Friday, 20 July 2007

Not in the club

I must warn you now, this is going to be a bit of a rant. It's something that has been brewing for a while, as a result of various smug comments and snide criticisms of single people that I've seen elsewhere on the blogosphere, but it was brought to a head tonight.

I've written before that what I have always wanted most in the world is to be a wife and mother, and that it's one of the great sadnesses of my life that it hasn't happened yet, and quite possibly never will (the children bit, at any rate). However, I have never wanted to let myself be defined by that sadness, and I know I have received many blessings and had many experiences that I couldn't have had if I had been given the life that I imagined and hoped for as I was growing up.

But I come from a large family and have a wide circle of friends, and at the last count I had 11 nephews and nieces, 6 godchildren, and scores of other babies and small children in my life. At various times, I have been the main carer for one baby and lived in the same house as three others for extended periods, largely in order to be able to help out with the babies (as an aunt or surrogate aunt, not as a nanny or au pair).

I would say I almost certainly have more experience of looking after babies and small children than the majority of new parents when their first child is born, and this experience includes caring for three newborns.

The parents of my acquaintance roughly divide into two groups - those who treat me with great generosity and are delighted that I'm willing to help with nappy-changing, feeding, entertaining, bathing, putting children to bed, keeping them quiet in church, etc, and those who think that because I'm not a mother myself, I know nothing and can't be trusted to hold their precious baby the right way up.

The latter are the ones who say, "You can't possibly understand, because you're not a mother" and have no appreciation of how much that hurts someone who would do anything to be a mother but hasn't been blessed with children. Some clearly believe that the very fact of having children is an achievement of theirs rather than a gift from God, and that I am a failure because I haven't managed to do it.

Having interacted regularly with children from a number of different families, and helped to look after a number of different children, I know that sometimes there's nothing you can do to make a child behave. I totally understand and respect that, and would never criticise a parent simply because they're having trouble keeping a baby or toddler quiet in Mass.

I also know (for instance) that it is possible to teach a child to behave in church without bringing a fresh packet of biscuits to church with you every single week, making an incredible amount of noise ripping that packet open every single week, and letting the child munch its way through the entire packet during the course of Mass every single week. In fact, I happen to think that's not a very good way to teach a child to respect the Blessed Sacrament. Nor is it a particularly good diet for the child. I'm sure many parents would agree with me on that - I know that the parents of all 11 of my nephews and nieces would.

And if anyone thinks I don't have the right to say that because I'm not a parent myself and haven't experienced the problems of teaching children to behave, perhaps they should try living my life for a while before criticising me. They might see that life as a single person has its own difficulties, and isn't always a barrel of laughs.

Not everyone who is childless is childless through choice. And not everyone who is single is single through choice. It can be incredibly lonely having only yourself to think about, because it also means there's nobody else who thinks of you first, nobody who shares the burden when you're having problems, nobody you can depend on and nobody who notices and sympathises if you arrive home late after a dreadful journey or if you wake up feeling like death warmed up.

I'd like one of my commenters in particular to remember that.


Mac McLernon said...

Ouch... who's been a troll towards you then Newhouse?

Don't let the toe-rags get you down...

newhousenewjob said...

Doesn't matter who, Mac - it's happened before, and it'll happen again, and they never realise how hurtful their comments are.

What were you doing on the computer at that time of night? Couldn't you sleep?

Mac McLernon said...

Heheheh... late night showing of Harry Potter at Bluewater, followed by little detour via Waterstones (conveniently, also in Bluewater), then dropping friend back at her house in Thornton Heath, then home, to find that snack eaten during film had decided to disagree with my digestive tract. Blogging was distraction therapy in between visits to the bathroom...

Ma Beck said...

You got that right!
I don't have to have children to know that they shouldn't act like heathens in church.
Excellent post - there were times in my life I wish I would have had it handy.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have known your sadness. Being one of the oldest in a large family, it was always my dream to have children - and if I could have one, then a dozen would be better. Regrettably that was not to happen. But, Motherhood, as I have found after many years of a childless marriage, doesn't necessarily come with biological children. This is a grace the Lord Himself bestows, if we listen. It took me a while, but I finally caught on. If a woman is nutured in her youth by a "mother", she learns motherhood and nothing can then stop her from that - not even the lack of children. When it finally became apparent that we would not have biological children, and when I accepted that, the Lord then sent to me many, many children - and some are actually OLDER than I am. So many people today need "mothering" and that is what I now do. Don't give up your dream until you know for sure there won't be any biological children. And if that comes to pass - don't give up the mothering. You are a beautiful Mother - the Lord will give you children to nuture.

Love and prayers from across the pond...


Jennifer F. said...

Great points.

You know, I think that people with that personality type are actually saying the same thing in different form to their friends with children too. E.g. "Well, you only have *two* children, so you wouldn't understand," or, "You only have daughters, you wouldn't understand what it's like to raise a boy."

Some people just want to convince themselves that everyone else has it easier than they do.

newhousenewjob said...

Thanks everyone - I feel better now I've got that off my chest. And I know that I'm actually very blessed with the number of children I have in my life and the relationship I have with them - that I could never have had if I'd been busy looking after children of my own.

Ma, thanks for the support.

Pede, you're absolutely right, and as I sat this evening cradling yet another 4-year-old on my lap, I couldn't have been more contented.

Jen, I agree with you too - and I just can't be that sort of person (although I sounded a bit like it in this post). People who've married in their twenties and had children as soon as they wanted them can't know what I feel like, but my life is pretty good really and I'm not going to enter into a game of "let's see whose life is hardest".

Mac, I hope your digestive system has recovered!

Fiona said...

A very poignant post. I too wish that people would realize more that children are exclusively a gift from God and not some sort of human or civil right.

Most of the family have now started reading and appreciating your blog! My husband in particular identified with your post about road rage. 'Sigh'. He's getting much better himself though, probably because the Met line went on to become the main focus of his ire.

However...your comments about the family who my own children have for some time called 'the biscuit family', hit home. (I confess I felt quite aggrieved at seeing our little domestic situation so publicly exposed).

This particular family don't come to the parish often, so it's always truly delightful to see them.

It must be difficult for older first-time parents to cope with babies and toddlers in fairly close succession, and many parents with pre-school children always seem exhausted to me. All parents are on a learning curve, especially with the first child. With experience they will learn of the dangers of instant gratification or how habits go on to become vices or wherever else they may be stoking up problems for both themselves and their children. It would be highly imprudent to raise such issues with such parents however. So we just have to persevere, God willing, in charity.

Whenever I hear people coming into Mass in a noisy way, rattling keys or with screaming children in toe, I realize that they simply don't realize the clatter and the disturbance they cause because they come from an environment where noise levels (and stress levels) are usually very high. It is not because they are intending to be disrespectful. All we can do is to offer it up, and appreciate the fact that they could make it at all. Far more upsetting is when people habitually walk in late, and appear to have no good excuse.

Your post on the Battle of Passchendaele was also very much appreciated. I can’t understand why this war seems to affect us so much more than any other. Perhaps because we have been left with such emotive poetry. Perhaps not. Listening to Chris de Burgh also brought back distant memories. Don’t really listen to music and so haven’t heard him for donkeys years, but I recalled that Lonely Sky was one of my all time favorites at school.

Phew! I'll give you a rest now and in future aim to respond to individual posts rather than giving you a round-up. God bless.

newhousenewjob said...

Thanks for that, Fiona - and especially for the very apposite comments about the 'biscuit family'.

Going back to the first time I posted about them, what I was originally trying to say was that I recognised the problem was with me for getting annoyed at the noise rather than with them as such. Unfortunately, I then got a bit upset at something a commenter said, and this post was a response to the implication that I had no right to criticise. While this is undeniably true, the way it was phrased was very unfortunate (particularly as it missed the point I had tried to make - that despite being genuinely disturbed by the noise, I tried very hard to be understanding and not to let it disturb me), and in my response the biscuit incident became an illustration of a whole different point.

I, too, would much rather see that family there - biscuits and all - than not, and apologise if I have caused offence to anyone by using that incident in this way.

Anonymous said...

I too have experienced much of what you have described.

Although I don't have anything like your experience with small children, my youngest brother is much younger than me and so I often looked after him. (Since when was motherhood a competition anyway?) I think the new mothers who feel they have to tell you what to do are really very nervous themselves and it just comes out all wrong and touches a very raw nerve.

Good for you for being so outgoing, because such comments have led me to be increasingly solitary, which is not really good.

newhousenewjob said...

I'm sorry it's had that effect on you, Anonymous. You're right about the raw nerve - and the problem then is that you can bite your lip for so long, and then eventually you come up with a reaction that's out of all proportion to the latest insult. I've cried my eyes out on the phone to other people after someone said the most seemingly innocuous things to me. And, of course, the people who said those things usually remain blissfully unaware that they have upset me - hence the post that's probably been brewing since before I even started blogging.

The thing is, though, for me the generous people have outnumbered the upsetting ones, and I usually manage to avoid the situations where I know for sure I'm going to be upset - I'm sure you could find the same...

diana said...

You are right on target with how people are desperate to be mothered...

Fiona, you are so right...I made many mistakes with my first...against my better judgment, because so many people today think kids can't hear the word NO and *TSK *TSK *when they hear a new parent tell a two year old NO. So I became unsure of myself...and allowed things I wouldn't even consider today!

New House,
know where you are at...a person previously close to me who shall remain nameless was always forcing boyfriends, marriage issues on me since I was 16...she was boy crazy and couldn't live without a boyfriend...she would embarrass me at showers by pointing out that I "would never get married" (I was 19 at the time) know the type.

It never ceases to amaze me--the rudeness of people!