I'm over 50. I don't have kids. And you wouldn't believe the insensitive and at times cruel things that have been said to me, not just by strangers but family and so-called friends.
As someone who did want kids, it's especially infuriating – and if you think that your childless friends aren't also infuriated, then they just haven't let you see it. I know, because as someone who has written a lot about this subject, I've had plenty of people contact me privately to thank me for doing so.
"I have friends who mention me not having kids every time I see them. Is that all they see?No baby on my boob or toddler on my hip? or is this about them? Perhaps being a parent is the only way they define themselves."
I know (most) people are just trying to make their childless (I can't embrace the word "child free" yet) friends and loved ones feel better. Just trying to help and soothe. And that is kind and appreciated and lovely. Thank you. I know how hard it is to see someone you love in this kind of pain, especially if you feel awkward and embarrassed because you do have children.
It's one of those situations, yes, where you feel you can't say the right thing. And that is sort of true. But if you can avoid saying any of the following, then at least you're not going to make things worse. So here goes.
"I was reading recently about womb transplants." Or, "Some clinics overseas help older women." Or, "Janet Jackson had a baby when she was 50!"
These "helpful" comments just aren't. I know you're trying to give us hope, and that is sweet, but I'd say hope is the last thing we need. Believe me, any woman (or man) unhappily childless has thought about every possibility. But there comes a time when you have to give up on hope that simply prolongs the pain and concentrate on healing. I think I got that from Oprah. And Oprah knows.
"Look on the bright side!"
Oh boy. A (former) friend of mine – my age, 51, also with no children – took it upon herself to give me a pep talk.
"We're in the same position," she said. "And I'm happy. It's about attitude." "But you never wanted children," I replied. "But we're in the same situation."
"But you got the life you wanted," I stressed. "And I got the life I dreaded."
"But we're exactly the same now. And I'm happy. Be positive!" she sing-songed.
And she then did "a positivity dance" for me. If her crassness, ignorance and emotional disconnect weren't offensive enough, she was a really bad dancer.
"You don't know what exhaustion is."
I was talking to my aunt about needing to talk to my sister (a mum of two) about something. "I wouldn't call her now. She's shattered. You don't know what it's like – you don't have kids." Well, thank you for stating the obvious, Aunt of the Year. And thank you, too, for completely negating my fatigue.
I mean, sure, I often don't sleep due to devastation and depression about not having children – and not wanting to dream (again) about holding a baby and waking up in tears. Living with infinite grief is exhausting. And, of course, parents have the gorgeous joy of their gorgeous child to counteract their crushing tiredness. But you are right: I don't have kids and my enervation is not valid. Thank you for pointing out that parents have the monopoly on tiredness.
"So, how are you feeling about the whole baby thing now?"
"Oh, I don't know. Suicidal? But thanks for bringing up the worst thing that's ever happened to me when we're out having a drink with our friends and I just want to have a nice, unemotional time. How are you feeling about your husband leaving you for your priest? Okay with that now? Chip, anyone?"
Don't people have the right to sink into their hell when they choose to? Some things are too painful and too personal to be fizz fodder. I have friends – lovely friends – who mention my childless status every time I see them. Seriously, every single time. Why? Is that all they see when they look at me? No baby on my boob or toddler on my hip? Something missing? Or is this about them? Perhaps being a parent is the only way they define themselves.
"Lucky you. All those lie-ins!"
You're right. So lucky. So very, very lucky. All that time in bed. Come on, fellow kidless guys and gals, we should spend time in bed. Because no kids equals nothing else, right?
"So, what was wrong with you?"
Oh. My. God. Hold me back, ladies! Nothing. There was nothing "wrong" with me. I just didn't meet the right person. Which is a surprise, isn't it? When there are such fabulous, sensitive, thoughtful people like you in the world.
"Didn't you WANT children?"
See above. The correct answer is, "None of your business, mate. Now just give me my change."
"Think of the money you're saving. Children are so expensive."
I'm sure they are. As is therapy. But you wouldn't swap your children for the money they cost you, would you? I thought you couldn't put a price on happiness. The money issue is ugly, and contentious, because I'm sure parents do better, financially, if they need help, than non-parents do. There are tax breaks, maternity-paternity leaves, child benefit… And if you want to know expensive, try being a single person living in a city where rents are sky high.
"It's not for everyone."
I tell this story too often, but I cannot get enough of it. Because it is just. So. Eugh. I was at a funeral and a woman I'd apparently met before came over to me.
No "Hello" or "How are you?" Oh no.
She went straight in with: "So, did you ever marry?"
Me: "No." Her: "Did you have kids?"
Me: "No." (Pause)
Her: "Oh. Well, well done anyway. It's not for everyone." She was lucky the casket was closed.
"At least you don't have stretch marks!"
All you have to do is not repeat any of the above horrors. Don't do the "so sorry" head tilt (we want your love and support, not your pity), and don't, in your head, define us just as women who didn't have children.
If you don't think that, don't talk to us like that. It will help us to not think that way about ourselves, too. I hate to quote Ronan Keating at you, but I'm going to – when it comes to you asking about us not having kids (when we don't want to talk; when we're not ready to talk), you say it best when you say nothing at all. Bravo, Ronan.