The Good Childhood report launched today by the Children’s Society is welcome as far as it goes; and it goes much further in the right direction than many that have come before. It not only proclaims the importance of marriage for the good of children, but even dares to say that the “economic independence” achieved by women through their going out to work is a factor in our having a higher rate of family break-up than any other country in Western Europe.
Yet work is not only an economic necessity for many women, but throughout society they make a marvellous contribution to a wide range of trades and professions. Nonetheless, it’s clear from the evidence that young children benefit from their mothers being closely involved in their upbringing and early education, and that their development suffers from being farmed out to nurseries sometimes from the age of twelve months.
Above all, mothers should never be forced into humdrum jobs they hate just to raise money for the Treasury.
One of the core findings in the report was that children whose parents are separated, single or steps are “50 per cent more likely to fail at school, have low self-esteem, be unpopular with other children and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression.” So our almost universal acceptance of easy divorce, along with the assumption that co-habiting is just as good as marriage (it isn’t, as co-habitees are four times as likely to split up) has stored up a great mountain of misery for many children. It may not have brought lasting happiness to many of their parents either, if the statistics on second marriage break-ups are anything to go by.
Several of the report’s recommendations sound sensible to me, for instance, free parenting classes in the run-up to birth and free psychological and family support when marriages (or co-habitations) wobble. And I would also support the suggestion of measures to help parents stay at home to look after their children.
But I cannot see how the idea of a “civil birth ceremony” performed by a registrar will help the situation much. It is clearly a well-meaning attempt to fill our religious vacuum. It just shows how much we need genuine religious rituals. The report says that our “excessive individualism” is the cause of many of our children’s problems, and that [according to the BBC’s coverage] it must be “replaced by a value system where people seek satisfaction more from helping others … than pursuing private advantage.”
Strangely enough, we used to have just such a value system in the past. It was called Christianity.