Whose small, unpeopled life is it anyway?
There I was, happily reading India Knight’s superior self-help book, In Your Prime, packed full of sensible advice as to how to deal with the some of the particular issues that might beset a middle-aged woman, when I came across some sentences which made me sit up.
After writing about how dull (the author assumes) it would be for childless people to hear about the minutiae of life with children, she says this:
“Equally, if you do have kids and if your life is necessarily filled with stuff – children, grandchildren, all of that – then there is no especial pleasure to be had in a single and/or childless person banging on about the minutiae of their small, unpeopled life.
Let’s go through that.
“No especial pleasure” translation: I do not want to hear about your life even though I am meant to be your friend, because it has no children in it.
“Banging on” translation: any discussion outside the realm of children is of little interest and bores me.
Then she says : “I’ve also noticed, oddly, that childless people talk about their parents all the time, and about their own childhoods. It’s not that interesting”.
Strange then that her book “The Shops” was full of family stuff and I’ve read her countless times on her family in interviews and articles.
“Small unpeopled life” translation: if you are single and or childless or heaven forfend, both, your life must be small and unpeopled. It is obviously impossible for you, without children, to have a big rewarding life.
We then go onto the next comment:
“Often these people are rather self-dramatising, and it can come across as the worst kind of narcissism. It’s because they have so much time to think about themselves. “
These people? Yes, she’s talking about you, you sad, lonely, drama-queen trying yet failing to make yourself interesting to your friends with kids. Who according to the writer, need to dump you because hey, you’re just too boring.
And so much time to think about themselves? Because obviously if you don’t have children, there’s a child-shaped hole in your life you can only fill with endless narcissistic self-examination.
I know plenty of rounded, unselfish, fulfilled, childless women, with big, messy, vibrant lives, who have no more time or inclination for self-examination than the next mother, who have meaningful lives and who don’t feel the need to apologise for or explain their life choices.
I have some sympathy with the proposition that childless women do not always feel entirely at home with a group of mothers – I know I sometimes don’t, so I don’t completely disagree with the idea that there may not always be an easy friendship between the two. I do, however, take issue with the characterisation of the life of the single/childless woman as inherently inferior. It is a blow to what I fondly like to regard as the sisterhood.
It’s the implication that only by having children can one’s life be complete or worthwhile which I find problematic. I accept that it is impossible for some to understand why one might not want children and for them it will never be anything other than slightly unnatural. Ms Knight appears to fall into that camp.
And she does have the insight to know that what she says may not be palatable, but she says it anyway:
“I’d have rather died than said this out loud when I was younger – even though I thought it then, too. But I am older now, and I don’t care.”
I’m interested by the statement that she doesn’t care. What is it she doesn’t care about? Believing that most childless women lead small unpeopled lives? Finding childless women dull? Upsetting people? Telling it how it is? Alienating a good chunk of her readership? Because I can’t believe that any childless woman would read that and not take offence. Surely she’d care about that? All the good work and helpful advice in her book, undone at the end by a few crass comments.