Polly Vernon on Parenting: Part 2
My childlessness is not, in any way, a consequence of mindfulness; but it has given me a ringside seat on a distinctly unmindful cultural shift towards what I can only really describe as ‘baby madness’.
Through the last ten or fifteen years - through exactly the period that I would have been having kids if I’d wanted them – things have gone a little crazy on the parenting scene. Parenting has stopped being a life stage, a rite of passage, a way of perpetuating the species, and become a heady cross between competitive sport, money-spinning cash-in opportunity, and the root cause of 95% of contemporary neuroses.
It’s an economy in its own right, giving ghastly, toxic currency to ideas that if your buggy didn’t cost £1000 and your blankies aren’t cashmere and your four year old isn’t being expensively and ferociously hot housed, then you’re failing as a parent. It’s tribal and divisive, setting up Stay At Home Mothers (SAHMs) against those who Lean In and get back to the office after two months of maternity leave, against Tiger Mums (I still don’t really know what they are or what they do) and Helicopter Mums (ditto) and Mum-Preneurs (something to with cupcakes?) and MILFs (you know that one). It’s become judgemental and cruel.
I hear stories of rabid competitiveness at the school gates, which I thought faintly hilarious, until one GP told me she’d been treating a mother who’d come to her about bullying at school. ‘I’d assumed she’d been talking about her daughter being bullied, but after about 10 minutes, I realised she was talking about herself,’ said the doc. On top of which, and profoundly entangled with which, is the pain felt by those who struggle to have children naturally, who dedicate time and energy and money and sanity to IVF. In a cultural context which fetishizes and monetises parenthood so aggressively, their feelings of failure - of being left out, of being excluded - can only be more intense than they would otherwise have been.
This does not strike me as an especially mindful state of affairs.
As for my increasingly mindful state of affairs: I’m slowly, reluctantly reconciling myself with the unknown hordes of middle class mothers who cross my path on a daily basis, towards whom I’ve felt years of antipathy on account of their buggy-wielding, pavement-hogging entitlement, their tendency to monopolise the very best seats in the very best coffee shops with the rest of their NCT groups, and their inability to control their school-bound young, who career about the streets on mini-scooters, gleefully scraping the ankles of unaware pedestrians with their every third push-off. There’s a chasm which stretches between those women and me it seems, a chasm of lifestyle, of aspiration, of understanding. We prickle at each other; or at least, I prickle at them. They’re too busy urging me into the gutter with the wheels of their Bugaboos, to bother prickling back.
Only – I prickle less, increasingly. Mindfulness doesn’t accommodate social nemeses on this scale all that comfortably. The more I meditate, they less capable I am of drumming up unchecked loathing based on a shed-load of assumptions about a group of people I don’t actually know. The more I meditate, the more inclined I am to recognise even their humanity. Which is – I won’t lie – a little tiring. Revising one’s long-held instinctive prejudices is an exhausting business. On top of which, of all my long-held instinctive prejudices, I was probably fondest of the anti-mummy one.