A question of breeding



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The Independent Online

26 April 2014

I’ve been married many times, but haven’t had children. Is that because I’m selfish? Did I always put work first? Or did I pick men who were (how can I put this tactfully) very demanding?

One husband already had a 10-year-old son who died of cancer, and profound grief meant that he couldn’t be near children for years afterwards. Another husband came with a small son who turned out to be far more adorable than his dad.

In total, only two out of my eight former partners have had children, and half of my girlfriends are childless. Sometimes this will be by choice, but I know that some feel regret that they spent so long working and earning and clawing their way up the pyramid of power that by the time they could afford kids and had the right partner, it was too late.

Britain has a huge number of childless women – more than one in five, the third highest rate in the developed world. The Office for National Statistics says the number has doubled in a generation. Unlike in my grandmother’s time, when you were thought weird if you hadn’t popped out a sprog by 30, today there’s no stigma in choosing not to breed. How do we find the time?

At work, 80 per cent of the new self-employed between 2008 and 2011 were women. That means we are setting our own hours, our own goals, and taking a lot of responsibility. Working for yourself sounds flexible and family-friendly, but many women discover that it means you never leave work behind; you are staring at a computer screen late at night, and answering emails every hour of the day.

I don’t miss having kids. Men are far more demanding – especially creative, imaginative men who live in their own heads. I have certainly enjoyed the dramas and the delights of their company, and I wouldn’t swap a smart man for a toddler or a goldfish.

New research also shows that both sexes shy away from discussing children. A survey by Middlesex University discovered that as many as four out of 10 childless couples had only discussed starting a family once, if at all.

What an amazing piece of information, and how revealing about the state of modern relationships. Is it because we fear that articulating our desire to procreate or not will drive the other person away? Babies have become the elephant in the room, the B-word we can’t face mentioning. We can talk about diets, sexual positions, waxing and plucking, but not babies.

I admit to being in that camp. I can mouth off on almost any subject, but would have found it painfully embarrassing to admit to a lover that I didn’t want kids. I’m intelligent, driven, organised and focused, so why the reticence? How many of my female friends didn’t ever get around to bringing up the subject?

It’s not just women who might secretly want to have kids. A friend of mine became a father in his late fifties after divorcing – his former wife had never wanted children. He didn’t marry the boy’s mother, but has built his life around seeing his young son at every opportunity and is the happiest he’s ever been. So let’s not forget the silent men who yearn to be dads, confronted with modern women who may have a different agenda.

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