I don’t like children. As I have opined in the past, they are an alien species and they creep me out. I have felt like this for as long as I can remember, possibly even in the days when I was a child myself. (I never found it easy to make friends with my peers, so that could well have been the reason.) Over the years, of course, people have tried — wholly in vain — to change my mind about this: ‘Oh, children are wonderful’ they say; ‘You’ll think differently when you’re older’ used to be a favourite; or ‘You just need to understand them,’ and ‘If you met MY kids, it’d be different’ — well, no, they’re not, I didn’t, I don’t, and it wouldn’t. If, dear reader, you think that this makes me a terrible person, that is your prerogative; feel free to stop reading now; but please don’t bother commenting to tell me how unnatural I am — I already know that and yet… I just can’t seem to care.
Now, having stated my antipathy in such absolute and all-encompassing terms, let me concede that there are some children that I actually do like. In small doses. Very small doses. Minuscule doses that’d make a homeopath doubt their efficacy. I like them when they’re happy, clean, healthy, well behaved, and well-rested; and even then, I relish the moment when I can hand them back to their parent(s) and think no more about them.
One of the main problems, as I see it, with this procreation lark is the totally arbitrary nature of the process. I estimate that <1% of children are tolerable. How can people be sure that they won’t end up with one of the >99% that are not? They can’t. It is a gamble, and these are not the sort of odds to make it an attractive one. I’d want guarantees. After all, once you’ve had a child, you’re pretty much stuck with it. If you subsequently have a change of heart (or decor) and think ‘Meh, he’s OK I suppose, but I’d rather have an iguana,’ it is generally frowned upon to suggest such a swap on Craig’s List or Gumtree.
I’ve never felt grown-up enough to want to have babies. I have a hard enough time looking after myself, let alone another person. Plus there’s the whole need/want thing going on (I posted my views on this last month): kids need their parents; once they reach any form of cognitive maturity, they rarely want them.
Having kids, as far as I can see, usually — and yes, there are exceptions, of course there are — seems to mean that you stop existing as yourself and become ‘Jocelyn’s mum (or dad)’ instead. Everything you do is suddenly wholly Jocelyn-centric. You can’t go to the theatre because you can’t find a trustworthy babysitter; hell, you can’t even pop out for a couple of hours unless you organize some sort of supervision; you can’t go and indulge in a culture-fest in Prague because little Jossikins would be bored — instead you go to Lloret because it’s kid-friendly and cheap (cheap is important when you have small children — read on); you can’t have nice things because they’re either too fragile or too dangerous for rugrats; all your spare (and not spare) money goes on buying cheap plastic tat and clothes that the sprog’ll grow out of in a fortnight. You spend the first few years worrying that Jocelyn is eating too much or too little; is growing too fast or too slowly; has croup or kennel cough (oh no, that’s dogs, isn’t it?). You console yourself that in a few years, you’ll be able to get a full night’s sleep once more. Only then Joss goes to school and gets bullied, or bullies others, and your worries and sleepless nights don’t diminish, they just change focus somewhat. Of course, your offspring’s reaching puberty doesn’t help your peace of mind. Your loving, sweet, sticky (that’s another thing I’ve got against small children — they’re always so sticky, ugh!) little darling suddenly becomes a hormone-filled mass of sullenness and teenage angst. And you, as the parent, have to cope with the uncommunicativeness and rudeness and try and second-guess the problem — are you dealing with drug addiction, eating disorders, the influence of disreputable friends… or is it just the latest fashion? Not that you dare ask — you know your well-meaning enquiry will be greeted with a contemptuous grunt: you are old and stupid and out of touch, and you should just accept that and stop trying to be something you’re not. (Bizarrely, it’s when they get to this obnoxious, disaffected age that I begin to find them vaguely tolerable. At least, between neanderthal grunts, they can usually manage to string a sentence together if they really want to — and they’ve grown out of that annoying squeaky-voice stage with which younger children seem frequently to be afflicted.)
Oh, I’m sure that there are happy times; I’m sure that when you’re in your dotage, when you’ve given your all to a parasitical being who took you for granted and frequently resented your attempts to love, cherish, advise, and protect and are now spent, when dear Jocelyn is grudgingly spending time with you because you’ve somehow managed to use enough emotional blackmail to make refusal all but impossible, I’m sure you’ll look back fondly on the moment when Jossy took that first step, or learnt to swim, or first saw an elephant at the zoo, or… But these are the highlights; these are the five-minute recap — one goal and a moderately spectacular pass — on Match of the Day that saves you from having to sit through the entire match.
I have an acquaintance, Charlotte, who has two children, now in their late teens. Charlotte can’t stand either of them. In the fifteen or so years I’ve known her, she’s never been able to stand them. She claims to love them, and perhaps on some level she does, but she’s just waiting until they leave home and she gets her life back. Her daughter is vain, selfish, wants only to be with her boyfriend, and thinks Charlotte is a never-ending source of cash. Her son is a lazy good-for-nothing who is eating his mum out of house and home and spends all his time playing online video games with people he doesn’t know. These are Charlotte’s opinions of her children; for once, I actually think they’re quite pleasant kids (not that I’d want them around full-time, of course) — who’d be considerably pleasanter if their mum could occasionally bring herself to say something nice to them instead of remonstrating with them the minute they walk through the door.
‘Why,’ I asked her once, ‘did you have kids? You don’t seem to like being a mum very much.’
‘Well,’ she replied, looking at me as if she’d never thought about this before, ‘it’s just what you do, isn’t it?’
Umm… no. It’s not what I did. It’s not what quite a few of my friends did either.
Moreover, I’ve noticed that once kids come along, the relationship between the parents takes a nose-dive. Before Jane and Simon had children, Simon was — we were informed by the heart-stoppingly beautiful Jane — the most wonderful, sexy, considerate, intelligent man in the world. He was such an absolute paragon of perfection that it was hard to know who was the luckier of the two. But then Robbie was born, and two or three years later along came Phoebe. Suddenly Simon’s marvellousness was replaced by his uselessness. He became a bit of a buffoon. Rather than tell us how romantic he was, Jane regaled us with tales of how pathetic he was, how he couldn’t work the microwave or had assumed the washing machine was also a dryer because the last time he’d used one, in his uni days, it had been. Instead of lauding his considerate nature, Jane increasingly focused on all the things he didn’t do. Whereas once his bringing home a bunch of flowers was a gesture that made her heart melt and warranted at least an effusive Tweet, now it was greeted with a lament along the lines of what good did he think flowers would do when she was the one who’d been up all night because Robbie had tummy ache and Phoebe was teething and it’d be much better if he could just do the washing for a change instead of expecting her to do everything and then trying to make it right with a bunch of effin’ carnations from a service station forecourt…
Oh, and Jane herself? Remember I said she was heart-stoppingly beautiful? Yes, she was. But twelve years of sleepless nights have put paid to her that. OK, we’re all older, and some of us didn’t have so much to lose, but Jane now would turn no heads and looks so very much older than her years.
Oh, I could go on. I could tell you about the heartbreak of parents whose daughter died before she reached forty, or another case of estrangement between the generations. I could tell you about promising academics who’ve given up their career to start a family only later to wish they’d put academia first. I could tell you a million tales of child-induced woe, but many, many fewer about unremitting joy.
If you who are reading this are amongst the lucky few, if you can look at your own offspring and think ‘Yes, you have brought me more delight than misery, more peace than anxiety,’ then you are blessed indeed and I am happy for you. But if you aren’t, if — even though you’d sooner cut off your own right arm than admit it — you recognize your children for the grasping, selfish, life-sucking leeches described above, then accept my condolences. I’d have told you if you’d only asked me… not that you’d have taken any notice.
[Photo by Adam Tuttle: