The importance of sensitivity

Hi everyone, I’ve had a bit of an unplanned break away from the blog, the reason being that I finally finished writing my book! I can’t quite believe it! There’s still lots of work to do but I have, at long last, fulfilled a lifelong dream. 

Anyway, enough about that, as that’s not what this post is about. It’s actually been inspired by last Thursday’s Loose Women episode. For anyone who doesn’t know Loose Women it’s a British daytime TV show with a panel of women discussing issues of the day (I think a bit like The View in the US). I rarely get to watch it but I love it when I do! 

On this particular show with panellists Christine Lampard, Brenda Edwards, Carol McGiffin and Stacey Solomon, they were discussing the questions that you should never ask a child-free woman. This subject just really resonated with me, after all I was a child-free woman for a long time whilst longing with all my heart to one day become a mum! Plus there are many child-free women out there who are quite happy to be child-free yet there seems to be this expectation that they should want to have children.

It’s hard to know what images to use for this post, so I thought I’d go with one of me in my child-free days.

I’ve mentioned before that we were starting to think that we wouldn’t be able to have children and therefore I was almost expecting to always be child-free, although not out of choice. I did actually think about how I would deal with that. I was already finding the, seemingly very innocent, question, “don’t you want to have children?” difficult. Plus there were the comments from other parents either insinuating that I had so much time on my hands because I was child-free (which was actually never the case) or saying that I wouldn’t understand about certain things as a non-parent (of course I didn’t but that didn’t mean to say I didn’t want to) or people complaining about the difficulties of their pregnancy to me when I was so desperate to be pregnant myself. (I know pregnancy is difficult, mine wasn’t easy, but I tried not to complain about it as I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world.)

I don’t think that many people realise just how painful these questions and comments can be. Every time the subject was brought up I would put on a brave face, make some comment about how we hoped to have children if we were lucky enough (I’d always add the bit about luck as that was how I saw it), after all it wasn’t a given that we would become parents. Then I’d subtly try to change the subject (I’m not sure exactly how subtle I was!). But I have to say that each time I faced questions and comments with regards to having children it was like a little stab of emotional pain. 

I remember thinking that all this would probably stop by the time I was in my mid-forties. But that seemed a long time to keep on going through the same painful questions and comments. And actually why should I? What difference did it make to anyone else? To be honest I don’t think people mean to cause upset but it’s more that they are nosey or curious or simply struggle to make conversation! Of course, it was always people with children who would ask the questions or make the comments and, as Carol McGiffin said on the Loose Women programme, why is it acceptable for people with children to question those without them? It is very rare that you hear about someone without children questioning the life choices of someone with them.

By nature I am quite an open person but with this matter it was just so personal and painful that I never talked about my longing to have children too much to anyone, except my husband, who felt it too. So I think it’s possible that people I know thought I didn’t want children, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. I finally opened up to my mum about it, she knew I had always wanted children but hadn’t realised quite how much. I remember telling her how I struggled every time someone else I knew announced their pregnancy and whilst of course I was happy for them, I felt a sadness for myself and my husband because I so badly wanted it to be us making that announcement.

I’m guessing that there will be some of you reading this who probably think I’m overly sensitive but I’m actually not really an overly sensitive person. I think anyone who has hoped to be parent but has been in the situation where it looked like it would never happen or it hasn’t happened will understand where I was coming from. For those for whom becoming a parent has come more easily it might be harder to understand. And I’m delighted that there are people who decide they’re having a family and it just happens for them.

I’m not saying that we should all walk on egg shells around each other, but more that we need to be sensitive to people’s situations and life choices whether we think we know what they are or not. In my mind questions about whether someone wants children is personal and, apart from the time I asked my husband that question when we were in the first few months of our relationship (almost ten years ago now!), it’s actually none of my business to ask anyone else!

I also think that we all need to respect others and the lives that they have. Whether they are part of a couple or not, whether they have children or not, be that by choice or otherwise. Pre-children I did used to feel that some people didn’t see my life as valid as theirs because I wasn’t a mum, maybe they didn’t mean to make me feel that way but that’s how I allowed them to make me feel. And I know, from talking to others, I wasn’t alone in feeling like that. No matter whether you’re a parent or not all our lives are just as valid and as important as the next person’s.

I had a great-aunt who died a few years ago, three months short of her 103rd birthday (yes really! I currently have another great-aunt going strong at 100!). This particular aunt, who was such a lovely person to be around, had never married (apparently she’d been engaged but her fiancé was killed in the war) or had children. When she was close to the end she had said that she was so grateful for the lovely life she’d had. And I could totally see why she said that, she did have a happy life, she’d had great friends, was close to her family and had done lots of interesting things. She was also a very positive person which I think helped and just her being in the world brought so much joy to others.

Really what I’m trying to say is that we should all remember to a bit more sensitive towards others. A woman being child-free should not make her open to questions or comments by others about that, whatever the reason, it is a sensitive subject for many. And if you’re one of those who struggles to make conversation just remember that the weather is always a great starter!

Colette x

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