I keep reading about how much trouble kids are. About how they disrupt your life, about how you’ll never sleep again for the rest of your life, about how you’ll be knee-deep in baby milk, vomit and shitty nappies. And I keep thinking: it isn’t actually that bad.
I have two children a few years apart so I’ve done the shitty nappy thing twice over. They have each vomited a few times, I suppose. For about six months the first one woke me every night; with the second one, it was every night for three years. Yes, I often got tired – I still do. I have always been a single parent so have never had anyone to share the load with. However, it just isn’t that bad.
I am by no means perfect. I am selfish. I would much rather read a good book, or mess about on the internet, or sleep, than I would play a game with my kids. I leave the playing games (mostly) for them to do together. Before now, I’ve thrown lovingly-crafted Play-Doh in the bin because I couldn’t be doing with the mess. I once took the batteries out of a toy guitar because the noise it made was driving me up the wall (my child strummed it mournfully and I told her it was broken). I don’t read a bedtime story every night, because sometimes at the end of a long day I just can’t be arsed. I really can’t. Are my kids going to grow up emotionally scarred because I didn’t read to them every night? I doubt it.
Same goes for bathtime. There are evenings when one of them has needed their hair washing and I, well, just couldn’t be arsed with the bathtime rigmarole. There are parents at the school who claim to bath their kids every single night. We’ve never been a bath-every-night kind of household. Does this make me a bad parent? No, I don’t think so. Doubtless some would disagree.
Maybe you’re reading this now thinking I have a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to parenting. I wish I could say I have, because that sounds rather cool. I don’t. In some ways, I am super-strict. For example, my kids sit down in restaurants. They have never, ever been allowed to run around (unless they’re in a playground or similar). I just wouldn’t allow it. That’s just me. I bumped into an acquaintance recently and her two kids were rolling around on the floor of Tesco, wrestling each other. She seemed completely unperturbed by it – but then, perhaps she ensures her children have a bath each night, regular as clockwork? I don’t know.
Similarly, I am super-strict (and an enthusiastic helper) when it comes to homework. This interests me, see. Reading fucking Topsy & Tim doesn’t. I am relishing my eldest choosing her GCSEs. I can’t wait to discuss this with her, to help her, to provide advice, guidance, support. However, what she would like – I mean really, really like – would be for us to go to Alton Towers over the Easter break. I won’t do it, no matter how much she wants it. I can’t be arsed. Crowds, queuing, other families? – sod that for a game of soldiers. I’d rather scoop out my own eyeball with a spoon (yes, I watched Utopia) than go to Alton Towers, especially during school holidays. In fact, I’d rather take the kids out of school one day to take them to Alton Towers, under the pretext of ‘sickness’, just so we could go there when other families/kids were less likely to be there. Oh, and yes, I have done this before too, more than once – phoned in sick for one or more kid when I actually just couldn’t be arsed getting out of bed to take them to school. Maybe I was sick myself, or tired, or on occasion, hungover. Before you all start phoning Social Services, more often than not they are in school. But sometimes I’ve pretended they were sick when they weren’t. Yep.
There is no doubt that becoming a parent changes your life irrevocably. Sometimes, I entertain myself with the ‘I wonder?’ game, as in ‘I wonder what my life would be like now if I’d never had kids?’. Well, I would still have a spare bedroom. Heck, I would still have the biggest bedroom. I would have much less washing and ironing to do. I wouldn’t have (as I glance about me now) miniature plastic Smurfs lined up on the coffee table, five stuffed toys sitting on my living room floor and Doc McStuffins on the fucking telly. I wouldn’t be typing this in between trips to the toastie maker (toasted cheese/ham sandwiches – Nigella, eat your heart out). In fact, I wouldn’t be typing this at all, because if I wasn’t a parent I’d be doing something less boring instead (yes, I watched Why Don’t You?). Quite possibly, I’d still be in bed. Quite possibly, I’d have someone in that bed with me.
If I hadn’t had kids I would have much less to worry about. I wouldn’t spend half my life worrying myself shitless about some terrible accident befalling them (I shudder even typing that), or about some shit doing something shitty to them. I love them so violently it scares me, so much so that I often envy people without kids, people without that worry. So much so that – and here, I am going to upset and/or offend a few people – if I had the choice, that is, if I could have seen into the future and see how very much I would love and thus worryendlessly about these little people, I would probably choose to remain child-free. There, I’ve said it. I don’t want rid of them – far from it, there’s no turning my feelings around now – but if I could go back X number of years, before I got pregnant with the first, and somehow known how much the thought of one of them being hurt would distress and panic me, I would probably have chosen never to have known them. Probably.
Feminists, of course, have long critiqued motherhood. Undoubtedly, it can be physically and emotionally draining (but not always – at least not in my experience). Undoubtedly, it is for the most part a thankless task (but not totally, in my experience – no.2 has just thanked me for her toastie, after all). I understand feminists who, putting women first, point out that motherhood involves lots of hard slog on the part of a woman for comparatively little gain. What I do not understand is why some feminists treat mothers with such disdain, or refer to their offspring as ‘little brats’ (or similar). One woman’s ‘little brat’ is another woman’s baby, and she has toiled long and hard over that baby. Even worse, perhaps, is the practise of some self-proclaimed feminists to refer to a mother as a ‘breeder’. Calling another woman a ‘breeder’ is so anti-feminist that I really don’t see why I should waste my time trying to educate such a woman; and yet, here I am, writing this. Similarly, as a lesbian, sometimes I meet other lesbians who, as soon as they know I am a mother, literally do not want to know me. It’s as though I am letting the side down in some way, by having children. A faux lesbian and a faux feminist.
It is possible to be a radical lesbian feminist and to be a mum – look, here I am! *waves* (disclaimer – there are more of us, of course). In online discussion groups on Facebook and similar, feminists are allowed – nay, encouraged – by other feminists to discuss their collection of animals/insects, but try discussing children and you’ll be met with a brick wall. I don’t bore anyone with tales of how I don’t bath my children (apart from here but, hey, you’re still reading, aren’t you?) but now and again I mention them. Of course I do – sometimes I can go entire days when they’re the only other human beings I speak to – but I always run the risk of being called a ‘breeder’, or being put down in some similar way by a woman who, having chosen to remain child-free, can’t abide another woman having made her own decisions about her own life.
That said, there are many of us radical feminists with children who, through the internet, have been able to connect. Motherhood can be isolating, especially single motherhood (and most of the radical feminist mothers I know are single). You can leave your cat or your stick insect home alone for the evening while you go out and get wellied; not so with children. The internet has given us the opportunity to connect with other mothers, and thus have some semblance of a social life, in a way not previously possible. One such woman, feeling as keenly as I do this problem of not being able to discuss motherhood in feminist circles, has started a blog Motherhood is a Feminist Issue. On this blog, mothers who are also feminists and sometimes lesbians, will be able to come together to write about and discuss our experiences of motherhood. You can take part just a little or not at all, or you can become fully involved, without worrying about discussing something which doesn’t affect the woman you’re discussing it with. You can write a piece for the blog and/or join in with the comments section(s), as and where you like. Motherhood is a unique experience. It is nice to have somewhere to discuss that, without worrying about boring anyone shitless. We don’t want any special treatment just for being mothers, but nor do we want to be outcast just for being mothers. Motherhood is a feminist issue because it is of course unique to women.
I need to end this piece by saying I’ve just looked around and half a cheese-and-ham toastie is sitting forlornly on the plate (I told you I was no Nigella). Still, Doc McStuffins has been replaced with Dr Who so it’s not all bad. Bathtime tonight? *looks at watch* Nah. I really can’t be arsed.