The other day my nieces came over to the flat to spend the morning with me.  G is 3 and possibly one of the loudest little girls you have ever met.  She believes in making herself heard, and her voice – although darling – is extremely loud.  She is a precocious, pretty, precious chatterbox, and she always has something to say and something for you to do.  (Her way or the highway).   C is 14 months.  Her new party trick is walking (she started doing it last month) and now she is quite the pro.  She couples it with another of her recently developed skills – a big smile and a sunny “Hi!” whenever she sees anyone or enters a room.  Preparing for the tornado that is nieces and nephews (collective noun nephieces) is not a casual affair.  Attention must be paid to all the details.  After all, it only takes a second for one of them to pick something up and say “What’s this Mimi?” before ‘this’ is on the floor in pieces and there is glass everywhere and pandemonium reigns. 

People often come over with their kids and present it like they are bestowing a great favour upon you. 

“We’ll bring the kids – you’ll be able to see how much they’ve changed/grown/developed!”

I always say yes because I love kids, and I especially love my siblings’ and friends’ kids.  However, what people who have kids do not understand  is that people who don’t have them, need to make certain modifications to their houses in preparation.  Parents often laugh among themselves when talking about visiting people who don’t have kids.  They says things like

“Cream couches!!  They obviously don’t have children!  And did you see her face when Sammie came into the room covered in chocolate?!  I thought they were going to drop dead!!”Image

It’s as if they don’t approve of or see the point of houses that aren’t child-friendly.  I can understand this.  I mean, you wouldn’t take your children to a knife store, or let them near that all glass restaurant, you would just say that that was a non-child-friendly venue, and not go with your children.  Restaurants, shops and childless people do not actually owe you a child-friendly environment.  I would understand parents being affronted  if people were trying to sell a family restaurant with low, sharp-cornered glass coffee tables and razor blade décor.  That would be inappropriate (razor blade chic- sweeping the nation people, where have you been?)  However, people who don’t have children don’t need to worry about little fingers covered in chocolate unless they are expecting children over. So therefore buying a shit-coloured couch for the 15-20 occasions of the year that chocolate covered fingers might come near it seems a little excessive.  I have a feeling that there may be some resentment in the criticism.  No?  A little bitterness perhaps?  A yearning for pretty things in their home which will last more than 5 minutes?  Come on, admit it – every time a parent sees a cream couch, they are also seeing their youth, their life BC (Before Children) and mourning the loss of this carefree existence more than a little.

As a non-parent, I refuse to apologise.  I don’t need to and more to the point, I shouldn’t have to.  Being childless is not without its downsides, but there are as many perks.  I mean, I love kids, genuinely adore them.  Never really met one I didn’t like.  And, for the most part, I think the feeling is mutual.  Kids like me too, we get on, I make them laugh, they definitely make me laugh, generally it’s a bit of a mutual admiration society all round.    And I have already mentioned that I have a lot of love for my friends’ and relatives’ children.  So it’s not a problem for me to make the adjustments.  When I know there are kids coming, I make sure that everything precious and fragile is placed higher up, I put away stuff that could be dangerous, and I make sure that there are enough interesting things at eye level to stop them from climbing higher to reach the breakables.  I always have loads of food and I have Sky so there are like 10 dedicated channels with whatever the latest thing is on CBeebies/Nickelodeon/Boomerang etc.  It should be a walk in the park.  Still though I find myself saying “Careful!” or “Not there!” or “Put that down, it’s glass” every 15 seconds or so and I start to annoy myself never mind the children.  Their parents are even more annoyed.  But what I really want to say to these annoyed parents is:  If you were telling them not to break shit, then I wouldn’t have to.

I mean I know it’s not something we should talk about, and I do appreciate that when people are out with their kids visiting friends, it is still supposed to be an outing for them too, but so many people just abdicate responsibility when they are out.  Parents who sit in restaurants while their kids run around and annoy other punters are not doing their jobs.  There, I said it.  I know it’s not PC and it seems a bit mean, especially since no one is disputing the fact that parenthood is hard and relentless. And hard.  And relentless.  But I should not have to be hit/kicked or begged for food when I am out in a restaurant.  Or worse, on a plane. 

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not someone who tuts loudly when kids make noise in a restaurant. I certainly do not feel that children should be seen and not heard, that’s ridiculous, outdated and let’s face it, completely unrealistic.  I am more likely to look over indulgently and comment on the cuteness.  Noise is something I am used to, after all I make a fair amount of it myself.  It’s when they are wilfully destroying stuff and their parents are looking on – hoping that if they ignore it, it’s not actually happening.  Newsflash people – it is actually happening.  Your kids are destroying something.  Ask them to stop.  Make the token effort.  It makes the other punters feel like something is being done.

I feel that much has been written about this, but I want to add my views about childlessness.  It is viewed with extreme suspicion.  People who have children don’t understand people who don’t have them.  But really what is not to understand?  People who don’t want children have thought about it and made a conscious decision, just as people who do have them have.  Granted, many people have children without making that conscious decision beforehand, but frankly, once you have had the baby and decided to take it home with you, you’re supposed to have decided that some things may change.  And if the things that change are things that you pretty much feel that you can’t live without, then it is unfortunate, I agree, but the pros outweigh the cons I am assured.  

When people ask me if I have children, I sometimes feel like I have to apologise.  Like just the simple answer – “No” isn’t enough.

It obviously isn’t enough, because people always have the follow up question –

“Oh, why not?”

Sometimes I feel like the answer to why don’t I have children should be literal.  I should respond as follows:

“I don’t have children because my eggs have never been fertilised by any sperm.”

Or

“I don’t have children because I haven’t had any successful and productive sex.”

Usually though, I go for the particularly articulate

“Uh, it just never happened I guess” (I am aware of how pathetic that answer actually is, but I wish that someone would for once acknowledge how pathetic the question was in the first place.)

If I had been unable to have children, I would probably find the question even harder to answer.  And people aren’t put off at all by your obvious discomfort in the line of questioning.  They persevere and I have actually witnessed them make people cry and carry on regardless spouting their own theories about adopting and IVF etc.  It makes me want to stand in front of the person being questioned with my arms wide shouting

“LEAVE THEM ALONE!!  THEY DON’T WANT TO ANSWER YOUR RUDE AND INTRUSIVE QUESTIONS!!”

The other thing I get a lot after the why not question is the non-sequitur:

“Oh but you love children!”

This is true, I do.  But I also love trees, and Benedict Cumberbatch and giraffes to name but a few things.  Does this mean that just because I love them I should have them?  (If so, Benedict – come over at your leisure).

Just because you love something, it doesn’t mean that you are owed it.  It also doesn’t mean that if you don’t have any children of your own you are destined to live alone, surrounded by cats in a barren (pun intended) landscape with no colour or joy.  In fact, I would argue that if you have children in your life that aren’t yours, you can have the best of both worlds.  You have all of the fun and all of the good stuff, without the sometimes crushing sense of responsibility that comes with having children of your own.  And if that makes me sound shallow, then so be it.  Maybe I am as shallow as a kiddie pool.  Fine.  Because being childless works for me.  It makes me a better aunt, a better godmother, a better confidante, a better friend than I would be if I had my own kids and my own associated insecurities.  Having that distance made me better at my job, more able to draw lines and keep boundaries – something which I think kids definitely appreciate.  It’s harder to do without the distance,   I appreciate that, but it allows me to build a relationship without baggage, and that is the purest relationship around.  I am blessed to have a large family who I get along with and many friends.  All of these relationships I cherish and I actively work at.  I am not complacent in my relationships at all (I don’t think) but the bonds I forge with kids even if they change and evolve over time, are the purest.  Because we both approach it with a clean slate.  And it is that purity and joy of discovery that makes me want to keep hanging out with them, and spending time with them.  Some people who are childless prefer not to deal with children at all.  Maybe it is too painful, maybe it’s just annoying, maybe for some it is a reminder of what they can’t/don’t have.  I find it to be an adornment to an already rich tapestry.  The icing on the cake, so to speak.  I appreciate my friends and relatives allowing me to get as close as I am to their kids and I would not begrudge the furniture moving for a minute.  It is a small price to pay for what is essentially the chance to spend time with articulate, lovely, bright, shining people.

But back to my earlier point.  People judge you for not wanting to be a parent.  And if I could just don my feminist cap (or is it bra?  I am such a failed feminist) for a moment, they view women who don’t want children with extreme prejudice.  They feel that not wanting to procreate is unnatural and extremely selfish if you are a woman. The question “Don’t you want children?” is uttered with such shock and disgust that women who answer in the negative can’t help but feel defensive.  The older generation just don’t believe that a man should have an opinion on the matter really – after all what does the man have to do with having kids apart from providing the base ingredients and their upkeep?  They feel that a man’s life is barely changed by the advent of offspring, and maybe that had some truth in it way back when, but watching my friends and relatives now, I would say it certainly isn’t the case any longer.  Even if you do want to be a parent but can’t, people still offer an opinion and judgement.  Why can’t people just leave it alone?  I think it is because we are still in a world where marriage/partnership and children is the ‘norm’.  And by norm I mean what the majority does. [I am seriously considering starting some sort of campaign to distinguish between what is ‘unusual’ and what is ‘abnormal’, but that is a whole other blog post]  So therefore, as with any minority, the people who don’t follow along get the grief.  In the old days, I wouldn’t have had any grief about my lack of children.  It would have been assumed that I didn’t have them because I was a spinster, on the shelf, unwanted and unmarried (poor me!).  Nowadays though, people still harass you about it even when you are single. 

“You don’t need a man, just have a child!  You love children! “

Maybe I could buy one on the internet… 

I must admit, I did look into it.  Not buying one obviously, having one.  I looked into it, did some soul-searching and decided that it was too hard a journey to undertake on my own.  I accept that I had the luxury of making that decision. I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for women who have and raise children alone.  I salute them, but I knew that it wasn’t for me.    Still though whenever I try to express this, I get the same reaction:

“Oh, stuff and nonsense, it’s not too late.  Women are having children well into their fifties these days, it will happen you’ll see.”

Small children in my fifties?  I don’t like the sound of that, I can barely cope with the stress of my nieces and nephews performing daring acrobatic acts in my presence.  They think it’s a game:

“Look, you lean over and I’ll hold your legs” I hear nephew 1 say to nephew 2, “Let’s make Auntie Mia cry.”

Even G giggles in response to my frenzied “What are you doing?!”as she balances precariously on the back of the sofa.

“I’m making you nervous Mimi!”

I reckon I have too nervous a disposition, and I have only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older.  Saving the hardest part until I am in my fifties was definitely not the way to go for me.

So when I get the pitying looks from friends, relatives and strangers, I might smile and just refer them to the following paragraph:

I don’t have children of my own, and this means:

My Christmas cards are less cute.

My house is less untidy.

My handbag doesn’t contain wipes, nappies, a juice box or rice cakes.

My car is not covered with unidentifiable sticky substances.

My life is devoid of PTA style politics.

I don’t have homework.

I don’t need to buy new children’s shoes every 2 weeks.

I can go out in the evenings.

I can stay in bed in the mornings.

My holidays are cheaper.

Any money I earn is mine to do with as I please – no matter how frivolous.

 

So really apart from the Christmas card thing – it’s not all bad news…

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