Today I read the kind of article that would have made me twitchy a while ago. It was Rebecca Adlington, talking about how becoming a mother has massively changed her:
‘I loved my life before, but I love being a mum even more. It is the best thing in the entire world. There’s nothing you can compare it to. I’d choose being a mum over my four Olympic medals any day of the week.’
Such lines are common in celebrity interviews: I used to scan for them, and skip reading. I’ve heard similar statements in real life, from colleagues congratulating expectant parents:
‘You’ll realise now that nothing else matters’
‘It’s the only thing that counts in life!’
At the time I took these pronouncements literally and was righteously offended: who would say such things to a room full of diverse individuals, who would discount entire lives in one sweep?
(The forty-six-year-old administrator, single, making a convincing show of looking delighted; the gay researcher, wondering if ‘nothing else counts‘ includes her PhD; and me, newly diagnosed with stage four endometriosis.)
Was it not as bad as claiming that ‘life isn’t worth living if you’re not married’, for example?
But these comments are just personal opinions, dressed up as universal truths. Why should we care?
It’s taken me years to be dispassionate when someone makes these nothing else matters proclamations to my face, though.
Personal convictions about major life choices that are stated as facts can provoke ire and defensiveness in anybody, but none seem to be as inflammatory as those about reproducing.
Having kids, not having kids: these are life-long commitments in most cases – either way, there is usually no going back; you can neither return your children, nor easily obtain some once you reach a certain age. It’s not surprising that parents and non-parents are constantly piqued by the other side: it represents The Great Not Knowing.
Which is where assumptions step in, to fill the gaps. It is truly hard not to compare your situation to someone else’s when they gush profusely; it’s easy to wonder if their rhapsodies are true for everyone, all the time.
The only truth here is that the clichés about comparison are accurate: it will destroy you, and define you, and it will usually tell you that you aren’t enough.
How to stop comparing, then – does it just come naturally with time? Is anyone completely inured to such statements, taking them with a pinch of salt, as they should be taken?
Myself, I dunno: it comes and goes.