Guest Post by Nina Jervis
It might sound weird to say this, given that I spent a small fortune on publishing it. But when I wrote my book, I’d Rather Get a Cat and Save the Planet: Conversations with Child-free Women, I didn’t expect anybody to actually read it.
If they did, I thought, they’ll probably complain that it’s a bit short (which, at just over 100 pages it is, really. It reminds me of an episode of the TV comedy show Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which one of the characters stages a swanky launch for his ‘pamphlet’ of a book).
Amazingly, so far nobody has. Plus, I keep reminding myself that it was my intention to keep the book short and light. This is in direct contrast to other books I’ve read about choosing not to have children, a lot of which were heavy and hand-wringing.
I wanted to write something I wouldn’t mind reading myself. Something light-hearted, chatty, and supportive; ironically a lot like the books I’ve seen about motherhood.
So that’s what I did.
I interviewed some other child-free women about being child-free, and then I wrote up our conversations as though we were all chatting together about different subjects… like what happens when strangers ask if you’ve got any kids, and the names we’re called at work (Mad Cat Lady and Cruella, to name a couple).
Anyway. I wrote it, I hired a brilliant designer to make it beautiful, and out into the world it went.
Then I got invited to talk about it, online, to a semi-large group of strangers.
Me, an authority?
Most of this semi-large group of strangers had already read my book; it having been chosen for their ‘book club’ event a few weeks before (which blew my mind in itself, by the way).
Not only did it seem like they were looking forward to having me at the event, but some of them had submitted questions for me to answer.
(Me? Answering questions on child-free-ness, like I’m some kind of authority on the subject? I mean, I know ‘author’ and ‘authority’ basically mean the same thing, but still… why would anybody want to hear from me about anything?)
During the hour-long event I was asked to read an excerpt from my book, then answer the questions as part of a laid-back conversation with the organisers.
(Me? Reading an excerpt from my own book, like I’m AL Kennedy or Caitlin Moran? Stop it!)
Somehow, I said yes to all of these crazy things, and the event was scheduled for the evening of 8th March, or International Women’s Day.
“Sorry I’m not Tom Hardy”
After an excellent introduction from the event host, the excerpt-reading began with me mumbling an impromptu apology for not being Tom Hardy, reading one of his famous CBeebies Bedtime Stories.
(Why I said this in a group of mostly child-free women I’m not 100% sure).
I looked at the screen. Some people had turned their cameras off. I always do this myself when I’m part of a large online group, but I might not in future, as I found staring at a stack of blank boxes with names written inside them quite unnerving.
Almost as unnerving as the sea of actual faces, which I kept checking to see whether they were smiling, or frowning, or just staring glassily into the distance as I spoke.
But the excerpt I read, about child-free conversation and why we don’t talk much about not wanting kids (and why we should) went down well, even though my voice shook throughout.
Then it was onto the questions. I’ve included some of these here, along with my answers.
Do you ever get lonely on Sundays or holidays?
No. I’ve got a partner and two cats, I like my own company, and there’s always something to do.
I’m not sure if not having children means you’re more likely to be lonely. I can’t speak for them, but I think some people who have children might also feel lonely at times, especially once they’ve grown up, or if they’ve got nothing in common with them.
How do you deal with the bias of being a child-free woman?
Personally, my being child-free doesn’t come up all that often. I do find assumptions annoying though, like when people assume that I work from home so I can pick the kids up from school.
I’m more concerned about the everyday bias we see in the media… even in fairytales the ‘wicked stepmother’ never had children of her own! These days if you want to show a female protagonist’s caring side then you make her a mother, but if you want to show her evil or ‘unhinged’ side then she has to hate kids. I think that’s what needs to change.
Do you have any advice for someone who is still unsure about whether or not to have children?
This is such a deeply personal decision that I’d be uncomfortable about offering any specific advice, particularly since I’ve never been unsure about not wanting to have children myself.
All I’d say is that it might be helpful to think about how you live your life and what your personality is, then how having kids might work with it all. For example, I’m an introvert, so I get my energy from being on my own in a quiet setting. I’ll also do whatever I can to avoid conflict, and I’m extremely independent.
So if I had kids I’d also have to have kids’ parties, go to kids’ parties, make friends with other kids’ parents (whom I might hate), row with teachers and school governors, deal with tantrums, and be regularly involved with my local community – or at least, I’d have to do all that if I wanted to be a good mother, which I would.
In other words, I’d end up hating my life!
BUT if you look at your own scenarios and you’re still not entirely put off, then maybe having kids is something to think about.
How did your family feel about the book? Did it provoke any further discussion?
As far as I know, only one member of my family has read it.
I don’t think child-free-ness is a subject that interests my immediate family, as they either have children themselves, or they want them at some point. But family or not, I don’t like to ask anyone if they’ve read my work. If people want to talk about it – good or bad – then I assume they’ll bring it up themselves.
Do you think International Women’s Day is useful?
I think it used to be. Now it’s just a day when companies post a few pictures on social media to “celebrate” the women who work there.
(They hardly ever say exactly how they’re celebrating these women, though – are they going to pay them more money, for example?)
I also hate the word ‘empower’. You ONLY ever hear that word in relation to women, and on International Women’s Day you can’t move for ‘empowering’ vignettes. Enough!
Do you have any advice on how best to approach/present a no-kids policy when dating, and how to deal with a man’s rebuke?
I couldn’t imagine why a man would want to ‘rebuke’ a woman for not wanting kids, but recently a friend mentioned a conversation with a man she’d met on a social media app.
They’d been getting on really well, but then he casually told her that in his experience, women who’d never married or had children have “psychological problems”.
I’m no dating expert, but I think you just have to be open and honest about who you are and what you’re looking for. Then you’ll increase the chances of finding someone who fits.
“I’ve never resonated with an author more!”
As you might have noticed, once I got going there was no stopping me!
Happily, the ‘chat’ comments were overwhelmingly positive. One person even mentioned that they’d never resonated with an author more.
(I don’t know who this person is, but I’d quite like to give them a hug).
My nervous knees had been shaking like mad throughout the entire event – luckily you don’t see knees on Zoom unless things have gone horribly awry – but as the hour came to a close, I concluded that it might actually have been a success.
I might actually have been a success.