The Malaise of Middle Class Parenting

This post was originally published on the Huffington Post UK site.

In the days of vinyl records there was always a B Side to every single released. Often the B Side slipped under the radar because the A side was such a thumping crowd puller.

I was reminded of this when watching news coverage of the riots. The parenting skills of the underclass and the working-class were denounced as lacking in redeeming virtues. The B Side of middle class parenting, however, went unscathed. There was no actual reference made of ‘how wonderful middle class parents are’ but the traits associated with it were touted as being exemplar.

The car crash children of the riots, it was said, do not have parents who spend time with them nor read to them nor sit down for meals with them, and the list goes on. Well, I must be living in a parallel universe because I am a member of the middle class parenting fraternity and I despair at what I see.

Middle class parenting is a wasteland of missed opportunities because middle class parents ring fence childhood into which the behaviours of discipline, manners, ambition and academic achievement shall not stray. Middle class parenting is now about letting children do what they want to do because they are the best judges of what they need.

When questioned about whether they (the parents) worry about how their offspring will turn out the answer is always, ‘it’ll be alright’. This is the middle class parenting mantra. ‘It’ll be alright’ makes it seem, almost like a magic trick, that a well adjusted adult will appear at some stage along the continuum of growing up regardless of what has gone on before.

Middle class parents indulge in tick box parenting that does not have much substance. Engagement with their children rotates around meal times, bath times and Sunday visits to pizza restaurants. The point of having a meal is to keep off hunger. Normal family meals aren’t dinner parties where people talk and converse. How much time during a family meal time is there really to chat after you have told your child to stop slouching, eat up and not to play with the food on their plate?

Bath time is a bulwark of middle class parenting but this activity stops at the age of about 4. What type of parental engagement evolves to take the place of bath time? I have on numerous occasions witnessed family Sundays at Pizza Express. A family sits and eats together but, quite often, the father is on his mobile phone, the mother is looking bored and the children are fidgeting. Note though that the tick box of parental engagement has been fulfilled but one wonders what happens when it is not meal or bath time?

Discipline is sadly lacking in many middle class homes but this is often held up as a trophy prize that the parents are proud of. Children of the underclass and working class may be accused of physical thuggery but there is a certain type of thuggery taking hold among the middle classes that masks itself as ‘activism’. Recently a PR executive supported her daughter’s criminal act of damage against a top clothing store because it was a protest against the owner’s supposed tax avoidance. During the austerity cuts demonstration it was mainly middle class youth who occupied and damaged shops in protest against tax cuts.

Someone said to me recently that middle class children will be driving taxis in China at this rate. Ambition is seen as a word that is anathema to the state of childhood. Children must not be pushed or forced into taking an interest in academia because it interferes with their creativity. ‘It will be alright’ will produce good results without any effort. Books feature prominently in middle class homes but the children are too busy playing on their expensive IT equipment to bother with the old print material.

The malaise of middle class parenting equals the abdication of parental responsibility. Put simply, it is lazy self-serving parenting that does not serve the interests of the child.

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