To Parent? Or Not To Parent?
Chris Longden, Features Writer
Oh, the irony of it!
As I left the house in the early hours of this morning, I yelled at my eldest;
"YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW I HAVE HAD TO PUT MY LIFE ON HOLD - IN ORDER TO BRING YOU UP! YES! I USED TO *HAVE* A LIFE OF MY OWN YOU KNOW!"
If the neighbours weren't already awake, they would have heard the response, lobbed so elegantly back at me before the front door slammed shut;
"OH, JUST GO TO THE GYM! AND MAYBE YOU'LL COME BACK A BIT LESS OF AN OLD LUNATIC!"
This was a semi-argument, dear reader - as we both mother and child seemed to be smiling at the time. (Or was it the leer of insanity?)
As I set off in the car, I switched on Radio 4 and heard John Humphrys informing me that a latest piece of research is demonstrating that people who have children live on average for 2 years longer - than those who don't have children.
John interviewed the researcher from Stockholm's Karolinsky Institute and they chatted amiably about how and why this might be so. The hypothesis of the research was based on the importance of social structure; that if you have adult kids about to help you as you grow old, then you simply hang on for a bit longer.
All makes perfect sense in theory of course - but as I pootled along in the car, I kept thinking;
"So how is it then - that my friends who don't have kids seem to be much less miserable, care-worn and wealthier than those of us who do?"
I count myself as very lucky indeed to have a 50/50 per cent split of 'friends with the little sods' and 'friends without.' In fact, I deliberately fill my life with people who have never had kids. And who have made positive choices NOT to have them. These mates keep me grounded. They provide perspective when I'm fretting over whether I'm evil because I won't allow the kiddo an iPhone. They provide me with a reason to escape my own children every now and then; "Auntie Jasmine isn't fond of children, so you can sit on her doorstep for 3 hours with a Pot Noodle whilst we have a catch up."
And I also count myself as a supporter of positive non-parenting forums, such as the brilliant https://www.nonparents.com/ led by the marvellous Nina Steele. Always worth a read.
They also - and let's be honest here - allow me for an outlet for smugness. One of the characters in my novels (the sequel to 'Mind Games and Ministers' is due out soon, folks) is anti-children, anti-parenting tosh and palpably clueless on how to raise a child. "Is there anything more annoying," comments my protagonist, Rachael, "than a person who has never had a child, dishing out the parenting advice to you?"
And I have noticed that we only tend to feel smug about something, when - deep down inside - we feel a tad bit insecure; have a fear of failing at something. And if you ask me, there is nothing more certain to stoke the fires of feardom, than the terrors of thinking that you might turn out to be a bit of a crappy parent.
So ... your insecurity latches itself onto straightforward envy. And you find yourself in cafes eyeing the slightly hungover couple who are READING A NEWSPAPER of a Sunday morning. You find yourself wondering what it might be like to have a conversation about Jeremy Corbyn and grammar schools that isn't interrupted with; "Mum, you *have* to really understand what a dark lord ninja Lego sword does before you can upload the latest shield. And by the way, I think the budgie's dead."
You find yourself getting all cross because aforementioned couple are pulling faces at each other over the ear-piercing shriek emitted from one of your kids. You find yourself wanting to yell 'I AM NOT A LEPER!' at the folk who are avoiding you in the queue for the check-in desk at the airport, simply because they have spotted that you have an infant in tow. You find yourself getting furious with colleagues who get in there before you and book the dates off for Christmas and Easter holidays because - I mean - after all - *they* do not have children and therefore should be expected to work the graveyard shift and sacrifice the festivities. Selfish swines.
And God Forbid that a non-parent ever turns round to you and says; "I was watching that Supernanny programme the other day and it recommended that 5 year olds shouldn't be playing Grand Auto Theft 6 until 1 am. Perhaps that's why your little Brandon isn't sleeping so well these days?"
But, most non-parents thankfully, tend to fall into the more diplomatic camp and say, "well, I don't have children myself but..." and for that I thank them. I deeply, profoundly thank them for this little crumb of comfort. It concedes that *they* have the humility to accept that *they* don't know how to do it. Because I - as sure as hell - don't know how to do it either. And it takes the edge off my self-righteous jealousy. And potential for smugness, born of insecurity.
Because I myself, remember so very well, being that single person - that couple without children - and detesting the Parenting Club.
Early on in my career, I worked with a woman who - whatever you were chatting about - would relate the subject at hand back to her little George. The fax machine wouldn't be working and it would be 'oh - we should get George to have a look at this - he's ever so good with his Speak and Spell now.' Or a rather whiffy tenant would wander into the office and she'd say 'oh, that's nothing compared to the smell that George can create in the bathroom!' In the end, I'm sorry to say, that for the space of a few weeks, most of my conversational matter consisted of the hardcore porn videos that I claimed to have been watching the night before. (Honestly - it was the only way that I could get the simpering parent to shut up.)
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Still, I can't see them delivering the goods on what the research describes as 'social support structure' - keeping me alive for that bit longer, because they are somehow 'there' for me. I don't expect them to put their own lives on hold in order to sort out dear old Mum's bedpan. Yes, perhaps, when the time comes, I will feel just as my own mother does at the moment, when she says to me and my brother; "Come and live with one of you two? Be looked after by either of you? Good grief, no. Put me in a home!"
Yes, as for living for another 2 years because I gave birth? I'm not sure I buy into that. The only possible reason I can see for wanting to survive the additional 2 years, is so that when my son and daughter produce even more irritating and challenging kids than the pair of them are turning out to be, I can be materially present. Looming in the background there as Nan. And can do exactly as my own Mum and mother in law has done and say;
"Ah well. Payback Time. Oh, the HELL that you put me through. Now you know what it's like! Chickens coming home to roost..." etc. etc. ad infinitum. *
And, as a happily no-kids colleague of mine sitting next to me right now, just commented (after I confessed that last night I yelled the immortal words that I swore I'd never say; 'Listen, LADYJANE - you're pushing your luck!')
"Well, I'm sorry, Chris - you'd have to offer me a hell of a lot more than an extra 2 years of life in order to persuade me to go down that route."
*Incidentally - 'Payback Time' is the name of the research, which you can read more about here https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-03/b-plt031017.php
To Parent? Or Not To Parent?, 14th March 2017, 15:27 PM