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Thursday, 30 July 2009

Anti-child culture?

Two things recently have made me think about how anti-child our culture is.

The first was not long after we had moved house. Little Girl and I had a picnic in the front garden. She had finished and was "exploring" in the still wild bits while I was still finishing my lunch. Quite a lot of people walk past our house and a man who lives up the road stopped and started talking to Little Girl. (I had to reply for her because she tends to be shy with strangers.) You could tell that he liked children and I would have thought it a bit weird if it wasn't for the fact that he was obviously foreign (he said later on that he was German).

Later on I was pondering about this and two thoughts struck me:
1) It is generally expected in our culture that only women should be interested in children and not men(unless they are their own children).
2) The European countries which I would think of as places where everyone likes children (such as Italy and Spain) are predominantly Catholic countries. (I'll talk about the significance of this later.)

The second thing which got me thinking was a discussion about children on a forum I frequent. The person who started the thread doesn't want children. She and her boyfriend have planned their life based on never having children but she was getting all stressed because he'd recently said that he wasn't absolutely 100% sure he never ever wanted children. Having children would apparently mess up all the plans they had for the future. Now the really interesting bit was her feelings about children which came out as the discussion went on. This is what she said:

"The kids that I have been around seem to be having fun with their parents- I don't know enough about kids to judge it.

My experiences of these kids, however, is that I can't stand them being around. I hate the thought of them being incontinent. I hate it when they touch me with their dirty hands. I can't stand their incessant babbling about rubbish. The sound of them crying or laughing goes through me like nails on a blackboard. I hate all of the adults at a social event have to be really aware of their behaviour (e.g. I went to a BBQ on Saturday and had to try and hold loads of stuff (which seriously impeeded (sic) my eating and drinking capabilities) that I would otherwise have left on the floor because someone decided to bring their kid along and I didn't want my stuff to be broken or eaten by it). I hate the way they put your stuff in their dribbly gobs."

Along with hating pretty much all characteristics of children in general, she hates the fact that if someone brings their child to a social event you need to be careful what you leave lying around.

Now can you imagine your average Italian saying something like that?

If people have large families and have their children over a long period of time (which your average person in a Catholic country would do) then there are always children around. You will always have either younger siblings or your own children or nieces and nephews. (Or if you were from a small family for whatever reason you would have friends with little brothers and sisters etc.) If you are used to children being around all the time you are less likely to suddenly think that they are a nuisance that stop you from doing things how you would prefer.

In contrast if everyone has only one, two or three children fairly close together then most people will be used to a life which doesn't include young children. (I appreciate that some people with few or even no children have not done so by choice but I am talking about what is the norm i.e. what the majority in our culture chooses to do.) People will talk about a small age gap being good because you "get it over with" more quickly. As if raising children is something to be "got through". Some people even claim that to choose to have a child is unethical (How many children in Africa could be fed/clothed for the cost of your child? How much of the world's resources will your child use? We are already overpopulated as it is.) but God tells us to ""Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth"

I wonder what attitudes to children were like before contraception was widely available?

"But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 19:14


Heather said...

Good heavens, I can't even believe that person's opinion of children! How very sad. I think she must have forgotten that she was once a child herself.

I personally don't trust people who don't like kids (or animals). As your last quoted Scripture points out, Jesus loved children, and I look for that quality in the people I surround myself with.

Linda said...

I liked this post a lot. I was interested a couple of years ago to hear that in Italy things have changed. People have one child and the government was very worried about their population.

I am from a two child family, and have five of my own. I have noticed quite a few years ago that some German ladies I knew loved children or can speak very nicely around them.

Clare said...

Oh, this is a very interesting observation.
I would add my own, Irish catholic, culture to that. I've always found Ireland to be much more relaxed and appreciative of children that the UK.

Looking at my own children, who range from 19 years down to 1, with another on the way, I can attest to the impact the multi generational family has on the prevailing attitudes to young children.
My older two are very relaxed with little children, they find them delightful and are not repulsed by their messes. Rather, they find great humour and sweetness in the company of little children and are enormously protective of their vulnerabilty.
It is one of the most unexpected, and touching benefits of continuing to have children throughout my fertile life, to see the impact it has had on our family.

Your pondering about how different attitudes to children would have been, prior to widely available contraception, reminded me of a similar observation made a while back by my friend Elizabeth here:

When she was waiting for the arrival of her fourth. She posted a beautiful poem by Victor Hugo and made the following observation:

"I think it's just beautiful. How the world has changed, though, when children are no longer seen as the universal good suggested by Hugo."

Saved Sinner said...

Thanks for that link Clare, it's interesting that the absence of children was portrayed as such a dreadful thing.

Linda said...

Amen to your post! Now that I'm pregnant with #2, I can't believe how many times I've already heard "so now you're done having kids, right?" - incredible. I simply put those people off by telling them we'll stop when we have an ugly one ;)

As for the Italians.. they do seem to love children, but I'd dare to say it's VERY superficial. Like the old man who pinches a little boy's cheeks kinda superficial. Everyone loves to pinch your kid and say how beautiful it is, but the sad reality is that birth rates are now 0,9 kid per family!

Most people want a kid, but definately no siblings. Then they tend to spoil their little one absolutely rotten.. honestly, I was shocked to see how much STUFF those kids are given, and how parents use that as an argument not to be able to afford two.

I once heard Voddie Baucham say that Italy will be a muslim nation in 50 years, because of their birthrates compared to that of muslim immigrants, who average on 6 kids per family.

Greetings from the netherlands! ;)

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