Have you seen The Duchess, the new Netflix comedy created by Katherine Ryan? It is very funny and her incredible school-run outfits have inspired me to put on a sparkly headband even though I am still, to all intents and purposes in ‘writing clothes’, or pyjamas to other people.
The show focuses on a single mum with a successful career who is very close to her child. There’s a scene at a body positivity conference where she is being interviewed and is asked ‘where is your child right now?’ and Ryan’s character challenges the question and the implication that single mothers don’t know how to raise their children. In this sense, the show is great at challenging stereotypes around lone parenting – like I said, the mother is fulfilled in her career, has a great support group around her and has a close bond with her daughter. But my smile started to fade a bit when she started talking about her child. The daughter decided that she would like to have sister and suddenly the narrative shifted. ‘She needs a sibling’, cried Katherine, echoing the desperation that a lot of mothers feel around providing their kids with everything they need. But it also suggests that an only child is an abnormality or in want of something. And this pisses me off. Later on in the show, a character is revealed to be an only child and describes himself as ‘smothered’ by his mother, who apparently cuts up his food for him and still kisses him on his lips as an adult. A lot of shows get applauded for their bravery at challenging stereotypes but are still get away at poking fun at a group of humans who a) cant do anything about their situation and b) maybe don’t feel like they are represented accurately at all. And that group is the only child.
In Working Mums, only children are described as ‘aliens’; in Catastrophe, the only child family of Fran, Chris and Jeffrey are cold and distant from one another, in contrast to the jumbled up chaos of Sharon and Rob’s crew. In Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Nathaniel is deemed to be spoilt and lonely because of his only child upbringing. And of course, Friends, which gets its own flack at the moment for a variety of reasons around representation, chooses to ridicule Chandler for being raised a singleton.
And yes, this is personal. After the birth of my son, I always assumed there would be more, but after many years of trying, there wasn’t. And you now what? There were several years where I felt very very sad about this, but now, I don’t. I don’t have family around me, so raising two kids would mean no time for writing outside in the garden listening to some smooth Bossa (as I am now) It would mean sweaty gym kits, after school clubs, shit and noise. I would always be tired. So, no, I’m fine, thanks. I’m not saying your experience of parenting (of two or more) is any better or worse than mine, but please respect the difference. Please stop presenting my kid as a weirdo for a cheap laugh. Stop presenting any kid as a weirdo for something that they can’t change. Go after creepy men or Holocaust deniers instead. It’s a cheap trick and a boring trope.
Perhaps I hold on to these perceived slights in the media because of my experience, granted, but I get enough little digs in real life anyway. Women telling me it’s time ‘to get one with the other one’ in passing, asking whether ‘i’m trying for one at the moment’, describing their own family of two as’ the perfect balance’. I actually feel sorrier for these kids, as they are growing up with ignorant, convention-swallowing dickheads for parents.
It feels very nice to say all this by the way. Thank you if you are still reading.
So please, world and by world I mean the media apparatus that we now experience our lives through, just leave only children alone (ha!) They are not de facto future murderers. They are not any more or less happy than kids with siblings. If you want to produce a truly original show, create it so that the single child experience is a happy and fulfilling one.