New research from Glasgow University this week concluded that, for married couples, having children makes you happier. And don’t stop at one, the study advised — have three kids if you really want to maximise the ecstasy.
I have to admit, this report made me smile. And I don’t mean smirk, or roll my eyes in a phoney rictus grin, I mean really smile. Because it’s true and it’s one in the eye for a new, powerful and increasingly obnoxious lobby — the smug childfrees.
The rise of the smug childfrees has roots in good sense and fairness — the once-pervasive idea that not wanting children makes a woman selfish or strange is both ignorant and tyrannical. But lately the trend has morphed into something more sinister, and a divisive and aggressive strain has entered the debate. Newspapers and women’s magazines have been overrun with articles by belligerent confessors who take great delight in attacking ‘boring’ ‘child-centric’, ‘dummy mummies’ and their ‘shrill brats’.
One high profile columnist wished her local beach could display a sign which said “No children”. A women’s editor said that she was appalled “both instinctually and intellectually” by the idea of having children, and another complained that, after having children, her friends became insular and dull, obsessed with bowel movements and organic porridge.
I’ve also noticed the preponderance of some new and nasty stereotypes for modern mums — the muesli-knitting hippie; the selfish, nanny-dependent careerist; the neurotic, hovering ‘helicopter’ mother. At the same time childfree working women in their thirties and forties are increasingly presented as sassy, engaged, liberated and independent.
I keep hearing that these poor women are an oppressed minority — but I rarely hear anyone oppressing them. Most sensible women understand that feminism is about free choice and the right to control your own life. Yet it does seem to be currently acceptable — cool, even — to write off swathes of us as parasitic ‘dummy mummies’ with tiny, frustrated lives.
Yes, some mums are mind-numbingly dull — but so are lots of other people. There are also plenty of us who still read books, squeeze in cinema visits, get incensed by gravy-train jumping MPs and tell dirty jokes once our kids have gone to bed.
As for those women who swamp radio phone-ins bemoaning the taxes that provide education for the next generation (which they usually describe as ‘other people’s children’) or who resent the flexible working hours which give mums the quality time with their kids that might produce the considerate and productive citizens of the future — those bitter whingers are about as empathetic and socially aware as that great siren of the sisterhood Margaret Thatcher.
Chris Evans said something that made my ears prick up this week. He was espousing the delight that his new son had brought him and said that “people without children just don’t get it”.
If a woman had said this she would have been pilloried for suggesting that she could lay claim to a special kind of happiness that woman without children could never share.
But Chris Evans is right. There’s a dizzying current of joy and love that rushes through your body when you feel that tiny hand grab yours at the roadside, or a curly little head burrows into your neck, or you find a note under a pillow asking the toothfairy to ‘please sign here’ — and the footloose and childfree will never know it.
Sorry if that sounds smug — but sometimes the truth hurts.