Sunday, 11 November 2018

Watching Mumsnet, Watching Britains Largest Family

I have a love hate relationship with Mumsnet. It’s always fascinating to me as the epicentre of a particular kind of engaged, intensive form of mothering with a particular focus on education.
On Mumsnet I have seen posters ask “Doesn’t everyone teach their kids to read before they start school? Surely that just part of good parenting.”  I’ve seen long threads on the subject of what exactly constitutes “social capital” and how they can be sure to impart it. (Trips to the opera were mentioned.). I’ve seen debates on various types of secondary schools conducted from the starting point that everyone’s child would easily get into grammar school. No doubt because of the work already invested in “talking and reading to them when they were little”
It’s a part of a particular kind of parenting which originates in the middle class. The basic strategy being to have fewer children and to invest more heavily in them in the hopes that they can become high earners and replicate the privilege that allowed you to parent in that way in the first place.

What’s interesting about this kind of parenting is not so much its merits.  It’s a fairly reasonable adaptation to the circumstances of middle class life. What’s more interesting is the extent to which its followers believe it to be a moral and social good in and of itself, rather than a method of replicating and hording privilege to the benefit of their own offspring.
It’s one of the many ways in which middle class people tend to confuse their own interests with the general good. And since middle class people are in positions of power and influence that gets translated into social policy so that working class women have to be harassed to parent more like middle class mothers.

Zoe Williams book The Madness of Modern Parenting is very good on this point.
I’m reminded of all this on this current Mumsnet thread discussing the Radfords, “Britains Largest Family.”

The Radfords are essentially doing an extreme version of the opposite strategy. Instead of having small number of children and invesiting in them heavily they have a very large number of children and utilise their labour power for good of the family as a whole.

Traditionally, this might be on a farm. In the Radfords case, its the family bakery, looking after younger siblings and in the very modern profession of celebrity itself.

It’s worth having a look at the thread to see people who do intensive parenting in a small family, completely failing to understand collective parenting in a larger family.

“How do the kids do afterschool activities?” They ask. “When does anyone listen to them read?” "What about parents evening?"

The implied answers being, of course “they don’t”, "never" and "I bet they don't bother to turn up." Cue much frothing from a section of society that view these things as sacrosanct.

The theme finally reaches its peak when a poster suggests that all 21 Radford kids will be a “burden to society” because without intensive parental involvement in their education “they are unlikely to become high earners.”

I love this particular comment because it makes so much of the usually unspoken Mumsnet assumptions explicit. Human value is measured in wealth. Poor people are a burden. People who fail to meet middle class standards for educational involvement are a problem, not just for their own children, but for society as a whole.
All this is far more interesting, to my mind, than the lives of the Radfords themselves.

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