Page 3 of today’s Daily Mail sports a story about Anna Friel, reporting with typically understated horror the ‘news’ that she manage to juggle her life with a ‘secret’ ‘TWO nannies’ (both of whom are, it emerges, part-time. The article treads the fine line commonly understood by Daily Mail readers of remaining factual while seeking to elicit negative reactions, drawing a subconsciously negative comparison between Ms Friel’s privileged position and that of ‘ordinary mothers’, who ‘feel under increasing pressure to have it all – and juggle getting back in to shape, working and bringing up children’.
Leaving aside the obvious point that one of the main reasons that ‘ordinary’ mothers feel under such pressure is because they are constantly under assault from media outlets which tell them they should be feeling this, and leaving aside too the inherent sexism in the story (it is hard to imagine a story about a working father who employs one or more nannies making page 3 of the Daily Mail), we should ask ourselves why we seek to pillory women who create teams around them in order to enable them to live their lives to the full, for the good not only of themselves but also, clearly, of their families.
Online reaction was as to be expected – the best rated comments were for the most part those which rudely questioned Ms Friel’s choices, and expressed the opinion that she should effectively give up her career to concentrate solely on looking after her child. This is an argument which not only (incidentally) ignores the obvious detriment which would result to the nannies currently employed, but also fundamentally ignores Ms Friel’s right to make her own choices about her life.
In actual fact, if Anna Friel has two part-time nannies, or if Nigella Lawson (also referred to in the article) has a ‘Team Cupcake’ to support her, shouldn’t we applaud their creativity and ingenuity? As parents especially, we all need teams of supporters – grandparents, neighbours, friends, childminders, teachers – to help us do what we need to do in bringing up our children. One of the greatest social sadnesses of the last third of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, has been that the notion of the extended family, which has naturally evolved into something looser as people move around more, has not been replaced acceptably in our social psyche by its obvious alternative – that of teams of other caring adults.
Instead, parents have become positioned as solely responsible for, and therefore solely to blame for, the upbringing of their children, and we have lost sight of the fact that while parents have a blood and emotional bond that surpasses all other bonds of responsibility for their children, they have to learn somewhere, from someone or other, how to parent. We do our parents – and therefore our children – a huge disservice if we criticise them for trying to create these networks.
As a society, we have a collective responsibility for our children. Let us support our parents whenever and however we can.