhere. Friends who had never batted an eyelid at my childlessness before started to inquire when I’d start my own family. And then the tension began to mount.
What started as a bit of casual questioning took on a distinctly disdainful air. Whenever I’d mention that I don’t want to have kids, inevitably there would be someone who would roll their eyes and say “You’ll change your mind”. My decision to remain childless has been met with people asking if I hate children, or questioning whether I’m vain and selfish and don’t want to devote my time to another. My mother has begun rattling off lists of people I went to school with who have had children, and I’m starting to feel that same old high school pressure “Everyone else is doing it, why not you?”.
In the face of this adult peer pressure, I’ve decided to console myself with the very same advice that those videos preached so many years ago: to listen to your gut and do the right thing. The truth is I like kids. A lot. They can be hilarious and a source of great joy. And I’m good with kids. But I am also good at handing them back to their parents when a tantrum kicks in. As much as I enjoy them, I don’t have any desire to have kids of my own. I’m perfectly content being Aunty Ness to all my friends kids. That’s what’s right for me, and just because everyone else seems to be having babies doesn’t mean I need to have one too.
Have you felt peer pressure as an adult? What have you felt pressured to do?