You would have thought the former leader of the racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic French National Front Marine Le Pen wouldn’t have room for any more mindless prejudice in her fascistic brain, but – you’d be wrong! She recently slotted the last tiny piece in the stupidity jigsaw by announcing at a rally of supporters that her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron was in no position to talk about the future parce que – unlike Le Pen – he has no children.
It’s progress of a sort, I suppose. Usually this sort of thing is directed at women. Last year the then-Tory leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom said having children (in contrast to child-free rival Theresa May, though Leadsom denied intending this) gave her “a very real stake in the country’s future”. This led to both May and Nicola Sturgeon feeling pressured into releasing details of their fertility struggles, and several papers listing which female politicians did and didn’t have children and, by implication, could be trusted to do their jobs properly or not.
There are very few times when it’s acceptable to preface something with “as a mother”, but I’m about to use one of the exceptions now. As a mother, I can assure you that the idea parenthood makes you better in any way is laughable. Rationally, of course it should fire us with a transformative zeal like no other. So should a lot of things. Every headline since 1914, for a start. But things don’t work like that.
When you fall in love with your child (which, BTW, can take ages, but that’s a column for another time), you act in exactly the same way as you do at the beginning of a new relationship. You become an inward-looking, selfish little unit of two for whom the rest of the world falls away. The only difference is this state lasts pretty much the rest of your life instead of for a perfectly reasonable first few romantic months. Plus you’re permanently knackered because children are even more work than partners (and I invite you to dwell on this fact longer than you are inclined and only then see if you’re ready to chuck out your Microgynon yet).
In short, this is not a mental state conducive to leadership, activism, altruism, generosity of spirit or any of the other things that are implied by the myth of saintly motherhood. In fact, how the parent came to be so worshipped, I’ll never know. I’m sure there are a handful of valiant exceptions – breeders able to take the potent blend of love and fear that threatens to consume the post-partum and turn it into the fuel that sends them on a ceaseless quest to improve the world. And all hail you, you warrior-heroines. But for many of us – and I speak as one who did nothing but cry and puree for two years – the opposite is true. All our depleted resources and suddenly reprioritised lives allow is retreat. Ideally to a bombproof cot for two.
So if you must insist on placing your hopes for sorting out any kind of mess – domestic, national, international – in one basket, then for god’s sake put them in the non-breeding one. The child-free people are far more likely still to be looking outwards, acting unselfishly, being capable of putting others before themselves. They still have energy, concentration, the ability to think beyond teatime. That’s not to put parents down, just to point out that the idea that children alone magically transform you into a better class of human is absurd. As a mother, I know.