IT'S National Parents' Week and it appears we, as a society, have never been more angst-ridden about the way kids are raised.
As proof, yet another survey has been published stoking up the guilt that parents aren't spending enough time with their children.
Still, that's nothing on the disapproval being heaped on apparently footloose and fancy-free career gals. According to a new poll, a third of British women have no plans to start a family and would rather focus on gaining a well-paid job – the potent subtext being that those who choose not to become parents must be self-centred careerists.
On paper I tick all of those boxes: woman, career, no offspring. But being a slave to the office isn't the reason I haven't had children. Nor have I set aside aspirations of motherhood in order to climb the greasy pole of ambition. The truth is far more straightforward: I simply don't want children.
I realise that to many people, this seems rather odd. Unnatural is one word I've heard. Selfish another. Throughout my early 30s, I've had to listen to analogies about ticking biological clocks, all the while plastering on a smile as I parroted the same line: "Maybe next year..."
But the truth is, I've never felt that maternal urge – or experienced what one friend calls "the ping of my ovaries". As a child I couldn't understand the fascination among my peers for playing with dolls. The toy pram I received one Christmas was cannibalised for its wheels and turned into a go-kart. When I daydreamed of my happily-ever-after, there was always Prince Charming and a life of adventure – but never a baby.
That feeling hasn't changed as I have grown older. There's been many a time, especially in recent years, when I've tried to picture my life with a couple of kids running about, but it's something I can no more imagine than living on Mars.
Turning 35 next month, however, I've grown ever more conscious of the pressure to conform weighing down on me. It sometimes feels like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff fighting the urge to jump into a life I neither covet nor care for.
I realise this could easily be chalked up as the mutterings of a monster who views children as an intolerable nuisance who muddy up cream carpets and put the kibosh on luxury holidays and fancy cars. That couldn't be further from the truth.
I have four nephews I love dearly, and dote on my friends' children. Few things bring more joy than sharing their exquisite happiness. It's just that motherhood is not the life I see for myself.
When it comes to thorny dinner-party conversation topics, however, baby talk increasingly feels like the new religion or politics: a subject that inevitably leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Being honest at best provokes amused dismissals ("Ach, you'll change your mind. There is still time yet ..."), astounded bafflement ("Why? What, never?"), or pained, sympathetic nods ("There's always IVF ...").
I've had people tartly enquire whom I think will visit me in the nursing home when I'm old and grey if I don't have children. (Having worked in nursing homes, I can assure them that bearing offspring does not guarantee visitors.)
One of the strongest reactions, though, was from an acquaintance who stormed out in tears. Having previously shared her own reproductive issues, she claimed to feel "betrayed" by the fact I have an apparently working womb and ovaries yet choose not to use them.
Another friend mused it was a "terrible shame", adding that she had always thought my husband "would make a wonderful father, but now he won't get that chance", as if I had cruelly whipped the rug out from under his feet, leaving him bereft of his one true vocation. For the record, my husband and I have discussed the matter in great detail: it's his decision as much as mine.
Perhaps 20 years from now I'll look back with regret; maybe in 12 months time I'll do a drastic U-turn. Both options are my prerogative: I just can't imagine doing either. Whether you empathise, pity or deride me, I'm entitled to my chosen path – the same as anyone else.
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