Published on The Guardian, by Suzanne Moore, Oct 23, 2013.
… Children, though? Children, or rather the shops selling extremely expensive stuff for them, the presence of infants in every restaurant, the clogging up of pavement by buggies as big as cars is not something one should object to. Especially not me, as I am guilty of reproduction myself. But I now see that many folk where I live are actually the first people ever to have babies in all of human history! So, no little foldup pushchairs; instead they have buggy cars, and some jog with them. If there is a more annoying sight I have yet to see it. Then it’s on to the baby yoga and baby drumming that every six-month-old needs, before the great boring on about schools.
It may take a village to raise a child but actually no one cares about the village once the child is born, as the world around ceases to exist.
Obviously I am describing a particular style of parenting that co-exists alongside clearly deprived and unhappy children. But I have much sympathy with Rory Stewart, the Tory MP for Penrith, a very thoughtful man who has dared to challenge the reign of the child. We often talk of the existence of elderly people – bed-blockers, immobile, mentally ill – as a burden. For we are too busy anyway with our jobs and kids. Stewart pointed to the huge dismay at youth unemployment and complete lack of interest in pensioner poverty. In an essay in Intelligent Life, he went on to say: “Our ancestors have been addicted to honour, carved virtue and wealth, been hooked on conquest, and on God. But ours is the first civilisation to find its deep fulfillment in our descendants. Our opium is our children.”
Children as the opium of the masses is an interesting idea. Small children may certainly be this and many people’s focus on wider issues immediately narrows once they become parents, even on something such as climate change, which will affect future generations. We just hope science works and open another bottle of wine … //
… The issue, then, is not whether we prioritise pensioners over spoilt brats, but how to square respect or even basic care for older people with the insane fetishisation of childhood. Somewhere in the midst of this we must see how the links between the generations are unravelling. Some of these links felt more like chains and, as women became more independent, they broke. But many are weakened by the need for two wages to bring up a family and the idealisation of individual self-contained nuclear families. Stewart suggests the young must shoulder the burden of the old, but they already do, taking on debts for the basics in a situation not of their making.
Children are not the opium of the masses. If so, they would keep us dreamy. The fantasy of the perfect little baby soon morphs into the neglected kids we see in every pupil referral unit. Has it really come to this stark choice? We care for our elders or our children? Surely if the human bonds that cross generations are not made in families we need to encourage them socially. Can you name me one inter-generational space you visit regularly? Just one. As Stewart says: “I’d prefer our opium to be the struggle to create a living civilisation …” Me too. Pass the pipe.
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