Well, Cherie Blair has sounded off again, in her usual arrogant Left-wing elitist manner: this time giving us an almost archetypal specimen of feminist hostility to traditional marriage. It is also another specimen of hostility to what the Church thinks about marriage, and thus of her own very odd brand of secularised Catholicism-lite (she and her husband, of course, are notoriously great pals of Hans Küng).
Last week, at an international conference of “most powerful women”, organised by Fortune magazine, she explained that mothers who gave up work in order to concentrate on bringing up their children were making “a dangerous mistake”.
“Every woman needs to be self-sufficient”, she said; “and in that way you really don’t have a choice – for your own satisfaction; you hear these yummy mummies talk about being the best possible mother and they put all their effort into their children. I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so actually they can live without me.”
Finally, she claimed, astonishingly, that “what is important is that women have a choice”: though that, doesn’t, apparently, include the choice which many polls have shown most mothers would actually prefer, which is to stay at home to look after their children.
The reason they would prefer that is deep in a mother’s instinct that her child needs her. Perhaps the most poignant moment in a working mother’s day is the point at which (with or without the help of the local taxi service or other after-school child-collecting provision) the child, in her absence, arrives home to find, day by day, an empty house or apartment. The effects of this on many children are well-documented. Here, almost at random from an internet trawl (this example is interestingly from the South African Journal of Education – this is a worldwide problem), is an extract from one study, based both both on original research and on a survey of the existing literature:
The after-school hours alone at home can be very risky for children living in low income, dangerous, or disadvantaged environments. Children being left alone for more than three hours often present with low self esteem, low academic efficacy and high levels of depression. They are often not well adjusted and sometimes present with behavioural problems. Educators have expressed concern about the academic adjustment and achievement of self-care children. In this study we looked at the influence of a latchkey situation on children’s relationships with parents and educators in connection with educational success…
Eberstadt maintains that self-care children who show negative feelings are crying out for more parental time and attention. The author uses the term semi-chronic problems to refer to those negative outcomes such as feelings of depression, academic failure, isolation, and hanging around with the wrong children. In other cases latchkey children may show symptoms such as withdrawal behaviour, aggression, and delinquency.
“Children who spend time on their own at younger ages may be setting the stage for increased time spent with other unsupervised children and involvement in risky behaviours as they get older” (Vandivere et al). Peer pressure, television, and older siblings are influential factors in, for instance, early sexual involvement and drug experimentation (Eberstadt). When children are at home alone, they are likely to invite friends over or go to a friend’s house. Children who are at home alone are more likely to abuse alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs (Mertens et al). Exposure to high risk neighbourhoods could be the cause of poor developmental outcomes and scholastic achievement (Lord & Mahoney).
And on, and on and on. But we don’t actually need these high-powered academic studies to tell us what every mother knows in her heart: that when Cherie Blair says that having a working mother is good for children, and makes them more independent and self-confident, she is talking the most ineffable drivel. It’s all very well for her to say “what is important is that women have a choice”. That’s easy for her to say. She is a high-powered successful barrister. She is self-employed, which means that when she wanted to be with her growing children, she could be. She never had any trouble getting high-quality child-care (or expensive hairdressers or high-powered cranky lifestyle gurus). And despite her sneer about these yummy mummies wanting to be married to a rich man, she ended up herself being exactly that: and don’t tell me that that too doesn’t give her “choice” as to how at any hour of the day or night she can do exactly what she feels like doing. The fact is that most working women don’t have choice of any kind, especially to do what we know most of them would really prefer, which is to be at home. So, why doesn’t Cherie Blair just keep her irrelevant views to herself — irrelevant, that is, to the real life of most women? For quite simply, as Minette Marrin put it yesterday in the Sunday Times,
The experiences of an extremely rich, jet-setting, self-employed, flexitime QC are largely meaningless … to the large numbers of mothers of young children, who long to stay at home with them but cannot afford to. They are nonsense to people who cannot find flexitime working, much of it done from home, as she says she did. All these mothers face much harsher choices than Mrs Blair ever has, and are hardly likely to be impressed by being told what’s best for them by someone like her. What’s more, it seems not to have occurred to her that many mothers, even though they would not wish to tell her what to do, believe that it is not good for children to have both of their parents working long hours, pursuing demanding careers, and therefore unable to spend much time with them… They may well not approve of her example. There is such a thing as affluent neglect, particularly of young teenagers… Yet this seems to be beyond the imagination of the alpha female.
It is all to do with the nature and purpose of the family, especially, Mrs Blair, of the Catholic family. In the words of the present Holy Father, “Father and mother have said a complete ‘yes’ in the sight of God… Likewise, for the inner relationship of the family to be complete, they also need to say a ‘yes’ of acceptance to the children to whom they have given birth … each of which has his or her own personality and character. In this way, children will grow up in a climate of acceptance and love”.
But how are they to do that, Mrs Blair, if they know their child-minder better than they do their own mother?