I had a pre-Christmas coffee with a woman in her fifties who I meet now and again. She was visibly miserable and started to tell me about her very successful daughter (one of three), who lives in New York with her equally talented boyfriend.
The problem: this daughter has turned 34 and shows no signs of cracking on with “having a family”, as she puts it.
“If she doesn’t get on with it, it’ll be just them and their cat in that apartment forever. I can’t think of anything worse …
… Or he’ll dump her and it’ll just be her and the cat!” (hangs head).
This woman was clearly anguished by the situation – the daughter was only home for a few days, so she had limited time to harangue her.
I wasn’t in the mood. Firstly, I told her she was insulting the life I live.
Then, that she was inadvertently diminishing the lives of childfree couples everywhere by equating not having children with not having a family.
Then, that she was discrediting several of my good female friends by implying that being single and childless over 40 is the proverbial fate worse than death.
No matter; she continued to rant tearfully that it was getting too late – this daughter wasn’t even keen on getting married, and she’d been put off pregnancy when the children of two friends were diagnosed with severe ASD.
What could she do to change her mind? How could she persuade them to “try for a family”?
Because then, if the fella ever left (as this woman’s own husband had), at least the daughter would have a life.
It only takes one person weeping about how their child might end up like you to rattle your composure. I felt disconcerted afterwards; deflated. Unfestive.
(“It’ll be terrible for her if they never have a family!”)
And then I thought: Screw that bitch.
Fear illness, fear poverty, fear dangerous presidents, but please don’t fear a life like mine.
If you wanted children (or grandchildren) but won’t be having any, mourn the loss: grieve, throw all the resources you can at it. For some it is a visceral blow that can contain dread and panic for the future. I know that.
But at some point you need to choose how you are going to view your circumstances, and the rest of your life. You can use the adversity as a convenient hook to hang all your feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction on forever, or you can try to move on.
Getting to that point may be difficult, but I am here to tell you that once you arrive, the views aren’t bad at all. Life will be normal again, and good. I’ll keep on saying this throughout 2017, in the hope that it allays at least one person’s fears or prejudices.
And proud grannies and broody, potential grannies? Choose your audience wisely, please.