July has been a lively month for childfree/childless news.
Andrea Leadsom’s comments about being better-suited to leading the country because she is that venerable and worthy being, A Mother, attracted such abuse that she wisely ran for the hills. I agree with much of the backlash from childless folk who responded that, on the contrary, infertility can make you more empathetic, sometimes excessively so – you are often hyper-aware of any kind of marginalisation or prejudice when you have navigated those shadowlands of unacknowledged loss and shame.
To hear this scraggy, foxhunt-fancying matriarch’s presumptions that Theresa May must be ‘really sad that she doesn’t have children’ felt horrifically condescending and exactly like that thing that none of us want: pity. She cried a bit and she apologised, but that doesn’t distract from the fact that people like her think that childless women are luckless and wretched.
Then came Jennifer Aniston’s statement announcing that she is not pregnant, it’s just a burger. She is sick to death of the frenzied vortex of womb-watching that surrounds her. The media want the ‘happy ending’ of a baby for Jen; it seems to be the only acceptable way to round off her personal narrative.
We are used to such ‘joyful’, pat conclusions in mainstream cinema. I refer you to the Sarah Jessica Parker film ‘Did You Hear About the Morgans?’, where the main characters have trouble conceiving, argue lots, then adopt a baby from China. Fine to stop the film right there, I’d have thought. But no, the last scene is a silhouette of her pregnant belly as she cradles her adopted child: it seems there has to be a real pregnancy in order to wipe the slate clean. Or ‘While We’re Young’, a rare film about an ambivalent childfree couple who might be infertile and don’t fancy child-rearing much anyway, but the only alternative seems to be childish regression via hanging out with ludicrous young hipsters. So they decide that adopting a kid from overseas is the only decent way to spend their savings and get their happy ever after.
In film, babies are redemptive, a new chapter, a hope for a second chance; they are often contrasted with death or ageing. How not to feel a bit uneasy? Right now, the cute fetishizing of kids and the reverence for the family has reached such peak status that it’s easy to feel antsy about not being part of that majority universe.
So I’m going to do what I have to do, which is crap on Leadsom’s ideals and make a list of Ten Reasons To Stop Feeling Pity For People Like Me Who Don’t Have Kids.
I don’t want to pitch parents against non-parents, as it’s not my style, but the events of the past week have made me muse over the small things that make life without kids OK.
(Parents! I fully understand that these small and inconsequential frivolities do not compensate for the moments of joy and the overall life-enriching value of having children, so reminders of that are not necessary. They are merely tiny mercies for which I am grateful!).
- No one will ever watch me having a shit. This is surprisingly important to me.
- I only ever check my bank balance to make sure it hasn’t been cleared out by scammers.
- I will never have to use the words ‘gosh’, ‘golly’, ‘sugar’, ‘fudge’ or ‘oh dear’ instead of the satisfying alternatives ‘shite’, ‘fuck’ et al.
- I never have to enter the Disney Shop, also surprisingly important to me (I would add soft play areas, birthday parties where chat to other parents/children is required, dreary afternoons at the park, rainy sports practice of any kind).
- I will never start finding the idea of a Centre Parcs holiday attractive.
- I think it’s easier to be kinder to your partner when you don’t have kids. I am happy to have bypassed all the bickering, exhaustion and resentment about allocation of duties that can erode a relationship when children arrive. On this note: stress. We all have stress, but having kids looks like a lifetime’s commitment to it.
- I know I would have hated the drudgery of looking after babies and small children, not to mention the battles with teenagers who can’t stand me. Giving birth, breastfeeding, nipple thrush, nappies full of poo that looks like curry – I’m also pretty grateful for not experiencing those things.
- Childfree people can look self-absorbed to parents, but so can the family unit to those without kids. Some parents seem, at times, to care little about anything outside the bubble that they’ve personally created. Transformative for the individual this might be, but it’s no more selfless, altruistic or better for society than not having children – I say this to you, Andrea Leadsom. Part of me likes being different from this conservative, insular norm.
- I would probably have drastically over-parented my entitled millennial kids to compensate for my own hands-off, 1980s parents who barely made eye-contact with me. I hear about so many teens on anti-depressants and anxiety meds by age 16: not something I’d like to be responsible for. Neither would you, Jen!
- I refuse to believe that having children makes you happier in old age. Daily companionship is what everyone wants: sitting around waiting for your adult kids to visit is not. I don’t know any peers who have an unequivocally good relationship with their parents; I know a few who are estranged from them; and I know some who dread having them blight their Christmas.