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Monday, 28 November 2016

The Best Job for a Woman?

“Being a mum is the best job a woman could have”. I’ve heard many mothers proclaim this, but don’t take my word for it - I’m a child-free female and, at the age of 37, have no immediate or even future plans to alter this state. So, am I’m missing out on the ultimate, most satisfying life role by remaining with the child-free minority? 
When I daydream about my ideal job, it’s one that I love getting out of bed for, a career that fulfils my passions and creative aspirations, that reaps rewards both in terms of financial stability and the occasional ego boost. Don’t get me wrong, I would never deride any woman (or man, for that matter) for preferring to dedicate their life to nurturing offspring, and I’m sure that parents who say that it’s the best thing they’ve ever done are being perfectly sincere. 
However, one thing I feel very strongly against - hence feeling the need to express my opinion on the subject - is when ‘child bearers’ frown upon ‘non-child-bearers-by-choice’ for following the less conventional path in life. When people affirm that they don’t want children to people that already have them, sometimes the declaration is met with respect and understanding, but more often than not the other person will try to convince them that, by remaining child-free, they’re living a sub-standard existence. You’ll notice that I’ve used the term ‘child-free’ rather than ‘child-less’, to emphasise that I personally see it as a liberating lifestyle with many advantages.  
As hesitant as I am to highlight a very disturbing fact, one simply has to watch the news to know that there are children in this world who tragically suffer neglect or abuse at the hands of their own parents – if that’s not proof that some child-bearing individuals are simply not up to the job of being a decent parent, I don’t know what is. This is why I am very unsettled by people who try and talk others into wanting children when they’ve expressed pre-conceived notions that this isn’t their calling.  
“Your life isn’t complete until you have children”. Who am I to argue with this? I have no doubt that creating a human being, nurturing him or her, loving them and having them love you back, is an experience like no other. I know that I’ll be missing out on something by denying myself that rite-of-passage. But, personally, I feel I’d be missing out on more if I compromised my freedom and disposable income to raise children. I have plenty of fulfilling connections in my life - my partner, friends, relatives and my pet cat. I love having the time to nurture my aspirations and interests - writing, jive dancing and yoga, to name a few, and I just about manage to squeeze in other must-do tasks like domestic chores (and I almost forgot to mention my full-time job). Right now, it certainly doesn’t feel like there’s a huge void in my life.
It was only recently that I came across an online article, published by the Daily Mail in April 2013, with the headline: “The mother who says that having these two children is the biggest regret of her life”. As one might expect from reading the title, the article’s subject - mother-of-two Isabella Dutton, 57 - has been the target of antagonistic comments from people outraged by her supposedly cold attitude. It probably doesn’t help that the Daily Mail’s editor unnecessarily chose to include the words “these two” in the title, implying that the resentment of this mother towards her offspring is personal, which isn’t actually the case. 
It appears that I’m among the minority for praising Dutton (to a point) for opening up about her anguish - it’s a massive relief to know that I’m not completely deranged in my thinking that motherhood is not for every woman. I do feel inclined to agree with those who have expressed that the article should have been published anonymously without the names and pictures of her children though, again, this counteraction would most likely have been at the non-negotiable request of the editor.  Before passing your own judgement, it’s helpful to read the whole piece:  
“Just wait – one day you’ll want kids, then you’ll see just how great it is!” Obviously, as long as I remain child-free, I can’t prove whether or not this assertion is accurate, therefore I’ll revert back to Isabella Dutton to challenge the statement. In the Daily Mail article, she reflects on her feelings five days after her first child was born: “As I looked at his round face on the brink of wakefulness, I felt no bond. No warm rush of maternal affection. I felt completely detached from this alien being who had encroached upon my settled married life and changed it, irrevocably, for the worse.” 
It’s no surprise that many people have been appalled by Isabella Dutton’s declaration and there is one question which frequently crops up among the comments: What good could come from this article? Well, Dutton clearly states that prior to her son’s birth she harboured some “lingering hope that becoming a mum would cure [her] antipathy”. Where did this initial hope come from? Did other people - friends, relatives, her husband, society in general – try to convince her that she would love motherhood, in spite of her better judgement? 
Others have berated Dutton’s article for the potential damage it might do to her children (both now adults, in their 30s), therefore I’ll express my own thoughts about this. My own mother initially wanted four children, but decided not to have any more after having her third – me. From as far back as my early childhood, it was clear that my mother was generally an unhappy person (for various reasons) and she made her regrets about having children very clear to me and my siblings – I must admit, this could potentially have had a profoundly negative impact on us. However, speaking for myself only, I still knew my parents loved me, despite whether or not they loved being parents, and I have chosen to look on the bright side. As a consequence of their ‘mistake’, I’ve been given the gift of life and have sub-consciously learned that if I have neither the financial stability nor sacrificial instincts to raise a child, I’m better off child-free. Is that a self-absorbed attitude, or a healthy one? Am I messed up and psychologically-scarred, or balanced and well-adjusted?   
“People who don’t want children are selfish” - I’ve heard this from various sources, though never directed at me personally. In my own hypothetical defence, I would say that – yes – my lack of interest in procreating is a definite symptom of my own need for self-preservation, but I disagree with the suggestion that not having children is an act of selfishness. In fact, for me to bring a child into this world, knowing that there’s a great risk of my parental efforts being half-hearted at best, would be a thoughtless act. 
There’s a group on Facebook called “I Regret Having Children” – as of November 2016, it has over 5,000 members. Many of the comments – posted anonymously by the group’s administrator – are from parents who battle a constant feeling of animosity while bringing up their own children. A few of the contributors to this group however, are people who admit to having walked out of their children’s lives and give very honest and heart-wrenching explanations as to why they did it. These individuals clearly did not like being parents let alone love it, therefore decided that raising their child/children begrudgingly would not be doing them any favours, and subsequently opted for estrangement. 
If a person believes it is in their child’s best interests (as well as their own) to reassign the duty of care of them to someone else, does this make them heartless? It is certainly evident that a child can be susceptible to emotional damage when one of their biological parents has chosen to have little or no contact with them. But is it any less harmful when a father or mother stays in their child’s life as an unwilling and therefore contemptuous parent, and creates a psychologically-toxic environment for the child to grow up in? 
 “You don’t know how hard it is to be a parent until you’ve experienced it”. This is another phrase often quoted to me from people who have children – even by some of those who are simultaneously suggesting that I copy their lifestyle choice, bizarrely enough. Whilst there must be some degree of truth in the implication that I can’t possibly know what raising a child is really like, from an outsider’s point of view it doesn’t take a team of forensics to conclude that being a parent is hard work and that personal sacrifices are part of the package.  
A former colleague of mine, shortly after returning to work following a period of maternity leave, stunned me with the following revelation about motherhood: “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be” (this wasn’t a declaration of regret – you can clearly see that she loves being a mum). My response was “Really?”, prompting her to lecture me about why it was hard. But my astonishment wasn’t at the so-called news that being a parent was challenging, but genuine surprise that she was surprised by this. As someone who doesn’t particularly relish the idea of parenthood, I can anticipate its detriments without having to experience them first-hand.  
According to one study, conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services between 2002 and 2003, 97% of mothers agree with the following statement: "The rewards of being a parent are worth it despite the cost and the work it takes." This survey was conducted among a relatively small pool of mums – 7,000 in fact, which of course is barely a decimal-of-a-fraction of the world’s female, child-bearing population. My attempt at finding more up-to-date and global-wide statistics has so far failed, therefore we’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that this is an accurate representation of modern day society. 
So, if the idea of having children has always filled you with immense joy, and you are about to embark on fulfilling this dream, then the odds of you being glad that you did are in your favour. But if you’re already a doting parent who is trying to convince someone with a more cynical perception that they will love the role as much as you do, remember that that there’s a tiny chance – 3%, if studies are to be believed – that this will turn out NOT to be the case.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Healthy vs. Light

I refer to myself as being 'health aware'. Slightly under-qualified for the term 'health conscious', I genuinely enjoy a wide range of foods and frequently give in to cravings for chocolate, fizzy drinks, fast food and Monster Munch.

 “So, what? You’re 5 foot 7 inches, weighing barely 8 stone.”

For those acquaintances of mine who have often tried to berate some of my healthy lifestyle choices with such words, I’m hoping you’ll gain some insight from reading this . . .

Due to my lifelong ability to consume junk without any tell-tale signs on my figure, I often find myself having to justify the fact that I go to the gym. People naturally assume I’m trying to lose weight. Whilst I appreciate the responsibility of those who are just concerned that I might be seeing a fun-house version of myself when looking into a mirror, I can reassure you that this is not the case. If I wanted to disappear, I would become a magician. If I didn’t go the gym (which I haven’t, for most of my life), I wouldn’t be now gaining weight through muscle tone, as well as experiencing the countless benefits to regular exercise such as improved circulation, stamina, alertness, sex-drive, release of ‘happy hormones’, and boost of immunity against health problems; to name a few. Or course, I could always take up a competitive sport – if it wasn’t for lack of interest, and let’s face it, skill.

In a bid to improve my way of eating for 71% of the time (5 days a week, out of 7) and ensuring that I maintain a good consumption of nutrition throughout my daily grind at the office, I once browsed the internet for inspiration. On Googling the term ‘healthy lunch’, I was hit by website after website that suggested that ‘healthy lunches’ came in the form of low-fat microwaveable dinners. Of course, that’s the problem with trusting the internet as a reliable source of information – people can publish any old shit (myself included) and unfortunately there’s too many digital-age chumps who take it as gospel. And this brings me to the common misconception - that low fat and healthy are the same thing. Without being a nutritional expert, I can confirm with the utmost confidence that they are NOT.

Food commercials that boast about the low-calorie content of their products (often featuring a catalogue cut-out style female parading around in a red swimsuit) would have us believe that ‘fat’ and ‘calories’ are dirty words. Fat, believe it or not, is vital for maintaining healthy skin and hair. It also plays a part in health cell function and insulates organs against shock. Plus, it keeps us warm (but you knew that already, didn’t you?). A calorie is a unit of energy in food consumption, some of which are nutritional. The opposite of a nutritional calorie is known as ‘empty calorie’ – of which provides little function in the human body other than weight gain. 

So, what’s the problem with eating reduced fat foods? In short, when fats have been artificially removed from food during processing, they are generally replaced with something else. Read the label, and you’ll see all those funny words that you’d otherwise only see directly in front of you when you’re losing at Scrabble. Chemicals are not nutrition. As a general rule of thumb, the more natural your food is, the better it is for you (though I’d talk to a real expert before you go and start eating grass and rocks). 

Recently I watched a newsmag-style television broadcast about the growing availability of junk food on our high streets over healthier options. Initially, I got all excited about the fact that the media were showing a responsible attitude – that was, until they went into detail about the impact this has on obesity without a single mention of the other negative repercussions on our health. Its no wonder, as a naturally slender person, people always say to me “You don’t have to think about health. You can eat whatever you want”. Sure, I can – as long as the prospect of hair loss, skin disease, a rotten smile and clogged arteries doesn’t bother me. In reality, I should be just as conscious as the next person about what I eat, and believe me when I say that I don’t find it easy. Lately, whenever I get the urge to reach for my third sugary treat of the day, I have to remind myself that I’m dating a dental hygienist.

So, who is to blame over society’s body-image obsession? Before I go pointing my skinny finger at the media, I would just like to show my appreciation for programmes like Supersize Vs. Superskinny. Not as vacuous as the title makes out, it focuses heavily (no pun intended) on the importance of nutrition. However, would the title ‘Two Extreme Examples of Malnutrition’ gain the same level of ratings? Probably not. Sadly, outer beauty seems to prevail its importance to us over actual health, so the media is just giving us what we expect.

If you want to really love and respect your body, then pay attention to how it feels, rather than what it looks like. Health is an inside job. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Pamela's Hen-Party-That-Didn't-Quite-Happen

Foreword: I actually wrote this piece a year following from the event itself, after a well-known UK magazine publication did a small feature on it. I felt compelled to create a more fitting tribute, not only to capture the drama of the incident as it actually happened, but as an acknowledgement to my friend Pamela for organising one corker-of-a-hen-party for herself and her lovely guests. For good measure, I've tried to imitate the style of a women's magazine. 

Saturday May 15th, 2009

"Alright, Sexy?” I grinned at my mate Kerren as I walked into Pamela’s kitchen. Kerren and Pamela, like me, were dressed from head-to-toe in Moulin Rouge style costumes. It was only six in the evening, on a Saturday in mid-May, and I’d felt a bit of a wally walking from the car to the house in broad daylight with that amount of leg on display. Still, the effort felt worth it. It was Pamela’s hen party, and we were going to be picked up by a Hummer limousine to be taken to a casino in Bristol and then onto some nightclubs. I’d never been to a casino before, or dressed-up quite like that, but drunken gambling in the company of scantily-clad ladies seemed like a great way to spend an evening. There were only 11 of us invited, plus the bride-to-be, and I felt privileged to be one of the selected few. 

One-by-one the other hens arrived – some familiar faces, others who I’d never met – everyone looked fantastic. Pamela had gone to a tremendous effort to make it a special evening. She’d laid on a tasty buffet and drinks at the house, and provided us all with little gift bags of sweets, glow-sticks and personalised badges. “I’m gonna make sure I’m drunk before the limo gets here!” I chuckled, pinning on my ‘Miss Saucy’ badge. 

The limo arrived before I’d even had time to get tipsy. We were all so excited as we clambered in, though I felt sorry for Rhea-Jean, Pamela’s daughter, who was in tears as Pamela waved her goodbye. I guess it’s hard to explain to a five-year-old that ‘mummy’s off to Bristol in this weird, oversized car to exchange money for plastic chips; in order to celebrate her last night of freedom’. 

As soon as the limo pulled away I was handed a glass of champagne. “Why not?” I said, “Champagne isn’t supposed to give you a hangover”. Though, as I took my first gulp, I did wonder how well it would mix with the peach schnapps I’d already had. Pamela was leaning across the mini bar, flicking through the music selection. ‘Breathe Slow’ by Alesha Dixon was blaring out of the sound system - Kerren and my other mate Kay were singing along. “How depressing!” I playfully scolded them. “Pamela, have we got anything more up-beat?” 

She replied: “I’m working on it!” Then, suddenly we heard a BANG, and we were all shunted across our seats as the vehicle jolted forward . . . . . 

Then, we stopped moving. Champagne was spilled everywhere. Pamela asked if everyone was okay. We all looked at each other – there were no obvious signs of anyone being hurt. Then, the back door of the car opened – it was Steve, our driver: “There’s petrol all over the road, and I can smell burning – everyone, out!” 

There were shrieks of panic as we all clambered out. I was second-to-last, with Kay behind me. The evidence of the impact was obvious – the back of the limo was completely crushed, with both wheels hanging off. Further up the road was the car which had smacked into us – another write-off. Pamela was distraught at her special night being ruined, and she couldn’t help but make her feelings known to the other driver. Had we not been there to calm her down, I think there would have been another casualty. 

We walked up the road to make sure we were out of danger. It was cold outside, and I’m sure we were a real sight in our costumes for the other drivers who were trying to steer around the wreckage. Once the shock had worn off, the effect of the crash on some of the hens became apparent: Pamela had whacked her head on the mini-bar, Kay had whiplash, Katie had severe pains in her collar bone; and Kerren - who was later to find out that she was in the early stages of pregnancy - was feeling nauseous from fume inhalation. It felt like a long wait for the ambulance, and we had to huddle together to keep warm. Whilst the limo company summoned another vehicle to take the rest of us home, the four injured girls were taken to hospital. 

Pamela’s wedding in Cyprus two weeks later went ahead as planned, and we got to do ‘take two’ of our night out in Bristol some months later. All credit due to Pamela – she knows how to kick off a party with a bang!