Saturday, 16 March 2013

Babies and the City

So, I have not blogged for nearly a year.

That's not what blogging is supposed to be about, it's meant to be regular. Sorry...

...but I have a good excuse.

I've been having a baby (my baby is called Tomas Clossick O'Sullivan and was born on 29th July 2012). Look at him. Isn't he lovely.

However, I am now returned to the serious matter of studying London (mornings only, the afternoons are taken up with smearing food about the place and banging objects into other objects). But before I start blogging about my research, I have some thoughts on London and babies. I have had an enjoyable maternity leave and it has been an eye-opener, showing me a whole underworld (or parallel world) of parents who occupy the same city as the rest of us, yet are excluded from much of what used to comprise 'adulthood'.

Babies are rarely seen in the cinema, in restaurants, galleries and so forth. This has become apparent as we have lugged our baby around to all of the above (he is a quiet little soul, and distinctly portable), and noted the lack of other parents and their children. At the same time, there is a vast array of parent and child specific social events (I speak from a very white, very middle-class vantage point here) - baby swimming, yoga, NCT friends' meetings in cafes or Pizza Express, where (mostly) women block the place up with multi-coloured baby gear and earnestly discuss the best weaning options. The nature of the parallel baby world is highly individualistic. One woman, one baby, go about their day together. Woman does the domestic work of baby-feeding, cleaning, cooking etc. and baby is entertained at some baby event or other. After a year or so of this toil, she gratefully staggers back to work to get some social contact and reestablish herself in the adult world.

The loss of extended family as people move away (particularly prevalent in London) means that (mostly) women are left entirely alone in this bizarre parallel world, and as a result they cling desperately together trying to find kindred spirits and another adult to communicate with who might have some modicum of interest in their offspring.

I am not remotely surprised that post-natal depression is so prevalent, as there is something deeply unsatisfying about a life in which the highlight of the day (indeed, the only event of the day) is a baby class where a group of maniacally grinning women sing mindless songs together while the babies look bemused, followed by a 'stay and play', where each mother-baby pair plays with colourful objects and the mothers try and sneak in a bit of adult chat in between. 

For parents the psychological effect of this apartheid are immense. To move from one arena (the baby-free) to the other (baby-filled) is discombobulating and strange, it shakes the base of your self identity. Suddenly your social life with child-free friends is gone, because children cannot be taken out at night to pubs, restaurants etc. Because of a lack of exposure to children on a daily basis, the child-free are afraid of, or at best disinterested, in children. This separation of worlds is self-reinforcing (if you only associate the presence of children with noise and annoyance, rather than fun and interest, you will reject the idea that they might be included in the adult world).

Almost everything child-specific seems designed to prevent them from becoming quickly and easily socialised, which is odd, because presumably the ultimate goal of all children is to become a functioning adult. For example, a sizable majority of restaurants and cafes do not have high chairs (or just unwelcoming) so parents congregate in a few places which are accessible to pushchairs, which quickly become zoos of squealing and running while frazzled women try and drink coffee together. Instead of enjoying the business of sociable eating together with adult companions (as seen in Italy and other southern European places where parents are not pariahs), children are placated with colouring pencils and boxes of toys. What does that teach about the value and pleasure of sharing food?

So what sort of measures do I suggest could be taken to ameliorate this unpleasant situation? 

One possible solution would be for people to work together with children in tow. For example, by forming housework and cooking co-operatives where baby-carers come together to achieve things (so, everyone gets together at one person's house and does the cleaning, while one or two people look after the kids). Similarly, the total exclusion of children from all working environments seems unnecessary. It wouldn't take massive imagination (with changes to break structures and working hours) to enable people to take their babies to work in a sling where possible (eg. working in a supermarket).

It is sad that such a blessing as having children is SUCH an imposition on ordinary adult life in our society, but it needn't be that way... we just need clever, creative solutions.

No comments:

Post a Comment