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Friday, May 26, 2000

Anti-family zealots: It's all about them
Patricia Pearson
National Post

Let's sling mud, shall we? OK, I'll be the first target. I'm a working parent. As I write, my eyeballs are literally pulsing with fatigue from being up all night with a caterwauling baby. This is my fault, because having children is "a lifestyle choice," like taking up golf or smoking crack; I don't deserve time off to sit around stupefied by fatigue, because I should have known that "breeding" would make work more onerous.

As such, I would merely be taking advantage of my child-free colleagues by pigging out at the trough of "parental privilege" -- which is to say, maternity leave -- while they slave away without an equitable amount of time off to, say, dust up on their Spanish.

So went the argument on the Saturday Post's front page, in a story about "the swelling numbers" of bitter, resentful workers in North America who don't have children, and must pick up the slack for those other, more selfish workers who skip out early to whoop it up at the pediatrician's office.

"I think it's really dangerous as a society," notes Elinor Burkett, the bugler at the head of this movement, "to reward people because they reproduce."

Well what the hell is that as a thought?

Burkett's book, The Baby Boon: How Family Friendly America Cheats the Childless, is the end-game in a consumer culture so materialist, careerist and self-entitled that children are commodified as voluntary purchases by one set of "consumers" at the expense of others, who might wish instead to be rewarded with a longer vacation or a car.

Children are not the collective future of humanity, but an unfair free ticket for going home early from work.

Why should anyone be afforded parental leave, Burkett demands, "when all the infants do is sleep and basically any warm body will do." How ignorant of just about everything. And, more importantly, how misanthropic. Human beings are no more valuable and wondrous to behold than pet gerbils. Stick 'em in a cage with food pellets and GET BACK TO WORK.

"Children are neither the centre of the universe, nor the purpose of existence," writes Brian Curtis of Atlanta, in an absurd post to the online bookstore, Amazon. com. "Raising the next generation is neither a noble and sacred duty, nor even a particularly valuable service."

Who are these people? What a good thing there weren't many of them around 100,000 years ago. "I have an idea! Let's render ourselves extinct! And if we can't, why, let's raise our next generation like gerbils, so that we can skitter stupidly around in the bushes FOREVER!"

Never mind the questionable issue of "parental privilege," which would be the privilege to do what, exactly? To have your career stall? To show up at glamorous parties with spit-up on your dress? To earn less while the bills mount? To get hectored about the evils of daycare from one side, and the selfishness of staying home from the other?

Corporate culture is notoriously hostile to that messy, organic, unpredictable phenomenon known as family, because it is much more difficult to control. (We have been piously protesting Cuba's professed "ownership" of children like Elian Gonzalez in this paper, but it strikes me that corporate North America pretty much "owned" parents for the better part of the last century.)

A wonderful New Yorker magazine cover a couple of weeks ago summed up the chasm between family and career with the drawing of a voluptuous uber-mother sitting on a park bench in flowing, disheveled dress with her hair running riot and her plump body cushioning a clamour of children while a career woman sits tensely beside her in a severe black suit, clutching her briefcase and looking horrified.

The so-called "advantages" of the working parent wouldn't be perceived as advantages in a less stressed-out, control-oriented corporate environment, they'd just be considered What You Have To Do To Get On With Life.

Never even mind about that. What about the society that Elinor Burkett will inhabit in 30 years? Who will raise the responsible, tax-paying citizens that ensure her a safe, affluent, and peaceful retirement? That's not her problem, is it? That's none of her affair?

At bottom, what is depressing about this emboldened anti-family movement is that it's so squabblingly parsimonious. Gimme, gimme, gimme, what do I get, what's in it for me?

Several years ago, Norman Mailer wrote an essay called The White Negro, in which he predicted North America would become a culture of sociopaths, because, as collective belief and purpose fell away, the self -- in service to selfhood -- would be the sole arbiter of good and evil, worth and worthlessness.

One spies a glimpse of his prophesied vision in Burkett's book. We are so disconnected from one another, and from the concept of a greater good, that we fight over self-improvement opportunities like dogs over scraps of meat, and begrudge the very future of humanity if it means that one person gains an "advantage" over another on the job.

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