Friday, March 19, 2010

Did Birth Control Cause Competetive Parenting?

Prior to the 1960's, there was a cause and effect relationship between sex and pregnancy. The more sex, the increased likelihood of becoming pregnant. There were several bizarre prevention techniques, but none as effective as the birth control pill(BCP). The BCP was introduced to the public in the early 1960's. It was supported by the women's movement, and genuinely recognized as a way for women to advance their rights and ability to function as an equals in the workforce. But paradoxically, what was it going to do to the future of parenting?

Up until this point, having children was just a part of being married or having sex. There was no waiting for the right time. Women did not plan their lives around the years they might want to have a child. Families were just created; there was nothing fancy about it.

The word "parenting", was not given much consideration as a verb. Mostly, parenting was just a noun to identify that someone had a child. Children had pretty much been raised the same way since the beginning of time. There was no way to decide how many to have. If you were infertile, outside of adoption, there was no other way to become a parent. Most infants were breastfed and slept in a dresser drawer. Fancy bassinets were not the standard. Children's rooms were not designed upon their arrival. The sex was never known. Clothing had to be a neutral color or was not bought or made until the child's arrival. Usually, a simple pair of booties and a blanket were the only new items.

Baby showers have only recently become exceedingly elaborate. Mostly, people were superstitious and did not want any baby items in the house until the baby arrived and was healthy. As a matter of fact, still today, most Jews and Orthodox women do not celebrate baby showers. Pregnancy was simply a normal and expected part of life; get married and have a baby.

Children played in the yard and in the woods. They ran about the neighborhood as if it were their backyard. They were responsible for finding friends and they worked out their differences without an adult to referee. "Playdate" was not even a word a mother would have understood. There was not competitive parenting, and children just existed without too much thought, they went to school, and successfully became adults.

With the arrival of the BCP, women now have a choice. There is no expectation of having a child unless it is wanted. The time and date can all be adjusted. Sex can be had just for fun, and without worry of becoming pregnant.

Is it possible that with that choice and flexibility came a whole other group of expectations? It seem logical, that with this freedom comes some underlying guilt that because the event is postponed it has to be done PERFECTLY. Now, having a baby comes with greater expectations.

In third world countries where the birth control pill is virtually impossible to obtain; parenting is not a competitive sport. There is no conversation among parents about how many activities little Johnny is participating in this year. No one worried about the psychological babble that dominates in our country. Parents have created worry upon worry, and invented a whole new psychology for raising a child. A psychology that was previously unknown. Parents did not compete, and children were just a part of life; without much forethought.

I do not know if competitive parenting was the effect of the invention of the BCP or not. It does appear, that since the BCP has become a normal part of a woman's life, the competitive nature of parents is increasingly pervasive in our culture. Maybe it is too much time on our hands because life is made easier by machines. Computerization has given us more time to over think the concept of parenting. It appears as if everyone is trying to cram as much into one life as is humanly possible.


  1. Interesting, interesting, interesting! Really - observations that I have touched on with others who wonder why, among other things, kids don't just roam the neighborhood anymore (I have a post in which I reminisce about the way we used to run around as kids, build forts all day - catch lightening bugs and play Ghost in the Graveyard until WAY past dark - we wouldn't know it was time to come home until another kid told us they heard our Dad yelling for us - Mom probably hadn't seen us since lunchtime when she made us our grilled cheese, and we were FINE - didn't need freakin' play dates, right? For the life of me, I often can't figure out what has changed... though this theory of parents wanting to be perfect and get their kiddies into art classes and the right soccer league seems dead on - choices and planning create much bigger expectations - absolutely). Also, why do women feel like they should, sometimes, act like they are pregnant again by accident?? Like they feel guilty for having one after the other WITH these new family planning choices or something... I don't know ... seems a sound theory (I have a friend right now who told me that she wanted to be just like me - have her kids one after the other - by the time they arrive at 1st birthday for one kid, they want another on the way - until they reach 4 - YET, she acts like each pregnancy is an accident - many think it is a sympathy / attention thing, but... I now think it may be a guilt thing based on your theory here. Hmmmm...). Wonder how others will weigh in on this....

  2. Such an interesting post, Joely. I've never made the mental connection between the advent of the BCP and the rise of competitive parenting, but it certainly seems like you're onto something here. I think there's also a connection to the greater women's movement and the idea that a woman not only can have it all, but should want it all - so if she's not running a company, she better be micromanaging every element of her kids' lives.

  3. Kristen,

    I completely agree about the micromanaging concept. It can be very difficult to be formaly educated and then just cut yourself off from society. Raising a child in an overscheduled way cannot be the right answer. Maybe we shouldnt feel guilty about doing things for ourselves and just let the kids be kids be kids. But it is so hard to for us (women) to give back to ourselves.

  4. I really never thought about it that way, but I think you are on to something. If having a baby is something I choOse, then I must do it the right way. However, what is now the right way is stilted and unnatural and forced. Child is now boss; parents, instead of providing guidance, are letting their children rule: "what do YOU want to do today honey"
    Part of that is the small family of today. when we were growing up, four children was the norm, but our block had nine, seven, one had 17 children. You can't let that many children rule the roost!!!