I am a parent. There I said it. I have children, too many children, I keep telling the youngest that I am taking him back but he just smiles at me and nods kindly. He owns me and somewhat undermines my attempts to convince myself that I am not defined by my kids. I am not, I can be my own person as well as a redundant superseded slave unit. This is more rewarding than it sounds but I keep any satisfaction to myself, obviously, as like other parents I have become aware that some of the deliberately childless feel a little put out, are of the opinion that society favours us breeders. I’m not talking about all of the child free, there are plenty that make great uncles and aunties, and I’m not talking about the childless either, those that want children but can’t, they are genuinely persecuted, by life itself no less. No, I’m talking about the special misunderstood minority, those on a higher plane, those that have nothing to do with children on principle, because let’s face it, hell is other people’s children. Apparently.
According to my research humans have offspring due to a child-bearing imperative which is heightened by a limited lifespan. The drive to secure our bloodline before we die is strong but possibly not strong enough so extra incentives are included, such as sex is fun, the children are our future and God hates contraception. We squeeze children into the space between freedom and death so they can build on our achievements and blow out the candles and take the credit for the cake, and the candles.
It is widely accepted that raising children requires an innate skill set, that parents are born the moment the child is. Fuck they are, I’ve been a parent for fifteen years and I still haven’t a clue what I’m doing. Most days I find myself wondering when I’m going to feel like a grown up or asking myself what would Dad do? As in my Dad, a proper semi-detached Dad with a pipe, slippers and a death stare. Stare dammit, not star, death stares are real.
As far as I am aware no kid ever came into this world with instructions and the idea that parental instinct will kick in and carry you through is hilarious, what am I? A spider monkey? Raising children is scary and messy no matter how many times you do it so it’s completely understandable that some decide not to and redirect the imperative. It must be a blessing not to feel the urge to have children, one of mine is standing behind me right now, slapping me on the head and reading every word I write, fuck off Jake, don’t worry, he’s not the eight year old.
Still, I can’t imagine life without the little beggars even though I realise kids are not strictly necessary and a person’s precious time might be better spent doing something else, something more important. It might be something selfless, something bigger than the individual, something beneficial to mankind. Or not. If it were me I’d probably spend the extra time learning five ball juggling or folding the perfect paper plane or admiring pictures of Hammond organs on Instagram. Not a euphemism.
There’s no reason going child free can’t simply be a lifestyle choice, these are busy people with vegetables to peel and you can’t do press-ups wearing a baby-sling and everyone knows Disneyland is way more fun without children besides Lego can be a serious trip hazard in a minimal apartment and God knows I didn’t want to make the same mistake as my parents. Sorry Dad.
I find myself a little conflicted here because I have been told by those who want kids but can’t that there is nothing in the world more important than having children. I can’t say I agree with them entirely because I’m thinking beer and warm Bakewell tart and a 1961 gunmetal E-Type Jag, but okay, apart from them, not one fucking thing.
Despite the ongoing ‘kids versus the end of humanity’ debate there is little doubt those who circumvent their hard-wiring are wrong about one thing, they all seem to think that having a child is difficult. Regardless of what they may have read in a romantic novel whilst swinging in a hammock on a weekday, having a child is actually incredibly simple, anyone can do it, honest, apart from those that can’t of course, sometimes it can be an accident, like dropping a bomb on Hiroshima, so it doesn’t even require a decision. I can’t remember agreeing to any of mine, but it’s so easy I didn’t really need to be in on it.
Not having a child on the other hand is extremely difficult, it most definitely requires a decision, one that never ends, it needs constant reviewing, bolstering, consolidating, can require great diligence or abstinence, possibly chemistry or minor surgery, it has to be made early before any spot of bother and in the complete absence of any experience. Having children of your own is not like standing behind one in a queue, or glimpsing one from the corner of your eye, you don’t know what it’s like to own a horse because you’ve seen a policeman sitting on one. It must take incredible certitude, hats off to you, no explanation necessary.
Parents may not understand how you do it but we do understand why, we get it, we certainly don’t gather around the antipasti denouncing you, we haven’t the time, we’re too busy being smug, self-righteous, motherfuckers. Especially the Dads. I honestly think you would struggle to find anyone who has a problem with going child-free unless you deliberately troll the religiously reproductive or harangue some politicians from the Isle of Man. I’ve spoken with lots of liberally applied, Cava-socialist parents in my Brighton bubble and we don’t think less of you or look down on you, that’s projection, maybe. It must be lovely to climb Kilimanjaro on sabbatical, to spend money on clothes you actually get to wear, to live with twenty cats, to have sex without constantly checking over your shoulder, ‘Mummy went flat and I was just pumping her back up’ is something I actually once said.
Every objection you raise to having children is legitimate and I should know, I was happily without child until I was forty-four, children are exhausting, boring, fucking expensive and life compressing. One moment it’s all baby-boy bubble-bath and the next your picking red pubes out of the soap and lying to your middle son that he doesn’t have ginger hair. Lies become milestones, Tooth Fairy, Father Christmas, no one cares about penis size, of course an arts degree is a useful qualification. Life flashes by but really slowly. Children bundle you into a time machine, a really crappy one where the occupant ages, and when you stumble out in a daze ten years later everything and everyone has moved on, and what do you mean I’m in my fifties? To paraphrase son number three; wait, fucking what?
Life is not a mountain we climb, it’s a plateau, with a short exhilarating ascent, a very long trek across a gradually sloping plain followed by a precipitous decline. It literally takes forever so it’s perfectly reasonable not to want kids along for the ride, they can be a bit of a distraction, a kink in your jollies, your social life will die horribly and all those perks parents are supposed to get, like the best seats on the lifeboat or a free house if you have twelve boys or the children being the only reason your wife stays, quite frankly, they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.
I keep reading online how there are now too many children and the child free are keeping count and making maps because having a surplus baby next-door can really mess with your nine hours clean sleep. We do keep popping them out I suppose, no wonder they think we’ve got it in for them. Having a child is now considered an act of environmental vandalism, worse than using a fresh carrier bag at Waitrose. I wish someone had mentioned it before, if I’d had to pay 5p every time I had a kid I might have acted more responsibly. I’m sorry but it never occurred to me that my children might be a waste of limited resources, resources that should be distributed fairly amongst the deserving, those selfless enough not to piss in the gene pool.
I guess I should also apologise for all the times my kids have been too obvious, laughing in the cafe, sitting near you on the flight, screaming in the park, all those Halloweens you spent behind drawn curtains. Children can be horrible, snivelling, snotty, greedy, selfish little shits, especially mine but I suppose as a fully paid up member of the parent class I deserve it, clearly I have no appreciation for others, not even my own children, why else would I bring them into this terrible world? I have three sons, that’s two more than one, and do I even care about the alleged damage I’m doing? Do I?
Actually no, bring it on, I regret nothing. God, I must be an awful person but I love them dammit and not only because I expect them to look after me when I’m old. My life isn’t just mine, it also belongs to a unique mix of ancestors who should not be contained by my lifespan. Whether you like it or not the children really are our future, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting kids but it is wrong to think that there is anything more important, just don’t ask me to explain it. This is why I, along with my child-laden confederates, those buried beneath sleepless nights, heavy nappies, school anxiety and debt, willingly accept the burden of the continuation of the species for reasons unknown, because children are inexplicable, even to us.