Wednesday 19 December 2018

Irish writer Sheila O’Flanagan: 'Just because you don’t want children, doesn't mean you're a Baby Hater'

Joanne McNally. Photo: Baby Hater
Joanne McNally. Photo: Baby Hater
Sheila O'Flanagan.
Joanne McNally in Baby Hater. Photo: TV3
Joanne McNally says she’s 80pc sure she doesn’t want children. Photo: Damien Eagers
Sheila O'Flanagan
Sheila O'Flanagan with her husband Colm.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Irish novelist Sheila O’Flanagan has been told the she “writes children” very well.

Her 2016 debut children's science-fiction novel, The Crystal Run, was a well-received fast-paced action story for 10-plus year-olds.

And yet, as much as she loves children and adores her own nephews, the 59-year-old has always been resolute in her decision not to have children of her own.

Her decision doesn’t mean she hates children, and is a decision that’s far from selfish, she says. On the contrary, it would have been selfish to have children if you didn't really want them at all, she says.

“I haven’t had sleepless nights. I haven’t had to get up at whatever hour of the morning to feed children. I have the right life for me.”

“I like babies, I like children. My thing is that I had enough self-awareness of myself to know that being a mother was not something I wanted to do.”

“People who have small families or big families, that’s the choice they lead and want to lead. You can only judge your life yourself, so I don’t judge other people for their choices and I don’t expect them to judge me.”

Sheila and her husband Colm McCashin had long ago decided that baby making and child rearing was not what they wanted, she tells

“We both had the same view. We’re both happy with the decision.”

“Maybe it’s because I write, I’m an introspective person and I like to be on my own, and I like having control over my surroundings.”

“You do have to make decisions about things like that. I’m aware of biology and you have to make a decision, and although I thought about it… knowing all the things I thought about myself, I knew I didn’t want children.”

“I knew if I had children I would have done my best, but I knew it wouldn’t have been the right thing for me, or for them.”

Comedian Joanne McNally’s ‘Baby Haters’ documentary on TV3 explored the pros and cons of parenting.

O’Flanagan says the term “baby hater” is misrepresentative of people who don’t want children.

“When I was watching the programme, the first thing that went through my mind is the idea that if you don’t want a child of your own, that you are ‘a baby hater’… that’s not true.”

She added: “There was a comment in the programme where you can decide to spend your money on children or have handbags and cars. It’s not about that either.”

“But it was a non-sensationalist programme, it was quite a good programme.”

O’Flanagan says her own family never judged her and her partners’ decision.

“People just knew that it was pointless asking me, because I’d made a decision. The only time I was asked was when I was working and I was in an interview. That was in the 80s and 90s. It was asked in a kind of, ‘will you regret it? Way.”

“I was just pretty sure. I have four nephews and I babysat them from time to time.”

“They’re grown up now and achieving great things and I’m so proud of them. I couldn’t be more proud of them. My sisters who are there mothers are possibly more proud of them,” she joked, “but I’m very proud of them.”

“I had aunties who were married without children and unmarried without children. They took us out, they were fantastic actually.”

“I like kids. I like seeing them growing up. I like meeting with my nephews at different times in their lives.”

But she added: “At no point did I regret it. I think that was said a few times: ‘oh you say that now, but in ten years’ time, you’ll be sorry’. But no, you won’t.”

“People can be very judgemental about this in particular. Not within my family, but other people would look at me and say that it’s selfish.”

“But I think it would be selfish to have children and not really want them.”

She added: “This thing of ‘am I wrong in what I’m thinking?’… No, you’ll know what you want yourself.”

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