They are tough questions. And there don’t seem to be any easy answers.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to a simpler time. A time when the rules dictated to families, were more clearly defined?
Rules are comforting. Something to cling to in hours of need. Things might not turn out as we hope, but if we follow the rules, at least we can’t be criticised for not trying. Look at kids – they often seem happier when they operate within clearly defined boundaries, don’t they?
And way back when, those moral codes that guided all society, families included, were pretty straightforward. They were transparent. Easy to understand.
Problem is, the rules passed down from the interpreters of religion, and the ruling classes, while clear, came with a fair few problems.
As a parent in the UK things were hunky dory if you were a Christian, married, both white, not a gypsy and not gay. If you were male too, that helped. Things got a little tricky otherwise. We weren’t exactly free to do as we chose, unless we were lucky enough to naturally comply with society’s expectations.
It’s not surprising that in the 1960’s, people got a little perturbed at this state of affairs. They started to happily ignore the rules, to love whoever they chose. The freedom must have been intoxicating. Liberating. With or without the drugs, they must have felt high as kites.
When we came down from the initial euphoria, I wonder if a sort of existential terror started to set in within many families. With no external guidelines to grab onto, perhaps people felt a little adrift, and as a result a little nauseous. Perhaps that freedom, that weightlessness, started to become a little terrifying. Perhaps we became desperate for something to anchor us down.
I’m no family historian, but I’ll hazard a guess that around this time different camps of the best way to parent started to crop up all over the place. We didn’t want to be dictated to, but we still craved the security of those rules.
We were about to find a definitive answer to our existential angst come the ’80s when we started to fill our pockets with borrowed money. That certainly anchored us. And it made many of us feel quite secure. For a while.
We had a new rule to follow: throw cash at a problem and the problem will go away.
And the beauty of this rule was it brought with it freedom of choice – no need to be dictated to anymore. We could choose what was best for us. And then buy it.
Get a bigger mortgage, move to a better school catchment area, get more channels on your TV package, join a better club, buy into all the child rearing courses, the kit, the travel systems, and the toys. Get bigger and bigger jobs and bigger and bigger loans to pay for it all. Choose all the ‘stuff’ that we like the best and then surely our kids would flourish?
By now though, we are realising the borrowed cash in our pocket is fools gold. The weight of our debts, national and personal, haven’t just anchored us. They have dragged us down into a beige, apathetic hell. And as for choice, well, like our politicians, everything’s starting to look the same, bar the colour of the ties.
Sartre, famed for his existential take on life, once declared hell is other people.
So how come it feels so lonely?
Why, when we have so much, do we sometimes feel we aren’t flourishing, but wilting?
And with all of this ‘stuff’, all of this relative freedom to parent as we wish, shouldn’t we just shut up, get on with it, and keep our over privileged problems to ourselves?
No. No we should not.
(I’ve highlighted in bold many existential terms to remind me to remember to explain them more at some point if I get a chance during this NaNoWriMo challenge)
Having the memory of a gold fish, I’d forgotten to mention my soft spot for existentialism. But lately I read a blog post that reminded me of it. It’s from “Steve Rose’s blog – Sociological enquiry into life in transitions”. Here is an extract from his about page.
“This site is dedicated to exploring the social determinants of health and well-being through sociological inquiry into life in transition. Sociology was founded during the West’s transition into modernity to address the problems arising from the diminishing role of traditional communal solidarity provided by religion and the family. Auguste Comte, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber and Ferdinand Tönnies founded the discipline with this central concern running through their work: how can we maintain a sense of warmth and community in this new era of secular individualism?”