I read an article on the Guardian website which has made me absolutely furious. I can’t stop thinking about it, even though it’s been a few weeks. I wasn’t surprised to be so angry, I expected it, but I also expected that anger to pass. It hasn’t. The article, What I’m really thinking: the childless friend, is all about how annoying it is to hear about a friend’s problems as a parent. I’m not going to link to it, because I think it’s trash, but it’s not hard to find.
I don’t want children, and I haven’t done, really, since I realised I actually had a choice about it. I fell, for a while, into the trap of thinking I had to tell people I didn’t like children, so that they would leave me alone and not question me. Because the questioning, the repeated assurances that I’ll change my mind, is dull. People always want to tell me that I’ll change my mind when I’m older, when I meet the right man (ha), when I’m more stable in my life, when I’m less selfish. They don’t like being told in return that I really don’t want to be pregnant, that I don’t see myself settling down with a man, that what my biological clock does in future is nobody’s business but my own, that becoming a parent is a permanent decision that can’t be undone – it was easier to tell them that I didn’t like kids. And then I realised that I didn’t actually have to explain myself to anybody, that it’s up to me and me alone.
And once I realised that I didn’t have to convince people, I started admitting that I actually love children. My not wanting to be a parent is nothing to do with any of the ones I know. Not many of my friends are parents, but one of the benefits of having as wide a range of friends as I do is that we’re not all at the same point in our lives. Being introduced to someone’s child is such an honour, a real mark of trust. I look after my friends’ son fairly regularly, and I still can’t quite believe I get to do that, that I get to be part of their life. Getting to spend time with them is something so special and important. Seeing them growing up and changing and learning and achieving is magical. I love spending time with them, and I am often relieved that it’s not permanent. It doesn’t mean I love them – my friends or their kids – any less.
So what I don’t get is how this Anonymous person is so smug, so sneering, about their friend’s decision to become a parent. I don’t understand how anyone can claim to be a friend, can claim to love this person and their kids, and yet dismiss any mention of how hard it is as moaning, as something that they were foolish not to have avoided. Of course people moan, but parenting is hard. Looking after a child for a day is hard enough, having to discipline and make sure they don’t hurt themselves – being an au pair gave me a flavour of this, and the first time I picked up a child I babysat from nursery, took her to the park, did dinner, bath and bedtime, I then had a headache that lasted two days (I also had 120€, which helped, but not with the headache – the stress was unreal). But mostly I know it’s hard because I listen to my friends. I listen when they tell me how tired they are, and how worried they are about some element of their child’s wellbeing, and of the victories. I don’t dismiss them because they’ve made their choice and should deal with it, I don’t think they should be grateful because they get a child to cuddle. I don’t begrudge them their complaints and their worries, because I’m their friend, and I love them. I don’t care what they’re complaining about, I just want to help them, and if listening is helpful then I’m more than happy to do it. What it boils down to is being a decent friend, and I take friendship very seriously indeed.
What I resent the most is the thought that a friend of mine might read this article, or one like it, and think that I agree, when it couldn’t be further from the truth. I never want a friend of mine to think that I’m judging them for having a child, that it’s somehow a strain on our relationship.
So, in case anyone – now or later – is concerned, please know that:
I love your children as much as I love you,
I want to help and support you,
I love being involved in their lives,
I love being involved in your life,
This anonymous person does not speak for me.