In his recent Reith Lecture, Mark Carney, ex-Governor of the Bank of England, points out the danger that market values, rather than humanistic ones, increasingly permeate our lives. Unfortunately, for some considerable time, such a trend has been insistently evident in the world of the child.
Since the late 1980s, Motherlove has morphed into the monetary paid-for transaction of ‘Childcare’. Focused time, energy and commitment to the needs of the very young are now, it seems, commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace. To be realistic, not all parents are the best carers for their children and not all homes a haven of nurture. But, having said that, a strong belief, evident in recent studies (What About The Children SURVEY 2018 http://www.whataboutthechildren.org.uk/images/documents/Watch-Survey-final-edit-version-19th-nov-2018.pdf; Royal Foundation SURVEY, 2020 https://mk0royalfoundatcnhl0.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Ipsos-MORI-SON_report_FINAL_V2.4.pdf ) worryingly demonstrates a majority view, apparently in ignorance, or denial, that the most natural and desirable setting for a baby is not alongside other babies in a nursery, but in a home setting with a focused and loving carer – responsive to its needs.
Indeed, it appears that many parents have lost confidence in themselves as the best people to provide that care. Thus, a child’s Babyhood is cashed out in ‘Payment’ rather than ‘Presence’.
Into the 21st century, the notion of the child as a commodity in parents’ lives – to be placed for its care wherever is most convenient for them – grows ever stronger. This can be said to override the child’s intrinsic rights and needs as a highly dependent, yet highly sentient human being. A baby’s time, day by day, and the space it occupies in the world, is thereby manipulated by others – serving to fulfil practical rather than emotional needs.
And commodification and manipulation of small human beings in this way suggests an overarching ‘present-time’ view of human experience, with little thought for the future implications of that experience. As with many aspects of Late Modern, post-industrial societies, adults’ sense of their personal rights and needs dominates their decision-making, rather than, in the case of parents, their sense of personal responsibility to find out, and set in place, what might be best for their vulnerable little ones – so critically reliant on the very best choices being made on their behalf.
However, a word of sympathy is in order here for parents whose choices, in several ways, are both led and highly constrained by Government Tax/Benefits systems. In reality, these serve to perpetrate the idea that the needs of any child, however immature, must be secondary to the short-term Market values of housing, employment, etc., etc. Here is denial that our greatest wealth lies in the potential of the youngest members of our society, and what they might become.
Dr Carole Ulanowsky