Baby Wars: Should You Apologise for Not Wanting Children?

During a recent panel discussion on an Irish television show, I spoke about not wanting children. The views of my fellow talking heads were mixed – one had just revealed she was expecting her first child – but almost all of them shared similar views and those who didn’t were still supportive of mine. The open mindedness didn’t last however. An irate caller lambasted me for getting married recently, demanding to know what on earth the point was when my partner and I weren’t planning on becoming parents.

I responded by saying that I fell in love with my best friend and I wanted to make a solemn commitment to him in front of our friends and family. A wedding was a great way of doing that. I also said that in the 21st Century, marriage is not the only environment in which to raise a family nor is it always the perfect one. What the caller thought of my reply I have no idea but her views are not unique. Not by a long shot.

Electing not to be a mother is often seen as an affront to the natural order, as if, simply having ovaries, you must use them. While I completely understand the urge to become a mum, it is not something I have ever experienced. I know things change and people change but so far my feelings on the matter have remained the same as has my refusal to apologise for them.

For years I presumed that my take on parenthood would see me end up alone. Despite the emphasis on women as the gender who long for children, in my experience many, if not just as many, men experience a similar longing. When my relationship with my now husband got to the point where ‘the future’ came into the picture, I was sure the subject of children would be our undoing. There are certain things you can compromise on but having a family is not one of them. If one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t, you’ll soon discover that even love has its limitations.

Thankfully, my husband and I realised that not wanting kids was yet another thing we have in common, not because we dislike children in any way, we can definitely see the attraction, but because they are not for everyone. I can’t imagine bringing a child into the world simply because that is what you’re ‘supposed’ to do. Parenthood is the greatest and most daunting of jobs. It shouldn’t be something you go into blindly. What it produces is far too precious for that.

Statistics show us that more and more women are choosing not to have children, for reasons that are as varied as the seasons. With that, one would hope the negative attitude towards those who opt out of parenthood, the idea that they are unnatural and selfish, will dissipate. Not wanting kids doesn’t make you any less of a woman or a bad person. Talking about not wanting kids doesn’t make you offensive, just honest. Not wanting kids doesn’t automatically mean you dislike them. Having kids reluctantly, as a kind of ‘just in case’ policy is probably not the best idea.

Wanting a family or not should never be something we judge others on or take offense to. Everyone is entitled to make their own way in this world, to dream their own dreams. All that any of us can hope for is that we have the strength of character to stay true to who we are. In doing so, we pave the way for others to do the same, making our world a more compassionate and open place. Surely that’s much better for all of us, children included?

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Skinny By Any Means: Why Are Women Told To Starve Themselves?

Is there anything worse than food poisoning? Quite possibly, yes, but when you’re in the throes of its horrors it is difficult to imagine a nastier state.  Fortunately for me, I’m finally crawling out from under the food poisoning rock, which began explosively on Sunday night and left me in a weak, aching heap for two days. Being too sick to eat however has its high points, as my friends (tongue-in-cheek) pointed out: you lose weight! And that’s good, right?

Norma was going to eat the damn sandwich, enjoy the damn sandwich & she didn't give a twopenny hoop what anyone else thought about it!

Well , of course it isn’t. The fact that I was sick negates surely any ‘benefits’, at least to my mind, but the idea that ‘skinny by any means is a worthy pursuit’ persists culturally. How many times a day do we see headlines screeching about the latest fad diet or exercise regime or miracle supplement? How many times are celebrities – who have the finances and time to overindulge their physiques -used to exemplify the perfect body? Too many, I suspect, too many even for the most sane woman not to find herself goaded into thinking, at least for a moment or two, ‘wow, I really should skip dinner/ run  for three miles a day/ go on that diet where you eat nothing but cabbage soup.’

‘Skinny by any means’ ideal is not just silly, it is dangerous. Fad diets might might help you lose weight in the short term but study after study shows the weight lost is inevitably put back on, not forgetting the nutritional and metabolic problems some of these diets cause. Extreme exercise without proper training and warming/up down is not a recipe for fitness but one for injury and defeat. None of this is a road map to health but that doesn’t stop the media churning out images and messages to the contrary. After all, if people accepted the simple, scientifically proven facts of eating less, doing more and consuming a varied diet high in fruit and veg and low in processed foods, well, who’d buy the diet books? And where would we be then?

Part of me reluctantly acknowledges there are people who would elect to have food poisoning if it meant they lost a few pounds, just like folk who mess around with laxatives, eat nothing but popcorn for weeks or exist in a haze of cigarettes and coffee (or worse) to make sure they stay on the right side of thin. In this zany world of ours, we reward women for basically starving themselves and chastise those who don’t. Honestly, if you asked me which was sicker: food poisoning or our culture, I know which one I’d chose. Sadly, it isn’t the one you cure by resting up and taking plenty of fluids. Oh ladies and gentlemen, if only it were that simple.