Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
I am not a parent by choice. My childless status comes as a consequence of my purposefully and studiously and deliberately not wanting to have kids at, like, any point in my life. I was around eight years old when I first realised that babies were not my style. From that moment, my conviction that motherhood was neither my vibe nor my destiny solidified, and then evolved through a series of phases which shifted in colour and texture, while maintaining the same essence, which is to say: Dear God, no! Never that!
Phase one involved my recurring and instinctive suspicion of babies, as illustrated above. Phase two – which coincided with sex education sessions at school – was a visceral shudder regarding the undeniable ickiness of pregnancy and birth. Phase three was stubborn fury at discovering, in my teens, that absolutely no one believed me when I said I wasn’t going to procreate. Phase four was the acquiring and disseminating of intellectual rationales for what was, actually, an instinct. Phase five was the one during which most of my contemporaries started having babies and I did not, despite being told that this would be the precise point at which I caved in and got with the mother program. Phase six is now, when I’m delighted to find myself childless, if somewhat disturbed by those people who ask me who’s going to look after me when I’m old, as if the principle reason for anyone to have kids is it’ll save on nursing home costs in the long run.
My childlessness is not, in any way, a consequence of mindfulness; but it has given me a ringside seat on a distinctly unmindful cultural shift towards what I can only really describe as ‘baby madness’. Parenting has stopped being a life stage, a rite of passage, a way of perpetuating the species. It’s an economy in its own right, giving ghastly, toxic currency to ideas that if your buggy didn’t cost £1000 and your blankies aren’t cashmere and your four year old isn’t being expensively and ferociously hot housed, then you’re failing as a parent. It’s tribal and divisive. I hear stories of rabid competitiveness at the school gates, which I thought faintly hilarious, until one GP told me she’d been treating a mother who’d come to her about bullying at school. ‘I’d assumed she’d been talking about her daughter being bullied, but after about 10 minutes, I realised she was talking about herself,’ said the doc. On top of which is the pain felt by those who struggle to have children naturally, who dedicate time and energy and money and sanity to IVF. In a cultural context which fetishizes and monetises parenthood so aggressively, their feelings of failure can only be more intense than they would otherwise have been. This does not strike me as an especially mindful state of affairs.
As for my increasingly mindful state of affairs: I’m slowly, reluctantly reconciling myself with the hordes of mothers towards whom I’ve felt years of antipathy on account of their buggy-wielding, pavement-hogging entitlement, their tendency to monopolise the very best seats in the very best coffee shops, and their inability to control their school-bound young, who career about the streets on mini-scooters, gleefully scraping the ankles of unaware pedestrians. Mindfulness doesn’t accommodate social nemeses on this scale all that comfortably. The more I meditate, they less capable I am of drumming up unchecked loathing based on a shed-load of assumptions about a group of people I don’t actually know. The more I meditate, the more inclined I am to recognise even their humanity. Which is – I won’t lie – a little tiring. Revising one’s long-held instinctive prejudices is an exhausting business. On top of which, of all my long-held instinctive prejudices, I was probably fondest of the anti-mummy one.