Trades Description Act (31 August 2011)
Having kids is bad for your health. That is the crux of Emma Kennedy’s piece published a few weeks ago in the Family section of The Saturday Guardian about the joys of child-free holidays. On learning that I have two young children, it would be fair to assume that the annoyance this article engendered was because my feathers were ruffled; that I couldn’t take criticism of my little darlings; that a woman without children was selfish or not quite complete or any other of the various accusations filling the Comments section of the Guardian online after publication of this piece.
It’s true I would probably have paid the article scant attention if I didn’t have children, in the same way I skip over pieces about cars, plants or knitting. Some commenters objected to the humour – the suggestion that kids are tied to a tree or ‘lost’ in a department store to enable the parents to run wild. That wasn’t a problem, it’s supposed to be a funny piece. And like the curate’s egg, it is in parts. Closer to the knuckle the idea that parents farm their offspring out to potential adopters to take on holiday. I’ve not been through the adoption process, but I imagine someone who had would find that remark in poor taste. Those sections aside, I enjoyed her tales of her woeful family camping trips and see why she was keen to leave them behind.
My main objection to the piece was its glib, casual assumptions. The fact that anyone (and by anyone, the four friends she asked) who said they enjoyed spending time with their children was lying, deluded or had ‘staff’ to do the dirty work. I’ve had brilliant and less than brilliant holidays with and without children. If the Guardian had wanted someone to write about child-free holidays, why didn’t they ask someone who had kids to take a trip without the little tykes and then report back? I fully admit children can be noisy, demanding, messy, whinging and selfish. Even my own, who I love dearly. Do you know what? So are some adults. Me included, probably.
It didn’t stop at the holiday issue however. Apparently, parents have ‘no life’. They never see their former friends again. If they do, they make crass remarks about childless people being barren. They can’t stay out past 9.30 in case they turn into stretch-mark riddled pumpkins, spouting milk from their saggy breasts and horrific tales of childbirth from their unpainted mouths. Yeah right. Perhaps she needs to get some new friends. Apart from the first year or so of their child’s life, most parents I know are delighted to get dressed up and go out, talk animatedly to people about a range of topics and stay out late drinking far too much.
Children do take up vast quantities of your time and money, limit your opportunities (in the short-term at least), cause you anxiety and do not come with a guarantee to look after you in your old age. They also cause you to feel great depths of joy and love. I don’t believe that parenthood completes a person, and in our overcrowded world it’s good not everyone takes this path, but I do believe it behoves us as a society to take an interest in and responsibility for all our members. Who will look after us in hospital, deliver our groceries or mend our leaky taps except the hideous small folk grown up? The ‘us and them’ mentality does nobody any favours.
Lastly, you may be puzzled as to the title of this piece. Emma Kennedy spends a whole paragraph congratulating herself on her youthful appearance due to her childless state. Yes, this is bitchy, (but hey, my entire existence has been rubbished), but judging by the photo of her accompanying the article, if you claim you look ten years younger than you are, you’d best make damn sure the facts match the claim.