Welcome everyone! It’s week two of the “On Being Childfree” blog series and I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for all the support and time you showed to the launch of this series last week. This week I’m delighted to welcome our first guest story, Hayley. Hayley and I met ‘in real life’ last summer at an instameetup and I’m so honoured she has taken time to share her story. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar. If you would like to see where it all began, click here. Thank you so much for your support, if you would like to share your own story please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
We Are: Hayley & Foz, 36 & 37
Home Is: Brighton
We Do: I’m a solicitor and Foz is a nurse
Find Me: Instagram @homeiswherethepackis
“Our pack doesn’t include children but that’s alright with me”
Have you ever seen the film Trainwreck? There’s a brilliant baby shower scene where a mother looks at Amy Schumer’s character and says without any hint of humour, “My life did not begin until I had kids. Your life has not begun.” Erm, well I’m sorry parents, I beg to differ. I’m Hayley, I’m child free and my life has most definitely begun!
When I met my partner, Foz, at a friend’s wedding I was 29 and reaching ‘that age’ where everyone around me was getting married and starting to think seriously about having a family. Within 2 minutes of meeting him I asked why he was single and he confessed, “because I don’t want kids and that puts most women off.” I was immediately interested.
You see, contrary to popular belief, not all women need to have a baby to feel complete. For whatever reason I’m missing the maternal gene, that desire to devote my life to raising a child and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a-ok. To me, motherhood looks like the hardest job in the world and one that I’m only too happy to let others complete. From the outside looking in it seems to involve a lot of complaining, sleepless nights and thankless tasks that go largely unappreciated. All with the expectation that your child will like you when they grow up and continue to live nearby. Yes Dads are becoming more hands on, but it is still the Mum in most cases who pick up the mental load and stay home with the baby. I just don’t see it as a life that I would enjoy.
A lot of people would call me selfish, but I disagree. Our over-populated planet doesn’t need my offspring to ensure the continuation of the human race; it is already buckling under the strain of too many consumers leaving a trail of plastic waste in their midst. And no, I don’t worry about who’s going to look after me in old age (why is that always the first question?!) I’m quietly confident that robot carers will be around by then but, if not, I should have cash left in the pot for a top notch nurse given that I won’t be funding my child’s gazillion pound university degree in social media studies and helping them onto the property ladder, only to find myself ushered into an understaffed nursing home being visited infrequently!
Perhaps as a parent you’re feeling sorry for me reading this. Please don’t. Everyone wants different things out of life and the responsibility of being a Mum is simply not what I crave. Caring for my two dogs brings me huge amounts of joy and I don’t need to have a baby to experience ‘real’ love. I value sleep, the freedom to travel for less during term time and being able to talk to my partner uninterrupted. It’s incredibly insulting when Foz gets told, “she says that now mate, but just you wait,” like I’m some kind of hormonal idiot that doesn’t know her own mind and will eventually succumb to the ticking of her biological clock. I’m 36 and most of my friends are on baby number 2. Have I felt happy for them? Absolutely. Do I experience pangs of jealousy and regret when they show me clips of their child playing in the bath. I do not. I have a fulfilling career as a solicitor, I get to travel the world and I’m perfectly content with my life as it is. We both have high pressured jobs (Foz is a nurse), but at weekends our time is our own to do as we please. In our down time we enjoy lazy brunches, walks on the beach with our dogs and adult-only holidays learning to scuba dive. What could be better?
Women who choose not to have children are often painted out to be career obsessed dragon ladies with hearts of stone, but why should I be made to feel guilty for having had success in my job? I was the first person in my family to go to university and worked damn hard to get where I am. I was raped at 16 and lost my Dad to cancer at 19. My studies suffered and I had a blip in my academic record that was extremely difficult to overcome and explain when it came to finding a law firm to train me. But I didn’t give up. I got my foot in the door as a paralegal and managed to convince that firm to start a trainee solicitor program. I’m now chief legal counsel for a multi-national company. I give back where I can and I’ve trained for and run 4 marathons to raise money for charity in Dad’s memory. I’m a tough cookie and I see no reason to apologise for who I am or how I’ve chosen to live my life.
I think the person who struggled most to accept my decision was my Mum. She wanted to be a grandparent so desperately and there was a time when we didn’t think it would happen for my sister (thanks to IVF she now has two beautiful children, but that’s not my story to tell). When my sister’s kids outgrow things Mum will playfully ask, “should I sell this or should I put it up in the loft just in case?” I know she means it as a joke and that she’s proud of me, but the reality is that no amount of fancy spa weekends will ever match up to the gift of grandchildren that my sister has given her. I wonder how many people have been on the fence but decided to have kids for the love and attention they will receive as a parent or to make their Mum and Dad proud? The pressure from society to become a parent is huge and can be difficult to ignore.
It doesn’t bother me when people ask when I’m going to have kids. It’s a natural question and I always happily reply that we don’t plan on having any. I’m comfortable with my choice and there is no awkwardness on my part (although I myself try not to ask that question as I understand only too well that some people are child free by circumstance not choice). There are, however, a few things that do bother me.
Number 1: I wouldn’t dream of asking someone why they’ve chosen to have kids, so why is it acceptable to grill me on why I don’t want to have them? I secretly think that it’s those who regret their decision to enter the world of parenthood who feel the greatest need to persuade me that having children was the best decision they ever made. Good for you mate, but no thank you. Off you pop to soft play!
Number 2: I’m not a child hating monster. I have a niece and nephew who I love to the moon and back (I cried tears of joy when my sister told me she was pregnant!) and I follow some incredible women on social media who also happen to be mums. True, a sweaty leisure centre full of screaming 2 year olds isn’t my bag, but we can still be friends if you have children, I promise! I’ll be the one there with the wine when you need some time off from being Mum. When people see Foz playing with my sister’s children they often say, “oh he’s so good with kids, why don’t you want to have them?” But that’s just it. It’s not that we don’t enjoy squeezing friends’ babies, kicking a ball around in the park with my nephew or reading a bedtime story to my niece. We just like being able to hand them back!
Number 3: Just because I haven’t had kids doesn’t mean that I am worth less than a parent. This comes in many forms. Whether it’s being asked to go completely out of my way to pick someone up because, “we’re busy with the kids and don’t have time,” or automatically expecting my partner to work the Christmas shift because he doesn’t have children (we do still have families you know), non-parents are often given the lowest priority. Only recently my partner asked if he could take a slightly longer lunch break to walk our dogs as the dog walker couldn’t fit them in. His colleague made a big deal about it even though he had covered for her on several occasions because she had needed to stay home to look after her child. Where’s the fairness in that?
Number 4: No matter how comfortable you are with your decision, being child free can be very isolating at times. This is the one that has taken me by the biggest surprise and caused me the most upset. Motherhood is a club and I’ve long since realised that having a dog will not gain you entry. In fact, it will actually make you a bit of a pariah as most mothers don’t take too kindly to having their baby licked (thanks a lot, Gin!) I’ve lost dear friends to the baby bubble and seen my social life evaporate overnight. Catch-ups are generally arranged during the day when I’m at work and we don’t tend to make plans together at weekends because they want to hang out with other parents so their children can play together; perfectly understandable but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m left on the fringes. This is an issue mainly reserved for child free women I find. My partner has his Sunday cycling group with a bunch of Dad’s and there is zero mention of children when they’re out for a ride or enjoying a pint or two after. In fact, he doesn’t even know their children’s names! Women on the other hand will spend a night out with the girls talking non-stop about potty training/breast feeding/nursery places and I’ve spent entire evenings being unable to join in with the conversation. I’m not saying it’s their fault, far from it; we’re just on different pages at the moment and I don’t have the shared experience to be able to join in. I’ve had to adapt and seek other friendships, which on a positive note has opened up new interests and hobbies for me. But it pains me to think that women who are childfree by circumstance experience this too. Because if it’s bad for me, how bad must it be for them? That is why conversations like this are so important.
I do sometimes worry about growing old alone if something were to happen to Foz. He is my world and it really is just us. But then, wouldn’t the same apply whether we had children or not? I can’t imagine I would miss him any less and I would also have the added pressure of being a single parent. When my Dad passed away it wasn’t us that supported Mum; she supported us. And I do have family who would be there for me. Maybe if that did ever happen I would simply hole up in the countryside with an army of German Shepherd dogs for company? The reality is that no one can know what the future holds or where our lives will take us. My Mum certainly didn’t plan on being widowed at 45, but she found the courage and strength to start over again. All I do know with any certainty is that I don’t want to have an insurance baby ‘just in case’. And that I wanted to voice my own truth on this topic, however unpopular, in this piece.
Thank you so so much to Hayley for being our first guest poster and sharing her very honest thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Hayley’s story, leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.