25. Children Bear the Seeds of Future Society
When I first found myself living in the suburbs of the '70's with young children, I knew I had arrived in the unappealing, dull backwater of society; not a sought-after place to be.
During the day the suburbs were a place for children, mothers, the sick, disabled, and old people; their value to the 'movers and shakers' of the human world was as a place to rest and to sleep. But those of us who lived our days there felt washed up, beached, stranded, and longed for the chance to play a fuller and more influential role in our society.
Sadly, the attitudes I first encountered as a young mother are still a very ingrained part of social thought. The reality is that in some ways things are worse.
The value which our society places upon home and family can be gauged by looking at the planning provisions made by local bodies for their communities. A clue to this value can be found in both local body terminology and in dictionaries.
At the time I was raising children, the very word `suburban' was defined in Collins Dictionary as "mildly degenerative, narrow or unadventurous in outlook". So this was how people saw the environment in which they raised their children, the future citizens of tomorrow, during their most precious formative years; they relegated them to a degenerative, narrow, unadventurous environment.
This symptom of the continuing failure of women to thrive in the western, middle-class, suburban environment reinforced the prejudice that women are weak and of less importance, and the value of mothers negligible.
In the absence of recognition, support, and a range of resources necessary to support the high expectations of the role, many women tried to escape the undervaluing and low esteem of the mother in the home by joining the traditional domain of men; our suburban mudflat homes were increasingly exchanged for the sparkling blue and white shores of the paid work force.
In this way a strong impetus was created for men and women to lose sight of the value of parenting and to replace it with the search for a bigger and better pay cheque. Babies were relegated to Day Care centres, old folk to Rest homes, the disabled to institutions. Fathers felt at a loss as to what their roles should be.
The family had become a great place for budgies, tabby cats and garden gnomes, but a very unsafe place for people.
A study of the time entitled "From Birth to Death III" highlighted the need for more funding for work with children in women's refuges, identified increasingly higher proportions of children living in sole-parent families, more older teenagers staying at home and dependent on parents, and a trebling of the rate of youth unemployment. It noted that one in four males were convicted of criminal offences before age 24.
Fast forward to today: the most important problems reported to be facing Kiwis in 2017 are housing related, but also reflect a world facing economic, war and terrorism problems in almost equal measure. The biggest global problems are now economic issues - poverty and the gap between rich and poor - and over-population.
Following this are concerns over war and terrorism, security issues, and the refugee crisis. In addition are climate change, Donald Trump, social apathy, lack of values, lack of empathy towards others, intolerance and issues related to Government, politicians and political unrest.
All this paints a picture of 'domestic' issues that extend far beyond our shores. The personal has indeed become the political. No words could be more true than the 1624 Meditation of John Donne who famously observed: 'No man is an island, entire and complete of himself".
The digital revolution has transformed workplaces and people’s lives. The growing demand for gender equality and the increasingly-recognised business benefits of diversity have highlighted the need for economic empowerment for all women.
But I remain wondering to what extent the primary consideration of the communities for which we plan is to rear babies. Is it to raise and educate children? Is it to provide good quality family life? When will we raise the status of the family - of mothers and fathers - to the highest level?
"The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation... So it is in the great family of nations, for nations are but an aggregate of families.” - ‘Abdul-Baha