Peter St. Onge

What’s happening to the mom-to-be?

It’s Mother’s Day, which means phones will be ringing. Flowers will be arriving. Children will be informed that if they ever want to see their Xbox again, they will behave at brunch today with Grandma.

For those of you who aren’t yet moms, that’s called “leveraging.”

And while we have you, there’s a question your parents – and a whole lot of others – are wondering:

When are you going to start having some babies?

People are worried – and not just those mothers who aspire to be grandmothers.

Here’s why: A report released last week by the Urban Institute showed that young women are having babies at the slowest rate in U.S. history.

Birthrates among women in their 20s declined more than 15 percent between 2007 and 2012. That’s about a half-million babies a year.

Let’s get something out of the way: For many young women and men, saying no to children is the right choice.

It’s financially responsible. It’s the best fit for career paths. And hard as it is to imagine, some people like the idea of a lifestyle that doesn’t involve sunscreen-dripped weekends hustling between soccer and baseball.

It’s also true that millennials might simply be putting off children in iffy financial times, the same way young adults did during the baby drought that followed the Great Depression.

But experts are worried that this slowdown has some staying power. Why? For a country that says it treasures motherhood and family, we make it really difficult for women to be moms.

Unlike other developed countries, we don’t offer paid maternity or subsidized child care, meaning women face a money crunch on top of the already heaping cost of raising little ones.

We also still don’t pay women as well as men, which puts even more pressure on those prospective moms who are considering pausing the career for five years or so.

Recession or not, a lot of families can’t take those kinds of hits. So millennials are saying no, at least for now.

That’s not good for the rest of us, by the way. Those half-million babies a year are the future adults we’re counting on to fill our workforce and keep the economy strong, not to mention cover the Medicare and Social Security benefits we’ll be wanting when we retire.

That’s why forward-thinking countries have been adopting maternity and child care policies, including free preschool, that are mom-friendly.

In this country, it’s a tougher sell, and the reasons go far deeper than the ideological disagreements that bubble up anytime we talk about government assistance.

Modern Western culture is the most individualistic in history. We celebrate choices and our freedom to make them, especially when there’s risk that comes with choosing.

But in some ways, there’s nothing less individualistic than being a mother. You have no biological choice but to share your body, and although fathers sacrifice more these days, most of it still manages to fall on the mom.

Yes, mothers can lean on the religious and cultural communities available to them, but in terms of public policy, we don’t support the village. You’re on your own, especially if you’re a middle-class mom.

The result: More moms-to-be are making a different choice.

So on this Mother’s Day, maybe we should ask ourselves what we’re celebrating.

If it’s your mom, then have a great day.

If it’s motherhood, maybe we should start doing more than brunch.

Email: pstonge@charlotteobserver.com; @saintorange

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