Debate moderated by Grant Runyon
Illustration by Jamie Leigh O’Neill

Modern life flies past, and there are more things than ever to cross off your list before the Grim Reaper catches up with you. Young (and not so young) people today have a greater range of life choices than any other generation, but most will close as many doors as they open. The younger generation worries about careers, education and travel, but easily the biggest decision relates to whether or not to start a family and what you might need to sacrifice to achieve that.

It may seem as though you have plenty of time to decide, but depending on how you spend your youth, those fertile decades could wither away like a bunch of grapes in the back of the fridge. If you’re young and feeling indecisive read on, because if there’s one area where you can absolutely rely on older people, it’s in telling you what to do about having kids – whether you asked for that advice or not. We looked about until we found two middle-aged ladies with an opinion (approximately three minutes), and put them either side of some bulletproof glass borrowed from the gorilla house at Durrell. In the pink dungeon we have Sharon ‘Pampers’ Parker, who lists her occupation as “Proud Mummy” and has spent the last twenty years raising six children, blogging about them and running the PTA with a hand of steel. In the isolation cage we have Kelly Jones, successful career lady and pet parent. She sleeps for eight hours a night and goes on holiday every other month.

Life goals: Is your life incomplete if you don’t have kids?

Sharon: I can’t imagine life without my little angels, who fill the world with joy from around 5AM each morning til well after midnight. I’m sure my downstairs neighbours feel the same way. My kids are endlessly entertaining and teach me something new every day – which I immediately share to the social media accounts I set up so that other people could experience the unique wonders of my offspring. Yes, I could have had a career, or gone back to university, but I’m CEO of this family and have earned my degree in the University of Life. Other people have hobbies or interests, but in the 40 minutes I spend alone with my husband each day all he wants to hear about is what funny/intelligent/charming things our brood have done in the twelve hours he’s been in the office. I expect if you don’t have them your life is nothing but emptiness and regret – all the sleep and spare money is worth nothing compared to the pleasure I’ve had from wiping bottoms and watching cartoons since 1998.

Kelly: My life is great, thank you very much. If anything I don’t have any room in my life for children; with my fantastic career which pays for all my holidays, parties, dinner dates, shoes, hobbies – and cats. I think my cats get more ‘likes’ than your kids, Sharon, and they are every bit as loving and entertaining as human children, with the bonus that they don’t care who looks after them when I’m on holiday as long as the Whiskas keeps coming. I once put them in the cattery for three weeks when I was in Bali with the girls, and unlike real children they didn’t grow up to write bad poetry about what a neglectful parent I am. One of them did pee in the laundry basket. I admit the cats won’t look after me when I’m old, but you can’t guarantee that from human children either – just ask my mother.

Companionship: Are children nice to be around?

Sharon: Children are the wisest, funniest, sweetest people in this world, and my little ones are the wisest, funniest and sweetest amongst them. Let me show you this clip of Barnaby talking about the plot of his favourite Harry Potter novel – isn’t it fifteen minutes of pure adorableness? Yes, they have tantrums, but whenever I’m amongst adults I see plenty of behaviour that should end up on the naughty step. It’s not my fault that some people are so neurotic that they can’t ignore a baby with an upset tummy – she always gets a bit colicky if she has to fly for longer than seven hours or if I bring her to the cinema. To be perfectly honest, anybody who isn’t made instantly happier by the sound of children is a deeply sad individual and, in fact, very suspicious to me. You can’t be too safe – I’ll be uploading pictures of Kelly to Mumsnet so that pram-pushing vigilantes can keep an eye on her.

Kelly: My sister has three of them, and although they’re nice enough in small doses I prefer talking to my cats because I already know what they want out of the exchange and I am not required to feign an interest in Minecraft after a long week in the office. I prefer spending time with other childless adults, who have a range of conversational topics that exceeds nappy contents and the cast of characters in Paw Patrol. I find children to be noisy, destructive and dirty, and I wish they were either banned from public places or subject to similar rules as dogs. Keep them on a lead, pick up after them and don’t let them on my furniture.

Humanity: Is it necessary for society that we keep having children?

Sharon: Children are our future! The only reason I care about society at all is so that my children, and their children’s children, have a world that can support them. People talk about overpopulation, but I’ve got room in my heart for at least two more kids and they’ll only take up the space freed up by deluded singletons like Kelly. I’m not worried about the planet running out of resources because as well as being charming and talented all my children are geniuses. If anything I would change society so that children are even more important, by making it illegal not to cater to them in restaurants and banning any entertainment that excludes the under fives.

Kelly: I suppose it’s reasonable that some people get to have children, but I’m in favour of restricting the privilege to those parents who don’t let their little darlings ruin things for those of us who enjoy the absence of shrieking. I’d treat breeding like getting a driver’s licence – you would lose points for letting them wail in public, touch things in shops or a long list of antisocial behaviour that I wouldn’t have space to list if this magazine were twice as long. As for the parents – if you post more than one baby picture a day to social media you’d face a Parish Hall enquiry, and if you can’t demonstrate a topic of dinner party conversation that doesn’t revolve around child-rearing you are forced to sweep the roads at weekends. We all win in this scenario – I get to enjoy a lie-in, people like Sharon get to learn that not everybody finds their offspring fascinating, and the children who do avoid my wrath will grow up into model members of society, like me.