There are two types of parents: cool parents and parents that really want to know when I’m going to have kids. I don’t like the second type. Let’s ignore the fact that there may be a distressing medical reason for my absence of progeny and that your insensitive enquiries regarding my fertility could be bringing back horrific memories of that shearing accident from my childhood. Let’s also gloss over that you essentially want to know when I’m planning on having sex with my wife without using contraception. Which is weird.
No, the thing that singles you out as an individual worthy of my hate is your reaction when I inform you that the wife and I aren’t actually planning on having any kids at all. Ever.
Cool parents usually react with a shrug of the shoulders and a “fair enough” before light-heartedly highlighting the advantages of such a lifestyle choice. The parents to whom this blog entry is devoted do something very different: they contort their faces into an expression that marries astonishment with indignation and then embark on a gently smug tirade that combines patronising polemic with defensive self-righteousness.
You see, some parents seem to take my sharing this information as an unveiled insult to everything they stand for as a human being and a callous dismissal of their decision to bear young. They seem to think I’m belittling them and their choice of lifestyle. I’m not, of course; I’m simply politely answering the question they asked. But it’s as if they misheard me saying “Actually we’re not planning on having any kids” as “Fuck you and your young family; they represent all that is wrong and evil in the world.” They then get very passionate about the virtues of adding to the surplus population and begin, with almost religious zeal, to try to ‘convert’ me by telling me how having kids is the single most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to them, that it’s changed them as a human being and the way they view life, and that it’s given them meaning that was hitherto lacking.
Awesome. I am thrilled. I’m glad it worked out for you. But why are you now spending a not inconsiderable amount of energy trying to get me on board with the idea too?
Someone once suggested to me that parents who do this are actually unhappy with their own situation, jealous of my childfree status and desperately trying to justify to themselves the reasons they had kids. Well maybe in the odd isolated case, but it’s clear that the majority of parents are genuine when they describe how joyous having a child makes them feel. What causes them to cross the line from ‘pleasant and tolerable’ to ‘patronising scum’ is the misguided notion that their devotion to the concept of parenthood is in any way objective.
There are genetic predispositions at play here – we are programmed to care for our own flesh and blood and to love them unconditionally come hell or high water. It’s a biological imperative; it’s how we survived as a species. Aside from the odd exception, once you become a parent of course your world-view changes. For the good of your helpless, dependent child it has to.
But here’s the thing: I’ve still got that choice. I’m not going to sleepwalk into something as significant as raising a family just because it’s something married people are supposed to do. Just because I’ve got the option of introducing a child into my life, to flick that switch and become hopelessly devoted to a mini-me, it doesn’t mean that I have to, or indeed that I should. I have full control over whether to leave that primal instinct untapped, have a bit more money, and go on holiday during term time.
I’ll go a bit further: having a child is a bit like becoming addicted to heroin. Even if you were unsure about it at first, it feels wonderful when you take the plunge, although it is expensive and once you start taking it your life pretty much revolves around it. More to the point, it’s not a plunge I have to take. By way of an example, here’s a rough transcription of a conversation with an annoying parent, but I have substituted the phrase “have/having/had kids” with “take/taking/taken heroin”.
“So, do you take heroin?”
“Er, no. No I don’t.”
“Oh right. When are you going to start taking heroin?”
“Well actually the wife and I have decided that we don’t want to take heroin.”
“What? You mean, ever?”
“No, we don’t think so. We’re just not that keen on the idea of taking heroin. We figure you should only take heroin if it’s something you really want to do.”
“What’s wrong with taking heroin?”
“Absolutely nothing, it’s just not something we fancy doing.”
“Well I have to say you’d be missing out – taking heroin has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“That’s great. I’m glad it’s working out for you. It’s just not something we’re that keen on.”
“Well I used to think the same way. I never wanted to take heroin, especially when I was younger. But since I took it I’ve completely changed my mind. Taking heroin changes the way you look at life, you know? When you’re a bit older you’ll understand. Heroin is everything.”
“I mean, I can’t picture my life without heroin now. Literally, I’d be nothing without my heroin.”
“You say you don’t want heroin now, but I think you’ll reach a point where you’ll realise you really want it.”
“Especially your wife. She’ll get a real craving for heroin eventually.”
“I’m sorry, I just want you to know that taking heroin is the best feeling in the world.”
“Really, fuck off now, you’re boring me.”
“I mean it takes up pretty much all your time. We don’t tend to go out that much any more… we just stay in and, you know, take heroin.”
“Please go away.”
“And we never have any money. Heroin’s expensive, you know?”
“I’ve started a conversation with someone else now.”
“But it’s totally worth it. Every day there’s something different with heroin. It just keeps giving.”
“Yeah, I’d better head off myself. You have no idea how much costs to have someone look after your heroin!”