The Daily Telegraph
Having children can’t help but turn you into a conservative
Having conservative sympathies is frightfully ageing, like having liver spots on the back of your hands. But it may not actually be a by-product of old age. A new study suggests that, contrary to popular wisdom, people don’t automatically become more Right-wing as they move through life growing battered and cynical. The real catalyst is parenthood.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied 2,610 adults worldwide, and found that parents were more conservative than the child-free, regardless of age. They also conducted an experiment in which one group of volunteers was prompted to think about household objects and the other about cute children and baby names, before being questioned on issues such as abortion and marriage. The group that had been primed to think about parenthood – I can’t help visualising them with tiny babies twirling in their eyes – gave more socially conservative answers.
To me, at least, this comes as a relief. It explains why, 14 years ago, my inner conscience suddenly started wearing tweeds, cracking the newspaper badtemperedly over breakfast and grumbling about the lack of bobbies on the beat.
You might think that becoming a parent – loving someone more than you love yourself – would make you more selfless, and therefore more socialist. But in fact it makes you acquisitive (on your child’s behalf), fearful of change (because you need to understand the world in which you are raising your young), and distrusting of others (who might kill your child, especially now there are no bobbies on the beat).
One of the reasons Mumsnet is such a source of comfort to new parents – and such a target of scorn for young Leftists – is that almost everyone on it, however liberal they think themselves to be, finds themselves afflicted by such feelings. Here is a safe space in which to confess your heretical thoughts. “I’ve always been a huge supporter of state schools but…”; “I totally believe in trans rights, but…” “Never thought I’d want to leave London, but…”
The default philosophy of Mumsnet – indeed, of any well-meaning gathering of parents – is: you do whatever feels right for your child. This sounds like a warm, comforting liberal platitude. But it is actually a declaration (however unwitting) of classic conservativism. Doing whatever feels right for your child means prioritising the needs of the individual, and of the nuclear family, over everything else. It means you are allowed
– no, duty-bound – to use your sharp elbows to clear a path for your own child. It places a Thatcherite faith in fruitful self-interest above the interests of wider society.
I don’t mean to suggest that party loyalties cannot survive the birth of a child. Living in east London, I don’t know anyone (including me – a Telegraph columnist!) who votes Tory. Political self-image dies hard. But anyone who has a child will eventually, in some way, betray their principles. Parental love is too ruthless, too ravenous, to be ideologically pure.
The actress Jennifer Lawrence has confessed that, before giving birth to her first child, she worried that she would never love him as much as her cat. Same here!
I was so convinced of it, in fact, that I bought a furry babygro with ears in which to dress my newborn. Like a farmer draping an orphaned lamb in the skin of a dead one, I hoped to trick myself into loving the imposter. It worked: can recommend.