11/11/2009 16:03 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Does Childfree Mean Child-Hater?

I had what was described as an 'epic argument' with someone this week. It started on a blog and ended up on Twitter. The blog post was written by a mother who took her 6-month-old to a conference. All but one of the commenters there was supportive; one, however, was not. They talked about how 'unreasonable' is was to 'expect other people to put up with your child' and talked about how it is 'unfair' to 'inflict your child on everyone else'....


When it turned out this person was a woman, I flipped. I was just about ready to accept that kind of ignorance from a 20-year-old young man, but a WOMAN? No way. Hadn't she heard of feminism? I waded in angrily and gave her a piece of my mind...Soon I started seeing what I assumed to be the same person Tweeting me about the issue. It soon became obvious that she just had 'issues' with children. She said she didn't think parents should be allowed to take their children to work or to conferences. Oh and kids in the cinema annoyed her, too.

Several others- mainly women- chimed in about being child-FREE; how they think mothers are smug; how 'happy, laughing' children are OK, but are hateful when they are crying or whining; and, worst of all, suggested that if women have children they should sacrifice themselves entirely for that child. One said that when she sees mothers out with their kids who are less than happy, she wants to take the kid away because 'obviously Mummy cares more about herself than you'. Is that what goes for 'feminism' these days?

All comments from both mothers and fathers about how sometimes finding childcare is incredibly difficult (not to say expensive) and sometimes there are times when you do need to take your child into the office with you armed with games and DVDs to watch on your laptop were met with more suggestions that 'it's your choice to have a child and sometimes you need to make some sacrifices.'

Yea, right. Tell that to my boss next time.

What irked me most about this whole discussion wasn't the fact that people who didn't have children had no understanding of the sometimes incredibly difficult realities of having children, it was that they seemed to hate children. Hate them with a passion.

I have a lot of friends who don't have children - both by choice and by circumstance. I fully understand that they will have very little interest in attending a daytime party which is filled with screaming children- so I would never dream of inviting them. I'm a mother and even I would have a hard time finding a reason to go to a child-filled party if I didn't have to. I do not have any friends without kids, however, who have ever shown such hate as these people this week. Sure, there are a few of my friends who are indifferent about kids, a couple are a bit perplexed by them, but hate? Never.

Human beings have evolved to react in certain ways to babies and children. We are programmed to find babies' big heads and eyes desirable to look at. We can't help but at least smile when we hear a baby laughing (try not to smile when you watch this).

We are supposed to be annoyed by babies crying because it compels us to feed them, console them, change them, keep them warm, keep them cool. In short, a baby's cry forces us to, from the very core of our beings, to do whatever we can to make sure they survive.

The survival of our species relies on us wanting to take care of babies. We are genetically programmed to respond to them in certain ways. So, on the one hand, it's completely normal to be annoyed by crying children, on the other hand, it doesn't seem to be normal at all to hate children. Right?

Interestingly, I've found some research that shows that adults' brains react differently to viewing adult faces than they do to infant faces: basically, infant faces trigger activity in one area of the brain, adult faces trigger activity in a different area of the brain. This happens in milliseconds, so the reactions are 'innate' or 'subconscious'.

The scientists involved in this research suggest that their findings may be of some use in the study of postnatal depression (which affects 13% of mothers) in that some women's brains may just not be built to react to babies in a nurturing way. Of course, with help mothers can get over their postnatal depression and go on to be loving, caring, nurturing mums, so it can be consciously reversed, but more research in this area could be very helpful in identifying problems before they are allowed to occur.

This, of course, doesn't mean that all childless or child-free adults have 'substandard' brains! Many people who choose not to have children, still like them, they just don't want their own... It may, however, be the reason why a small number of people - men and women - have no connection to children at all.