the best pr in town

The narrative of parenting is littered with clichés. From the ‘being a parent is demanding but oh so fulfilling’ proclamations to the constant worship at the altar of ‘unconditional love’ and the declarations that life was somehow incomplete until the progeny came along, parenting is a public relations dream come true. But I find myself occasionally cringing at how readily we spout banalities when we become parents. It’s a soapbox I have been on before but I return to it again because of a little piece of parenting propaganda from the Hollywood machine.

The film I’m talking about is Baby Mama – now don’t get me wrong, Tina Fey is my total celebrity girlcrush and I get all tingly and excited when 30 Rock comes on the tele. But I found myself weeping with both sadness and frustration at the end of the film and questioning how such representations of parenthood both influence and cloud our perceptions.

Baby Mama tells the story of Kate, a single woman in her late 30’s who has dedicated herself to her career and now finds that she has left it too late to have a baby. (How many hackneyed ideas can you spot in that sentence?) Kate decides to go to a surrogacy agency to have the baby of her dreams. The surrogate mother turns out to be a fraud who deceives Kate into believing she is pregnant in order to make a quick buck. Unbelievably both women fall pregnant to their prospective boyfriends and have perfect babies – ‘happily ever after’ seems inevitable.

I chose this film because I thought it would be filled with irreverent humour and irony – and indeed Sigourney Weaver’s turn as the über-fertile middle-aged director of the surrogacy agency was my favourite part of the film. But what I objected to was the ending where everyone had a baby (naturally I might add, so there’s a slap in the face to anyone who may have conceived a child by other means) and the distinct subtext was that these two unfulfilled women would now be happy because they had entered the exalted club of parenthood.

I admit I was emotional when I watched this film (it was around this time last year, on the day my angel should have turned three) but when I shared my thoughts with my best friend she could see my point. While we both love our kids and now can’t imagine life without them, we wonder why we never felt that we could have chosen a child-free path. The unspoken understanding is that it is a choice you might regret – that the happy ending will somehow elude you if you walk the road less travelled. Our consensus was that, biological imperative aside, parenting has an awesome public relations team on the job. As my friend said, “Having kids can be wonderful but so can other things. And sometimes being a parent can be just damn hard.” But this is not something you hear often. If someone does dare to complain about parenting or their children it is almost expected that they will balance the expression with a platitude such as, “But I wouldn’t swap them for quids.”

After watching Baby Mama I was once again left worrying for women who do not have children – either by choice or by circumstance. How do they cope in the face of the overwhelming juggernaut of parenting PR? Anyone who has watched a friend or relative struggle with IVF or other fertility issues undoubtedly knows the answer to that question. And so this week I have been asking: where are the narratives about women and men who are not, and never will be, parents? Where is the happy ending which doesn’t have kids in it?

What motivated you to have children? Do you ever wonder what life would be like without kids?



Filed under parenting, writing

8 responses to “the best pr in town

  1. I had kids because I wanted to create the kind of family that I wanted to grow up in but didn’t. Deep and a little bit sad I know but no less true. I think the best PR in town isn’t about being parents it’s about having a family. Not necessarily the traditional mum, dad and kids kind but definitely a group of people together kind of family. Major religious holidays, celebrations, milestones, are all shared with a group of people; family. And what better way than to ensure a group gathering than to create your own people that are forced to be with you for 20 years. And with any luck, they like you enough to visit every now and then 😉

    As for the Hollywood films, well that’s a whole other debate.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

  2. As a child I never gave much thought to whether I would have kids when I grew up, I just wanted to be an adult as quickly as possible (comination of precocity and control)! By the time I was 18 I was coming around to the idea that in pretty much every society, it was assumed that you go on a manhunt with the end game being kids, and if you didn’t have or didn’t want that, well then… what? Both options (the having and the not-having) scared me, so I put it out of my mind as something for when I was really old (like, 30. Which reminds me of all those ridiculous ‘if we’re not married by 30 we’ll be desperate and marry each other’ films,but I digress…) Then, when I went to London and found myself working in a ludicrously great job with an amazing mentor as a boss, it hit me for the very first time (at age 23) that I had a choice about this. My boss, who I had an instant connection with, was around 55-60, vibrant, dynamic, elegant, smart, funny – and single. No kids, no husband. She pottered around, redecorated, read books, did gardening, visited family, travelled. She was the polar opposite of the cliched spinster aunt (think 18 cats and matted hair). She was the first person who opened up my worldview to include the wondrous idea of choice. The idea that it wasn’t just up to fate, my bad luck at not finding a good-enough fella, at the fertility gods maybe not smiling on me, that would see me childless. It could be something that I chose for myself. And that felt exactly like freedom. The irony that my life has now turned into, superficially at least, the mumdad2kids box and dice, does not escape me, but if I felt it wasn’t my choice, or that an alternative life wasn’t valid, I don’t think would have the peace and contentedness I now enjoy. And I hope to pass that on to my children (especially my daughter, since the external pressure seems to be more pointed towards girls).

  3. I just really wanted to. When I met my now husband, we used to joke and fantasize how our children would look. (BTW, nothing like we imagined) And then, well, we just followed the natural progression of things, next thing you know, I’ve done nappies and controlled crying and am up to my neck in school fetes and Justin Bieber.

    I just knew I wanted them but not until I in my early twenties. It was, as corny as it sounds, an urge. The urge still overwhelms me from time to time, but I have now finished. 🙂

    Great post. x

  4. As someone who accidentally fell into this whole parenting caper a lot earlier than I planned to, I have always loved this quote from Douglas Adams: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

    I was going to be a lot of things when I was young, and ‘mother’ wasn’t really on the list to be honest. Not that I was openly “NO KIDS EVER!” – more that it was a hazy ‘one day maybe’ sort of thing. I didn’t grow up with any young children or babies, so it just wasn’t really on my radar. I did my degree with the plan on entering DFAT and travelling the world. Instead I met a boy who was a kindred spirit and went into retail travel (just to make ends meet until I found what I really wanted) and then – whoops – where did that baby come from?

    So now I find myself in the middle of the whole catastrophe with strapping great pre-teens. Babies weren’t and still aren’t my thing. I wasn’t an instinctive mother to my little ones, so found the baby years hard. Toddlers were (to me) frankly quite frightening, and a little mind-numbing. School was my solace and refuge as a young child and where I shone in later years, and I am passionate about education in general, so this is where I think I am coming in to my own.

    I have a dear and wonderful friend who has chosen the other path. Never wanted kids, and now in her 40s still doesn’t. She is travelling the globe, picking up work as she goes and having adventures. “Home” is on three continents. I envy her the freedom. She is glowing and content. There’s your happy ending.

  5. One of my friends laid her newborn baby in my lap & my biological clock started ticking at that moment. Previously, I had been completely unconvinced by the idea of parenthood despite my husband telling me for 12 years how broody he was. So my advice is – avoid newborns, cuddle toddlers – if you can catch them & they stop screaming long enough.

  6. Fantastic post. You made some excellent points indeed.

    For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a Mum. It was always part of the “plan”. But yes – sometimes it feels bloody well difficult!

    And you’re right. There’s not enough representation out there in the media/film land/television about the happy ending *without* children.

    And in addition to that, you’d make a great host on a movie review show. 🙂

  7. Priscilla

    I never wanted kids as a teenager. Helping my mother raise my younger sister by fifteen years made me realise how much hard work they were. BUT, and it’s a big one, I fell pregnant at 20 while at uni and working part time which was definatley not part of the plan (I blame my mothers fertile genes). Comically my boss asked me when I told her “Didn’t anyone tell you how to stop that?”.

    So I jumped knee deep into it and became a spokesperson for that parenting PR group. I told all my friends how wonderful it was and was astonished that people dared wait until they were 40 to have babies. Maybe because I felt I had to defend my position as a young mother, or maybe to convince myself that I had made the right decision in keeping my baby. It’s just the way things turned out but I was always the maternal one and I loved kids and would have always had them if it were possible.

    My sister thinks I’m disgusting. She thinks it’s “gross” that I’ve had children and is more than likely going to be the other happy ending. She lives overseas and travels with her friends wherever she likes going from job to job and experiencing all kinds of worlds. She does love kids and is such a cool big sister/aunty which at times makes me wonder if she will one day have a baby of her own but then I realsie I’m caught up in the propaganda of what constitutes a happy and fulfilling life. I, for one, am very interested in her journey and would like to see if she does have the “other” happy ending.

  8. Pingback: single and childless. fail? «

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