i’m childfree, and i don’t mind sitting next to your baby on a plane;

In a week in which certain professional trolls have declared war on the “babyccino-swilling hordes”, I’ve got something controversial to say:

I don’t mind sitting next to your baby on a plane.

Mothers, fathers, of the world: I see your struggle.

Being childfree by choice I don’t know, but I can empathise, with how difficult it must be trying to rock a baby to sleep in a giant tin can 30,000 feet above the surface of the earth.

I mean, I can’t sleep on planes anymore, so god knows how your baby manages it.

So, here is my pledge to you: sit next to me. In front of me. Behind me. And I will not tut, or sigh. I will not beg the stewardess to move me. I will not give you dirty looks. And I will certainly not demand to be bribed with little bags of sweets in exchange for acting like a god damn empathetic human being.

Goody bag, sweets

A few weeks ago, as we went to board the third of three planes to New Orleans, we saw a young couple trying to comfort a tiny baby in a polar bear suit who just wouldn’t stop crying. Of course, when we found our seats, the couple was in the row behind us. The poor little thing sobbed the entire two-hour flight from Miami and frankly, by that point in a very long day, I empathised.

We just got on with it. Sat watching something called American Ninja Warrior with the sound off. Sidebar: American Ninja Warrior is awesome, particularly when you’re entering your 25th hour awake.

Look, there was a time I went about with an attitude like Julie Bindel’s. I was … in my 20s, I think. Prime child-bearing age, some would say; and so I channelled the knowing looks into aggression.

MOAR LYG:  the silver linings pixlet: productivity hacks for the perpetually anxious;

I wasn’t just uninterested in children: I hated them.

As I grew older, I softened. Of course babies cry on planes, I thought; I’d cry if I found myself in such an alien environment. Why would their parents put them through such a thing?

Answer: because the world is getting smaller. Because there might be a grandparent in Australia who’s too sick to travel, but who’s desperate to spend some of that precious early time with the newest member of their family. Because parents need holidays too.

Because it’s none of my god damn business.

Travel; flight to Melbourne

I guess we should start with a quick definition of childfree by choice, so here goes: I’m 34 years old and I do not want, and have never wanted children. It’s not because I’m immature, or selfish. I just … lack that biological imperative that some people have to reproduce, I guess.

As a feminist, I take exception to the kind of attacks on parents that I read in the Guardian over the weekend – because, let’s face it, these non-specific attacks often stick to women. Now, no intersectional feminist would ever make the mistake of looking to Julie Bindel as an example of how to Do Feminism in an inclusive way – but it bears repeating: basing your feminism on nothing but your own lived experience is the reason Theresa May can wear a This Is What A Feminist Looks Like t-shirt and put it into practice by, this week, applauding the banks for, you know, actually giving senior jobs to the wimminz; while in the next breath talking about forcing pregnant women to show their passports in hospitals and asking women to prove they have been raped if they plan to claim child benefit for a third child.

MOAR LYG:  i was having much more fun when i thought we were alive;

As of next April, large businesses will be required to report on their gender pay gaps. The idea, I guess, is that increasing transparency over pay packets will shame them into doing the right thing. There are lots of structural reasons for the gender pay gap, but the shitty one that’s always thrown out by business owners and MRAs is that women choose to http://quotecorner.com/clomid.html go off and have babies and therefore lose valuable workplace experience, which has a direct impact on the wages they can go on to command. As if what we should be doing is growing our future caregivers and economic contributors in laboratories – rather than focusing our energies on breaking down the structural biases that encourage us to view mothers as primary caregivers, developing mentoring programmes and helping women to strengthen their negotiation skills.

I’d rather fight for shared parental leave than child-free carriages on trains. Somebody has to: I suspect those women concentrating on keeping their kids quiet for fear of pissing off a nearby Julie Bindel don’t have the time.

  • Bethany Naismith

    I feel like any decent person would agree with everything in this post!

    Whenever I’ve seen something complaining about babies and mothers supposedly offending others – whether it’s through public breastfeeding or noisy crying or kids running amok – I’m always infuriated at how little understanding these people have. Whether they’re a new mother or a seasoned mother with multiple children, raising kids looks to me like a serious challenge. Instead of ostracising a mother for her efforts, we should support her. There’s something seriously wrong with vilifying a mother for a crying child. Babies cry.

    These people should buy themselves a decent pair of earplugs and save themselves, the staff and most importantly the (probably already stressed and emotional mother) the hassle of drama on a flight.

    • Hear hear! Flying, these days, is an endurance test – NOBODY is having a pleasant time of it (apart from Jennifer Aniston in the Emirates adverts, anyway). Noise cancelling headphones, as Ellis says above, or earplugs are the way to go. x

  • I’m all about the noise cancelling headphones on any plane journey, that way I can completely switch off from anything/everything going on around. I also always think to myself in this exact situation, ears popping, sleep deprivation and all that air travel entails is pretty shit as an adult, I have no idea how tiny babies and kids are expected to put up with all that without getting frustrated.
    On another note, American Ninja Warrior is AMAZING! I somehow got sucked into it as it was the night I arrived in the US and ended up watching most of the season during my holiday/on the way home! Strangely addictive. Although all I could do was shout ‘this is impossible!!’ at the screen every couple of minutes! Haha.

    Ellis – http://www.ellistuesday.com

    • NOBODY on the episode that we watched managed to complete the course. Which seemed appropriate, at that point in our epic travelling day – we were cheering every time somebody fell because we are terrible humans. x

  • Oh man, I feel like I need to comment on the aggressive “hating children” thing. I’m not truly childfree–I’m more of a fencesitter, I guess (I WILL NEVER have biological children, but I could see a scenario where I foster or adopt older kids). I’m also not in my 20s anymore…I just turned the big 3-0. But it is so hard–SO HARD–to not come off as aggressive about having children because people get really aggressive about HAVING them. I get asked weekly about when (not whether) I’m having kids, and in conversations, women turn to me with knowing looks and say stuff like, “When you have your kids, you’ll know.” Telling the truth–that I don’t know if I’m going to have kids, and I might never–only brings on a wave of “you’ll change your mind”s and “it’s the best thing ever so just do it”s. You really can’t even talk about adoption without people giving you their two cents about a) how noble it is (it’s not…these poor kids have been traumatized, and there’s nothing noble about that) or b) that the kids have so many problems and you’ll regret it (again…your biological kid could have autism/cerebral palsy/other disabilities, so…).

    Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that I totally empathize with parents. I go out of my way to try and make their lives easier at work and in my community, because I recognize that while I’m not particularly interested in children, someone needs to have them. And it’s to everyone’s benefit if these kids are raised to be healthy, happy, productive citizens. Just because I don’t want to raise kids myself doesn’t mean I’m not invested in their futures. But it’s hard to be civil when everyone seems to care more about the contents of my uterus than I do. Sigh.

    • Oh god, yes, I completely agree Ashley – it’s just that it’s one that’s a whole other post. I seem to have reached the point in which people no longer ask me – or, let’s face it, TELL me – about my plans for having children (I’ve got a few years on you) but it’s taken a lot of work, and a lot of conversations that are none of anybody’s business, to get there. Which is where the “aggression” thing came from: when people ask you these incredibly personal questions because you’re a woman, and your uterus and your intentions for it are for some reason public property, sometimes it’s the only reaction.

      Woman’s Hour has done a lot of great reporting around fostering recently; it’s something that I could maybe see myself doing too at some point in the future – assuming that my mental health was stable. But that comes from a very different place to any desire to pass on my genetic material, which is something I’ve just never felt!

      Thanks for coming by and commenting x