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Spirit Level author Kate Pickett in today’s Guardian CiF argues “How to make children happy? Reduce social inequality”. She is welcoming the UNICEF report exposing the damage that high income inequality and consumerism do to family wellbeing.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail goes straight for the guilt angle, blaming parents for spoiling children with designer labels to make up for lack of quality care, and quoting right winger Jill Kirby:

It is amazing that this study manages to blame consumerism rather than lack of parental discipline or the absence of fathers in the family. The reason why this country has low levels of child well-being compared with Sweden and Spain is surely connected to our much higher levels of family break up.

There’s a good riposte to this from Madeleine Bunting also on Guardian CiF “Guilt is for ministers, not mothers”. She follows her initial argument against yet another knee-jerk reaction blaming working mothers, by looking at why consumption of expensive brands is so linked to status in this country compared to Spain and Sweden:

surely relevant is the “strong and shared social expectation of family” evident in both Spain and Sweden, an alternative value system to challenge materialism

One Comment

    • shirleyford
    • Posted September 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm
    • Permalink

    I received a comment which I haven’t put up due to offensive language, but the gist of it was arguing that it is the fact that both parents work that is the problem: that those who choose to have kids should raise them and that our careers and status are nothing compared to that job.

    I am a feminist and before I had a child I would have dismissed this argument as simply misogynist. But the reality and joy of having a baby, the bonding of breastfeeding in particular, meant that I could not bear the idea of anyone else raising our son. So we decided that I would not return to paid work outside the home apart from with one youth club after a few months. This meant a severe downshift of our lifestyle – no holidays except to visit family in other parts of the UK, nothing apart from the absolute essential spent on the house or ourselves and doing all work on the house ourselves.

    Even then, when our son was 18 months old money was so tight that I started doing some childminding, mostly after-school children and one toddler part time. This was good in that it meant I could still be the carer for our son, but was exhausting, as it coincided with my husband starting a new job as an adult education tutor with a lot of preparation work at home every evening and at weekends. Surprise surprise I got eczema on my hands for the first time in my life.

    When our son started school I was extremely lucky to get a job in another primary school, with hours shorter than the school day, so I could collect him after school, while his dad took him to school, plus all the school holidays. It would have been so much harder with a part time job anywhere else, as finding truly family-friendly work is appallingly difficult in this country.

    So I do agree that the ideal is for a child to have its mother as its primary carer for the early years, to enable breastfeeding and the bonding that is so crucial for emotional development. But the way our society is structured it is a huge struggle economically to stay out of paid work. Green Party policy is to have a Citizen’s Income which would enable this to be a much more genuine choice for parents.

    The commenter said they are a teacher and see the damage to children by parents not focusing on raising their children. I work in a primary school and agree. We do need a different value system as Madeleine Bunting concluded, that, instead of rampant materialistic consumerism, is centred on our families and doing things together like growing more of our own food.

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