real life

"Why should I have to keep shrinking myself?" I'm done apologising for my child-free life.

I received an intriguing invitation this week.

The organiser of a parenting group got in touch with me, to ask if I’d be willing to speak at their next meeting.

I was really pleased to hear from her. My recent child-free book was intended to be light-hearted and inclusive, written with parents also in mind.

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The reason was simple: I’ve read numerous books about motherhood over the years, mostly because I enjoy reading about lives that aren’t like mine.

And I’ve noticed that ‘motherhood’ books tend to be full of friendly, everyday support that feels inclusive, while books about child-free-ness tend to feel heavy and exclusive; sprinkled with dry psychological theories and militant tropes.

(They also tend to be all about the because, because there must always be a because. Motherhood isn’t burdened with a because; there is never any need to explain why a woman wants to have a baby).

Anyway.

At last, I thought… here’s a curious and open-minded parenting group who ‘gets it!’

But as it turned out, my happiness was short-lived.

I explained the subject of said child-free book (because you have to, don’t you? Just in case anyone feels uncomfortable), only to receive a spluttery response from the organiser.

“Oh… well, I don’t think the audience will be receptive to a topic of choosing not to have children,” she said. “Couldn’t you talk about something parenting-related instead, such as how to support a child who wants to be a writer?”

Um, no. I can’t.

Why? Well, for one thing, I HAVEN’T GOT ANY KIDS.

And for another, I didn’t experience very much in the way of parental support myself. My dad told me to get a normal job, and to this day he hasn’t read any of my work, while my mum buggered off when I was five.

(I’m actually glad about all that, by the way. I think a shitty childhood is a prerequisite of being a good writer. As the great Derren Brown says, “whoever heard of a creative genius being understood as a child? Who likes to imagine an artist who emerged into adulthood content with his lot?”

Not that I think I’m a creative genius, mind you. I just think not enjoying the support of my parents has helped me on my way to where I am now, which is a rather lovely place.

But I’m not sure the parenting group would have been receptive to advice that amounts to, “do your best to NOT understand your child, and make sure you shush them every time they open their mouth to speak.

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Oh, and it’ll help enormously if at least one of you decides to up and leave the family home, without saying a word.

That way, your child will be forced to start a diary to release their innermost thoughts, and it will lead them to a lifelong love of writing.”)

Needless to say, I declined the speaking invitation.

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At first, that decision made me feel guilty. Why couldn’t I just have accepted it politely, be nice, and talk prettily about the kind of parenting I might have appreciated as I was growing up?

But then anger rushed in.

Why should I have to keep on shrinking myself to fit?

How many meetings and gatherings have I had to sit through over the years, listening to parents banging on endlessly about their offspring, or it being automatically assumed that I’m a “working mum” just because I write from home?

People don’t tend to think about whether I, as a child-free woman, might be a receptive audience to stupid questions like, “do you think not having kids makes you more selfish?” (that’ll be a no), or someone beginning a business presentation with, “now, we’re all parents here, so I know you’ll understand…”

They just say these things regardless.

And I’ve got some idea why.

Most of the time, the stupid questions and unthinking comments pass by, completely unchallenged.

From my own point of view, I don’t want to cause unnecessary conflict or upset, and I don’t want to risk offending anybody with my unpalatable life choices.

This attitude, I found, was all too prevalent in the child-free women I interviewed for my book. Whenever I met an interviewee in a coffee shop, we automatically hushed our voices… particularly if there was a parent-with-children at the next table.

But I think this kind of behaviour has to stop. If child-free women don’t talk openly about the everyday realities of life as a child-free woman, then the child-confined won’t have a hope of understanding them.

All they’ll have to go on those tired old stereotypes, of the kind that shout about polished shoe collections, tidy homes, and long, carefree holidays.

(I think it’s a myth that child-free people have tidy homes, by the way. My house is messy because I have no real incentive to tidy it up. As I’ve seen with my parent-friends, having a family provides that incentive).

I’m not saying I’m going to swap listening, politeness, and curiosity for child-free-related boorishness from now on.

I just don’t want to apologise for my life choices anymore, that’s all.

And neither should you.

This post originally appeared on Medium, and has been republished here with full permission.

You can read more from Nina Jervis on her website or purchase her book I’d Rather Get a Cat and Save the Planet — Conversations With Child-Free Women here.

Feature image: Getty.

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