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Are non-parents either selfishly hedonistic or traumatised with longing?

By Allix Denham 

I’m still not over the long article written by Maureen Brookbanks that appeared in the mainstream media a couple of weeks ago. In it, she warned that the childfree are placing a burden on social care services, the NHS and taxation, while increasing levels of infidelity and reducing life expectancy. I had no idea I was so dangerous.

Brookbanks places non-parents squarely into two camps: the childfree, who enjoy exotic holidays, spontaneous weekends away and smart dinners, and the childless, whose lives are meaningless, empty and filled with pain.

The childfree are represented by a couple who obligingly reinforce the stereotype, posing for photos with raised glasses of wine, saying: “Whenever we’re sitting in a lovely restaurant, on a tropical beach, or driving along a breath-taking European coastline, I find myself thinking: We wouldn’t be able to do this if we had children.” Brookbanks reassures us: ‘Of course, not everyone chooses to remain childless out of selfish hedonism.’

We then meet the childless, whose lives are blighted with grief. One man desperately wanted children but married a woman who couldn’t have them. “There’s no solution to my pain,” he says. Adoption? Fostering?

We also meet a childless health worker whose ‘grief found a new spring’ when her partner’s children started producing. ‘Some believe they have recovered from the initial blow of not having children’, Brookbanks informs us, ‘only to find their grief reawakened when they realise they will not be a grandmother either.’ That sudden realisation must come as a shock – had they been assuming grandchildren would just turn up in their garden one day, like stray cats?

Brookbanks neglects to mention, however, that two years ago the charity Age UK found that a third of grandparents only see their grandchildren once a month or less. Having grandchildren is no guarantee that you’ll actually see them, just as choosing not to have children doesn’t automatically make you selfish or hedonistic, far from it. Those without children often have more time for other people.

Take my childfree friend who was an aid worker for ten years. I don’t suppose she felt selfishly hedonistic while she was trying to make a difference in Kosovo, Afghanistan and post-tsunami Indonesia. Two of my childfree friends became mature students and are now counsellors. I doubt either feels selfishly hedonistic as they try to help people through difficult periods of their lives.

Then I know several women who wanted marriage and children, but just never met the right men. Their lives are hardly ones of unbridled hedonism, but nor are they filled with pain and regret, either.

But I suppose the headline: Childfree People Are Perfectly Normal isn’t going to sell papers, is it?

Allix Denham is a writer currently based in France. She and her partner have no children, but entertain the neighbour’s cat on a regular basis.

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