Angels or savages - who would have children?
A new book is causing a storm of controversy by labelling children as annoying and pointless - a charge made all the more inflammatory by the fact that its author is a mother. Entitled No Kid: 40 Reasons Not To Have Children, Corinne Maier's book has sparked fury in France, where it was published. Here, Corinne argues her "no kid" case while another mum, Ursula Hirschkorn, stands firm for parenthood.
Corinne Maier, 43, a writer, who lives with her
boyfriend Yves, 45,
Children are just too much work. They just aren't worth the hassle. Parents today are put under so much pressure to bring up perfect children, but what's the point? They are just walking problems to which you constantly have to find solutions.
The world is in the grip of baby mania, with celebrities flaunting their pregnant bellies in magazines, live births on TV and everyone demanding the right to have a baby at any cost. To be a la mode, the must-have accessory is a baby.
If you can't make your own, then a whole business has sprung up to service your needs and now as long as you've got the cash, you can buy IVF, eggs, sperm or even children. Anyone who dares to be different and suggest that being child-free is the better option is vilified as immature or selfish.
It's a brave woman who will stand up for her right not to have children.
Let's start at the beginning with my first reason for being anti-children: labour is torture. Even with anaesthetic it's the worst pain you'll ever feel. Anyone who tells you it will be a beautiful experience is lying. It's more like that scene from the film Alien, where the monster bursts from an astronaut's stomach. Then there's breastfeeding. Everyone tells you breast is best, but no one tells you it hurts like hell. If you opt out and bottle-feed you're made to feel guilty for "going against nature". Get over these early hurdles and you hit the big one: how to keep your child amused and happy.
This will fast become one of your most hated jobs. The moment you give birth you can forget leisurely lie-ins, last-minute trips or a spontaneous roll in the hay with your partner. Instead, your weekends revolve around being woken at the crack of dawn to traipse around the zoo or watch minimum wage actors cavort in cartoon costumes at Disneyland; sitting through stupid kids' films and eating in "child friendly" restaurants. In my opinion this alone is reason enough not to have a child.
But perhaps the weekends aren't so bad when you look at the monotony that is the life of a working mother. Your career is on hold in a dull job, because it's the only way you can get out of work on time to pick up your children from school or take a day off when they get sick. I stayed for years in a job that bored me - as an economist - just so I could get out early to pick my children up. I worked all day, and then came home to shopping, cooking, cleaning and hours of homework, and all so my kids could treat me like a maid. It was so boring.
Being a working mum is like being in prison, but there's no time off for good behaviour and no electronic tags you can wear for a brief trip back to the freedom you've given up for your offspring.
I found the hardest thing to give up when I had my children was my personal freedom. there is no time left to be you any more. If I hadn't had them, I would have spent my money travelling the world. I could enjoy my money, rather than being stuck at home waking them up every day in time for school.
Once you have children, there is no space for spontaneity any more. We tried to go to an art exhibition last weekend which we'd been looking forward to for ages, but we had to take the kids along and they hate art. They whined so much that we gave up and left without seeing anything. If you thought your friends would help you get through parenthood, then you've got another thing coming. When your friends have children, conversation shrinks to how "Oscar's using the potty now" or "Alice slept the whole night". Nothing is more mind-numbingly boring than "mummy talk".
Make no mistake, bringing up children is war, and you're on the losing side. Every time you plan a little escape they will undermine you. Just as you are off to bed with your partner, they'll throw up; the one night you book a babysitter they'll come down with a fever; on your birthday they'll throw a tantrum as you're stepping out of the door - you just can't win. Perhaps this is why children are such effective passion killers. Take my advice, if you want to stay together, avoid baby-making.
What hope is there of a fulfilling sex life when a woman is forced to turn into a fat, deformed animal decked out in sack-like dresses? Far from the beautiful images on the front of magazines, the ugly reality usually means a long cold spell between the sheets. Even once the baby is born, nights punctuated by feeds and a crying baby leave you so exhausted that any thawing in that department is a long way off.
As you bid adieu to your sex life, your relationship is quick to follow. You go from being a couple to being Mummy and Daddy. Your job as a parent comes first, and the romance in your lives is replaced by DIY and dusting.
Now, my boyfriend Yves and I are parents first and a couple second. Our relationship hasn't been the same since we had children and I miss the romance. Of course, millions of parents will read this and get all defensive and think that it's all worth it because those angels of theirs are sweethearts. But they're not: they're little savages. Just think back to your own childhood - the playground was a bear pit where children were bullied and toys stolen. Things haven't changed and little children are just as unpleasant and annoying as they ever were, except that as a parent you're not even allowed to fight back now.
I was in the library with my son when he was younger and he was playing up. He was getting on my nerves and annoying everyone, so I gave him a slap to make him behave, but then everyone looked at me as if I were a bad mother. Modern parents' hands are tied. While there is pressure to produce perfect children, you no longer have any power to say no to them, so you're more likely to produce perfect brats. Sometimes a slap is the only way to explain something to a child.
If you've disagreed with me up to this point and you still think you can cope with the emotional cost of a child, then perhaps you should consider the financial one. Kids cost a fortune. First the family car and the house, then there's basics like food and clothes, and that's before they start pestering you for the latest toy. A lot of people decide to have children to build a family around themselves, as a refuge from the world so they won't be lonely and will be loved for who they are.
Certainly, I often wonder why I had children. I think it was because I am an only child I thought I would be less alone if I had a family. Now I've learned that being in a family can bring a new kind of loneliness.
People often ask me what my children think of the book, but they don't give a damn. They live in their own world and I live in mine. I would never give my daughter advice on whether she should have children. I don't care if I have grandchildren or not, but I know that if I do, I don't want to look after them too often. The idea of a cosy picture postcard family is fantasy and the whole "loving family gathered around the Christmas tree" image is a lie.
More murders and child abuse happen within families than outside them - every family is a nest of vipers: all the more reason not to add to your own. Even if you are savvy enough to realise that having children won't add up to having the perfect family, another parent trap is believing that it's OK to put off your dreams in the hope that your kids will fulfil them. But if you have no children you are free to make your own dreams come true now, surely a more attractive option.
If you can't bring yourself to give up on the idea of children as your future, what future do you see for them? Financial and job security are things of the past, housing is beyond expensive, the planet is suffering from over-population - do you still think it's such a good idea to bring yet another baby into this world? They could end up being your problem for the rest of your life. What a prospect. Instead of pitying the child-free, we should be envying them, I know I do. Because as a mother-of-two I know better than most why having children is a big mistake.
Ursula Hirschkorn, 35, lives with her husband
So Corinne Maier thinks motherhood gets too much good press - but I beg to differ.
I think most mums are only too happy to regale their scared single friends with tales of stretch marks, sleepless nights and sex-free relationships, if only to elicit a bit of sympathy. I think most women go out of their way not to drone on and on about their children, especially when they're with friends who don't have a family.
To be honest, though, in the face of this vitriolic attack on the lifestyle I've chosen, I say to hell with other people's feelings. I think the real secret of motherhood is that for all our griping about loss of personal freedom, dead-end careers and endless rounds of nappy-changing, being a mother is the best and most important job in the world. As soon as you get pregnant, you finally realise the point of all those years of dealing with budding boobs and annoying periods. As you body swells up with potential, you finally have a legitimate reason to spend hours drooling over baby clothes and the latest prams. And you start to get what this baby-making business is all about.
Now I know that not all pregnancies are as rosy as mine, which were a round of cat naps and guilt-free chocolate scoffing, but the end result makes it all worthwhile even if you've spent nine months fighting morning sickness. The moment you look your baby in the eye, you know a love like no other you will ever feel. Your feelings for your newborn baby are the very definition of unconditional love. They are the cutest thing you've ever seen, even as newborns when they are slicked in blood and look like Winston Churchill (all new babies do). Now I won't lie - yes, the early months are hard, but then doesn't anything worth having take a bit of hard work and self-sacrifice?
One of my most cherished memories is of a night feed with my son Jacob when he was all of two months old. I plucked him screaming and red-faced from his cot, and started to feed him his milk. After a few moments, he pulled away from his bottle, looked up at me and gave me his first, beautifully gummy smile. I've never felt being up at 2am was so worthwhile - even when I was dancing away at some nightclub in my youth.
I remember reading when I was pregnant that once you have a child you will never be bored again. I was sceptical to say the least. In my experience, babies were grand masters at doing nothing, in between bouts of banshee screaming, but that was before I had my own to play with. Even watching Jacob sleep held its own fascination, and when he started to do really interesting things such as eat solids, roll, crawl, walk, talk and boss me about, well that was when things really got fun.
My husband would come home from work and our entire dinner conversation would be about the milestones Jacob had reached, no matter how infinitesimal.
Parents know their world shrinks when children come along. They are painfully aware they are missing out on films and plays and boozy nights out. But isn't that what your 20s are for? Do you really want to go on living the same way until you're 50? The truth is that becoming a parent makes you less selfish - it forces you to devote yourself to another being more than to yourself. It allows you to experience the joys and challenges of that little person's life as they live it. And it lets you reconnect with your own childhood by reliving the excitement of discovering the world all over again. The first time my son Jacob kissed me and told me he loved me, it beat all my previous romantic trysts into a cocked hat. When I was a new mum to Jacob, I remember saying to my husband that if I were to die then that it wouldn't matter so much because I had done the best thing I ever could in having my son.
These are the moments that I will remember and savour when I am old: watching the boys put on a show, complete with my posh make-up smeared all over their faces, beaming as we clap their tiny achievements; my three-year-old boy genius asking me if we could come to a "compromise" about his excessive lolly consumption; my beautiful little baby boy pointing out the "tittomotamus" (read hippopotamus) at Disneyworld. I certainly won't be thinking about how well a particular business meeting went or how many times I went to the cinema. And that to me is the best argument for motherhood there could be.
21 August 2007