by LEE SANDWITH
Before I became a mother I felt compelled to somehow disassociate myself from any involvement of being like other mothers – or those mothers, as some of my friends referred to them.
“Lee, if you become one of those mums who starts a ‘mummy blog’ that goes on and on about being a mum or uses every form of social media to share stories about their kid’s poo I will never speak to you again!” one childless friend threatened me, apparently teasingly.
“And don’t even think about becoming one of those mothers who parks their pram in the middle of cafes either,” stressed another kid free wanderer.
“Oh I won’t!” I assured them confidently as though the worst thing I could become was an actual mother.
This idea of motherhood and children being viewed as annoying was driven home early on when, at dinner with friends a few months before our baby was born, one of our dining companions asked if we could talk about something else as he grew tired of all the talk about babies. I was beginning to feel guilty about being a mother before I had actually had a child!
The truth is that I didn’t truly comprehend the realities of life as a mother until I was actually drowning in the day to day drudgery of life with a newborn. I felt ashamed to speak out about my experiences as a new mother because I had actively participated in the collective scorn the childless sometimes direct towards the breeding masses. This former contempt I held was something I deeply regretted as I had accidently become one of those mothers; the ones that pushed their pram into cafes with a screeching being tucked up inside it and posted photos of their baby on the internet.
The negative sentiment towards mothers and children was something that I was experiencing not only in my local coffee shop but on public transport as well. A recent family outing on a train drew glares of disgust from fellow passengers as my baby daughter let out various squeals and cries as life whizzed by outside of the train window. It seems that the transport experience for many people is so incredibly marred by the presence of small humans that Malaysian Airlines have put a ban on babies in their first class cabins. Even Ryanair were considering offering childfree flights due to an increased number of passenger complaints about the noise of babies.
With a growing trend of people who are child-free by choice, there seems to be more opportunities to openly rail against parents and children.
My Facebook feed is often clogged with people protesting that the sight and sound of children in public places irritates them, or how if they have to suffer the torture of viewing yet another image of a child on their feed they will surely commit homicidal murder.
It seems that it isn’t just some of my own intolerant Zuckerbook friends who find the sight of infants on their computer screens a pest. A new Chrome extension called Unbaby.me will remedy the problem of hideous images of small people appearing on your Facebook feed and replace them with images of bacon, cats or “awesome stuff” as Unbaby.me promotes. “Now you won’t have to look at your friends’ annoying kids anymore”, we’re told.
Even mothers who enjoy talking about their children and their parental experiences are not being taken seriously. When women do become mothers, they learn very early on that discussing their experience publicly may lead to at best a sort of dismissive scoffing, and at worst an all round assault on their intelligence and ability to contribute positively to society. ‘Mummy blogs’ in particular have become universally detested, even though some of their content is relatively innocuous. Hating parents and children on the internet, and mothers who blog in particular it seems, is encouraged.
Entire websites such as The Bratfree and We Kid You Not! are dedicated to the bashing of parents and children. Here, it is not uncommon to read offensive terms such as “breeders”, “moomie” (an insult directed at mothers who breast feeds in public and are likened to cows), “semen demon” or “crotch fruit” being bandied about by the child-free folk. Disguised as humour or satire, it appears that it is now permissible in many instances to bully mums and kids.
With this disapproval of mothers and the belittlement of family life proliferating, are mothers really expected to keep a division between families and the supposed real world just so they don’t offend the child-frees? And more importantly are we really a generation of people that is so adult-centric that we believe a child should not be heard or seen or even spoken about?
What is even more questionable is why such bigotry towards children exists in the first place. Children, our most vulnerable members of society, are fair game when it comes to some adults being openly intolerant towards them.
The contribution of children in society is not valued for many reasons but mostly because they do not have the capacity to act in the same way as adults do. This form of discrimination of children perpetuates the belief that adults are better then children, that adult-rights are more important then child-rights and child behaviors are bad or wrong. However if you interchange the word child with any other minority group and refer to them as “demon semen”, I am certain that your description of this group would not only be frowned upon but would screamed down as being grossly prejudice.
And while not all child-free individuals hate mothers and children, those that are critical of parents and kids may be acting in defense of their own choices by openly attacking the very thing that they are trying to distance themselves from. Whether it is due to social pressure or societal norms, many child-free individuals often have to defend their choices for opting out of parenthood, and in doing so fail to recognise that their criticisms of families with children are deeply offensive.
The fact of the matter is that unless the exclusion and discrimination of mothers and children ceases, it will only continue to further the divide between families with children and child-free people. The aggressive commentary and derision of parents’ and childrens’ rights are harmful and don’t serve any value except to socially exclude.
Remaining child-free or becoming a parent are both choices which deserve respect. And with that respect should be gratitude that we live in a society where both options are completely reasonable and that we all have the right to live these choices without persecution.
Lee Sandwith is a Melbourne based photographer, actress and director. She is also mother to 11-month-old daughter Sailor and 7-year-old Roy Orbison (feline) and spends most of her days separating the two. Find her website here.
Do you think there is a disapproval of mothers and family life? Have you ever experienced the sort of stigma that Lee describes?