Friday, November 13, 2009

On waiting until marriage

Waiting to start TTC, that is... not the other kind of "waiting". That ship has sailed.

I was born in the mid-1980s. Ireland was a very different country in those days. My parents were in a relationship but were not yet married, because my mother was still married to her first husband (divorce was not made legal in Ireland until much later). As a result, my mother was asked at her first prenatal check-up if she would be keeping me, and when the time came for me to be born, she was whisked off to a separate ward for unmarried mothers. Everyone else there was in their teens, and she was the only woman who had any visitors (i.e. my father). All the others were alone the whole time, without their families -- or, you know, the fathers of their babies -- to support them. It seemed ridiculous to my parents, but nobody else seemed to question any of this: single mothers needed to be kept away from the respectable married women, and if their families and boyfriends had decided to abandon them, who could blame them?

Without wanting to sound super-dramatic, I always felt a bit different growing up. The vast majority of kids I knew came from families where the parents were married, and nobody had half-siblings. Families in books and on TV were the same: everybody's parents were married, and family relationships were simple and straightforward. When I explained my family to other children, they tended to think we were a bit weird; the teachers at my primary school sometimes acted vaguely sceptical that my father was, in fact, my father (even though we look very alike and have the same surname); even registering my birth was a ridiculous administrative hoop-jump because the system just wasn't set up for this kind of situation.

It was hardly traumatic -- this is not the stuff of misery memoirs -- but many (most?) children like to feel that they fit in. I didn't particularly enjoy being different. As an adult, I know that every family is "different" in one way or another, but that really didn't occur to me then, and somehow I still have it in my head that a "standard" family is one where the parents are married, right from the start. And even though we're not particularly mainstream people, this is one area where I'd rather do the mainstream thing. It's not a dealbreaker -- if I found out I was pregnant today, I would be delighted -- but the fact is: I want to be married before getting pregnant.

Ireland has changed a great deal since I was born. My (half-)sister gave birth just a few years after I was born, and there was no talk of her giving up her baby, or of a separate ward for unmarried mothers. My mother got her divorce and married my father years ago. Lots of women raise children alone, and lots of couples have families without getting married, for whatever reason. It's really not remarkable any more. And yet... sometimes the ideas we pick up as children are awfully enduring. I felt embarrassed at having a non-standard family set-up when I was little, and it isn't what I want for myself, my fiancé, or my children. Does that signify a lack of courage on my part, or does it mean that I'm stuck in the past? I don't know.

What I do know is that I am very glad this country has changed so much. We are very far from a perfect society, but we are more accepting than we were, and this is most definitely a good thing. I sincerely hope children today are growing up with a better understanding of the diversity of family life, and how every family is different, including their own, and that's ok. It sounds cheesy and obvious to adult ears, but children don't automatically know these things. I'll be sure to tell mine.

1 comment:

Xbox4NappyRash said...

Reading stuff like this makes my blood boil sometimes. The mid 80's isn't that long ago at all.

We are strange, strange nation.