Like everything in this era of unprecedented prosperity, the manner of caring for children is evolving. Prosperity has furnished us with longer lives, greater comfort, better education (longer anyway), health care and sanitation. Choice, enabled by more reliable contraception, means today’s families have fewer children: the current average of 1.9 differs greatly from the nine my parents produced.
Back then (when I was a boy!) limited resources meant that sharing was implicit and known, not a behavioural performance to be addressed by a set age. Everyone had responsibilities they were expected to pick up, otherwise be subject to sibling ‘nudging’ of one kind or another. Slackers “copped it”! Resilience toughened character to be ready for the world of service and work. Many did work on farms or in family businesses, where they added value and their learning was extended.
Over a century there has been an extraordinary expansion of the dominion of the knowledge class of experts since Freud and others struggling with sexual identity contested ideas about mental and developmental health. Caring for the precious child can now be cloaked in anxiety, clouding natural love and intuitive care. Is there a preschool child out there without a labelled “condition”?
The Child in Industrialisation
Focus on the health and wellbeing of the child hearkens back to an earlier era when children worked long and hard tending the looms of industry and cleaning the chimneys for the industrializing powers. Activists like Dickens and Shaftsbury were concerned for the children themselves, publicizing their plight and influencing social change. Industrialists were concerned that child deformity resulting from the long hours of tedious, repetitive work would leave them without able bodied adult workers.
Conditions meant that women’s health was also poor; infant mortality rated between 40%-80%; and diseases (respiratory, lead poisoning, tetanus and diphtheria) were rife. Industrialisation brought affluence that enabled women to leave the labour market to care better for themselves and their children. With affluence, families bought space (as they still do today) relieving the crowded living conditions that harboured illness. With a mother at home to care for it, the child became a focus of special love and care.
The child in the domestic and social economy
Much is said about the “harm” resulting from the separation of women from the labour market. Yet the failure to celebrate what women achieved during that time up into the 70s, means the value of those achievements (nurturing healthy children, an extended term and quality of life, better health care and education) remain unrecognized and uncelebrated, as women are affirmed and rewarded by returning to the market place.
The wave of 70’s and 80’s feminism saw “the family as hostile to women”, shifting the focus from the child to women themselves. Feminists’ aggressive agenda comprised factors that they believe hindered women’s equality with men: equal pay; equal access to education, politics and business; abortion, maternity leave and childcare. Any children produced were to be educated and paid for by the state (and influenced by their Marxist propaganda). Those who cared for their own children were treated with contempt, as being “unproductive”. Punitive financial penalties sought to coerce them into “work”. Feminist attitudes were particularly galling for older women who had diligently cared for large families that had been encouraged. They had not had the opportunity for education and privilege more lately available from progressive policies and extended prosperity.
Value on the light side
A much longer life and fewer children, or no children, means women can now attain the equality of opportunity they sought. Producing and socialising a child may mean only a short time out of a long life of self-interest.
Smaller families lead to more intense concentration on the child, with potential for over-indulgence; and feminist self-absorption.
Images of my new grandson, William, are what comes to mind when considering the value of a child – all clean, vibrant, glowing in good health and loved to bits. He reminds me of how I treasured my own children (and still do). William represents all that is good in a child, to be loved, enjoyed and celebrated now, for what they are at this moment. His presence strengthens family bonds and evokes a whole new level of maturity in the adults that surround him – a leaven of happiness.
But that’s not all! In the continuity of life, William also represents affirmation of the value of the life of his parents and grandparents, as well as a promise for the future that depends on the continuity of love and care he receives.
Families surrounding William add value to the local and national social and financial economy, as they become positive contributors to society, their capability reaching out to help others.
Where government agencies support the early care of the child in transition to family, in education and health care, life is at equilibrium. The value of a child well cared for becomes self-evident at every level of understanding.
Value on the dark side
Not every child’s future is as promising as William’s. Some children are challenged to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles that crush prospects. Mostly this occurs when ownership of a child is assumed, rather than ownership of responsibility for the child’s care and wellbeing. The dark side of a child’s value is exposed in the consequences of adult behaviour when the child is:
- Neglected – Co-dependent parents self-indulging in drinking, drugs, gambling and online gaming can lead to bad habits in the child, starvation and death; often also means serial disruption and interrupted education, limiting prospects;
- Abused – Subject to physical, emotional and sexual abuse in prostitution, extended families and indigenous communities; food traded for sex by international Aid agencies;
- Weaponised – Used against partners to control, spite and gouge in family breakdown; and against grandparents for real or perceived offences;
- Loaded with responsibility – Unrealistic expectations for performance and service above the age, stage or capability;
- Over-indulged – Children given into every demand by parents’ lack of confidence in their role as adults, undermines the child’s self-esteem and resilience; and
- Exploited in competition – as others live through, and off, the child’s performance (or not), most publicly in the tennis arena; or child achievements used to assert personal superiority against adult peers.
The return of women to the labour market and the loss of household skills have seemingly brought us full circle, inviting intrusion of expert services. Despite major investment in education we note an increase in number and range of dysfunctional children ill-prepared to learn; obesity; diabetes; mental health; and medication. A doctor counselling on childhood obesity finds it necessary to retrain the whole family, beginning with such simple suggestions as, “buy a table” and make fresh meals. Reliance on take-away, means many have not had the experience of sitting down to the table and mindfully eating a home cooked meal together.
Parents gain confidence in their parental role when they are well supported by family, friends and relevant government agencies, as in William’s case.
Yet the value of a child can be seriously diminished when agencies charged with responsibility fail to do their job properly and in a timely manner, implicitly expecting children to absorb the consequences of their failure. Tragic examples abound:
- Poor Blue Card certification ending in sexual abuse and murder
- Failure to take action on known abusers, especially aboriginal
- Lack of expectation of indigenous ability to step up and own responsibility
- Serial, intergenerational failure to arrest child sexual abuse
- Propagandising other people’s children through education programs such as Safe Schools, global warming alarmism, black-arm band view of history and guilt and de-construction of western civilization
- Family Court, which purports to make the needs of the child paramount, yet fails dismally, being consumed by self-interest. Too often, decisions made impose the burden of responsibility for agency failure and parental immaturity upon the children. Demands for more money and more judges are made without a glance at the suitability of mandated legal processes that rob the family’s financial future.
Measuring parental and agency failure against my Maturity Model clearly illustrates the consequential fragmentation of the individual child, dissension and division of family and groups, the increasing immaturity of all parties, leading to high social and economic costs that are borne by all – all the more reason to get it ‘right’ from the beginning. Parents can be sent to jail; public servants merely gravitate to the next gazetted position.
Value and hope
William will have a lot to contend with. In his life, he will need to be fortified by his family, build resilience and gather strength amongst a community of like minds in order to realise his future value. In the meantime, we enjoy him as he is now. Cherish the moment!