The new battle lines between parents and the child-free are divisive and can only undermine our generation’s legacy.
It was the author Helen Fielding who put the phrase ‘smug marrieds’ into the mouth of the luckless thirty-something single woman Bridget Jones to describe people who find each other romantically, lose interest in anyone else and yet still find time to pick on single people for their inability to secure a partner. This brand of ‘smug marrieds’ has recently morphed into ‘smug parents’ in the media. In case you are wondering if this applies to you or someone you know, there are some signs to look out for, according to one national newspaper.
Smug parents are:
. People who say ‘oh, we only eat organic now’
. People who wear bad clothes as a badge of honour, sometimes decorated with a stripe of baby sick
. People who take no prisoners when pushing their ludicrously wide buggies down the high street
. Families who wear matching Wellingtons from the Boden catalogue
People who moan about selfish child-free friends while upgrading their car to a gas-guzzling 4x4 to cater for their children.
The social gap between those who have children and those who don’t may be growing. With more parents in the workplace than ever before and rights to flexible working hours enshrined in law, the issue of children has been brought right into the office. A friend who worked in the Treasury grumbled that he was tired of having to cover for parents who needed time off for school plays, dental appointments, sick children and sports days. He noticed that they were never available when he, as a single person, might have good cause to be exempt from work.
On the other side, stressed employee parents, trying hard to juggle professional commitments with family duties and having no time spare for leisure, feel that raising children is in the interests of the community as much as their own and beneath the surface wish they had as much personal freedom as their single colleagues. The tensions between these two groupings are barely submerged. At election time, politicians promise to support ‘hard-working families’ which has led one correspondent to observe: ‘as I am single, does this mean I am not hard-working or in some way less worthy of support?’ It is a fair point.
The story of Abraham and Sarah in the Book of Genesis illuminates some of the issues vexing us today. At first Sarah was unable to conceive, which proved a great stigma. Her solution was to get Abraham to take her servant Hagar as a second wife so she could produce the baby for them. This manipulative scheme, using Hagar callously as a surrogate mother, only led to greater mutual contempt between the two women when Hagar gave birth. Hagar may have been the original smug parent, but she was more sinned against when Sarah began to mistreat her, forcing Hagar to run for her life. As Hagar lay slumped at the oasis in the wilderness, God appears and commands her to return to Sarah, promising he will so greatly multiply her offspring that they could not be counted. Significantly, it wasn’t the prospect of children that comforted Hagar, but the posterity to follow.
A similar outcome was promised to Abraham and Sarah. They were flawed and capricious slave owners yet God showed them remarkable grace. Through the birth of Isaac, God promised that all the nations of earth would be blessed. Abraham is credited with being the father of the Jewish race and Christians believe he is also their spiritual father. Both Hagar and Sarah were blessed with children, but theirs was a much smaller share of a blessing experienced by countless numbers of generations to follow. It is this sense of connection between generations which we seem to lack today. If we nurtured it, parents and the child-free would see the third and fourth generations from now as a shared blessing for the human race. It may also provide a larger incentive to take steps to address policy questions like climate change and global poverty. The current sense of disconnection, fuelled by rampant individualism and unfettered self-expression, may be a failing our generation is judged for more than any other by those to come, though we are only dimly aware of it.
The gift of children does not come everyone’s way, but they are a shared joy and responsibility. Rather than proving divisive, they should glue us together as a society. A little more attention to the carelessness and insensitivity developing around either having children or not having them would be a start. The greatest difference a generation makes is in posterity. What, then, does ours wish to be known for?
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