(Response to Sarah Champion’s comments about Theresa May)
There is a famous joke in psychotherapy: “A Freudian slip is when you say one thing and mean your mother.” We often betray the truth of our feelings in a throwaway comment – something counsellors and psychotherapists are always on the look out for! So I just didn’t buy it when, in the wake of comments about being able to talk to David Cameron ‘as a dad’ about tackling child abuse, Sarah Champion, the British Labour Party MP, denied implying Theresa May had let the child abuse issue ‘slip off the agenda’ because she is childless. There is an account of the story in today’s Guardian newspaper here.
How often have we seen and heard comments from both the person in the street and the person in the public eye that betray the sadly common (if unconscious) notion that one can only truly understand pain, love, grief, child abuse – or anything else to do with children – at any level, only if we have children? As a parent/mother/father… is one of those throwaway entrées to a sentence that can imply the existence of a special kind of empathy (or any kind of empathy) based on the having of children.
Now, I’m not claiming to be able to get inside the head of a parent or grandparent. There may well be a fundamental change beyond our understanding in the psychology or neurology of those who are lucky enough to have children, created by the profound biological and social change that parenthood brings. But I can tell anyone who wants to listen that my capacity to feel sympathy or empathy at a visceral level is not affected by my ability or otherwise to have children. I feel, react and act as a human being. I just happen to be childless.