Book review: Childfree and Loving It! by Nicki Defago (Fusion Press, 2005)
We live in a child-centred society. Women, no matter how high achieving in other areas, are pitied and patronised if they are childless, and condemned as selfish if this is by choice. However large numbers of women are enjoying their hard-won independence, and are reluctant to give it all up to become slaves to their children. And many men feel the same way.
Childfree and Loving It! is a broad, definitive exploration of non-parenthood, challenging the myths of parenthood and boldly proclaiming the joys of a childfree life. Nicki Defago explores population growth and the environment, workplace policies and consumerism, and interviews those who have chosen not to have children as well as the honest parents who wish they hadn’t.
If you have ever questioned the need for children or sighed with relief that you don’t have any – then this is the book for you.
When I walked past a PDSA charity shop some weeks ago, I stopped to look at their books, which I always do if I happen to walk past. You see, outside, they have some plastic boxes full of books, with a note saying “3 for £1” and what bookworm in their right mind can walk past an opportunity like that? That’s almost like someone standing on a street corner offering free drugs. Rummaging through one of those boxes, I came across this book and had to get it.
Because, you see, it is a truth universally acknowledged that all females in their mid- to late twenties must be in want of a baby, and the thought that such a woman actually really doesn’t seems incredibly alien to most people. I’ve already had a rant on my personal blog about the presumptions people make about it, and why badgering women about babies is a very stupid and insensitive thing to do. Not everyone can have children, and for those who can’t but would have wanted to, I get upset on their behalf, because they’re likely to have it rubbed in their faces. A lot.
Anyway. In a recent survey, it was found that a lot of mums don’t necessarily find motherhood all that it’s cracked up to be. There was another study done, can’t remember the link, where they had measured people’s happiness, and it was found that childfree people were a lot happier in general than those with kids. Childfree and Loving It! delves deeper into both of these issues. To be perfectly honest, I can understand this, simply from looking at people around me. There are very good examples of “children aren’t a recipe for happiness” all around, but I won’t go into detail. Don’t need to anyway; you can probably think of a few yourself.
Nicki Defago has interviewed a lot of people, childfree and not, and this book tells of their experiences. It also goes into various reasons why women and men alike have chosen not to procreate, while staying away from being judgemental. As a whole, it’s not about looking down on people for choosing to have children (yes, it’s a choice, at least these days), because after all, if that’s what you want, that’s what you want. The book is saying “this is why I’m choosing not to have children”, not condemning people who have chosen to have them. Granted, the book is written as a support to those who choose not to have children, which should be taken into account. If you want a book that supports people who choose to have children, this ain’t it, put it that way.
All in all, I didn’t feel as if I’d learned something all that new from reading Childfree and Loving It!, because most of it were things I had already been thinking about. No major revelations there. The most interesting thing was instead to hear the stories from parents, and how many of them would have chosen not to have children if they could go back in time and do it all over again. This is regardless of their children’s behaviours and even though they all stated that they loved their kids with all their hearts and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. It’s just that if they knew then what they know now, they wouldn’t have taken that step. Fair enough.
The most surprising story was one of a mother who went through gruelling IVF treatments because she was desperate to have a baby – and when the long-awaited twins finally arrived in the world, she regretted it. But she couldn’t say to anyone – how could she? She who had been so desperately wanting children for years and now that she finally has them, wishes she didn’t? Makes you think, doesn’t it?
If anything, the book has helped me remember the reasons why I have never wanted children. To say you don’t want children is still met with incredible stigma, by the way. From the patronising, “oh, you’ll grow up and change your mind eventually” (which my mum has said since I was about eight and first announced I didn’t want any) to sheer disbelief or the look of “wtf is wrong with you?” A lot of women have instead opted for saying that they can’t have any, because that at most results in brief pity (“poor thing, she can’t have babies”) and then the subject is dropped – rather than being continuously subjected to attempts at changing their minds. And yes, again, I’m (like most childfree-by-choice people) not judging people for having children. If you want them, go ahead, I really couldn’t care less, because what you choose to do with your life is really none of my business.
I just know that for my own sake, I don’t want children, and even though I’ve been assured I would make a great mum if it came to it, I know I couldn’t cope with motherhood. Better that I know and acknowledge this beforehand than ending up on antidepressants with a baby to look after, right? “But surely you can’t know that until you’re in that situation!” Listen, I know what I’m like when I don’t get enough sleep (and I need a lot) – and I don’t just mean the recurring colds, I mean the seriously dark thoughts that eventually creep in – and if there’s one thing I’ve heard about being a parent, it means that you don’t get enough sleep.
We tried having a dog when I first moved over to the UK. It took a month or two, then he moved in permanently with my mother-in-law simply because I couldn’t cope, and it broke my heart. He went to my mum-in-law simply because none of us wanted him to have go back to the RSPCA. (There was a sick child in the family and the original owners couldn’t cope with looking after a dog as well, so they gave him to the RSPCA.) Want reasons why I couldn’t cope with having a dog? He was around me all the time – I couldn’t even move across the room without him following me (yes, that’s an actual problem for me, I need alone time in order to function), and also, the noise. Now imagine a child (they make lots of noise), whom it would be a 24/7 job for me to look after for a fair few years. It would kill me. Literally. (No, I really don’t mean “figuratively” here.) And that’s no joke.
Do I hate babies and toddlers? No. I have a beautiful, non-denominational godson (almost two years old) whose hugs I adore; a cousin-in-law’s daughter (a couple of weeks younger than our godson) who’s so adorable you could eat her up (and get diabetes!); and the most recent addition to the clan is a gorgeous nephew (eight months) whose charming smile is incredibly infectious and can light up a room. When a work colleague brought in her four-week-old baby this spring, he was the most precious thing to behold. But it doesn’t mean I want one. I don’t even get broody, which (of course) people have assumed I do.
Never in my life have I felt broody about human babies. I didn’t even like playing with baby dolls when I was a little girl. In fact, I wasn’t particularly fond of children even when I was one myself. Not to say I’m not nurturing, because I have a cat for that. A cat who is quiet most of the time (and when she isn’t, it’s normally because she wants to check where you are and when you meow back, she stops and comes to say hello), who doesn’t have tantrums in supermarkets, who doesn’t need a college fund, who doesn’t need to be taken for walks, who is happy to either spend the day outside in the garden or asleep in another room and who couldn’t care less if you get up to get a book or something (unless she’s decided she wants a cuddle and has parked herself on your lap). Basically, my mum will have to live with her UK grandchild having four legs, a tail and whiskers. On the plus side, I’m happy to have more of those. But the only pitter-patter of tiny feet I want to hear at home … are the pitter-patter of tiny paws. (Brooding over kittens, oh hell yes, I do that!)
Getting back on topic: the biggest thing I’ve taken away from Childfree and Loving It! is that you should only have a child if you’re absolutely sure you want one. If you’re absolutely sure, then fine, that’s great. If you have any reservations or hesitations, you shouldn’t get one, because once you get one, it’s too late to change your mind. The book has lots of observations and lists a number of reasons why people choose not to have children, from environmental reasons (CO2), over-population and over-crowding to financial reasons and having time for each other as a couple. It tells the side of the story that most people never tell you when they’re busy waxing lyrical about their darling little tots and think everyone else should have a “bundle of joy” too. Reality is a little different. Being a parent isn’t a walk in the park, and parenthood should not be entered into lightly. It’s a commitment, for life. If you’re not prepared for what that entails, don’t do it. For the sake of the unborn child.
4.7 out of 5 spontaneous trips to Paris.
P.S. If you’re wondering what the Squeeze thinks of all this, well, tough. (Sorry!) I know I mention him here ever so often, but anything actually personal involving him, I don’t blog about, because he has specifically asked me not to. I respect his privacy, which is why you only get my side of the story here.