The Barren Old Maid

**Sarcasm alert, any offence taken is not intended**

Nothing irritates me more than someone, whilst in the heat of a discussion spouting the phrase at me “well you haven’t had a child”. It’s not that it stabs me through the heart, creating a wave of unbearable emotion or sense of loss because it doesn’t, my husband and I chose not to have kids. It is the assumption that unless you have popped a child out of your vagina you can’t possibly hold a valid point of view on anything remotely to do with children.

This phrase has only been said to me by other women, whom I believe should know better. What if the fact I didn’t have children was not simply because they don’t fit into our plans but it was due to us being unable to conceive? Those words thrown at you by anyone are designed to hurt, to point out your failing as a woman to bring life into this world. By uttering this phase you are doing a massive disservice to all women, as you reduce their status whether childless or not to that of a broodmare. There is no excuse for this phrase to be bandied about, it is deeply offensive. I may not have children but I was a child once and I am part of a  loving family. Does my not having children negate my 41 years of experience? Can I not as an outsider provide a useful insight? Why is my opinion less valid than another woman’s just because she has had a child?

The first time I had this said to me was during a discussion on social media about the school holidays and the length of the school day. I am in the camp that says the kids have too much holiday and the school day of 9am-3pm is too short. My opinion is based on my experience in the workplace, so please hear me out before dismissing my argument, just because the stork hasn’t and will not be visiting my home. 

When I worked many years ago I held the position of a Manager part of my role was to supervise the work experience kids. It was a job I hated purely because the young teenagers that came to us had the preconceived notion that shop work is easy. Most of them were too immature to realise that in 2 years time when they applied to the store for a Saturday job their performance whilst on work experience would be taken into consideration. 

Most of the students were ill-prepared for a full days work, I expected them to complete a full working day 7.5 hrs – 9 hours in the building when you factor in their breaks. Most of them couldn’t cope with only two 15 minute tea breaks and an hour for lunch. The majority of my day was spent checking the canteen or back offices for students dodging the work we had planned for them. I will be honest I really loathed work experience week.

A common complaint amongst business leaders (in the UK) is that our school leaver’s  are ill-prepared for work. I have to say I agree about some of them being ill-prepared for work, I think the majority of it is due to the school timetable. Very few people work Monday to Friday 9am till 3pm, most will work a 9-5 job and many people are now working weekends. In private schools (fee paying schools for those of you in the USA) they generally have much longer days than the state schools do and some of them also hold lessons on a Saturday morning. I am not suggesting that 4 or 5 year-olds do a 9-5 day. I think the school day should be gradually increased in length from year 9, as this is when pupils start choosing their GCSE subjects. Longer days would ensure more coverage of the subjects chosen and extra help for those struggling. Just my idea based on my limited experience with children.

I don’t want to bang on and on about the length of the school day as the school holidays are also an issue for me. What job (other than a teacher or university lecturer) has the amount of holiday school children do? Most people have the legal minimum holiday in the UK which is just 4 weeks a year. Again I have to ask how are we preparing our kids for the world of work? A lot of the Saturday kids (what we would call our young workers) were shocked that they would only get 4 days holiday a year (they were contracted to one day a week so their holiday worked out as four days). You could see them thinking “shit” and they were working just 8 hours a week. Many of them had the added pressure of being at school during the week whilst they completed their A-levels however as adults we balance many responsibilities outside the workplace. Learning how to do this is just part of growing up.

After posting something similar to my points above as part of the discussion, I was informed I was destroying “the family”, it was easy to see that I wasn’t a parent as no parent would ever agree with me and because I hadn’t had children, I would never understand. There were men who shared my point of view, yet I was the one singled out as a failure to my gender due to my childless status. The poster got nastier and nastier claiming that I must suffer from all sorts of personality flaws because I didn’t want children. She saw my childless status as a threat to her world, as if no woman should ever be able to choose not to procreate. All that abuse didn’t bother as it was clear from her tirade she was a nutcase, it was the phrase “well you haven’t had a child” that really punched my buttons and still does. 

I didn’t bother replying once she got into full swing. If I had I would have pointed out that I do understand because guess what?  I once was a child, bored out of my mind during the long summer holidays. I also know that when I started working 9-6 on a Saturday, it exhausted me because I wasn’t used to that length of day. I had never been at school much longer than 9-3. those extra three hours at work were a killer. Obviously my job involved a lot of physical activity, I stacked shelves very different to sitting in lessons. If the school day had been longer it wouldn’t have been such a shock. I also hated the length of the summer holidays, it was boring and once back at school it would take me a few weeks to get back into the swing of it. So please don’t tell me my opinion isn’t valid because I haven’t gone through the birthing and parenting experience.

There are lots of things that we all have no direct experience of yet are allowed to hold opinions on. Just because I haven’t given birth doesn’t mean I can’t hold an opinion. I can empathise, sympathise and be compassionate, I will not have experienced it but I will always try to understand where a parent is coming from.I will hold my hand up I have not lived through sleepless nights due to a colicky or teething baby or any other aspect of having children.

I don’t know what is like to be severely sleep deprived and be responsible for a child all day. I imagine its pretty tough and nothing I experience in my life will ever come close to it. I can’t offer any advice other than the things friends have told me about. Even though I haven’t been through what a parent has I will never dismiss your opinion out of hand because you are “just a parent”. I feel we both have things to offer because we both hold valid opinions without descending into abuse.

It is only in the last few years I have had the “well how could you understand you haven’t had a child?” nonsense said to me. Until I hit 39 no one had ever suggested to me that my opinion wasn’t valid  simply because my uterus had never been used. It is funny how women judge other women, no man has ever suggested to me that my opinions are suddenly obsolete because I didn’t hear my biological clock ticking. 

It is a phrase that immediately makes me see red because it suggests I am a barren old maid, it assumes a woman’s worth is only measured against the number of offspring she’s popped out. Yet we hear all the time in the media, women expressing how they feel they have the ability to be so much more than “just” a mum (their words not mine), how they feel they have lost their identity since becoming a mum and want to prove themselves outside the arena of parenthood. Yet these would be the same women who will tell me that because I am childless, I wouldn’t understand.

Despite my age (41) I am still asked if my husband and I are planning to have children. I usually answer that ship has sailed. I then get the *sad* look, as if there is something wrong with me and that is why children haven’t happened. Let me be clear being childless was a conscious decision for my husband and I. It is not something we pine for, I haven’t got a maternal bone in my body. My husband openly admits he doesn’t want children because he doesn’t want to share me. So why are we treated as if we are something to be pitied? I am happy with my choice, so I really don’t understand that if it is something we have consciously chosen for our own lives, why we are treated as some kind of oddity? 

It is assumed if you don’t have children you are inherently selfish however I know quite a few selfish individuals that have kids. Selfishness is not a personality trait that is found only amongst the childless. It is also assumed that you don’t like children. Again wildly inaccurate, I like children but I also like the option of giving them back to their parents when I have had enough. I love my nephew dearly, I tell my sister regularly he is the greatest present she has ever given me. My heart melts when he speaks to me on the phone. I boast about his latest achievements with my friends because although he isn’t my child he is part of my family, I love him more than words can say and would lay down my life for him, yet I still don’t want kids of my own.

My husband and I often joke when we have snapped at the dogs for misbehaving that we would be shit parents. The dogs in some ways are our surrogate children. People with children may find that offensive, comparing our dogs with a child but that is how precious they are to us. I always remember chatting with my paternal grandmother about the dogs, when out of the blue she openly admitted to me that if she had owned a dog before she had children, she wouldn’t have bothered with kids. It made me roar with laughter however had that been the case I obviously wouldn’t be here writing this blog post.

It really grinds my gears that men are not judged on their fertility or child status when offering their opinions. If a man offers an opinion about an aspect of childhood / parenthood, rarely if ever is he told “well you haven’t had a child”. I wonder if this is to do with the fact that men’s fertility is  seen as never-ending and women are being constantly reminded that they are up against a biological clock? Men do not diminish each others opinions just because the other man has not impregnated a woman. 

Obviously as I am not a man I don’t have any first hand experience of this. I do have lots of male friends and none of them has ever complained to me that they have had their opinions dismissed because they haven’t experienced the joy of parenthood. Why is this phrase being used by women against other women?

Everyone’s idea of normal is different, my normal is a life without children, your life maybe one filled with them. Regardless of whether or not you’ve had children, your opinion as a person, as a woman is valid. I am not a barren old maid because I decided not to have kids. I am allowed an opinion even on things that I have no experience of, the same as you are. To utter the phrase “Well you haven’t had  a child” to another woman is abusive, thoughtless and reduces women as a whole to the position of a uterus only. We are all so much more than that. 

We fight gender inequality every day in every aspect of life why do we have to fight each other as well?

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2 thoughts on “The Barren Old Maid

  1. I have children and that saying always throws me over the edge. I know people that have children because it was the next step in life not because of their love of children. Someone’s opinion is equally as valid if they have children or not.

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  2. Hi Bee,

    Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.

    Thanks for saying that it also bothers you. It drives me crazy and I often feel it is women that think they are the only ones who have ever given birth or think that their children are the next messiah that bandy this phrase about. I think this is probably due to many people now only having one child. I understand their deep love of their child however the fact that they’ve had a child doesn’t make them a better person than me.

    As you can probably tell it still winds me up!

    Thanks again.

    Rach x

    Like

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