Dear Steve, working parents don’t only work to own shiny new things

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt is the host of Kinderling Conversation.

“Have you read that article by Steve Biddulph?”

I was chatting to a friend and fellow parent on a Saturday afternoon.

“It’s a bit controversial, but it really hit a nerve”.

My friend was talking about parenting expert, Biddulph’s article, We are trading away our lives for the shallow rewards of capitalism- and it’s harming our children, published in weekend newspapers round the country.

Yes. Just slightly controversial.

I understand that headlines are rarely written by the author of an opinion piece, particularly when the publishers of said piece need to get clicks. But this one pretty much captured Biddulph’s argument.

Really? Hypercapitalism is killing our families?

In a nutshell, Biddulph argues that our capitalist society is “enslaving” us. That we are working without questioning the status quo, and that we are working for unnecessary material gain (new cars, expensive holidays) and that it’s our children who are hurting.

He argues that we aren’t spending enough time with our children, and that our stress and anger from over-work is being laid on their shoulders.

To quote the final line in his opinion piece; “Hypercapitalism is killing our families, starting with the youngest, and it might be time to quietly, carefully, walk away.”

I have so many problems with this argument I don’t know where to begin.

Perhaps I live in a bubble, but I don’t know any parent who would rather work long hours than be with their children. The parents I know work because they have to. Two incomes don’t always equate to luxury cars and first-class holidays. In my experience two incomes equate to paying the rent on time, meeting all the bills (electricity, health insurance, gas, child care and car rego) and buying basic groceries.

Perhaps that’s part of the capitalist economy that Biddulph is referring to, but what is the alternative?

This is what work and parenting really looks like, Steve.

I live in an expensive city because it’s close to my family network, my friends, and a job I love.

Is Biddulph suggesting that I throw all that away to live somewhere inexpensive and bucolic? For my children to live away from their grandparents and cousins, for me to live without my network of family and friends? To throw away a career that I love, and that fulfills me?

It might sound like I’m taking this personally, and I am.

Listen to Kinderling Conversation:

I find this kind of argument paternalistic and completely divorced from reality.

Parenting has become a very intense experience, and it’s not just because many of us are trying to raise a family at the same time as working.

It’s an intense experience because there are so many people telling us how we are doing it wrong, and how we need to change in order to do it right.

You don’t need to tell parents that when two of you are working, life is harder, more rushed and pressured. Please. Those that are living this experience right now are actively trying to find solutions.

Mums are working in part time or flexible work, picking up deadlines and spreadsheets after the kids are asleep in bed. Parents are tag-teaming work days so that someone is always with the children. Many are starting their own businesses in order to pay the bills while still having time for family life.

Stay-at-home parents are the luxury item - not cars and holidays

But most of us understand that walking away is not the answer. The world has changed since stay-at-home parents were the norm. Higher costs of living, technological progress and aging populations (where parents of young children need to be close to their own aging parents) are just some of the things that have turned us away from a slower pace of life where we had more time to be with our children.

And then there’s social change, with more women having the agency, ambition and ability to have careers and lives outside of the family home.

Saying it’s capitalism as a system, and our desire for new and shiny things that is making us work more and spend less time with our children is disingenuous.

I’m also fairly certain that while the world has changed with the evolution of technology and societal change, childhood itself has not. Kids (bless their cotton socks) are built to push our buttons and test our limits. Developmentally they are programmed to do things that drive us mad so that they can learn and grow.

Seeing a father lose his cool at his son or the book “Go the f__k to sleep”  (two examples Biddulph uses to show the demise of family life) is not indicative of a “demographic at odds with its children”.

It’s indicative of the fact that raising children is challenging and sometimes we lose our cool, and sometimes we need to laugh.

That’s not to excuse using degrading or hurtful language. But you can’t blame capitalism for that. It would be more constructive to see it as a lack of self-awareness, or of good role modelling growing up.

I’m one of two working parents in my family. We don’t work to acquire new and shiny things. We work because we need to help keep the roof over our family’s head. I also happen to love my job, and I’d like to think I can make a difference with the work I do.

So please, don’t tell working parents everything that’s wrong with their lives, and that they’re hurting their children. That’s being part of the problem, not the solution.

Make constructive suggestions on how we can make changes to the world we live in now.

And, just quietly, “walking away” is not one of them.