Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Bye bye baby

It is nice to see that being child-free has become somewhat fashionable these days and we are no longer regarded as selfish freaks for not wanting to play maidservant to a demanding little emperor/princess for 20 years (up to 40 now, what with rising tuition fees and not being able to get on the housing ladder to fly the nest).

Not that child-freedom was a deliberate choice on my part. More an absence of desire and the right circumstances to even consider it (and I was never going to go it alone).

I knew from an early age that I simply didn't have the energy to work AND raise a child. It was one or the other, and challenge enough to get myself up and out the house every morning, let alone a bunch of little people. Yet today's economic situation virtually dictates that unless unusually well-off, both parents have to work full-time to pay the mortgage and run themselves ragged 24/7, too exhausted for each other at the end of the day, not least after that quality half-hour with the kiddiwinks before bedtime.

A negative experience of childhood at the mercy of warring parents, (despite my mother being lucky enough to be able to stay home in the days where one mortgage payer was just about enough), similarly left me reluctant to inflict the indignities of childhood on anyone else. I didn't take kindly to being a child myself and couldn't wait to put the ghastly experience behind me.

Notwithstanding, babies do suffer from that rather serious drawback of not being furry. Button-cute kittens I know my way around (ears, chin, chest tickle) and can love at first sight, but a pink fleshy baby is another thing. A pink fleshy baby is more akin to a mysterious little alien in my arms that I fret about holding correctly and panic about detecting leakage from, at one end or the other. I know I am always terribly relieved to hand them back anyway, and even more relieved when they turn at least two and I can actually talk to and interact with them!

How babies have convinced so many parents to have them and spend all their money on them in return for little thanks that I can see is anyone's guess, though working in further education, I suppose I should be grateful that they evidently have some great PR company somewhere working on their behalf.

But will I be lonely in my old age? Judging from the number of lovingly-neglected youngsters seeking adult mentors I seem to keep encountering, I think not. I could very well still end up as someone's beloved 'Great Aunt Agatha' if by informal adoption, rather than blood. And as I often joke, I actually think there's a layer of respect and emotional intimacy you can have with someone who's never changed your nappy. Sometimes parents are just too close for comfort.


Steve said...

I'd love it if you were my Aunt Agatha. I could run around town getting up to all sorts of jolly japes behind your back. I just need a Jeeves and we're good to go.

Steerforth said...

Well that's a can of worms and the problem is that we'll all try to justify our choices.

Being a parent has made me less egotistical and removed a lot of existential angst. As Nigella Lawson once said, when you become a parent, you stop being the picture and merely become the frame. I know my place.

I had mixed feelings about having children, but my wife's hormones ruled the day and I've never looked back. Being a parent has made me a better person, but possibly a less interesting one.

rb said...

Well, I have lots of children. But I am not keen on parents as a group. They tend to be a rather dull lot and I avoid them if I can. There are interesting quirky ones but they are sometimes hard to seek out.

I am not someone who anyone would expect to be broody - but I often am. It's odd. I do rather like babies - absolutely loved the intimacy of breastfeeding and the absolute need and dependence there is in that. Now my children are older I love to watch them and guide them.

But many of my friends are childless. I tend to be drawn to childless people rather than other parents.

Logically I think it would have been better if I had not had children - but there is no way I could have done that. My hormones drove me to it.

Nathalie said...

What an excellent post. I'm too old to be your niece but I'd love to have you as my cousin Agatha ! :-)

Betty said...

Yep, really grateful that I wasn't driven by hormones to reproduce. I may not have achieved much but at least I haven't contributed to the world's over population!

Wisewebwoman said...

Dear Agatha:
I so so hear you. Yes I did breed but my bible when I reproduced was a book called "How to raise children at home in your spare time". Seriously. Long out of print I suspect but one that advocated not putting mummydom first but yourself. Totally rad. My kids are still alive and reasonably fulfilled. Parents always shortfall in their adult childrens' eyes. And there are no right ways or wrong ways to do the job. It is chaotic.
Most of my friends have no children and I never hung with breeders when my kids were small.
We would be friends, Agatha, equals.

Geoff said...

A woman at work got sent an email from her daughter with a picture of what she thought was her great grandson. All the women in the office cooed over it saying what a beautiful boy, etc. It wasn't until a few days later that they found out it wasn't a picture of her great grandson but someone else's baby girl!

teeni said...

I can truly relate to your situation of just not having the desire or the circumstances at the right time. I do enjoy babies (when not screaming at top of their lungs) and (well-behaved)children, but I don't think I would have the energy to care for one full-time so as it worked out, I guess it was a good thing in the end in my case. I love spending time with my great niece and great nephew and their mom, my niece, is kind of between a sister and daughter to me. I leave it to each woman to decide for herself as it is her body that is the vehicle. Usually it is the parents who irk me more than any children ever do. I really liked Wisewebwoman's answer - I think that is precisely what I dislike about parents - the "mommydom-ness." I've seen too many moms (my own included) who have no life other than their children and then have to deal with deep depression and feelings of worthlessness when the child-rearing part of their life is over. Too much stress is put on being a mom and the individual can get lost which is sad because child-rearing really only is one chunk of the time in life. It's sad for the husband who the wife doesn't know how to relate to anymore or the grown children whom the mom cannot see and respect as an adult. So I guess I just want to say that each person is unique and should enjoy their choices or circumstances. If you have children, enjoy that wonderful experience as part of your life but don't let it consume your identity so that you will still be able to relate to your children when they are grown - they want YOU to be happy and have a life too! And if you don't have or desire children, then enjoy that freedom while still respecting and caring for the little ones of others. It used to take a village to raise a child. I think it still does to raise one well.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Japes sound just the ticket, Steve, old boy!

Can't imagine you being an ego-monster pre-kiddiwink Steerforth. Or a mere 'frame' post-kiddiwink. Come to that, I can't imagine Nigella ever settling for 'frame'. Who does she think she is kidding? Ahem.

RB, achieving motherhood without turning mumsie, is quite a feat. And you sound (from your many postings) like you've done a great job so far. Am more than happy to sell you my childbearing offset so you feel less guilty ;-)

Nathalie, what a lovely comment. I'd be privileged. After a stringent round of interviews obviously ;- )

Betty, horses for courses is what it boils down to I reckon. Or maybe just Mother Nature balancing things out by doling a surfeit of hormones to some women and a dash to others.

'Breeders' WWW? Miaow! Sounds like you had a most common-sensical approach though. Plus the 100% child-centred mummy with no hobbies won't know what to do with herself once the rugrats flee the nest.

Geoff, I've never understood this oohing and aahing over babies thing either. They really do all look the same to me, unless some striking feature like an Elvis quiff were to stand out!

Best of both worlds Teeni, you've got it sussed! And as someone who meets a great many parents of University-aged offspring, must say that many look like they haven't had a decent night's sleep for the preceding 18 years! (ie they often look 10 years older than they should).Though not all obviously, for the benefit of any parents reading!