Thursday, 19 November 2009

Us and Them



Those of us who don't have children – for whatever reason – find ourselves barred from that exclusive club that is the Mothers' Club. Recently I was at a yoga class and became very aware of the fact that two of us stood to one side talking, while the rest congregated on the floor, swapping school stories and tales of their offspring.

Most of us have encountered groups that can make us feel unwelcome - sexism at work, perhaps. Being the only woman in a male environment can be difficult – though it can also be fun. Then there's ageism – being married to someone 18 years my senior I have become used to being with older people, but at first I was very aware of being the youngest and was treated with wary friendliness by his friends. Now I've realised that age doesn't matter, and I've been welcomed as his wife.

But both those are accidents of birth, if you like. We can't help our sex any more than our age. But women not having children? Surely we were born to procreate. Thousands of years ago being barren was a curse from the gods. Nowadays it's a lifestyle choice – or is it? Those of us who don't have children still tend to have to defend our choice to those disbelieving others. We are still viewed as second citizens with Something Wrong with us. We feel excluded from the main swim of life. But there's nothing the matter with us. Why should we be treated as pariahs?

Many years ago I was swimming with a friend's children and one of them asked where my children were. “I don't have any,” I replied, splashing back. “Why not?” asked the six year old, with a frown.
I opened my mouth to explain and shut it again. It was too complicated. “I just don't,” I finished, lamely.

My husband, an observant fellow, noted the other morning that a lot of our friends don't have children. So while we obviously tend to befriend those in a similar situation, not having children shapes our lives. Our parameters are different: our anxieties not the same. We focus on different things. Not better, nor worse, but different. We have time that can be devoted to other things.

I used to wish we had children, but now I don't. For many reasons. I am content with my life. But try explaining that to the world at large.

Have any of you ever been made aware of this divide – from either side of the fence?

25 comments:

Mopsa said...

Yes, I'm aware but some of my very best friends have children (all grown up now). It was different when friends were having babies - I just wasn't interested and had to fake it. Some I thought wonderful little people, others not, just as with adults. I feel no lack not having children, instead I wonder why so many people DO, and where do they find the time? I was a right brat when growing up - why would I want to house and cherish a mini-me?? Awaiting fallout!

Akelamalu said...

I've never been aware of a divide but then as you right point out one tends to make friends in the same situation - our friends all have children.

Grump said...

I have been aware of this divide. I have four kids all still at home. But I have been in a childless relationship too. My brother doesn't have children by choice and we often discuss the worlds population and the problems ahead of us due to over population. I think the divide will become even more obvious as the debate about the worlds population gathers momentum. It is currently The Elephant in the room.
Hope all going well.
Woofx

Debs said...

I think a lot of people probably have children because they believe it's the thing to do rather than because they want them.

I have friends who don't have children and they have so much more freedom in their lives without them.

When my son was younger there were the usual crowds of mothers chattering about their offspring at the school gates, and I used to stand with this other mother. We talked about other things, and it was such a relief to have a conversation not including after school activities, what they were eating, how they were doing at school, etc.

Rebecca Taunton said...

The older I get, and the more friends I have that have children and the more I meet new people that have children too, the more I notice this divide. But the more I talk about being able to do this and that, the more I find those same people wanting the same things but having children to look after instead.

It's more a divide of having something in common with other people, I think; it makes small talk easier.

Flowerpot said...

Mopsa - my other half says exactly the same as you - he has no wish to replicate himself as a little horror!

Ak - no I think if you have children yuou're probably less aware of any divide.

pinkfairygran said...

I have very grown up sons, but was always made to feel a bit strange as I wasn't ever interested in talking about them incessantly with other mums, at the school gates for example, or when we met in the village shops. I was a bit of a loner, and then because of my unwillingness to gloat and gush over my children, I was excluded. It bothered me not one little bit... and I am even more reclusive now I have no reason to mix. But oh so happy this way...

Vermont Designs said...

Speaking as one who was there - your OH (hah! see I remembered this time)was THE most angelic looking child who led us older two into more trouble.....

Hey RT, glad to see you are still with us - reading if not posting!

ChrisH said...

I read this earlier in the week, Fp, and have been thinking about it since then. Funnily enough although we have four children between us (but none together) several of our close friends are childless, including my best friend. I think I know enough about heartbreak not to ask others about their situation and I'm certainly glad to have a wider topic of conversation rather than what the kids are doing!

rosiero said...

Just catching up with missed posts on my return. I've been aware of the divide but never ask people why they don't have children as that is their business. I did not have a child until I was forty and was always made to feel a failure before I managed to become pregnant. I would therefore never put someone else in that same position. I accept it is either because they don't want children or can't have them. But either way, it is not for me to comment on or exclude them.

B said...

It's weird. In the building I work in, it's a pretty even split between people with kids and people without kids. In the admin team I work in, of nine people, two people have children and seven don't. Now, two of those are only in their 20s and probably will in the future (and I'm pregnant so will soon join the ones who do!), but that still leaves four that don't have kids and are at a stage where it would be impossible or very unlikely. In my previous job, of the admin staff when I worked there, two had kids and three didn't and again the three that didn't were all in their 50s.

None of those people were ever treated as weird, to my knowledge - possibly because they weren't exactly in the minority. I had an argument with one of them once, but only because she thought NO ONE should have kids - and I thought she was mental - because personally, I don't want the human race to die out. Unfortunately she probably took this as an attack on her choices, because I said 'who's going to look after you in your old age then?' - but I meant that if noone had kids there would be no doctors or nurses to take care of her - not that SHE should have kids. Unfortunately I didn't realise I said it wrong until about a week later, by which time it was far too late to explain :(

I have been aware of this divide in the past, but mainly only because I wanted to be on the other side. I've been with my husband for nine years, married for five, and yet we're only just starting to have kids now, in our thirties. We got married first out of all our friends, and I have to confess, I was really upset when other people had kids before us. Silly, I know, but there it is.

I think it's a shame that that kid didn't ask you in a better situation about why you didn't have kids. It's not something that can be explained in a swimming pool, but it's a natural question for a six year old. they will just assume that other families are the same as theirs - mum, dad, two kids, or whatever - until they learn otherwise. and it's a shame - because people do gravitate towards people who've made similar life choices - if they don't learn early on that some people do make different choices. Or can't have kids and don't want to put themselves through expensive, potentially painful procedures with no guarantee of success.

Neither choice is right or wrong. They're just different. And frankly, I'm terrified. But I've always wanted kids, so hopefully everything will work out as well as it can :)

Flowerpot said...

Grump - I do agree with you about the Elephant in the Room...

Debs - I think you have a very good point there about people having children because they think it's the thing to do.

Flowerpot said...

RT - good to see you again! Well I suppose we tend to make friends with those people with whom we have something in common. I'm so glad you're writing again - that's excellent news!

Flowerpot said...

pinkfairy - that's very interesting, and I'm glad you're so happy now!

Shelagh - yes I remember hearing those stories!!

Flowerpot said...

Chris - that's very thoughtful and sensitive. Good on you.

Rosiero - I'm so sorry you were made to feel a failure for not having a child. Though I have to say, some of those Mothers Gatherings made me feel the same!

MarmiteToasty said...

Even though I love children, especially my own, when they was little I was NEVER one to join in those endless boring coffee mornings or tot pop in groups that people with kids tend to do, with their constant brain dead talk of kids kids nappies kids etc, I think I went once and sat there on me own for the 2 hours, went home and swore NEVER to go to places like that again, instead I would take my children and minded kids up the woods and to garden centre and to windy walks on the beach, we would discover nature and life way way more then stuck in a boring church hall talking about what little johny did on his potty lol

The 12 years that I owned and ran a pre-school, it was like no other, and cos of that I had a waiting list of over a year, I had a sign on the door ALL BABY TALK, POTTY TALK IS BANNED.... :) hence even though the people that came obviously had kids, they were like minded as me :)

I have 4 man/boys and you know Ive been raising them for years on me own, I wouldnt change it for the world, but that dont stop me sometimes just wishing I had a different life :)

I say more chickens less baby talk :)

x

Liane Spicer said...

My sister is childless by choice, although she loves children and as a teacher has helped nurture thousands of them. She has spoken of what you mention, including having people assume there's something 'wrong' or 'unnatural' about her.

I admire people who exercise their right to choose. I know too many other people who gave in to the pressure to procreate when they really would have preferred not to.

I wanted to be a mother and I love my son with all my heart, but I'm glad he's grown now so I can do things I've always wanted to do, including take risks that I wouldn't when he was little.

Flowerpot said...

B - congrats on your pregnancy, first of all! I'm sure everything will go very well for you, especially as you've wanted children for a long time. In the cases you mentioned I think that might be different because a) it was at work and not in a social setting and b) asyou said, the mothers were in a minority. Interesting though - thanks for that.

Flowerpot said...

marmie - first of all how are you? Thank you for such a lovely comment. You always bring a smile to my face! I love the idea of the sign on the door...!!

Liane - I hope you enjoy the risks that ou are able to take now!

Philipa said...

From both sides of the fence, FP as not only did I have my children late but 'mothers at the school gate' still treat me like some alien even though I do have children. Before I had children I didn't speak the small talk of most women (I still don't know what they say for so long), I'm not damning them I'm just interested in different things and am happy to chat, it's they who are not. It's all about conforming in a group. Birds of a feather. We just fly free, FP.

Flowerpot said...

Phil - that's a wonderful comment. Flying free - I love that - many thanks!

Philipa said...

Just done a post for you, FP. Hope you like it but you may need Kleenex; tis of another lady flying free.

Flowerpot said...

Oh Phil - thanks! Hankies at the ready....

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Good post. As you know my husband is 20 years my senior so I know exactly what you mean about the older friends thing. A lot of our friends are in their late 50's, early 60's, and I'm not even 40 yet!

I have a lifelong friend who has never had a partner and therefore doesn't have kids, but she's really content with her life, she's very career minded. There was a time when she admitted she would have liked to have a child, but to be honest, she's just not the type to be a mother. Does that make sense, I don't mean to be rude, just honest! But I still love her just the same.

CJ xx

Flowerpot said...

CJ - the age gap thing is another highly complex subject .... and I'm very glad you love your friend with or without children.