27.10.1996

Spare the job, mother, and save the child

Spare the job, mother, and save the child
 
The chief cause of juvenile delinquency is the working woman, says Lynette Burrows
 
GK CHESTERTON remarked that there was but a hair's breadth between meaning well and meaning nothing. Unfortunately, that applies to the current campaign to "remoralise our young" in the wake of several horrible murders. Politicians of all parties have eagerly embraced the idea because it does not entail doing anything except uttering pious hopes. Indeed, there is nothing to be done, since the crusade is addressed to those who are already moral and do not need reminding how bad things have become. What is the use, for example, in exhorting teachers to talk about morals to children? They cannot get silence in the classroom. Prescribing more lessons in the same conditions won't solve anything.
 
All these exhortations are pointless when effective action is proscribed by law and abhorred by a middle class that has lost its nerve. Slowly we have been disarmed so that every method we might once have used to reform the yahoos has been dismantled. Talk religion to young tearaways? They wouldn't know what you were talking about. As for morality, why should they take any notice of a received one when they have their own much more exciting version. It is called "the law of the jungle" and the young increasingly follow it. If they don't, they get beaten up at school or in the neighbourhood. Can we make them see that crime and violence don't pay? But they do. Look at the profit thieves make; the flash clothes of youngsters who deal in drugs. How do we propose to argue them out of that?
 
We cannot bring ourselves to admit that a policy of domestic pacifism in the face of rebellious youth does not work, for sound psychological reasons. The young do not, instinctively, admire weakness. They prefer strength, even if this strength is not directed at conventional morality. The fury of householders, teachers and parents at wrong-doing by the young has to be backed up by at least the threat of force, or it becomes literally laughable. "What are you gonna do about it?" the children sneer — and the answer is, indeed, nothing. Such a licence to behave badly inevitably escalates into more serious levels of violence and damage.
 
Parents are urged to take more responsibility for their children — but when they do act as they think fit in disciplinary matters, they are likely to find the 1989 Children Act invoked against them, and a bevy of embarrassed but determined policemen or social workers at their door. Parents don't act firmly because they are not permitted to; they are allowed to do only what the nannies in the social services department decree, and when that doesn't work they are called irresponsible, or worse.
 
Are we in the grip of a delusion that more of the same will improve society? The answer has a lot to do with the position of women and the fact that they no longer know much about practical psychology. We have spent a lot of time decrying their roles in the home and in the neighbourhood, yet we have grievously undermined both.
 
Fiscal policies of successive Governments have discriminated against the woman who stays at home to look after her family. For example, a woman cannot claim her personal tax allowance unless she works outside the home. If she decides to open a cattery or to breed fish as a business, she can set all her expenses against tax. But she can claim nothing for the cost of being a full-time mother. If wives could set such expenses against their husband's incomes, it would give women more of a choice about whether to go out to work when they have children, and it would reinforce the privileged status of marriage.
 
The consequences of our existing policies are all too clear. Over the past 25 years, 90 per cent of new jobs in the economy have gone to women, often displacing men in the process. And the Government expects another 1-3 million women to join the workforce over the next 10 years.
 
Capitalism is devouring the family and the effect is pernicious. One reason why today's unrealistic approach to child-rearing has taken hold is that women have been collectivised and demoralised. Millions of women who were once mistresses in their own homes have become mere paid servants in the businesses of others. Even though they were only the boss of something as small as a family, it was the most important thing in their lives, and it gave them confidence and authority. They knew about bringing up children and would have been affronted by today's suggestion that they need lessons in doing it.
 
How different is our own generation of mothers; poring over books by academics containing advice that is either obvious or obviously wrong, and unable to tell the difference. Guilt-ridden about the little time they spend with their children, these part-time mothers believe they are being good parents only if they do not physically discipline their children. So their children behave badly, as children do when they are nagged rather than occasionally smacked, and the parents feel — perhaps subconsciously — that the aggravation they have to endure is what they deserve for spending time away from their children.
 
Women may not like it, but they are largely responsible for how young people turn out. Men traditionally have rightly deferred to women in training the young, but today's women are ill-equipped to do so. The monstrous army that has always insisted on respect from boy and man, and knew how to get it, now has to rely on tribunals and laws to get it for them. They have lost the skill of man-management.
 
Being a loved and respected teacher — as a mother in the home is — affects the character of both the teacher and the taught. The child learns, but so does its mother — and what she learns is quickly passed on to her husband. Thus a practical wisdom emanates from the home and informs the whole of society. We lack that practical wisdom today when women are absent from the home and their children are in the care of strangers. Mothers feel guilty and uncertain, and obliged to place an unrealistic trust in those who have taken over their role — after all, if those people are no better than they are, what are they doing entrusting their children to them?
 
Hence the state we are in now, with outsize nannies, of which the state is the largest, ruining our children at every turn. A campaign like that of Mrs Lawrence does not stand the smallest chance unless mothers take it up in their own homes and neighbourhoods. And they cannot do that unless they are there in more than a part-time capacity.
 
Lynette Burrows is the author of Good Children (Fisher Press, £5-99).