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?