Sunday, 29 December 2013

How to get away with being a crap parent

This is how my profile on the Mumsnet bloggers network reads:

“A working class, socialist mum living in Glasgow writes about her life and draws wider political conclusions where she can.”

It is not true and I should change it. I am from a working class background, true. But I have not actually been working class for, oh, two whole jobs now.

My moving into the (lower) middle class is pretty much a consequence of moving to Glasgow. Nick persuaded me to do this back when we were in our one room flat in London. We could no more afford a two room flat than we could figure out where to keep a baby in one room.

So we came up here, as I like to euphemistically to put it- “for the house prices”

Once here, however, some other things happened:

Whereas jobs for welfare rights workers were being cut left right and centre in England, the Scottish government is actually funding more of them.

This allows the SNP to demonstrate their commitment to alleviating the Westminster Coalition policies and also to utilise the statistics we produce to demonstrate just how bad those policies really are.
Add in some post- colonial sociology and the unearned advantage this still gives someone with an English accent and my career has pretty much sky rocketed.

You should be noticing at this point, how a policy ostensibly designed to help the very poor, is primarily benefiting me, the relatively privileged. This is actually how it usually happens. Welcome to the poverty sector.*

So now that I have some unearned privilege worth wringing my hands over I am going to indulge in that staple of social justice blogging and write a post about how that affects my life. Specifically I am going to write about how my unearned privilege allows me to get away with being a slightly crap parent.

I am able to get away with being a slightly crap parent in two ways:

First off, on a practical level it is harder to fuck up.

I routinely overspend on stuff like work lunches, take away cups of tea and newspapers. My child does not go hungry as a result.

This is a huge contrast to how I was brought up, where every single expense was carefully calibrated and the need to buy a new pair of shoes was a crisis comparable to what a massive boiler explosion would be to me now. I can remember how my mother used to talk about other people making just the kind of lazy purchases I so routinely make.  “Food from their children’s mouths”

Even when I’m not making mistakes, I can afford to make things easier for myself. I buy these little individually wrapped pieces of cheese, which pound for pound must be the most expensive possible way of buying cheese. I buy little mini yogurts, breadsticks and microwave toddler lunches. I do this so that I can just pull stuff out of the fridge and give it to Jimmy without having to plan ahead. I am buying the ability to be crap.

Jimmy does not eat well. Not compared to myself at his age and not compared to many lower income children I know. Their parents cannot afford to be crap. And so they are not.

 I like to reflect that while he may not be eating healthy food- at least I am imparting a healthy attitude towards food. This is because I can afford not to care if he chucks his diner onto the floor. I just pull some other overpriced convenience food out of the fridge and offer an alternative.

Same with days out: I just take him places, Soft play, petting zoo, drive to the country side. We do it on a whim and it saves me thinking too hard about how to amuse him. Buying my way out of being crap.

So, given how bloody easy it is to provide a decent standard of living when you have a bit of money. And how even when you make mistakes, your child doesn't necessarily suffer for them, because you can buy your way out of that. Given all that, you would expect middle class parents to face really harsh criticism when they do fuck up, wouldn’t you?

You’d be wrong.

I know this because, when Jimmy was little, I was the subject of a social services investigation, which I blogged about extensively here.

For the time the investigation was on going, and for a little while afterwards, I was in the position of presenting at services as a low income parent, from a deprived area, who was a client of social services. So I got to see a little bit about what that means in terms of how people treat you. And therefore I can compare with how people treat me now.

I remember, very clearly, going for Jimmy’s 6 week check-up and having the doctor talk to me at length about developmentally delays before she had run the checks.

She also asked me if I “could manage to clothe him” Jimmy was wearing a baby grow with no vest, because he had just been weighed naked and I had dressed him hastily for the journey from one well heated room to another.

I pretended not to understand the implications of the question and prattled on about his low birth weight and how, yes, it could be a problem to find things small enough in the shops. All with a big friendly smile.
The I went home and cried and cried over the thought that anyone could take him from me. And agonised about why I hadn't thought to explain myself better. 

Several months later, we went to a baby weaning event and I dressed him to the absolute nines; Then looked around the church hall to see that everyone else had done the same. One little girl had Barbie pink skinny jeans and a matching dummy.

Well we have slipped considerably since then and it is now perfectly normal for Jimmy to cut about covered in yoghurt and snot, wearing odd socks. Has anyone commented? No, they have not. 

Things are easier for me and yet I still get a free pass. That’s privilege in a nutshell. 

*An even starker example: In my last job we ran into some difficulty in obtaining medical evidence form our clients GP’s. The GP’s representative body had advised them to stop providing evidence for appeals, because of a massively increase in the number of requests, caused, in turn, by the massively increased number of horrifically unfair benefit decisions. There was a special government fund available to mitigate the effects of welfare cuts and my employers were considering making a claim to this fund in order to obtain money to pay the GP’s to produce the evidence we needed to fight the appeals. This would have meant that money supposedly set aside to help the very poorest, being diverted to GPs who have a basic starting salary of £54,319 pa.