I was talking to an acquaintance today about someone I know whose husband has been diagnosed with a very serious illness. The acquaintance, a mother-of-three, had one pressing question: do the couple have children? On hearing they do, she said:

That’s good: at least she has SOME comfort and support

I don’t think it’s too self-regarding to find this vexatious. How can I avoid thinking of myself, or my partner, in the same situation? By her reckoning, should I assume that we would have no “comfort and support” in that scenario? It’s hard to imagine otherwise when it’s stated thus. The implication is obvious; in fact, I find it rude.

Why doesn’t this occur to people? I would never say, to someone I know to be single or divorced, “at least X has a husband to look after her if she get’s sick“. It’s insensitive, is it not?

This inherent patina of sadness and loneliness that childlessness carries around with it has always annoyed me. For some people, it’s a given that non-parents in their 60s, 70s etc are actively grieving their ‘failure’ to have children and thus have a tragic aura about them. It’s a culturally-imposed narrative, perpetuated in literature and cinema over the years.

This sad-old-childless trope can feel unexpectedly offensive, and it annoys me in books and films as well as real life. Fine in another century, but let’s leave it there. Apparently, nearly 20% of women at age 45 in the UK don’t have children; the figure is even higher in European countries such as Spain, Italy and Austria. Lots of young people are expressing reservations about reproducing because the world is actually dying, not to mention the fact that it’s lorded over by dangerous buffoons.

Might I suggest that parents like the mother-of-three, whose first question is always do they have children?, try to look outside their suburban bubble and use some imagination to think up alternative things to say in these circumstances? It’s not that hard, we do it all the time.

Plus, are kids really such a comfort and fix-all?