“Parenthood has become a cult in our kid-centered world. So happy Non-Mother’s Day to those who have opted out.
At a dinner recently I met a woman in her late Forties. Clever, poised and soignee, she ran her own company, had lovers and many friends. But she had no children, knew now that she never would and, over the years, had grown so angry at how parents treated her that she did a monstrous thing.
On an overnight flight she found herself seated beside a woman and her daughter of about six, who was playing a beeping computer console. Since the mother was asleep, she politely asked the child to switch her device to silent, which she did.
At this point the mother opened her eyes: ‘It’s a noisy flight,’ she said. ‘What difference does her game make?’
The woman explained that the beeps were hardly helping on-board peace. The mother appraised her coldly. ‘What do you know about travelling with children,’ she said. ‘Do you have any?’
‘No,’ said my new acquaintance. ‘Not since my daughter died of leukemia.’
I gasped when she told me this. It was such a nuclear response. Why say it? ‘Because it shut her up. Because it was the only thing I could think of that would get her off her parental high horse.’ The flight, she said, continued in silence.
It struck me then that there has never been a worse time in history to be childless. The Tory MP Rory Stewart said this week that ‘ours is a culture not of ancestor worship but of descendent worship. Children must sense that nothing an adult does is more important than their own desires.’
In the absence of religious faith, we believe only in our own DNA and push around our household gods in Bugaboos. Parenthood is no longer a phase of everyday life, but a revered state. The world is not an adult domain into which children must learn to fit, but increasingly organized around childish needs. As Mr. Stewart told Radio Times, babies are the new ‘opium of the masses.’
As no florist or card company will have let you forget, tomorrow is Mother’s Day. A gazillion women are preparing to post on Facebook, photos of endearingly wonky cards, slopped-over breakfasts in bed, and to write expressions of how blessed they are to have created these creatures preprogrammed to love them, to see them as the centres of the known world.
And they – we – are lucky. But what of the childless? Where does our parenting cult leave them? Judged, is the answer from my childfree friends, by those who see them as sad or unnatural, shallow or odd. ONe friend says that she is tempted the next time a careless stranger asks why she never spawned to present him with a list of devastating medical issues, accidents and life circumstances, then say: ‘You don’t know which of those, if any, caused me to be childless and until you do, it might be kinder to keep your mouth shut.’
The overwhelming cultural assumption is that parents are selfless and, ergo, non-parents are selfish. While it is true that during the sleepless fug of raising toddlers you are focused on another’s needs, it does not mean that you extend your nurturing outward to the world. Rather the bounds of your selfhood stretch to encompass your children for whom you would willingly eradicate the whole planet to save.
Working mothers may be busier, but that does not make them more virtuous. As for motherhood being the hardest job in the world: really? Unless you have a disabled child and/or live in poverty, now we don’t wring cloth nappies through mangles or darn socks, it’s chiefly a test of patience and boredom threshold.
It is the baby industry that sells parenting as a Herculean task to market us products to ease our toils. The martyrdom of motherhood was terminated absolutely by online grocery shopping and CBeebies.
Meanwhile maternity has become absorbed into all-conquering female narcissism. A 1950s movie goddess would hide her children, they were death to her allure. Now a hot starlet phase is followed by the Milf years – a parade of tots as gorgeous as their mom, proof of her beauty at a deeper genetic level.
Meanwhile childless actresses, such as Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston, are seen to have failed. For all their wealth and triumphs, they are figures of pity who must continually justify their barren state and reaffirm their happiness while knowing how hollow it will be made to sound.
Yet it is non-mothers who were the pioneers, the outliers, the fighters. They were once the only women who had the opportunity to create. Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Coco Chanel, Dorothy Parker, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, the Brontes, they all had no children but enduring legacies. Florence Nightingale, Camila Batmanghelidjh and Oprah Winfrey (in her creation of African girls’ schools) extended their love and nurture far beyond the domestic cradle.
Non-mothers now form a fifth of all women and a third of graduates – which explains a adeep cultural anxiety, expressed in endless counts of wasted fertile years and predictions they will die unloved and alone. But they should be celebrated for their forbearance, for putting up with the horror of baby showers and “liking” 1,000 identical Instagram baby photos, for standing in airline queues while sullen teenage children board first, for working at Christmas so office mothers can take time off.
For not smashing the TV every time politicians of all hues invoke “hardworking families” as the only unit worthy of public concern. For the Bridget Jones comparisons and the knowing smirks when they buy a cat, for every time they listen to a friend talking about her child and their advice is ignored because what would they know.
For all this, Happy Non-Mother’s Day.”
— Janice Turner, This is the worst time not to have children, The Times, March 29, 2014.