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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 05-Sep-14 10:09:36

Guest Post: ‘I don't want children’ – is shunning motherhood the ultimate taboo?

In the week that actress Maxine Peake said "having children is very selfish", children's author Sarah McIntyre explains why she made the decision not to have kids, despite working with them every day.

Sarah McIntyre

Children's author

Posted on: Fri 05-Sep-14 10:09:36

(124 comments )

Lead photo

'I have enormous respect for parents'

"You're so good with children! How many do you have?" Parents often ask me this question, caught up in the glow of watching their kids drawing and joking around with me at my book events. As someone who writes and draws stories for children, they assume I'd be the most likely to want them myself. Sometimes they're taken aback when I tell them I don't have children. It's not that I can't - I just don't want to.

I have enormous respect for parents – wow, you go through a lot. I've had friends who told me before they had kids that it wouldn't change their lives very much; they'd still do all the things they did before. I knew they were wrong, and, sure enough, their lives all had colossal overhauls. I lost touch with some of them altogether.

So why didn't I join them? It's not a lack of respect for children, either. I think when kids meet me, they somehow relate to the fact that I don't "like children". Children don't like all children, either. That expression seems as odd to me as saying "I like adults".

One of my mother's friends had horses instead of children, and when my mother told me that 'Betty doesn't like children', I was at first horrified - 'why wouldn't you like someone like me?' But as Betty taught me how to ride her horses, and took me along by myself to horseshows with her, I felt extra special and grown up; I knew she didn't have to take me along, and I basked in the glow of her respect .

I love getting to know children as unique individuals and in some of them, I find kindred spirits. I love those moments of connection, and I love not being stuck forever with kids who don't connect with me. I have friends who want the best for their children - love them, but don't actually like them - and even friends who have confided that they wish they'd never had children.

Of course, plenty of women raise kids and do loads of other things, but I don't want to be a Supermum. I worry I'd either be dog-tired all the time, or give up doing what I love and secretly resent my kid for it.


But it's more than that. I guess I see myself as a sort of pioneer. It's only fairly recently that women have been able to make the choice to marry and not have kids. Having a supportive partner and the time to do something besides raise children seems like an exciting new world to me. I'm so grateful to my husband for this freedom. Maybe we're getting it wrong and will regret our choice... but maybe we won't.

Of course, plenty of women raise kids and do loads of other things, but I don't want to be a Supermum. I worry I'd either be dog-tired all the time, or give up doing what I love and secretly resent my kid for it.

I used to teach Sunday School classes in my husband's church, which was pretty much just babysitting the kids until the service was over. I tried to give it something more, and spent lots of time planning interesting craft projects. But since the kids had to be with me, they kicked back, messed around, and vandalised the room. It was horrible. "You just aren't that good with children", one of the other teachers said, as I fought back angry tears, feeling totally useless.

Then I started working as a children's book illustrator and, to promote my books, agreed to do stage events. Parents and teachers had prepped these children to understand that it was a special treat to meet me, and the kids paid attention. I felt I was actually making a difference. And they were so much more fun to be with. They knew that if they misbehaved, they'd have to leave, and they didn't want to miss out.

And I reckon that’s the hardest thing about being a parent: the kids know that, whatever they do, you're there for them. That rock-solid foundation lets them grow into well-adjusted adults. But it also means parents have to put up with endless demands on their time and energy – both physical and mental. I prefer being the fairy godmother figure, who can swoop in, enjoy the best of the children, and give them something a bit magical – a story idea, a new way of drawing, a career dream - that they can take home.

Maybe if I could guarantee that my child would love line and colour, drawing and reading as much as I do, and help me around the studio, I might risk it. But I know children are their own people, with their own tastes and agendas. I think my decision not to have my own children, as much as being a feminist act, is something borne out of a deep respect for kids.

Sarah McIntyre's latest books are Cakes in Space which she wrote with Philip Reeve, and her picture book Jampires with David O'Connell; both are out this week.

By Sarah McIntyre

Twitter: @jabberworks

SoonToBeSix Fri 05-Sep-14 14:55:04

Really you don't want children because you respect them?

Mintyy Fri 05-Sep-14 15:07:04

No, not wanting children is a subect that I have seen written about/debated/discussed many many times, always with the same sort of headline.

It isn't a taboo in the slightest.

Mintyy Fri 05-Sep-14 15:09:06

Just google "not want children" and look at the first 2/3 pages of results. All recent articles about not wanting children. It is a non-issue.

slowdownyourneighbours Fri 05-Sep-14 15:14:11

Not wanting children is not taboo. Many people choose not to have children.

I respect my child. A lot.

DuelingFanjo Fri 05-Sep-14 15:15:48

To be fair, at least this hasn't gone down the usual road of having a go at people who DO have children - unlike many of the articles and Blogs out there.

AlleyCat11 Fri 05-Sep-14 15:20:19

I don't know how this article will help you to sell children's books...

Messygirl Fri 05-Sep-14 15:23:35

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LizLimone Fri 05-Sep-14 15:23:58

It's not that unusual for women to forgo having children, even in the past. My aunt is a nun. She would have made a wonderful mother and did actually train as a midwife but her religious vows were more important to her. Nuns were early pioneers in the childfree life, prioritizing their spiritual life over the physical life of motherhood and marriage. And nuns have been around for over 1,000 years!

So there's nothing new about being childfree. I don't think it's taboo either, especially nowadays when women have so many career options. What is maybe unusual for you is that you work in a child-focused industry and hold childrens events so people may assume that you are keen to have your own family when in fact you're not.

Messygirl Fri 05-Sep-14 15:26:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

GirlWithTheLionHeart Fri 05-Sep-14 15:35:00

Kids eat your dreams. Good for you, enjoy your life <not bitter>

SirChenjin Fri 05-Sep-14 15:42:38

No - not wanting children is not the ultimate taboo. Incest, for example is probably more of a taboo, as is bestiality. HTH.

WhyBeHappyWhenYouCouldBeNormal Fri 05-Sep-14 15:46:59

I think not wanting children, after you've had children is probably more of an issue

tobeabat Fri 05-Sep-14 15:50:06

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ChangedName350 Fri 05-Sep-14 15:53:33

Just a few points that jumped out at me:

I think when kids meet me, they somehow relate to the fact that I don't "like children". Children don't like all children, either. That expression seems as odd to me as saying "I like adults"... This doesn't even make sense! Moreover, it's not that people don't like children, it's that people don't like small, always loud, sometimes unpredictable, mostly quite grubby little people whose voices (especially singing, asking the same question over and over and crying) can often pierce lead.

I guess I see myself as a sort of pioneer... please look up the definition of 'pioneer'

It's only fairly recently that women have been able to make the choice to marry and not have kids... Yes, because nuns and 'spinsters' (horrible word) haven't been around since, like, forever.

Having a supportive partner and the time to do something besides raise children seems like an exciting new world to me. I'm so grateful to my husband for this freedom... Wow, grateful to your husband for some freedom? Surely the decision to have/not have children isn't about one person giving the other person the freedom to do what they want. In a loving relationship, you'll arrive at these sorts of decisions together.

But since the kids had to be with me, they kicked back, messed around, and vandalised the room. It was horrible. "You just aren't that good with children", one of the other teachers said, as I fought back angry tears, feeling totally useless... Someone should have handed you a grip.

I prefer being the fairy godmother figure, who can swoop in, enjoy the best of the children, and give them something a bit magical – a story idea, a new way of drawing, a career dream - that they can take home... A career dream? Really? Fairy godmothers should stick to pumpkins.

I think my decision not to have my own children, as much as being a feminist act, is something borne out of a deep respect for kids... I'm a feminist, I don't particularly want children- these two statements are not related. Being a mother does not preclude you from being a feminist and being a feminist does not preclude you from being a month. Incidentally, my best friend is an awesome feminist and her eight year old daughter recently told a boy at school, who was trying to order her around in a game, to 'check your gender privilege'. I respect kids far too much to have them- good job not everyone has your epic, almost god-like levels of respect isn't it?!

LadyIsabellaWrotham Fri 05-Sep-14 15:54:19

I was going to say necrophilia SirChenjin.

But actually now I've seen WhyBeHappy's post, I think she's right. The real taboo is "I wish I hadn't had children".

ChangedName350 Fri 05-Sep-14 15:56:46

^^ Being a mother not a month. Although you can be a month if you want to be, after all you don't have children holding you back from being a month

tobeabat Fri 05-Sep-14 16:08:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

motherinferior Fri 05-Sep-14 16:19:03

Sweetie, you ain't no pioneer. Insofar as there are parenting pioneers, I'd nominate the (quite numerous) same-sex families around. I think if you want to be controversial perhaps you should cultivate something a leetle bit more outre than Not Having Children, which is after all a fairly mainstream choice.

tobeabat Fri 05-Sep-14 16:28:09

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

saintlyjimjams Fri 05-Sep-14 16:30:27

I have no opinion on whether others have children. Not my business. The only time I've ever felt annoyed was with an (ex) friend who has a Big Thing about not having children, & spent her whole time going on and on about how unhappy I must be, & how neglected my husband must feel (wta?). I genuinely have no opinion on other people's life choices but don't want to listen to mine being ridiculed to justify someone else's.

Charitygirl1 Fri 05-Sep-14 16:52:44

I often wonder why women who don't have children feel the need to justify themselves. Then I read responses like these and I get it.

DownByTheRiverside Fri 05-Sep-14 16:57:31

It was fairly controversial when I was a teenager, but now? 40 years later?
Really not for the majority of people in our white western societies. Unless you are from the Bible Belt Christians which tend to be somewhat traditional about expectations of male and female
Other cultures maybe, but you aren't really in a position to comment on those, being white and educated and all that. I haven't read any of your books, but I hope as a feminist you challenge perceptions in your writing for impressionable children.

motherinferior Fri 05-Sep-14 17:06:46

But we're saying it isn't something that needs justifying. It's commonplace. We are not saying as I suspect the OP hoped oh you frightful unmaternal creature not knowing the love that will only descend when you first hold your Precious Baybee in your arms: we're saying 'oh really? Just like my best mate, then, and my cousin and quite a few other women I know? Not remarkable'.

Mintyy Fri 05-Sep-14 17:10:50

11 of my 66 facebook friends (who are all aged over 27) have no children. Like I said, really not a biggie.

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