Sans enfants

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Even given the extended concept of the modern family to include same-sex spouses and, in the vernacular at least, just about any other kind of mutually meaningful association, there nonetheless remains an indiscriminate but noticeable dividing line between two classes of persons in a relationship; viz. , those with children and those without children. Once again children have proven themselves to be the great social leveler inasmuch as they foster no distinction between the classification or characterization of the parents who raise them. Essentially, parents of any stripe are still parents. The differentiation is quite simply between couples who have children and couples who do not.

When I was very young and growing up, my parents entertained regularly as part of their diplomatic duties in foreign countries. My sister and I were frequently to be found surreptitiously creeping down the staircase in our pyjamas, inquisitively peering through the bannister railings to get a side-long view of those who were standing in the living room puffing on cigarettes, munching on hors d’oeuvres and tossing back martinis. On occasion we were lucky to be espied by the MacKinnons, ubiquitous friends of my parents.

My sister and I liked the MacKinnons. They were fun. They had no children. Naturally at the time of my early acquaintance with the MacKinnons I didn’t bother to absorb myself in anything approaching an analysis of why they were so engaging and so completely different from most of the other adults whom we knew or met from time to time. But later in life, as I continued to socialize with them, it became apparent that the MacKinnons were as much like children as we were. They positively preferred silliness to being stodgy and long-nosed about life. Preposterous British accents, chasing us under the kitchen table and generally teasing us were pass-times not lost on the MacKinnons. To this day I find that I instantly prefer couples who have no children, not for any profound reason, rather for just the opposite reason – I find childless couples harbour and cultivate all that it is good about nonsense, admittedly not exactly a glowing recommendation.

Let’s face it: parenting is not only daunting, it’s terribly wearing. Small wonder parents haven’t any time for levity. They just want peace and quiet and the providence to regroup. If ever there were an undertaking emphatically dedicated to draining one’s resources of every description, parenting is it! And don’t say altruistic to parents! The utter denial of one’s self for the advancement and fulfillment of the fallen acorns is unquestionable! Childless couples, by comparison, tend to view any encroachment upon their private space and time as perfectly hideous and quite unacceptable, like the French aristocracy brushing off those annoying people in the streets! Childless couples are in fact as selfish and preoccupied as children themselves.

Surprisingly childless couples can nonetheless provide considerable relief to parents. Very often the childless couple sees the children as mirror images of themselves, social beings who have, in spite of the age difference, all the possibility of the proper enjoyment of life and expansion of their view of the world, in short, an opportunity. Unaccustomed as childless couples are to the obstinacy of children, they imagine that with the benefit of strategic exposure and supplementing encouragement the children will rise to the occasion and embrace what is offered them. Childless couples can become unexpectedly didactic, adopting by way of example that narcissism which says, "You too can be like me if you try!". Of course eventually the amusement and enthusiasm of toying with the raw material of life wears off, but temporarily it is a full-strength employment.

The demarcation which exists between childless couples and those with children broadens significantly when the course of nature introduces grandchildren. Then things really become a bit thick and the gulf which once existed between parents and their childless neighbours widens to the point of impenetrability. Once past the intervening niceties of one’s health and the weather, any casual conversation with the grandparents straightaway returns to a thriving account of their grandchildren. How can the childless couple possibly compete! Reflections upon a new car or a Mediterranean jaunt are by comparison idle and vacuous! Better simply to top up the refreshment and settle in for what is guaranteed to include in short order a photo album.

In the end the continuum of life wins the day. Like it or not, children are a necessary evil, not to put too fine a point on it; and as unappealing as they may be to some, the greater evil is that they will turn out to be just like us. Rearing children and ensuring their succession to all that we adults, childless or otherwise, consider valuable is nature’s inexorable destiny. These intimate particles of life involve us all, with or sans enfants!