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Editor of xoJane Jane Pratt recently wrote a piece pondering whether to take her 10-year-old daughter with her to a party at a sex shop.
I read it and wondered, is she mad? Not because the question is odd – though to my mind it certainly is – but because she is publishing it on the internet. Ask the internet to judge you, particularly if you're a mother, and it shall gladly oblige.
Perhaps Pratt thought she could defuse the inevitable agitation by publishing the piece under her Worst Mom in The World column. But as happily rebellious as the "slacker mum" movement is, even these readers baulk at the notion of a child in a sex shop.
So why would any parent consider taking a 10-year-old to a sex shop? Pratt argued that this shop was a women's sex shop, she was trying to spend more time with her child, her daughter already knew a little about sex toys, and Pratt was so damn busy now – and anyway, to decide otherwise would mean leaving a work party early.
There was a time when simply visiting a sex shop would have made for bad mother confessional fodder, but my generation is beyond all that. Our sexuality is, in some ways, part of our public identity – its intimacy somewhat neutralised by close ties with fashion and even health.
Some women, such as Pratt, may see their sexuality as requiring little more privacy than discussions of their exercise regime.
On occasion, I am one of those women. But a breezy nonchalance towards sexuality is difficult to combine with a breezy nonchalance towards motherhood, though both are now individually celebrated.
For her attempts, Pratt was described by her readers as selfish. One adjective was not enough. A mother like this is “smug, entitled and narcissistic”, and not just inconsiderate of her daughter but also the guests.
Though our vocabulary is replete with terms such as "play" and "toys", adult sexuality is much more serious and self-conscious than that suggests. Confronted with children and their genuine claim to the territory of imagination and frivolity, we often feel absurd.
If most of us squirm at the idea of coming across a 10-year-old in a sex shop, why might the parent not? For non-parents, the idea that sexual intimacy happens concurrently with the apparent sterility of mothering can be mortifying.
But parents are forced to confront the overlap of our sexual and parenting selves right from the beginning. You don't want to chance waking the baby, so rather than move them from your bed to the cot you have nervous, giggling sex next to them.
One of the first things you relinquish as a parent is reliable privacy. And over the years you can find that your child and you blend and separate, and dissolve and re-emerge, many times over. The lines between you – their privacy and yours – can be very blurred.
But boundaries are ultimately essential. Pratt may seem entirely unrestrained but surely she, like all mothers, has forsaken many adult pursuits in the course of parenthood. Of all the reasons she provides for wanting to take her daughter to the party, the desire not to leave early provokes the most outrage from the internet – yet I find it sympathetic. The cult of being busy doesn't entirely ring true for me, even as the parent of two, but the eternal frustration of cutting things short does.
Being forced by your child's presence or sudden demands to drop an engrossing adult conversation is teeth-grindingly irritating. It rivals the physical longing of interrupted sex.
The parties you leave early, the conversations you cease, the music you turn down, and the films you pause and never get back to as a parent are numerous. You can feel exhausted by your segregation from the adult world.
Some of this separation is necessary but much of it reflects the peculiarities of family life in our culture – the ways in which mothers are kept apart from the working, socialising, flirting world of other adults. A good party, particularly one in a sex shop, promises not so much hot sex but an abundance of interesting conversation.
But in the end, you pull back from exposing your child to too much, and Pratt ultimately decided against taking her daughter. You do this for your child, because childhood is fleeting. And you do it for yourself, because you want the parts of yourself back that haven't been abbreviated by parenthood – and "worst mum in the world" or not, you know you won't find them at that party with your child by your side.