Zoe Williams has published a new non-parenting parenting book, or perhaps just a non-parenting book, called the Madness of Modern Parenting.
She thinks the whole parenting thing has gone a bit doolally and we should all take a chill pill. I have heard this claim before and have some sympathy for it. Leaving aside for now that this book comes at time when outcomes for children are not great in terms of health (obesity is on the rise), education (UK tumbling down the international league tables), and general happiness (some UN study somewhere says many UK teenagers are miserable) is her concern justified?
Ms Williams asks: “After all, parents managed perfectly well for centuries before this modern madness, so why do today’s mothers and fathers make such an almighty fuss about everything?”
I give five reasons why some parents make a fuss about it.
1. There is money in it.
I am not convinced that there are hordes of parents out there making a fuss over parenting but I do know that there are many ‘experts’ who make a lot of money from making a fuss about parenting and flogging parenting books, or (ironically) anti-parenting books.
Parenting books and all the ‘stuff’ babies need is an industry that pays a lot of people good money and keeps many families afloat. Once this is established the parenting expert machine needs to be fed.
2. We have fewer children and women have children when they are older.
Parents are often accused of making a fuss over being parents and they should get over themselves as ‘it has been done for centuries.’ Sure, but it has not been done by that particular parent for centuries, has it?
To each individual parent it is very new, and it can be overwhelming. Hence the fuss. Your baby is a brand new life and totally dependent on you. If you cannot get excited about that we might as well give up now.
In addition to this – we now have fewer children so there are more resources (if you are middle class) focused on far fewer little darlings. If you don’t have that many eggs in the basket, it makes sense to make a fuss over the single or double eggs you do have.
In addition to this, women have children later in life and may have little experience with children until their own comes along – again in contrast with previous generations. I distinctly remember buying the book – your baby week by week until 6 months. I had pretty much zero experience of babies until I had my first so deemed this necessary. This no doubt would count as ‘making a fuss’.
Previously, families had many children and older children had a huge hand in raising their siblings. For many families children were nurtured for about the first 10 years of life and then went to work – adding to the family income.
Today the nurturing can go on for two, maybe three, decades with the additional drain on parent’s resources. Ms Williams complains about all the food pregnant women must avoid during pregnancy but then if you are going to drop £250,000 – £500,000 over the course of a lifetime on private school fees and/or university fees and/or deposit on a flat chances are you going to give up the brie for 9 months while pregnant.
3. The village is dead.
This is crucial. Again ‘for centuries’ the village raised children until the feminists killed it in the 1960s. Many mothers did work before then (the norm for working class mothers) but family, friends and community cared for the kids so they all had a stake in the outcome.
Today the village (civil society not the State who makes a rubbish parent) is pretty much dead apart from a lucky few. When mum works, the children go to nursery not granny or the neighbour. As such, whether you are a full-time or a working mother, ultimately you will get the blame if the kids go wrong as no one else was involved in their upbringing (apart from Dad but we know Mums gets the flack).
Politicians, in particular, love blaming parents when things go tits up. Mothers are acutely aware of this, so excellent parenting becomes crucial.
4. Parenting is interesting.
Parenting can be very interesting (sure there are tedious parts to it). In line with point two not only is there much money to be made from it, but entire academic careers depend on defining what is ‘good parenting’. There are professors of language who study two-years-olds and how they acquire language. Entire university departments will analyse meta-studies to determine how much TV is safe for a child.
So we can expect parenting research to continue for the foreseeable future – careers depend on it.
It is also the case that many parents themselves find it interesting. I for one think how children acquire language is fascinating if not down right miraculous. If this means I making a fuss about parenting then so be it.
5. Parents are not scientists.
People assume parents are always mathematically logical towards their children all of the time. We are not – it is an emotional, visceral experience. So even if the risk to your unborn baby is infinitesimal from drinking alcohol, it is your unborn baby, precious and like no other. So why take the risk – no matter how small.