Friday, 7 December 2012

Posh Woman Having Baby Shock

This post has been gestating for a while, but in view of the Big Yawn News,* I thought now would be a good time to, um, deliver it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to give one of those little "Farewell, for now" speeches, in front of a gathering of colleagues, as one of my cataloguers was about to embark on a year's maternity leave.  Like all women three short weeks away from giving birth for the first time, she looked simultaneously radiantly healthy, and truly, madly, deeply fed up.

For what it was worth, I had five tips to share:

1.  Book a place in the University Day Nursery now
2.  Don't try to be Perfect Parents, it never ends well
3.  Don't let anyone persuade you not to use disposable nappies
4.  Don't let your partner off the hook: nobody likes to change nappies in the middle of the night
5.  Forget about the Himalayas, the Antarctic and the Sahara: those are "adventures" for boys in flight from reality.  This is the Real Thing.

After the little potlatch ceremony had concluded, and we returned to our offices, I wondered, what would I be like now, if I hadn't had children?  It wasn't an attractive proposition.

It is one of those empty cliches (particularly empty when mouthed by celebrities with live-in staff or those parents who pack their children off to boarding school ASAP) that you have no regrets, that your children are the best thing that has ever happened to you.  Speaking purely selfishly, though, I think this does happen to be true, in my case.

Selfishly, because, without that ongoing twenty-year reality check, I would probably have wasted most of my adult life, and remained a self-obsessed adolescent at heart.  I might have "achieved" more, but I doubt it.  Children can survive all but the very worst parents, but few people can achieve adulthood without children to guide them.

It is curious to me, therefore -- I won't put it any stronger than that -- to encounter more and more people who are choosing to be childless.  Now, I can easily understand why a lot of people -- particularly women -- are choosing not to share their lives with a partner. I can't blame them.  It has been very disappointing to see the rigid re-gendering of society in recent decades, and men have, if anything, become more uselessly child-like than they have ever been.

But even committed couples seem to have plenty of reasons for not having children.  Why bring children into such a bad world?  Population growth is overwhelming the planet.  We both want a fulfilling career.  We can't afford it.  He won't pull his weight, I know it.  I'm not the Mumsy type. It's not the right time. I don't like children.  We'd rather spend the money on holidays.  I'm afraid I won't cope. I'm afraid, full stop. All good reasons, but I think one of the funniest and saddest lines I ever heard in an American sitcom was,  "Damn!  I don't believe it! I forgot to have children!"

Sigh. You really don't have a clue, do you?
(they don't come with an Owner's Manual)

It is a fact that all European populations are, demographically, in decline.  As G√ľnter Grass put it, "The Germans are dying out".  There is now no European country where the fertility rate is equal to or greater than the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.  Surprisingly, it seems Italy, Spain and Greece have the lowest rates of all (1.33, 1.32, 1.29 respectively -- Eurostat 2004 figures).  However much this may be a good solution at a personal level, it has to be seen as a problem at national level.  It's almost as if we have collectively lost our belief in the future.

But the real puzzle to me is what I think of as "militant childlessness", people who have not so much made a choice, as taken up a position on the matter.  In particular, they seem to resent society's attempts (inadequate as they are) to reconcile child-rearing with the world of work and the injustices of poverty.  "Where's my maternity leave?", they cry, as if a typical maternity leave was spent on the beach in Tenerife.  "Why should I pay taxes for schools, when I have no children? Where's my child benefit?" You can imagine their reaction to the upcoming proposals to allow female and male partners to share "maternity" leave between them.  Outrageously unfair!

So, perhaps I should have given my cataloguer an extra, sixth tip:

When people suggest that becoming a parent is a lifestyle choice into which you have chosen to channel your income -- which they will -- you should reply:  "And why should my children pay taxes to support you in your lonely, infirm old age -- which they will, I promise -- when they only have two parents?" 

* For non-Brits:  a potential 3rd-in-line-to-the-throne has been announced.  The big news is that it will no longer matter whether it's a boy or girl, or wants to marry a Roman Catholic.  It will still have the right to be Principal Drone.  Actually, although instinctively anti-royalist, I find myself wondering whether having a hereditary, ceremonial Head of State isn't a bad system.  It does spare us from having to elect a President, and all the political conflicts and confusion that ensue.


Martin said...

Sound advice, Mike. I'm chuckling, knowingly.

Mike C. said...


I miss changing nappies! Actually, I don't, but I thought I'd see how I'd feel, saying that out loud. Happy, is how I feel... (Did you ever read my post about cleaning the fish tank?)


eeyorn said...

My son was conceived out of drunken passion and we had intended not to have kids until a little later. Despite the catastrophic effect it had on our household finances, we always knew that we wanted and loved him, we shared all the night-time duties and yes.....30 odd years on I too miss all that.

And having looked after Dad for the last couple of years, its been humbling to see the love and respect he had amongst my 2 sisters children. My one big regret is that because we got divorced Rob didn't get to spend as much time with his grandparents and never got to know them intimately.

Sounds like you're ready to settle down and become a wizenened old Grandad yourself Mike. Look out for the pipe and smoking jacket I'm sending you for Christmas :)

Mike C. said...


I think having kids is like having a stake in the game -- without them you're a spectator, which can be fun and suits some people, but in the end the game requires players.

Once you're a player, of course, you're open to all sorts of risks and damage you hadn't anticipated, but that's the point, really.


Dave Leeke said...

I will never forget telling my mother - twenty eight or so years ago now - that we were going to have a child. She looked quite earnest and asked if we were going to keep the baby. She wasn't joking - evidently I had seemed so unlikely to ever have a child.

I'm sure that our children despair of us more than we ever have of them over the years.

I wouldn't be without them and, although to Mrs Dave's chagrin there seem no grandchildren on the horizon, I have no qualms whatsoever. I'm still getting pleasure out of my own kids even if the youngest is 20! I'm in no hurry for grandchildren myself.

Actually, eeyorn, I think all three of my children were born "out of drunken passion." The phrase "happy accidents" is just a truism.

eeyorn said...

Yes, I hear what you're saying Mike and I agree wholeheartedly. To care and help to nurture another takes you to a whole different place in your connection with 'humanity', I reckon.

eeyorn said...

OH btw I've begun composing a limerick a day on my FB blog just recently, commenting on the daily news. Here's my entry from a few days ago:

A fine looking brood mare named Kate
Got knocked up by a Prince - twas her fate
But it was her undoing
She soon started spewing
Ain't NHS-trained doctors just great?

Zouk Delors said...

Nice one, Eeyorn, but what about her career?

There is a young woman called Kate
Who with child is apparently great;
But media leaks
Have it less than 12 weeks,
So abortion would not be too late.