“Liberals – when were you first mugged by reality?” Thats how I heard it put once. Any reader who used to be a liberal will understand what being mugged by reality is. Sadly once the mugging has taken place, it becomes difficult to talk to the un-mugged.
Recently, at a loose social gathering in a bar, I inadvertently started a dispute with a group of of city working women about the differences between parenting in high and low income families.
One of the women present, who worked for a law firm , read out an article from her phone in which researchers had found a large discrepancy between the amount of time high earners spent talking to their children , compared to low income families. The lower the earnings, the less time families spent talking to their children, as much as six hours less per week.
All present rolled their eyes and shook their heads, which lead me to assume we had drawn the same conclusions about the article. Having been raised in much poorer circumstances than any of these women, I felt confident making a conversation about it.
‘Yes, that doesn’t surprise me that so many of them can’t be bothered to talk to their own children and those that are on benefits who have the most time, are often the ones that talk to them least of all’
From the stony silence and slightly disgusted looks I saw that none of them agreed with me, nor approved of my flippancy. Given that several people tried to correct me at once, I realised it was worse than just some polite social gaff, I must have said something politically incorrect.
One of the women, a lawyer, replied, ‘Oh you think they don’t talk to their children because they are lazy? How about considering that maybe they don’t speak to their children because they are too exhausted to do so’
She continued before I had a chance to interject.
‘They have worked so many back breaking hours, that when they get home, they just don’t have the time or the energy to spend talking to their children’
At this the others nodded in approval, and it dawned on me that the initial head shaking by the crowd was directed, not at the poor standard of parenting, but had been a general lamentation about the inequalities of British society. I was made to feel the social isolation that only violating a liberal speech code can bring. I had dared to judge the poor.
A collection of memories appeared in my mind. I often visited a friend’s house as a child – a house strewn with litter and debris, with torn wall paper and bare-bottomed, scruffy toddlers charging around. Downstairs were the parents who didn’t turn the TV off from one decade to the next. This wasn’t unusual, in fact, I had many other friends who lived like this. We didn’t go into the living room to disturb the adults,and if we needed anything, venturing into the smoke filled living room to ask, even for something as simple as a drink, we did it carefully as carefully like stepping onto the outer part of a huge spider’s web. We cracked the door open and peered in, stepping maybe one foot into the room but no more. ‘What do you want now?’spat an irritated, smoke gravelled voice inside the dim musty room. ‘Stop mithering me, you kids never give me any peace!’
Years later when we were adults, I visited the same friend, now a parent herself, for a quick brew. She switched the kettle on, then suddenly began stacking chairs against the back of the kitchen door `There, that’ll keep the little bastards out for five minutes’ she said. And so it will continue.
Its true of course, that many people work so many hours they are too tired to talk to their children, but this isn’t a exclusive reserve of the poor. Studies show the highest earners work the most hours, and although many people who are not well off do indeed work hard, those whose incomes are in the lowest strata actually work the least. A fact the right seem familiar with but the left refuse to acknowledge in favour of their far more romantic and victim-centred view of the poor.
A quick Google search reveals the poorest households watch the most TV – as much as five hours more a day than the highest earners. Anybody who has five hours a day to watch TV is either not working hard or so bereft of time that they cannot make conversation. In the first place it is likely that an evening of vegetating in front of the box has a great deal to do with lack of conversation, but I realised further argument would be futile against people who have yet to be mugged.