Mark Latham is adamant. Those who choose to have children can feel the love; those who don’t struggle with empathy.
That’s it. That’s the analysis and he was asked about it again yesterday on ABC Radio National by Fran Kelly.
The issue has been around the block a few times but it’s never really gone away.
Do children make you feel empathy you couldn’t feel before?
Are children the ultimate in the pyramid of life?
When he was asked, Latham stood by his remarks:
“To choose a career ahead of the opportunity of having children? Well, I think having children is the great loving experience of any lifetime. And by definition, you haven’t got as much love in your life if you make that particular choice. Choice, in Gillard’s case is very, very specific. Particularly because she’s on the public record, saying that she made a deliberate choice not to have children to further her Parliamentary career.”
He then went on to say he was specifically talking about Julia Gillard and not making generalisations. To be fair to Latham, Fran Kelly asked specifically about the comments he had made previously, dredging this issue back up again.
But did Mark Latham get you riled up when he indicated that Julia Gillard’s lack of children was somehow a deficit? Have you ever had to explain to anybody that not being a parent does not make you different – it just makes you childless ? Freelance Journalist Janine Toms has made a choice not to have children. She writes
“As a “barren” female of the same vintage as Julia Gillard, I am not particularly troubled by Mark Latham’s comments that the PM lacks empathy and “can’t have much love in her” because she chose not to be a mother. Like most public utterances by this buffoon, it can, should be and has been dismissed as another nutty rant from a bitter and failed politician renowned for his lack of tact and want of attention. He speaks for nobody but himself.
What does bother me is that I exist in an environment in which Latham feels it’s acceptable to make such an unprovoked slur in public – about our nation’s leader, no less – and that he probably truly believes what he wrote.
How did Latham and so many other high-profile parents come to attain such an absurd and delusional level of smugness about being a parent that they believe it to be an automatic passport to a higher plane? Love is all there is, so one must be a parent to be a truly evolved human being, suggests Latham. Qualities like decency, empathy and understanding are the preserve of the saintly parent, reducing the non-parent to a kind of sub-human, not yet fully formed; not living a meaningful existence, incapable of true leadership.
In days of old, parents would preside over their brood of 15 or so and the only song-and-dance they’d make about it was a good ol’ knees-up Mother Brown in the living room. Latham delivered his message in blunter fashion, but not a day goes by that I do not hear or read some self-aggrandising quote from a public figure gushing over parenthood and how finally, they feel a true sense of achievement and/or purpose. How dismal and pointless their life was up until they had a baby. Six Oscars? A dozen best-sellers? Pah! They meant nothing; were merely a trifling blip on life’s journey compared to the supreme triumph of being a mum or dad. Such remarks tend to be parroted by the general population, leaving the child-free feeling somewhat demonised. As author (and mum) Erica Jong recently pointed out in her recent New York Times article Mother Madness, “Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good.”
Dining solo in a café recently, I spotted a woman with a pram heading toward the front door, which I promptly opened for her. She thanked me, adding, “You’re a mum you understand” I found myself insulted by her implication that only another mother could have sufficient empathy and manners to help out another human being who was clearly struggling.
Had I been browsing a women’s magazine at the time, I would have been assailed by any number of similar misconceptions uttered by celebrity mums, scattered throughout those “baby bump” pictures. Is she or isn’t she? She is? Oh, joy! Cue her metamorphosis from party-hard trollop to worthy role model. Here’s Julia Roberts and her husband Danny wondering what they did with all their time before bub. There’s Debra Messing declaring that everything that took up her time was irrelevant before baby arrived. Gwyneth Paltrow tells us that listening to her three-year-old’s fart jokes is “real happiness”. Johnny Depp gushes over his child’s arrival into the world: “It’s like you’ve met your reason to live”.
“Reason to live?” Perhaps the barren equally barren in purpose should simply dive off the nearest cliff. Whether it’s happiness, kindness, good old-fashioned hard yakka, or the meaning of life, it takes a parent to fully understand it. “As a busy mum” read a million ad scripts. Busy-ness yes, only a mum can relate to that!
Likewise multi-tasking, an art only the mum can master, and the reason Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was able to handle the flood crisis with such competence, according to a fellow mum. How true, how true, clucked a host of TV talk show mums the next day, as the commentators all agree that Anna won the “image” war over Julia in the aftermath. Then of course she would only a mother can cry with conviction for lives lost.
It seems the din of parental self-congratulation is growing louder by the day, drowning out the voices of those who choose not to breed on what is let’s face it a hugely over-populated planet. Perhaps Latham has inadvertently done the child-free a favour, given the brutal backlash he received for his efforts. Hopefully, it will make some parents particularly those in the public eye stop and think before blurting out such asinine remarks. And keep in mind that if you were that bad before you had kids, it probably says more about you than it does about us.
I don’t doubt that babies bring their parents endless joy, but it’s not the only joy in life. Our joys, too, are valid. And yes, we get that parenting is tough but rewarding, but must we be subjected to so much hero rhetoric and constant dismissals of all other human achievements?
As a non-parent, there is an unwritten rule that you bite your tongue in public about super-sensitive topics like child-rearing, despite the many appalling instances of child abuse and abandonment we hear about constantly, perpetrated by “loving” parents. Perhaps it’s time the child-free found their voice, and the past few days have been encouraging. I grew up in a seemingly enlightened society, and one in which I never felt the need to defend my life choices. I am no longer living in that society. Perhaps it”s time to slaughter a cow that’s become a little too sacred for its own good. Julia Gillard loves to talk about “just getting on with the job”. Perhaps Latham, and parents who think like he does, can take a leaf out of her book.
*About the Author: Janine Toms is a freelance writer who just emerged from three years subediting for a weekly gossip mag only to find her shoes were becoming far too sensible to be seen walking in and out of 54 Park St. She ran to paradise and now lives her dream as a spinster aunt with one cat in Tasmania.
Do you ever find yourself instinctively making judgments about people based on whether they have children? Was Mark Latham diving off the deep end again or was he making a point that people agreed with but no one wanted to say?