A Life Well Lived, With or Without Children

A Life Well Lived, With or Without Children

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life with or without children
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Trogneux walk in the Elysee Palace during the handover ceremony in Paris, France, May 14, 2017.

As the French election results were announced, I let out a shriek that could be heard in Australia, then rushed to open the champagne, followed by drunken grass angels in the garden. In a world that seems to be becoming more dangerous and unpredictable, the election of Emmanuel Macron, particularly with his strong pro-Europe stance, sends a positive message – not just for France but the future of the European Union.

What surprised me though, is the amount of negative comments about his lack of ‘family’, quote unquote from a coffee morning I went to (which reminded me exactly why I always try to avoid coffee mornings like the plague):

“It’s hard to vote for Macron because he does not have children, so he knows nothing about family priorities.”

Jean-Marie Le Pen also had a dig about Macron’s family situation.

Macron’s perfect response when replying to him and talking about his step-children and step-grandchildren?

“They are the children of my heart”

Why are people so quick to assume that parenthood is essential for “a good life”? Surely a life well lived, rich in experiences, is truly what is needed for a full and happy life, whether it contains children or not?!

© Heidy Sequera/Unsplash

Parenthood is not for everyone

I can’t remember ever really wanting children. In my late 20s while all my friends with children were keen to show me their brood, I’d say, “How sweet”, in the same fake interested tone I would have used if someone showed me their pet tarantula. I’d inwardly shudder and vow never to touch, play, feed or babysit it.

Fast forward – a whirlwind romance, followed by three children in the space of four years, who are now surfing their way through adolescence. I love them with a ferocity that takes my breath away and would do anything to keep them healthy and happy. A double-decker bus hurtling towards them? I would push them out of the way and embrace that bus full on if it meant they were safe.

The merit badge marked parenthood, which is just one of the badges of merit we can pick up during our lifetime, is one I wear with pride. It’s just that I’ve never thought for a second that this gives me a moral superiority.

I can completely understand why someone might make a conscious decision not to have children. Let me also underline, for those who have this decision forced on you, I am so aware from friends and family of the pain and anguish that go hand in hand with this. When you want children, yet struggle to have them, it is a fire that consumes you, so please don’t think for a moment that I am “whining” about being a parent. If this article comes across like this, please contact me directly so I can apologize.

Parenthood is not for everyone and, in the early years, it can feel like a hard and relentless slog. A zero-hour contract with no thanks and no pay.

For the first five years, I became a vegetarian zombie – instead of brains, my body was screaming for sleep. I was a shuffling, dead-eyed, shadow of my former self. When well-meaning people would tell me to “treasure every moment because they grow up so quickly,” I just wanted to weep. Not because I wanted to treasure the moment, but because I wanted to fast forward it so I could escape.

In my darkest moments, and there were a few, I’d think sadly that if there had been a pre-interview for being a parent, I would have failed the test. But, it gets easier. We grow with our children and we learn to become parents.

Charlotte Debeugny. Photo coutesy of author

Instincts for Love and Self Sacrifice

I remember my father telling me that parenthood teaches you a lot about yourself. While I would agree with that, I also think that life’s challenges and triumphs (along with age – hurrah!) equally teach you a lot about yourself and that this learning process is not exclusive to parenthood. You just need a dose of empathy, kindness, openness, imagination and humility.

Another reason I’ve heard cited as an advantage of parenthood is that it’s the first time in our lives we put someone else first. Back to my double-decker bus example — yes, while I would throw myself in front of it for my children; I’d do this for any child, adult and possibly even a dog or cat. It’s instinctive. There might be a split millisecond of hesitation for my husband, along the lines of “well he did keep me up all night snoring again (!)”, but I’d do it willingly.

I don’t think self-sacrifice and love is limited to parenthood and I think humans, like all mammals in general, will do everything in their power to protect the young and indeed their community.

There are moments when my children surprise me, a certain tilt of the head or an expression which makes me gasp because it reminds me of my parents and my grandparents. My children do have a rich patchwork of genes from both sides of the family and it’s comforting to think that these memories are being passed on. But, I equally believe in the butterfly effect, and if you don’t have children, then your interactions with your family, friends and community are a way of “passing it on” — a fairy tale spider web of interactions that will bind to you to past, present and future.

President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte. © Alexis Duclos

Different doors and different choices

Hillary Clinton wrote in 1996 that “it takes a village to raise a child” and I’d agree. We all have a valuable contribution to make. Parenting, particularly when our children are young, takes time and energy, and it falls to other members of the “village” to use their energy and time to build and improve the community. As our children grow older and need us less acutely, we parents can also get out there and fight to make the world a better and safer place. Then, as we age, we pass the mantle to our children who take the fight forward, looking after not only their parents but everyone in the community. One for all and all for one.

I’ve always thought that in another life, I would have been either a diplomat or a spy. I am convinced that in a parallel universe, there is a Charlotte Debeugny who never had children. She’d come home to a Mr. Bigglesworth (the bald cat from “Austin Powers”), kick off her Louboutin high heels, survey the white, immaculate chick pad with a sigh of satisfaction, open a bottle of red wine and say, “What a week, Mr Bigglesworth, what a week.” Lunch with Justin Trudeau, coffee with the inspiring and incredible Brigette Macron, a stern cup of tea with Kim Jung-Un, a whizz over to Sudan to help distribute aid and a wonderful brunch with Angela Merkel.

A different life with different doors and different choices, but a life that was equally magical, valuable, precious and inspiring. A life well lived.

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