25 Feb

What I’m Really Thinking

I’ve always assumed The Guardian’s What I’m Really Thinking column is meant to be a caricature, not something to be offended by. I know that last week’s anonymous piece by ‘The Child-Free Friend’ is not meant to represent the views of all childless people, and I admit that ten years ago I could have written it myself. I can quite smugly tell you that now I’m no longer childless, I finally have some empathy with parents, but that’s not to say that I speak fluently the language of child, that I find all babies beautiful, or that I ever want to change a nappy [unpaid!] again. I’m sure I’m not the only parent in the world who doesn’t really notice other people’s children until they make an annoying noise. That’s why I’m a doula, not a childminder; doulas care for mothers.

The writer is of the opinion that since parenthood is self-inflicted, parents deserve exactly zero amount of sympathy, even from a friend who claims to “care about you and your life,” when they express sadness at missing pre-parenthood freedoms. How can she possibly complain about the relentless demands of parenting, when this is what she signed up for? I’m sure you don’t have to offer to babysit for a night, to try to imagine that however much you love your child, there are always going to be times when you long guiltily for a night out that doesn’t take months of planning, an uninterrupted lie-in, or even just five minutes when nobody is asking anything of you. These are the things parents aren’t allowed to say, and because we aren’t allowed to say it, it comes as a shock to many new parents, to find that the child has no off-switch, our leisure time can no longer be filled by going to the gym or watching a Lord of the Rings triple bill, and the money drain never stops. So she didn’t sign up for it, exactly. A huge amount of doula work and breastfeeding support is about helping when reality doesn’t meet expectations.

As for your friend thinking that your life choices are less sincere, enduring or fulfilling, I had to laugh at how a paragraph about feeling judged could be so judgemental. This is why I knew that the writer didn’t stand for all childless people, because choosing to be childless is just one of many lifestyle choices, and most of us tend to think that the things we choose are better than the things other people choose. And most lifestyles are not simple binary choices.

It’s just as hard for parents to hold on to their non-parent friends as the other way around. It’s hard to have a conversation when part of your brain is permanently allocated to childcare, especially when you’re aware that the person you’re chatting with doesn’t like your snot-encrusted marmalade-fingered darling, is bored by their latest achievements, and just doesn’t get how your priorities are different now. And we’re tired. All the time. Like when you’re jetlagged or you’ve been working hard to meet a deadline or you’ve run a marathon, and those are lifestyle choices too, and you would expect some understanding.

Motherhood is pretty complex, and many non-parents seem to perceive it only at a very superficial level. We’re all childless before we have kids, we’ve all stood in your shoes. Now why don’t you try and stand in mine?